All posts by Tony

Understanding the Parable of The Sheep and the Goats

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Lee O'Hare's mini-series on Hell

Here is the fourth and final part of the mini-series of video talks by Lee O’Hare, where he addresses the foundational issues underpinning the standard Evangelical doctrine of Hell.

In this talk, Lee addresses the other main pillar/weapon in the arsenal of the Fundagelical proof-texter: the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

With this Scripture, unsurprisingly, the Fundies have no problem accepting that this is a parable (unlike in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus) because it suits their purposes and they can instead twist the parable. No-one really believes that sheep will go to Heaven whereas goats will go to Hell ;). But because parables are stories with an indirect meaning that must be inferred by the reader, naturally this provides Fundagelicals with the opportunity to twist it how they want, which they do freely and shamelessly. In mitigation, many of them are just parroting what they have been taught…I know this because I used to do it too, just like that.

But in this talk, Lee explains the background to this parable and explores several avenues as to its interpretation.

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts giving you videos to watch, these talks do represent a fair amount of investment in terms of time; each talk is about an hour long. But if you can at all make the time to listen to these excellent videos, it will be time well spent, I assure you.

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The Daymark

I’ve been sharing a lot of teaching debunking the doctrines of ‘Hell-fire’ recently, so I thought I’d intersperse all that dark stuff with something of a more tangible beauty. I mean, working against bad and harmful theology is a good thing, but sometimes it gets a bit too much; unfortunately, it’s unavoidable that sometimes we need to focus on the bad stuff in order to trash it.

So I thought we’d come up for some air for a little while. It won’t hurt if the last instalment in Lee’s series of talks waits until next time 🙂

I am extremely fortunate to live in what is probably the most beautiful part of England. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Yorkshire Dales, of course, having been raised within just a few miles of the edge of the National Park. I love the Lake District; Wasdale Head being one of my favourite places on Earth.

But South Devon, where I live, is an amazing place of breathtaking beauty; a place which does bear some similarities to other, more remote, parts of the country. It’s a place where rural and urban are mixed in a delightful manner, but to cap it all we have the sea close by too. Devon is not as remote as, say, Pembrokeshire or Cornwall, but it does have the advantages of any peninsular environment in that the roads are not as busy as they are in other parts of the country (because they don’t really lead anywhere else apart from further into the peninsula!), and it’s generally not industrialised. Out on a peninsula, we tend to find that we get forgotten by central Government, which is not always a bad thing.

One area near where I live is called the ‘South Hams‘, and it is classified as an AONB or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And nowhere is this more the case than in the area around Dartmouth and Kingswear, a kind of ‘peninsula within a peninsula’. Flying over this beautiful landscape is always a delight, of course, but I do like to get out into the area on foot too as often as possible.

Being very much an early morning person, last week I went out before dawn to an area near Dartmouth called Froward Point, where also is found the Brownstone battery, a wartime coastal defence site. This is a remote National Trust property very close to Coleton Fishacre, where I used to volunteer for the Trust, playing their beautiful Bluthner Grand piano for a couple of hours every other Saturday.

Near Froward Point is a structure known as the Daymark, or Day Marker. It’s a tall stone tower which was built in 1864 as a prominent and easily-recognisable landmark to help sailors find the mouth of the River Dart estuary from seaward.

The Daymark walk is one of my favourite early morning walks because when you stop the car engine and get out, it is completely silent out there. If it’s before dawn, even the birds are reasonably quiet, but it is of course easier to filter out their sound even if they are going at it.

I got there not long before sunrise on a crisp, frosty winter morning, with very few clouds in the sky, and those that there were were over the sea to the east/southeast where the dawn light was growing.

As I continued along the track towards the Daymark,  I realised that because I could see the actual horizon – there is a panoramic sea view from here from Start Point all the way round to the tops of the hills of East Devon just poking out of the sea across Lyme Bay on a clear day (excellent evidence for the Globe Earth as decried by the Flattards*) –  then I would actually be able to see the Sun come up out of the sea. Having reached the Daymark footpath, then – the Daymark is off to one side of the main track – I watched and waited.

The field that the Daymark was built in was today full of sheep. All standing around minding their own business but still keeping a wary eye on me, the interloper in their silent world.

And suddenly, there it was: the first sliver of the Sun was visible. Just like that. One second it was just horizon; the next there was this impossibly bright fragment of gold sitting there on the sea, and getting larger by the second. And I was looking straight at it as it magicked into view. It felt like there should have been a fanfare of trumpets or something to acknowledge the miracle, but, no, the silence was just as profound as ever.

Trillions of tons of superheated hydrogen and helium climb suddenly and miraculously above the horizon, just like it’s done on every day before, and so of course the sheep aren’t bothered. Well, I was lost in the sheer wonder of it all. I think it’s simply fantastic.

After standing there watching until the Sun was showing its complete disc, I set off back to the car park with bright spots before my eyes 🙂 But there was one more wonder. Like I said, the Froward Point area has panoramic sea views, but there is equally a wonderful view inland over the beautiful South Hams. In this instance, the sunlight angle was of course so low that shadows were cast in the valleys from my angle with the Sun behind me…

…and yet lighting the tops of the hills of Dartmoor with that unique golden dawn light (it’s a different colour entirely from that seen at sunset). Only the evening before, I had seen the Dartmoor hills from 7,000ft up, in my aeroplane, but this time lit by the westering, setting Sun and throwing the moors into sharp relief. The contrasts of colour, location and view were sharp and unique.

So, there we are. A stunning set of pictures taken in a beautiful area, in which I am so privileged to live. Despite being Yorkshire born and bred, and I love Yorkshire dearly, I am sorry to say that I would not move back. Not when I live in a place like this!

Hope the photos blessed you 🙂


*A ‘Flattard’ is a definitely derogatory term for someone who believes in a Flat Earth, and who tells everyone about it whether they want to hear or not. The term was of course pirated by these people, who are incapable of any original thought beyond making up new excuses for their pet beliefs, and used as the basis of their attempt at the derogatory term of ‘Globetards’, used by them to describe the vast majority of civilization who believe in a globe Earth.

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Lazarus and Rich Man

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Lee O'Hare's mini-series on Hell

This is the third part of the mini-series of video talks by Lee O’Hare, where he addresses the foundational issues underpinning the standard Evangelical doctrine of Hell.

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) is one of the main two pillars holding up the structure of the Hell doctrine. Although it’s a parable, and as such should not of course be taken literally, so keen are the Fundagelical apologists to keep this story in their arsenal of proof-texts about Hell that they even deny that it is a parable. And this despite it beginning with Jesus’s standard parable introduction; kind of like His ‘Once upon a time’, and despite it being a story told to the Pharisees; ‘The Bible clearly says…’ (lol) that Jesus only spoke clearly to His Disciples (Matt 13:10ff); to everyone else He spoke only in parables (Matt 13:34-35). In other words, so strongly do they want to believe in the Hell doctrine that they will even go to these, almost dishonest, lengths to protect what they choose to want to believe. It’s sad and it’s desperate.

But this talk is a real eye-opener, and Lee finishes his tale with a flourish that will gladden any heart with the ears to hear. But probably not those who have hardened their hearts in wanting to believe this nasty doctrine come-what-may.

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts giving you videos to watch, these talks do represent a fair amount of investment in terms of time; each talk is about an hour long. But if you can at all make the time to listen to these excellent videos, it will be time well spent, I assure you.

Over to Lee:

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Jesus and Gehenna

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Lee O'Hare's mini-series on Hell

This is the second part of the mini-series of video talks by Lee O’Hare, where he addresses the foundational issues underpinning the standard Evangelical doctrine of Hell.

In this instalment, Lee looks at the use of the word ‘Gehenna’ in Bible translations (especially the King James Bible; you know, the one that Jesus used 😉 ) where the word Gehenna has been incorrectly translated as ‘Hell’. This is a fascinating talk which will bring much clarity on this subject:

On the subject of Gehenna, as Lee says, it’s a real place that you can go and visit today if you’d like to. Here’s a picture of it. I don’t know about you but I think it looks pretty hellish. Not.

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What About Hell?

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Lee O'Hare's mini-series on Hell

Recently, I published a series of talks by Dr. Don Keathley on the doctrine of Hell and why it is such a faulty concept. As my readers will know, I do not believe in the concept of a postmortem Hell of fiery everlasting punishment (known as ‘eternal conscious torment’ or ECT) for those who fail to meet the requirements of whatever religious group is touting the Hell idea. And there are many such groups, each with a different set of requirements for what they believe will ‘save’ a person from this unimaginably nightmarish fate – which, to me, just speaks volumes about the fallacy of the whole thing.

And then there’s the whole fallacy preached by various people who say that Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did about Heaven. There is a word for this kind of lying tripe, but this is a polite blog so I won’t share it 🙂 I’ve written on this subject twice before, here and here.

I have been listening to another, shorter, series of teachings by the brilliant Lee O’Hare, where he too debunks the entire ECT doctrine, piece by piece, and concept by concept. In particular, he tackles in a thorough and scholarly manner the two main parables taught by Jesus which those who believe in ECT (also known as ‘Infernalists’) use as the main supporting pillars of their doctrine.

But these two talks come later in the series. In this first part, ‘What about Hell?’, Lee examines the doctrine itself and describes the history and origins of the concept. Now, that might sound boring but, let me tell you, it’s a real eye-opener and well worth listening to. In this video, Lee also sets the scene for the remaining three talks in the series.

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts giving you videos to watch, these talks do represent a fair amount of investment in terms of time; each talk is about an hour long. But if you can at all make the time to listen to these excellent videos, they will transform your life. Maybe listen to them, episode by episode, over a few nights of long soaks in a hot bath. That’s what I do 😀 They have certainly helped me, because they have confirmed once more that I am not the only person in the faith that is thinking along these exact same lines!

Without more ado, over to Lee:

 


For more links to articles on the debunking of the Hell doctrine, visit my Hell Resource Page.

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Why Young People are Leaving the Church

Young people are leaving the organised Church at an alarming rate. Well, it’s alarming to those who want to keep them ‘in’, anyway.

Here’s what my friend Phil Drysdale has to say on the issue:


The issue isn’t that Christian leaders don’t know why young people are leaving the church. No, young people are telling us very clearly why.

It’s that these types of answers require too much of a change for the average leader to be able to deal with.

My three big takeaways from this are:

1) Many young people today aren’t looking for certainty half as much as they are looking for a place to explore their doubts safely.

2) Many young people don’t see getting people out of the world and into the church as a primary goal. They care about loving the world and want to see Christians go out into it and make it a better place, without an agenda.

3) Many young people aren’t scared of the world or facts, they are happy to reinterpret their faith and its texts in light of newly discovered truth. A church that is unable to do so will lose them quickly.


I fully agree with all this. I have some comments too, as you might imagine.

You see, this sort of thing always attracts the inevitable responses from hardline, rigid and unbending* leaders who hold the ‘word of god’ ** above everything else, insisting that it’s not the ‘word’ that needs to change, but the ‘world’.

‘Oh well, it’s not us that say it, but it’s the Bible’.

‘This is what god says, not us. We can’t change what god says just because we don’t like it’

‘Don’t blame me, it’s the Bible wot sez it. I can’t change what the Bible says. ‘

‘The Bible has a timeless message; it’s not our fault that the times are changing away from its message. It’s the world that is going the wrong way’.

‘I’m not going to sugarcoat what the Bible says just because that would make me/it more popular’

‘It’s not about making the Bible more acceptable; it’s about telling people the hard truth’

And so on ad nauseam.

Maybe they should do a little thinking as to just why people no longer think the Bible is relevant…it’s not the Bible that’s at fault; it’s the attitudes of the people who brandish it. Who wants to be like one of these dull, grey, boring, joyless people?*** Evangelical Christianity is the worst advert for God there is, particularly when combined with the (mainly Old Testament-based) doctrines they espouse. And let’s face it, many of them are nasty about it; they are judgemental and condemning and almost gleeful about the idea of seeing those with whom they don’t agree burning in ‘hell’. And that comes out in their lives and in their interpersonal attitudes. Again, who wants to be like that? Jesus maybe should have said, “They shall know you are My disciples in that you judge one another”. Not.

Of course, I appreciate that not all Christians are like that. But the ones that get the publicity are indeed like that, and they are a terrible advert for Jesus. Again, “You shall be My bad witnesses throughut Judea and Samaria and into the whole world”. Not.

Instead, God continues His work in the hearts and lives of ordinary people all around the world, while Evangelicalism continues to pray for a future ‘great awakening’ which is already happening all around them and they can’t see it. It’s like Moses not being allowed into the Promised Land. Served him right, though, he was a prat.

Sadly, I have no pity for these people. Their own insecurities, and their unbending attitudes in response to those insecurities, render them unable to merge effectively into the very society they are trying to influence. ‘Hard truth’ can never be called ‘Good News’. But I am grateful for what their prayer has brought to birth – the new revival of Grace that is quietly and unobtrusively sweeping the world.

Shame they can’t see it.


*Rigid and unbending; hence, the header picture of a rigid steel joist (RSJ) 😉

**Lower-case use of initial letters intentional.

***Obviously I know that not all Christians are like this. But my rant, as always, is against those who are like this 😀

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Pretzels

Another compilation of ‘bite-sized’, interesting ideas and thoughts for your delectation:

 

“[This idea] is … the sort of idiocy that only the religious could come up with”
– Chris Daniels

“Was Jesus’ mission 100% successful? It’s either yes or no. There’s no “Yes, but…” answer. Think it through”
– Cindy DeGroot

“You cannot convince someone to return to where they’ve been when where they are is better”.
– Derrick Day

“Your belongingness to God is simply not determined by family of origin or economic status or friend groups. It is not determined by religiosity, moral purity or political category. Your belongingness is determined by the still, small voice that calls you by name. And I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: nothing else gets to tell you who you are. ”
– Nadia Bolz-Weber

“If sin is defined as missing the bullseye on a target (Greek word hamartia) then grace is the guy who comes along and throws the whole target in the dumpster”.
– Don Keathley

“When people tell me that I’m “walking on thin ice with God”. I have to remind them that the ice underneath my feet is miles upon miles thick with Grace. Religion will have you believe that the ice (grace) is only a few millimetres thick, when in reality it’s infinite. Because even in the presence of sin, grace abounds even more. The ice is at it’s thickest when you are at your very worst”.
– Ben David

“From a Mother’s heart, I invite you to be you—I hereby give you permission! You get to move into who you are with no regrets. You get to enjoy life as the person you know yourself to be because who you are is fabulous! Who you are is amazing! And you get to embrace the you you keep changing into, because isn’t that cool that we get to keep growing more into our best us?!”
– Susan Cottrell

“[A] sufficiently thorough conditioning can make an otherwise sound mind perceive even the most ostentatiously absurd proposition tone the very epitome of rational good sense.”
— David Bentley Hart, ‘That All Shall Be Saved’ p.18

“The full acceptance of Grace means an end to struggling to please God, an end to worrying about your sinfulness, an end to having to explain yourself to others; it means total freedom to live life in all its fulness and in all the riches that God purposed for you in Christ. Everything that is in Christ is yours because you are in Him, and Grace enables you to avail yourself of Christ’s riches fully and freely like no legalism can ever accomplish”.
– Me

“If your Pastor told you today in church that your identity is sinner, separated from God, headed to hell, unclean, unrighteous, and you left church feeling worse than when you went, then you need to find a new place where you can learn your authentic and true identity is image and likeness of God, totally loved and fully included in the family of the Father”.
– Don Keathley

“Some people prefer the bad news over the good, and will do all they can to negate whatever good news you try to give them, This is my definition of ‘hell’ ”
– Me

“God loves us unconditionally. When we actually start to realise that, we begin to realise that God loves the person that just pissed me off unconditionally as well. And when we start to see that, we either let go of our anger, or our egos burn with unrepentance. Some might misidentify that as wrath because they would rather scapegoat God than let go of their selfishness and pride. Some biblical authors also had this problem, compounding our own blame shifting”
– Russell Croft

“Emmanuel…

God With Us

not

God Only At Church”
– Dave Griffiths

“At the moment, I see doctrine as only being essential for those who do not feel secure in the love of God. Doctrine is a way of setting up a feeling of security; it is setting up (at best) a belief framework, or (at worst) our own mental limitations on what God can/can’t do; either way I think it’s restrictive and even potentially stunting of our growth. Far better to do as you say, Wendy*, and just swim in the ocean. Ironically, that’s what the Fundie song ‘Oceans’ is about, but they are blind to the profundity of it”.
– Me


*’Wendy’ being Wendy Francisco; my quote here was in response to one of her posts.

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Your Name’s Above All Names

There are a few songs that, without fail, transport me straight into the Throne Room of God. My spirit is lifted and my heart sings, my hands raise up and I am filled with gratitude for all that God has done for me. Usually there’s tears as well, so full is my heart with love for my King.

Two such songs that I have shared on here are When I Look into Your Holiness‘ and Great is the Lord, and another is ‘My God and King (With Eyes for Only You).

And there are likely a few more that would have this effect on me, should I listen to them. I have so many worship songs in my repertoire that I don’t remember all of them, and one of Jesus’s favourite tricks is to drop songs on me at random and completely out of the Blue that remind me of things He’s done in my life. This song that I present to you today, ‘Your Name’s Above All Names’, is one of those songs, and He dropped it on me a couple of weeks ago. For some reason, this song melts my heart and causes the spirit of worship to bubble up from deep inside. I’ll make some more comments later, but first, here’s the song:

Your Name’s above all names
Your power is above all powers
And Your glory, Your glory fills this place

Your Name’s above all names
Your power is above all powers
And Your glory, Your glory fills this place

And that’s it. Nice and simple, but for some reason utterly, utterly profound. And it’s gorgeous.

It may be that this song’s effect on me has a lot to do with the idea of Jesus* having the ‘Name that is above all names’ (Phil 2:9). In a similar way to how the knowledge that Jesus defeated death removes all fear from life, so too the knowledge that He is the highest authority in the Universe (and that’s what it means when people say things about His Name being above all other names) removes all the fear that things will not work out right in the end, both in the here-and-now and in the hereafter. And this song reminds me of that belief.

I have written on the idea of the Heavenly Perspective before (here and here) and this concept of Him being the ‘highest authority’ goes along with that idea. I have many friends who believe that God is not in control of things on this Earth. I have many friends who believe the opposite, that He is indeed in complete control of every minute detail. I understand about theodicy;  the Big Question about why God, if He is all-powerful and all-loving, does not prevent evil. I’m aware of the phenomenal amount of good things that happen, unheralded and unannounced, on a daily basis, between ordinary people in all walks of life, and just from nature in general too. Sunsets, nice food, cool air, single malt whisky, mountains.

I am also aware that  life’s Big Questions deserve Big Answers, and that these answers are usually discerned over a lifetime of walking with God and hearing Him explain things to us. Like all of the really Big God Questions, the truth is somewhere in between the two extremes. God is in control, but not necessarily in the ways that we think He should be. The way we frame our questions almost predicates a particular kind of answer, and that answer is not available in any form which would make sense. Instead, the answers to the Big Questions are based more upon a form of trust: trust in the goodness of God and trust in Jesus (Jn 14:1 (NLT) ) and that that trust is something that is learned as we go along. Every time you see God work something amazing in your life; every time you are thankful for something (whether you think He’s been directly responsible for it or not), you lay another little brick in your building of trust.

Over time, it’s not so much that Life’s Big Questions are answered, more that the questions themselves morph and change into a mode that incorporates the known goodness of God that you have seen and felt and experienced in your life. Increasingly, then, the concept of the Name of Jesus being above all other names and being Lord over your circumstances and those of others, becomes a fluid, trusting reality that incorporates your experience, your worship, your life and your very existence into the life of God. And that Life of God is also present within you too, by His Spirit. All in all, then, it’s a win-win for the believer as we learn to live in this mode of awareness of God’s Presence and yet the freedom to influence events in our own lives ourselves too. You can come to no lasting harm, because underneath are the everlasting arms (Dt 33:27), He will never let go of you (Jn 10:28-29), and nothing can separate you from His Love (Rom 8:38-39).

Maybe that sounds like a huge stretch from the idea of Jesus being the Name above all names. But it’s not, not when you think about it anyway. Because if that Name of Jesus is indeed above everything else, and if indeed He’s ‘exalted to the right hand of the Father’ (Acts 2:33), then His Presence in your life simply has to be the greatest thing you can imagine. No wonder St. Paul waxed so lyrical and enthused so thoroughly and comprehensively, in his letters, about the Love of Christ, and the Grace of God that that Love revealed to us. Salvation is more than just a ‘ticket to heaven’. Amazing though Heaven is going to be, the concept of it all being relevant only after we die is cheapening and reducing the Gospel to just effectively life-insurance. As a great preacher friend of mine once said, your salvation is “…not ‘pie in the sky when we die’. It’s meat on a plate while you wait!” It’s here and now – and yes, of course it’s after death as well.

Maybe, then, that’s why the song has the effect on me that it has. Maybe it’s because it brings home to me how huge, how wide-ranging, how magnificent, how permanent** and how complete is the salvation that Jesus has provided for us. As we are ‘in Christ’, everything that is His is ours too (1Jn 4:17). Grasping that marvellous truth is nothing short of life-changing, and indeed we will spend the rest of our earthly lives increasing in our appreciation of just what Jesus has done for us.

Plus, as I said earlier, the song is just gorgeous. From a worship point of view, it doesn’t actually need any theological discussion!

Is it any wonder, then, that this song causes the spirit of worship to rise up within me?

Indeed His name is above all names, and the ramifications of that are huge. Thank You Jesus! Can I encourage you to listen to the song, maybe join in the singing if you like and while you do so, use the song to meditate on the amazing truth of the Name of Jesus being the Name that is above every other name, circumstance, happening, idea and situation, no matter how huge and/or important that thing might be. This is your birthright, it is for you, and it’s for today. Grab it and run with it!


The song is from the Harvestime tape Celebrate’, recorded at Christ for the Nations Institute, Dallas, Texas in 1987. There are mp3 files of all the songs from that album, including this one, on my website VintageWorshipTapes.com.


*Of course, Jesus is simply the Anglicised version of the original name that we also call ‘Joshua’, meaning simply ‘God is my Saviour’ or ‘God saves’ (Mt 1:21).  The name can also be rendered as things as exotic-sounding as ‘Yahuwah’, ‘Yeshua’ (to which, of course, the only correct response  is ‘Bless you!’) or even ‘Yehoshua’ or ‘Yehushua’ for goodness’ sake. I’m sure some people use these names to make themselves sound more ‘spiritual’, like those people who miss out the ‘o’ in the middle of ‘God’ (so, ‘G_d’). Who cares how it’s spelled when the main thing is the Person that the Name is referring to? It’s really pretentious, if you ask me. Would you believe there are even churches where they insist that people not use the word ‘Jesus’. Call me critical if you like but how bloody silly is that….


**Permanent, in that I firmly believe in ‘once saved, always saved’ because ‘once in Christ, always in Christ’. If you died ‘in Christ’ (Rom 6:8, 2Tim 2:11), then you cannot be ‘un-died’ back ‘into the flesh’ again.  Death is a one-way deal. There are those people (mainly legalists, of course) who believe that you can lose your salvation by things you can do. If you are ‘saved’ from drowning by a lifeboat, then that lifeboat sinks, then you have not been ‘saved’. The ‘once saved, NOT always saved’ brigade believe that Jesus is merely a lifeboat, and that we can sink it. Baloney. He’s the Rock, and He doesn’t sink. In any case, as we have seen, salvation is not just about a ‘ticket to Heaven’; it’s far more wide-reaching than that. Praise God, this is good stuff!

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Autumn

As I said in a previous post, my supremely talented daughter Ellie had prereleased her first EP, the four-track album ‘Autumn’.

Recently, the album became available for download on Amazon for the very reasonable price of £2.36, so as her dutiful and very proud Dad I really had to post a link.

If you’re interested in getting hold of a copy of ‘Autumn’, just click the image below to go to its Amazon UK sales page. It will also be available on your own country’s Amazon page. All proceeds go to our local Hospice, Rowcroft Hospice, where Ellie’s Mum was looked after for her last few days on this earth.

 

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Against a Dark Background

Would you believe that there are Religious people on the Internet who think of themselves as ‘heresy hunters’?

It’s true. You may even have encountered them yourself.

They are the people who prowl the social media sites, faith sites and forums looking specifically for people with whom they can disagree. They castigate those people who believe different things to what they themselves believe (even if only slightly different!), lambasting their victims with vicious messages of rejection, condemnation and judgementalism. And usually the occasional threat of ‘hell-fire’ thrown in for good measure, and all ‘said in love, brother’, of course ;).

It seems that they see themselves as the people who hold the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven; imagining they are God’s ‘gatekeepers‘ and that they have the (God-given, of course) right to say who gets in and who doesn’t. They strike hard and fast, hang around for a short argument and then go on their happy way, leaving a trail of bruised and broken people in their wakes.

Some of these people have actually opened their Facebook accounts with the sole purpose of the online hunting down of ‘heretics’ like me. They are easy to spot; you go and look at their Facebook profile and the last time they posted was like May 2017 and that was just a photo of their washing machine or something. Sad, sad people who create their own Hell by living in a world of judgementalism and critical spirit, not finding the joy in their own salvation (which I have no reason to believe is not genuine) and at the same time trying to not allow anyone else to find the joy in their ‘salvations’ either.

Now, we ‘hunted’ heretics are in good Company. Jesus Himself was followed everywhere by groups of Religious heresy hunters – the Pharisees – who did things like this:

So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him” – Mk 3:2 (NKJV)

Yep, you’ve got it. These people had nothing better to do than to follow Him around all day and pick fault; missing out on the amazing truth that Jesus healed people – and even ignoring it! – they concentrated instead on whether they considered He was following their Religious Rules or not.

Sounds familiar? 😉

I also find it incredible that bad-news mongers will even contradict direct quotations from their Rulebook the Bible, which, remember, they hold to be inerrant and infallible, when those Bible quotations do not reflect their doom-and-gloom mindsets. For instance, last week, I saw on Facebook a post where a chap said that he’d simply posted the famous verses from Romans 8:38-39 on nothing being able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. Here’s what he wrote:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“I put no commentary on it, just that. I am frustrated by the fact that multiple people felt the need to reply with things about how WE can separate ourselves from the love of God through unrepentance and so forth. Why do people have this immediate urge to qualify the good news, to make it less than it is?”

As far as the Bible is ever ‘clear’, this verse is about as ‘clear’ as it gets. NOTHING can separate us from God’s Love, not even stuff we do ourself. That’s what makes it unconditional!

Apart from its being incredible, I also find it very sad that such people not only choose to believe (and it is a choice) the worst news about God that they can (while still probably claiming that ‘God is Good, All the Time’ (talk about cognitive dissonance!)), but also that they feel the need to get on the Internet and spread their horror and darkness so others can join them in their misery. Misery loves company, as the old adage says!

And I just don’t get that. At least, not from people who are supposed to be spreading the ‘…good news of great joy for all mankind’ (Lk 2:10). Some indeed seem to prefer the bad news over the good, and furthermore they will do all they can to negate whatever good news you try to give to them or to others; they are thus not open to Really Good News at all, and this mindset is therefore one of my definitions of ‘hell’.

As G. K. Chesterton wrote,

“…pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One “settles down” into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness. A man “falls” into a brown study; he reaches up at a blue sky. Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”

No, they can’t cope with levity, nor can they lose their seriousness. And so, when they happen across a thread where the idea of Grace (the unearned, light, completely full and free favour of God) is being put forward, they go absolutely ape. Cries of ‘Licence to Sin!‘ ‘Cheap Grace!’ and other such rubbish abound, usually touted by those who haven’t actually read the original post properly anyway.

Who’d want to live like that?

So, I have set out the problem at some considerable length. How to cope with these people?

Well, first up, we need to remember that they are usually in it only for the argument. They are interested only in putting across their point of view and not listening to anyone else’s. Like only the most diehard religious zealots, they are convinced that they are not only right, but that they have a divine commission to ‘go forth’ and fight what they see as heresy. Therefore, arguing/discussion with them is usually pointless, if your reason for participating in the discussion is solely to have the chance of influencing them towards your point of view. But there is another reason why such open and visible ‘discussion’ can be good, as I  will be getting to – eventually!

They mistake courtesy (from their victims) as weakness. They mistake the lack of people biting them back, as being that their victims don’t actually have a proper argument, when in actual fact the Grace-filled person is usually being just that – Graceful (Grace-full). Let your speech always be graceful, seasoned with salt and all that (Col 4:6). They’re giving that heresy hunter the benefit of their Christike gentleness and not sinking – and it would be sinking! – to their level by going back at them with the same sort of stuff. And it’s lost on them. Behaving like this violates so many of the heresy hunters’ ‘Biblical’ Rules, which they feel they can conveniently ignore or justify away with the sorts of argument that only the terminally religious could come up with.

It can be soul-destroying, though, listening to their endless naysaying and negativity all the time. I don’t know how Jesus coped with being followed around by these leeches in His day because, make no mistake, they are exactly the same type of people. Were the concept of reincarnation actually true (I personally am convinced that it’s not!) then these people would simply be the reincarnations of Jesus’s Pharisees 😉 I suppose His attitude was simply to get on with God’s work – doing what He saw Father doing (Jn 5:19) – and if the Pharisees got some of the splash of God’s power and joy, great; if not, He wasn’t going to let that stop Him blessing those who already needed it. When He said that it was the sick that needed a doctor, He meant that the Religious, the Pharisees, didn’t feel that they needed Him because they thought they were ‘all right’ thank you very much; whereas those who realised their need of Him were the ones who actually received the blessing. And so He didn’t let the Religious stop Him blessing those who needed it. Interestingly, some Pharisees actually did become Jesus-followers, and, equally interestingly, were almost as legalistic afterwards as they were before, albeit a little less unbendingly so. Check out their story in Acts chapter 15, where it relates the story of the ‘Council of Jerusalem’.

I have written before on the idea of why Grace-preachers like me continue to post messages of Grace on Internet forums, in the face of people like these bad-news mongers.

The first reason is that our posts bless more people, and bring more people into wholeness, healing and freedom, than we will ever know. I call these people the Invisible Listeners. I would repeat here a comment sent me by someone in New Zealand, that was mentioned in that blog post above; I repeat it here because it applies to you as well as to me:

“One day, when we are in His Presence, you will find out just how many people were encouraged by what you are doing”

The second reason, for me, is that it shows our Invisible Listeners that not all Christians are harsh, disapproving and judgemental. I mention that in my article linked to above, but I have reiterated it here in case you don’t want to follow the link.

I also asked a good friend and fellow Grace-preacher, who regularly engages publicly with Pharisees online (yes, they actually follow him around on his Facebook profile!), how he puts up with the hassle of the online Pharisees.

His reply was firstly that he doesn’t let it bother him, as he realises that they are all at a different stage in their faith-walk. He, like me, is a strong proponent of the various theories of faith development, and this helps him to recognise these faith-stage dynamics and the types of behaviour they elicit.

Secondly, he very wisely told me that he believes that all the naysayers do is to provide a dark backdrop to the beauty of the Good News he preaches; the Good News of Grace, and that dark backdrop makes the precious diamond all the more obvious in its magnificence.

For those ‘invisible listeners’ who read his work without commenting – I estimate that for every person who comments, there are another nine or ten who do not* – this is the stuff of life. In fact it’s completely life-changing, in the sense of changing their lives from being nearly empty to being full; full of Life in Christ.

And it’s enhanced, not detracted from, by the negative comments.

I mean, how cool is that? It’s an idea which is utterly, utterly golden!

The idea that the ‘enemy’ – (and by that, I do not mean the modern-day Pharisee people themselves, but the ‘accuser of the brethren’ (Rev 12:10 (KJV) ) – be that an actual spirit, a ‘satan’, who actually accuses, or simply the accusing consciences of some believers) the ‘enemy’ has its accusations turned against it and used for the benefit of the saints, for their upbuilding and encouragement – is simply priceless. The love and power and Grace of God are emphasised because of the dark setting in which they are seen! The fury that must exist in the hearts of the heresy hunters when/if they see their judgementalism turned against them, well, it must burn like Hell, literally Hell, no cuss-word intended. Again, this is part of my definition of Hell (I must do a piece on that some day!)**. One hopes that this pain might help them to see sense, but I suppose that in this case most of the good fruit is not visible online because it is borne in those Invisible Listeners I talked about earlier.

So, if you are a Grace-preaching blogger or forum poster, please be encouraged. You are reaching, and blessing, far more people with your Grace message than you will ever know. And all the Pharisees’ comments do is to make your news even more glorious. Boom!

If you are a self-styled ‘heresy-hunter’, firstly kudos to you for reading this far without blowing a gasket; and secondly, remember that every. single. time. you respond to someone bearing a good-news message of hope, healing and reconciliation with one of your condemnatory, judgemental, divisive and possibly infernalist*** replies, all you are doing is to provide the black background setting that emphasises the beauty of the very diamond you are trying to tarnish. But there is hope for you too – God is nowhere near as mad with you as you imagine, and remember that some Pharisees were actually Christ-followers. He accepts all sorts, and He accepts them unconditionally. He knows how lost you are in your Religious struggles to conform, and He came to offer you His yoke which is easy and light. (Mt 11:28-30 (Message))

And if you are someone looking for a message of Love, Hope, Healing, Comfort in your weakness or in your sadness; a message of Reconciliation and/or a definite sense of ‘coming back’ to God, then rest assured that He has already accepted and welcomed you, without any cost to yourself, without any conditions (that’s what ‘unconditional’ means), with His arms open wide and a huge grin on His face. Read and believe the Good News messages, and use the Bad News messages, thoughtfully provided by the modern-day Pharisees, simply to highlight just how good the Good News is when compared with the struggle of having to keep up the appearances of Religious ‘good behaviour’ and conditional love that they try to push. Because that’s not the way that God is; not at all!

Be encouraged! Grace is there for the taking; it’s freedom, it’s light, it’s life in its fulness!

And it never ends!


*I estimate it by looking at website statistics. Am I sad or what 😉


**I do not believe in Hell as an afterlife place of burning torment for those who do not [insert Religion-based qualification/requirement for not being thrown into Hell] before they die 😉

As opposed to,   ***An infernalist, who is someone who does believe in this concept.

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