Thursday, 14 August 2014

Is It Alright For a Christian to Lie?

I was making calls on Alpha churches this morning. At one church was a fellow working on his car in the parking lot. I asked if he was part of this church. He said he used to go there, but he was not the pastor. (I knew that, because I know the pastor.) He said he now has a calling to visit various churches and seek out false teaching. Well... OK...

I told him I was with Alpha. He said he had seen the Alpha course and there were areas of it with which he was uncomfortable. I asked him what one area of concern might be and he said he couldn't think of any right off the bat.  Finally he said he thought that Nicky Gumbel lumped all churches together, including the Catholic church. This fellow was unfortunately one of those who consider the Catholic Church to be evil. All I said to this was that in my travels I had met many wonderful Spirit-filled Catholics in wonderful Spirit-filled parishes. (I am, after all, an Alpha leader and trained not to get into arguments.) He actually agreed magnanimously that there might be true Christians in the Catholic Church.

I don't know how the subject started, but the conversation turned to whether or not it was OK for a Christian to lie. I said I thought that it was sometimes alright for a Christian to do so. The actual commandment (the 9th) that most people take as a prohibition against lying is actually not a blanket prohibition. It says you shall not bear false witness (give false testimony) against your neighbour. In my opinion this is a fairly specific prohibition against exactly what it says, not a general prohibition of not telling the truth in any and every circumstance. He disagreed adamantly, of course.

I didn't have my Bible with me, and my phone (with a Bible app) was in my car, but I did mention that I thought God had told Moses to lie to Pharaoh, and that Rahab was commended for lying to protect the Israelite spies, but I didn't have specific references at hand.

I do now. In Exodus 3: 18, God tells Moses:
...you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.
When in fact there was no intention of taking a mere 3 day journey. We know that Rahab lied to the authorities about the whereabouts of the Israelite spies (Joshua 2) and was rewarded for it. In Hebrews 11:31 and in James 2:25 she was actually commended and "considered righteous" for it.

I think this gives good Scriptural evidence for my point. Anybody think differently?

Take Care    

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Rapture


I'm amazed that by far the most page views on this blog have to do with the Rapture that I posted years ago. So in order to fill this space, and perhaps give these readers something more to see, I will post a few more posts on the subject. These are from a book I wrote a number of years ago when I actually took an active interest in the subject. Lately, you will know that my attention has been on Alpha and reaching out to others with the good news of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But to let you in on what I once studied, and to share my thoughts from that time, here, and possibly a few posts following, are some more thoughts on the Rapture of the Church.For the Christian believer what is known as the Rapture is the most climactic event in all of end time prophecy:  what is known as the "Rapture".
 
The word 'Rapture' does not occur in the Bible, but the concept certainly does.  The term itself is taken from the Greek word meaning 'caught up'.  The doctrine of the Rapture is this: there will come a time during these end-time events when the church, every living Christian believer, will be caught up into the air to be with Jesus along with the resurrection of every saved person who has ever lived.  It will occur before the wrath and judgment of God is poured out upon a wicked and rebellious world. 
There are those who don't believe in a literal Rapture, or even in a literal Millennial Kingdom, but to do so one must disregard the clear teachings of Scripture.  There are also those who hold to a post-millennial Rapture, that is, that the church will not be raptured until the end of the thousand year reign of Christ, but this too, I believe, is unscriptural.
 
I believe the Bible clearly teaches that there will be a pre- millennial Rapture, that it will occur before God sends His righteous wrath upon the unbelieving world, before Christ returns in judgment and before he sets up his 1000 year kingdom here on earth.  But that's not the end of the discussion.  Even among premillennialists, there are a number of views as to the exact timing of the event.  These include:
Posttribulationism; the Rapture will occur when Christ returns at the end of the seventieth week to judge the world. According to this view, when Christ reaches the air above the earth at his second coming, the church will be raptured up to meet him and then return immediately with him to earth.  It assumes that the church will go through the entire final seventieth week.  I think it can also be proven false by analyzing scripture.
 
Pretribulationism; the Rapture will occur sometime before the last seven year period of history begins, that is, before the Antichrist signs the covenant signaling the beginning of the seventieth week.  Some even feel that it will occur even before the Antichrist begins to consolidate his power by overthrowing three of the ten rulers in the final world empire.
     Let me give you a couple of verses that holders of this position use to back up this view.  1 Thessalonians 1:10.
 
"...to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from  the dead -- Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come."
 
1 Thessalonians 5: 9.
 
"For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."
 
One more, Revelation 3: 10, from the letter to the Church in Philadelphia.
 
"Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I  will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
 
Each of these verses seem to indicate that the church will not suffer the wrath of God that is to be poured out on the world as part of Christ's second coming, and I must say that I think that is a correct interpretation.  God’s wrath was already poured out, on our behalf, on Christ, on the cross. However, I'm going to tip my hand here and say that, although the 'Pre-trib' position is probably the currently most popular one, I don't think it's correct.  I'm afraid it may be wishful thinking. It was not considered in the early church and in fact did not appear as a theory until the early 1800's.
 
Midtribulationism; that the church will be raptured exactly at the mid-point of Daniel's seventieth week, when the Antichrist sets himself up in the Temple, declaring himself to be God.  This is the event which signals the beginning of the time of 'Great Tribulation'.  This and the next position rely on the interpretation that the time of God's wrath does not begin at the beginning of the seventieth week, but only at the mid-point or sometime after.
 
The Pre-wrath position; this falls somewhere between the mid- and post-tribulation positions.  It teaches that the Rapture takes place sometime after the mid-point of the seventieth week, but before the wrath of God begins.  It holds that the church will go through a period of tribulation and persecution by the Antichrist following the mid-point of the seventieth week, but that this period of great tribulation will be cut short "...for the sake of the elect...", as Jesus tells us in Matthew 24: 22, and we will be raptured just before the day of the Lord judgment is poured out upon the unbelieving world.  This was the opinion of many of the early Church Fathers and this, in the author's opinion, is the correct position. I'm sure many people will disagree with me, so we will spend some time trying to discern just what the Bible actually teaches.
 
Let me first say that our God is the Sovereign Lord of the Universe.  He is accountable to no one.  Whatever He has ordained, that is what will take place, and if what you or I happen to believe turns out to be different from what actually happens, well, we know who was right and who was wrong.  This issue of the timing of the Rapture can tend to be a highly emotional one, with firmly and passionately held views, and so I would urge that it not become a point of violent argument.  We do not need to divide over this issue, and true, born again Christian believers who hold to any one position are just as saved as those who believe another.  In fact, the Rapture will happen when it will happen.  It's just that some of us may be more surprised than others when it happens.

It is crucially important, though, that we not allow ourselves to be mistaken or deceived on this.  If it is to be a pre-trib Rapture, that is what it will be.  We will all be pleasantly surprised, including myself.  However, if (and this is very important) --if it is not, then all those who have been assured and have accepted that the church will not enter the seventieth week may not be prepared if and when they do. Indeed, if we blindly accept popular teaching that we will not be here when the Antichrist is revealed, many may not even believe that it is the Antichrist when he does come. They may say, "No, this couldn't be him, because I've always been told that we would be raptured before he came."  This, as you can well imagine, would be a deadly mistake.  We could be in the seventieth week and many people might not even be aware of it. As you know, there are certain events which will occur within that seven years which Christians, if we are here, have to be ready for.  This is one of the main reasons I'm doing this analysis; to try to prepare those who will listen for what may happen.  It is essential that the Body of Christ be prepared when (or if) these things do come to pass.  Even those who teach the pre-trib position, I feel, do the church a disservice if they insist that theirs is the only possible position.  They should at least acknowledge the possibility that there are other options and they could be wrong.

More to come.

Take Care

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Forgive Me Father, For I Have Been Flippant.

I was at a function the other day where we closed with singing a few hymns. There were about 20 or 30 of us gathered outside in a beautiful back yard. Someone asked,
"What will we sing first?"
The host replied,
"It's Your Choice."
I said,
"I don't know that one. Is it an Arminian hymn?"
Got some weird looks. I hope God has a sense of humour and doesn't mind His children having a little fun.

If not, I'm in big trouble.

Take Care
 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Hands That Shed Innocent Blood

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blooda heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
 The puzzling thought just came to me: just what is Hamas trying to accomplish? They have been firing rockets into Israel for some time now. What has it accomplished but first the bombing and shelling, and now the current ground invasion of Gaza by Israel? There have been ceasefires, but inevitably, immediately after, and sometimes even during, Hamas continues to resume firing these rockets. Very little has been accomplished by them. Israel's Iron Dome defence system shoots down most of them. So what is their point? All their actions do is to bring further misery upon their own people. It is like prodding a lion with a stick - thinking what? That the lion won't strike back? No: they know better than that now. But they keep prodding.

They loudly decry the damage and casualties they say are the result of Israel's actions, but they must know that Israel's actions are merely a response to their own. I have heard Palestinian sympathizers liken the situation to responding to firecrackers with missiles. It's a little more serious than that. These, "firecrackers" can kill people, and the only reason they have not killed more is because of Israel's missile defence system. But Hamas has held the solution to this conflict in their hands all along - just stop throwing firecrackers.

Israel has agreed to a number of ceasefires for humanitarian reasons. Hamas has also ceased their fire for times. But Hamas inevitably begins re-launching these rockets. To what end? They know they have little effect. They also know that their actions bring overwhelming retaliation, but they keep doing it. What can they possibly be thinking, other than they actually want this retaliation. I say again, they know that their own actions are ineffective, but they keep inviting this retaliation on their own people? Do they not care? Apparently not.

In short, Hamas keeps engaging in actions that they know bring misery upon their own people.
Whether or not Israel is justified in their response is beside the point. Hamas just keeps inviting it.
It's like someone spitting in another person's face. Spitting does no real physical damage, but sooner or later, the one being spat upon is going to say, "Enough" and retaliate to stop it. But Hamas just keeps spitting, inviting this retaliation. They seem to be inviting this destruction on purpose. It seems pretty stupid to me.

But perhaps they want this  destruction of their own people and property for the sake of world opinion - so that the world will condemn Israel for their retaliation. If that is the case, they seem willing to sacrifice the lives of their own people to this end. They are shedding the innocent blood of their own people for mere propaganda purposes. What could be more evil than that?

There seem to be only two possibilities; they are either stupid or evil.

Or both.

Take Care,

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Amazing Testimonies of Iranian Christians


 
 
Nicky Gumbel interviews 2 brave young women.

Again I say, Amazing! Nothing I can add. Please watch it all.

Take Care

h/t Anglican Samizdat, thanks David.

Monday, 21 July 2014

A Devotion for This Morning


(Cross posted from here)

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
    for in you my soul takes refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
    until the disaster has passed. (Psalm 57:1) 

This verse has special meaning to me because it helped me through a very difficult time of my life. I think of it now, not only for anyone who may be going through a difficult time, but for our brothers and sisters, Christians in the Middle East (Mosul, where apparently Christians and any sign of their existence are being eradicated from the city) and Nigeria, for instance, who may also be going through struggles we cannot even imagine. 

Yesterday’s lectionary reading was from Romans 8, about the sufferings of this present time not being worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us, and the creation itself groaning to be set free from its bondage to corruption when Christ returns to set everything right. I can imagine these Christians in Mosul pleading, “Amen, come Lord Jesus.” 

Have mercy on me is the cry of desperation. It was the cry to Jesus of the tax collector, of a Canaanite woman, a blind beggar. Of David, the Psalmist. People don’t generally cry, “Have mercy on me” when things are going well; as Matt Redman says in in Blessed be Your Name, “when the sun’s shining down on me, when the world’s all that it should be…”  No, people plead for mercy when they are in the deepest of trouble; when things are at their most hopeless. And here David pleads it twice.

But it is a reassuring verse. “For in you I take refuge…” How reassuring to know God – to know that there is a place of refuge. How hopeless would it be if we didn’t know there was this place of refuge? How hopeless it must be for those who don’t know Him.

We may sometimes have the opportunity to tell some troubled soul about this place of refuge. 2 Cor 1:3-4 tells us that the God of all comfort comforts us so that we may be able to comfort others with the comfort we have received

Where is this place of refuge? It is in the shadow of His wings. We can be confident it is an absolutely safe and firm place of refuge. What could be safer than under the wings of the Almighty, the King and creator of the universe.

The Bible speaks in a number of places about a bird sheltering her young beneath her wings – an owl in Isaiah 34:15.

In Matthew 23 Jesus laments, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. 

Jesus longs to gather us under his wings, to care for us, to protect us; even those who, to this point, have rejected him. He longs for them to come to him in this way. Here is where Alpha comes in: People are free to choose or reject this offer, it is available to all, and we need to offer it to all. It’s not up to us whether they accept or reject. But if they refuse this offer, their destiny is on their own heads. Jesus assumes no responsibility for their fate. He says, “Your house is left to you desolate.” 

The final phrase in the verse from the Psalm gives hope – “Until the disaster has passed” Not if, but when. – It will pass. We have firm assurance that if we take refuge in the Lord our God, the disaster will pass. Not that we can take this in a flippant or facile way. We can’t necessarily be presumptuous. For some it may not pass in the way we wish or expect. 

As Jesus says, rather paradoxically, in Luke 21: "...they will put some of you to death… But not a hair of your head will perish." 

If we have put our faith in Christ, we are safe. The disaster will pass. As my friend and Alpha RD for Ontario put it this morning, The disaster will pass if we put  our faith in the One who will not pass away. 
Isaiah 43:2 - “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
 
 Again, we may take these verses for ourselves or we may have the opportunity to be a comfort to others at some point. Not so much by quoting various Scripture verses, but by inviting them to come and meet this God who can provide them the ultimate refuge.
 
Blessings,
John

Friday, 11 July 2014

Prostitution and Bill C-36

I'm afraid I'm not all that familiar with the current Bill C-36, the bill to overhaul Canada's prostitution laws. Nor am I familiar with any current laws governing the practice, other than to know that no set of laws or regulations is going to please everybody. Whatever the law, in the end, some people are not going to like it.

But I do have some thoughts on the matter, based on my experiences with those in the trade. I realize that sounds questionable, so I will clarify before I go any further. I ran Alpha in a Provincial jail for about three years, a number of years ago. It was a co-ed institution, so there were women there as well as men. Most of the women there were in for prostitution or drug offences or both. In fact, the two often went hand-in-hand. That is, they would sell their bodies to pay for the drugs they needed to mask the pain of having to sell their bodies.

So let me first take issue with those who would try to glamourize prostitution. These always seems to be some feminist insisting it is a woman's right to be involved in the trade. Bullshit! Not that it isn't a woman's right, but that I believe by far the majority of women involved in street prostitution are not there exercising their right to do so. They are there for a variety of reasons, many of them not of their own choosing.

The question I would ask such a person, or even anyone selling their bodies for sex is this,
"Would you like your daughter to follow in your footsteps? Is this the life you would wish for your daughter?"
I sense the answer would an overwhelming, "No!" There may be some women, at some level, who may enjoy what they do, but most of these girls are not there because they want to be, but because, for one reason or another, they have no other choice. I have sat and spoken with a number of these girls, both in a prison chapel and over coffee in seedy restaurants in inner-city Edmonton, and have heard the wishes hopes and dreams they have for their future. Most would break your heart. At least many did mine. Almost to a woman, they wished to break free of the enslavement of their occupation. One very poignant example was a strikingly pretty young native girl in the jail. She said her ambition when she got out was to get a job in advertising and work in an office building. Trying to keep an interested, or at least neutral expression on my face, my heart just sank within me. Because I knew she didn't stand a chance, the way things then were. She had a practically impossible dream, given her background education and circumstances.

These women who wish to escape the trade need so much support. They need a new community and circle of friends. They need intensive new training and education. They need people to truly love them and walk beside them into a new place in their lives. They need patience, both on their own part and that of those working to help them.

I would love to see more help for them, and I think it would better our society to find ways to provide it. I tried in my own way all those years ago, but I was in way over my head. It's going to take a whole community. Alpha has a program for prison inmates as well as a program of Caring for Ex-Offenders that I would love to see supported and expanded. For more information, and perhaps as a first step in seeing if you can help, please go here. Or check out this facebook page for another fine outreach. These are people who are actually doing something; not just talking or complaining.

There is so much more to say, and I have so many more opinions on various aspects of this issue, but that will be it for now.

Take Care

Thursday, 10 July 2014

From Self-Help to Self-Absorption to Entitlement

Perhaps this is where it all started.

I had some very eye-opening conversations with Michael Harvey recently about the difficulty of inviting people to church, or, of particular interest to me, to Alpha.

The common reason one finds for the seeming inability to invite is fear. Fear in several areas; fear of rejection; fear of imposing our views on others; fear of losing a friend, fear of not having the right words, etc.

As hesitant as people have become to invite, I think we have also seen a corresponding hesitancy to accept invitations.
Why is this? I have some thoughts. I think people today are far more self-centered than in previous generations. We often want to be able to indulge every desire without accountability. I believe the current focus on matters of broadening sexual morality and various sexual rights is a symptom or a result of this new attitude; not a cause of it. Within my own memory, I look back to the self esteem teachings of the 1970's when my own children were young. It began to become the attitude that children should never face disappointment or "failure." Competitiveness and reward for excellence fell out of favour, because, hey, we didn't want less talented children in various areas to feel left out or disadvantaged or, well, less talented.

So, along with this sense of entitlement comes an aversion to accountability. People have become so self entitled, and right and wrong so subjective, that we don't want anybody pointing out what we know they will tell us is wrong. It's an insult that anyone would have the nerve to think that anything we do is wrong. And the Christian faith and church is seen by many as THE paradigm of legalism, rules and enforced accountability.

So we have an image problem. Some churches have tried to solve the problem by softening, relaxing their standards, both in theology and behaviour. It hasn't worked.

We have progressed from an attitude of independence, to self reliance, to self indulgence, to selfishness. The standard commercial buzzphrase in recent generations has become, "You deserve it. You're worth it." But perhaps it began decades earlier, with Dale Carnegie. Perhaps in fact it began, come to think of it, in the garden with the lie, "You can be like gods."

Perhaps it has always been thus, but in recent years it now seems more pervasive than ever.
What can we in the church do about it? How can we draw people with ears to hear into a conversation about the Christian faith without first scaring them away? I wonder if this would work.

Take Care