Sunday, 30 June 2019

By another route-Matthew 5v43-45 There are people who believe that both the election of Trump and Brexit are Gods will. They believe that Britain is Ephraim in the Old Testament. Or that the British are modern-day Israelites, Gods chosen people, because we are descended from Assyrians (modern day Germany). Only two nations in history can fit God’s promises to these two tribes: the British Empire and the United States. But Ephraim will be taken into captivity by the EU. And Brexit will usher in the End Time. Its complete rubbish in my opinion not just fake news but fake theology but google it and you’ll see it perpetuated. Similarly a great many evangelicals believe that the feet of the image in Nebuchadnezzars dream, his ten toes are the Roman Empire (Dan 2:41)’.The European Union is an extension of the Old Roman Empire. And the Anti-Christ is the EU! Trouble is there are actually 27 toes!, This is the sort of theology coming out of white evngelicals in North America. It’s been around for years and it is based on someone’s ideas not the Bible, but their interpretation. On the morning after the Brexit vote under the title of "God has spoken", Peter Horrobin wrote the result was a "massive answer to prayer" and said: "God has acted to set the UK free from the external spiritual control of the European Union. The EU has an evil spiritual power. There has been much goodwill towards Britain as the nation which stood firm against Nazi Germany and helped to liberate Western European countries in 1944-45, but there is a widespread sense that Britain has not yet come to terms with no longer being a world power, with an empire, and is still trying to behave like a colonial power, telling other nations what is best for them. And we have now lost the plot. In Proverbs we read “The fool whose way seems right to him, in contrast to wise people, who listen to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). Jesus was interested in what people were saying about him. “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13), because this helped to define for them his role and mission. Jesus’ said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). “The Lord has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled). … The arrogance of humankind will be brought low and human pride humbled” (Isaiah 2:12,17). A few hours after the announcement that the UK had voted to leave the European Union, a Rabbi, an international Bible Codes expert, turned to the Hebrew text of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible to find a reference to the event. on June 24, 2016, he published a 5-minute video about Brexit in Bible Codes. He believes that part of the Hebrew Bible ,Torah is numerically coded and can be used to predict the future. Some people we never landed on the moon! From Pharaoh to Nebuchadnezzar to Caesar, all had more or less supreme power in their kingdoms. Even the king of Israel had much more power than any leader in a modern democracy, but the king of Israel was supposed to rule with justice according to the Law as God’s representative. In fact, all kings are supposed to rule with justice and will be judged accordingly (Psalm 82). However, autocratic dictators are a problem if they refuse to be governed by the law of God and become a law unto themselves. Christians in modern democracies have tools to oppose out-of-control rulers that ancient Christians probably never imagined—voting, freedom of expression, the right to assemble, and we must use these tools. Of course, a fascist regime is repressive, so individual rights are usually suppressed. The key is to use these rights while they are still available to prevent fascism from coming to full power. The exaltation of the national over individual rights is never good. America First! There has to be is a balance. At times, people are called to go to war to protect the nation when many of them would rather not. At times, a governmental body can confiscate private property for the public good. There must be a balance, and Western democracies have been able to maintain that balance through a system of “checks and balances” between the government and the people and within the government so that no single individual gains too much power. Exalting our own nation above all other nations is also never good. There is nothing wrong with a nation looking out for its own interests, but when this happens to the detriment of other nations, it runs contrary to Scripture. Philippians 2:3–4 give us the ideal: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” What is said here of the individual would also apply to nations. A leader can confuse his or her own personal good with that of the nation and its people. To create any distinction between people and the exaltation of one people above another has no biblical basis. First, biologically speaking, there is only one race—the human race with the scientific classification Homo sapiens. The differences like skin colour or the shape of the eye are simply variations within the species. Other distinctions such as food, music, and style of dress are the result of cultural forces. Ultimately, there is no real difference between people—all are made in the image of God. For this reason, a Christian should have no part in nationalist organizations. Never ever. A new form of dangerous political leadership is emerging in different parts of the world. Although this is not the first, and likely not the last time, the threat today is real. It is an ideology characterized by fundamentalist, militant, nationalistic, and racist policies, and it threatens people who are different, be it the poor, the oppressed, the homeless, the marginalised, the disenfranchised—people for whom God has a special concern. As members of the global Christian community, our call is very different. Our call is to a radical biblical faithfulness amid this new popularism. We are called to lives of peace, justice, and hope as we follow Jesus Christ. However many followers of Jesus, have contributed to this new popularism including some high profile evangelical leaders who have hailed Trump as a prophet and Brexit as Gods will. Its not surprising that many young people, are abandoning the churches altogether. The challenge to the church at these difficult times is to ensure: That we show mercy and just treatment to immigrants, refugees, strangers, and racial and religious minorities; That we reject all sorts of objectification of women and commercialization of sex; That we are responsible for the care of God’s creation, including taking seriously the reality and dangers of climate change; That we are committed to world peace in the face of the war industry, military rhetoric and action; That we will protect the poor, marginalized, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups, including children and young people. Both misogyny and street brawls are part of this new popularism as it was in the 30s and 40s. In the 1930s the newspapers were for hostile to people like Moseley, Mussolini and Hitler. Today however this is not the case. Christians are sometimes part of the problem. They are also creating a “religious right” agenda with their agendas. The political situation we are in creates enemies and scapegoats (e.g., how the Nazis depicted the Jews). The cause of the problem is the Irish, the Jews, migration, the Muslims, the unemployed, benefit fraud etc Moses’ law gave the nation of Israel a guideline for deciding on justice: ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’ (Lev 24:20). The penalty for the crime was equal to the crime. But is what Moses’ wrote applicable to us as Christians? Jesus, answer in Matthew 5 indicates not. Our calling demands much more from us. ‘Do not resist an evil person.’ Jesus says to his disciples. ‘Jesus is not prohibiting the use of force by governments, police, or soldiers when combating evil. Jesus here is focusing on our personal behaviour . Romans 13:1-5 makes it clear that the state is given authority by God to implement justice. But Jesus is saying that we are not to take the law into our own hands. The implementation of justice belongs to the courts and to God on Judgment Day, but not to us. The word ‘resist’ here could also be translated as ‘avenge’ or ‘retaliate’. Jesus means that, when someone personally wrongs us, we must not respond with hatred, bitterness, revenge or retaliation. This is radically different to the Old Testament Law and deeply challenging. ‘If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.’ A slap to the cheek was a great insult in a culture of honour, as it still is today. But if someone insults you, don’t slap or insult them back. Don’t respond in the same spirit. Rather offer them your other cheek.’ In this way love overcomes evil. It is not an act of cowardice, but of strength. ‘And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.’ When someone falsely accuses you, give them your coat if they need it. Love overcomes evil. ‘If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.’ In those days, a Roman soldier had the right to exploitatively make any person carry his baggage for a mile. But Jesus called them to offer to carry their baggage another mile if they need our help. Again, love overcomes evil. ‘Give to the one who asks you.’ No one likes to be accosted by people begging and the maxim is not to give money. A common response is to ignore them. But Jesus urges us to give. Love even a beggar. In each case, good overcomes evil (Rom 12:21) Jesus does not give us laws, but illustrations of the principle of love that overcomes evil. There may be times when we have to exercise self-defence (see Luke 12:11, 22:36-38), or confront or even press charges against someone (see Gal 2:11-14), or protest against being unjustly treated (see John 18:22-23), or to say no to a demand. The point is that we act in genuine love toward those who hurt us, accuse us, exploit us. They may deal with us in an aggressive, even hateful manner, but we respond in the opposite spirit. This is not weakness. It is showing you are answering to a higher call on your life. Martin Luther King had a great deal to say about conquering people with love and of course he paid the ultimate sacrifice. I wonder what he would have to say to us today in the time of Trump and Brexit? Dark days indeed and we must be very careful of our words and actions or we may unleash even darker times. May God give us all wisdom. Amen.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Advent 1 Luke 21:25-38

In this strange passage from Luke’s gospel we have the signs of the end and the coming again of Jesus. It’s a very strange text for Advent. 

Having spoken of the destruction of Jerusalem, the disciples ask Jesus "when will this be and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" Jerusalem was surrounded by armies." Jesus goes on to outline the signs of dreadful portents and persecution, and then identifies the sign that heralds the end. 
There will be the shaking of the powers of heaven, v25-26;
The coming of the Son of Man v27.
Saying, v28:"when these things begin to take place .... your redemption is drawing near."
Parable, v29-31:The parable of the fig tree;
Saying, v32-33:"this generation will certainly not pass away until ......... my words will never pass away."
Saying v34-35:"that day will close on you suddenly like a trap"
Saying v36:"be always on the watch, and pray."
The back ground of the passage is Daniel 7:13. Jesus will come back. 
The destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem happened in  AD 68-70 so it occurred in the generation of those hearing Jesus words. The prophets used such imagery of judgement on Israel’s enemies but Jesus has turned it on its head and applied it to Israel itself. 

The nations will be distressed. The seas will be distressed, a possible illusion to global warming.  (The Jewish people then feared the power of the sea). People will faint with fear and panic.  Even the stars will appear to shake. 

So then Jesus alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 and the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus, God, the Ancient of Days. Gods kingdom will come. And this coming heralds the end times. And he comes with his angels, just as at his birth, and the people of the earth will be gathered together. 

 So when these things take place, stand up, look up, your deliverance is near and you will soon be free,  

Then we get the parable of the fig tree. As new sprouts on the fig tree tell us that summer is near, so the presence of these signs tell us that God's eternal reign is upon us. The early Christians witnessed Jerusalem surrounded by armies and they knew well that the end of the restored kingdom of Israel was at hand. History tells us that the believers fled Jerusalem before its destruction by Rome in 70AD. These same signs will herald the end of our age and the realization of the kingdom of heaven. Let us pray that we too will be able to read the signs in that day. So, read the evident signs and don't be caught out.

This is a teaching parable, a lesson from nature. when they sprout leavesyou can see for yourselvesthat summer is nearWhen you see these things happening, Gods kingdom is near. (Mark uses the phrase “at the door”).

Now the symbol of the fig tree coming into leave is a sign of Gods coming blessing (Joel 2v22). So Jesus emphasis was to direct the hearers to the blessing that was the coming salvation. The fig tree is spindly and looks dead in the winter so it is easy to notice the sudden change to growth with the green shoots ( I know Ive got one!) . The dead fig tree is suddenly green and has life. The winter is over and summer has come. A new season has begun. 

In the same way God will give signs of change if we watch. What signs of new life can you see? What signs, green shoots of change? What possibilities of a new season, hope. Light in darkness? 
So be careful that you are not weighed down with the anxieties of life because that day will come suddenly. it will come upon all of us, everyone in the whole earth.

So be always on the watch, alwayspraying, 

We are living in a time of darkness, a time of waiting for the light but don’t get used to the darkness because better times are coming. Look out for them.  
And in the meantime, be the light in the darkness yourself in your lives and light up your corner of Gods world. 

(with thanks to Bryan Finlayson and Joachim Jeremias)



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