The most important injustice to set right?

change-the-world

We live in a busy world with increasing demands on our time and our resources. The phrase work-life balance is fairly new to this generation, but so many of us feel the stretch as we seek to answer the demands of the workplace, the demands of our family and marriages, of our friends and our communities, the demands to provide and the demands to relate. It can get overwhelming and so many people seek to find respite in entertainment and in social media. Yet this year has not been a good year to relax in social media (I’m not sure if there has ever been a good year), but it seems this year has been particularly angst-ridden. In the summer, everybody was sounding off about Brexit and in the fall, it was all about Clinton-Trump. THE END OF THE WORLD HAS BEEN NIGH FOR SOME TIME! Or so it would seem -2016 was, after all, an ALL CAPS type of year.

What is particularly disheartening and the reason for this blog is the public shaming and social media shouting that goes on over social justice issues that each side thinks are important. Each tribe picks its list and then gets all self-righteous if the other people (and especially people from the other side of the political spectrum) do not consider their list of social ills the ones that need to be prioritized.

A Long Laundry List of Needs

What do I mean by social ills? We live in a world where there are a lot of things wrong.

  1. Abortion – Children are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet and this vulnerability is no more keenly felt than in the womb. Having had a micro-preemie personally and then seeing videos about the miracle of life such as this one I don’t know how it is right that we do not speak out on behalf of those who have no voice

 

  1. Orphans – Foster Children – Street Children – Vulnerability does not, however, stop in the womb, so many children around the world are orphans, street children, lost, without love and without family, even those caught in the foster system are often no better off. Who is speaking out for them?
  1. Anti-Family Culture – I add this to the last two although no-one really has this one on their radar, but study after study has shown that children grow up best with their biological mother and father, yet we live in a culture where single motherhood has increased, divorce has increased and so many come from broken families. What is being done about this?
  1. Disabilities and Special Needs – Again some of the most vulnerable in our communities all around the world, yet so often they have no voice to speak out and defend themselves.
  1. Widows and the Elderly – In the developed world we don’t think too often about widows – but why not? When parents become a single parent with kids to provide for needs abound
  1. Human Trafficking Victims – Sex Trafficking and Labor Trafficking – Slavery was abolished long ago surely? Unfortunately not for the millions of lives that are still affected. Indentured servitude, grinding poverty, horrific sex work and even the grotesqueries of trafficking in human organs. Millions are affected, but who is speaking up?
  1. Victims of Abuse – So many suffer in silence, sex abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse. Afraid to speak out. Vulnerable women, children and sometimes men – who is speaking out?
  1. Clean Water – Do you realize the deaths and diseases that could be immediately eliminated worldwide if only millions had access to clean drinking water? A problem that could be solved next year if we had the will
  1. Refugees and Victims of War – Much has been said in the recent election cycle about illegal immigration – but the world is facing some humanitarian crises if we do not realize the impact that war in the middle east is having – as Christians, we surely have an obligation?
  1. Gang Violence – Our inner cities have continued to see gang violence take the lives of our young men. Fatherless and disturbed young men with guns is a problem that needs focus if we are to avoid race wars and the solution would seem not to be police with bigger guns.
  1. Global Challenges of Poverty – We continue to see the poor suffer through malnutrition and starvation, disease, poor education and lack of adequate housing – yet who is speaking out for these billions of people?
  1. Victims of Natural Disaster – Add a natural disaster to the mix of all the poverty and you have a truly horrendous scenario – but who is speaking out?
  1. Racial Discrimination – Wherever you look there is prejudice and bigotry both in the US and around the world. With hundreds of years of black slavery and segregation the cards are surely stacked against the black community on many fronts, but racial discrimination doesn’t stop with the black community, much could also be spoken about systemic discrimination against Hispanics and many other ethnic groups including those in the first nations.
  1. Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism – After the atrocities of the holocaust surely the world has learned its lesson in regards to anti-Semitism and its new forms of Anti-Zionism and the BDS Movement – but no I guess not
  1. Misogyny – Many will say their first priority in their fight against injustice is the fight against systemic misogyny with the cards stacked against women in our systems. Women make up 50% of our culture – surely this is a massive injustice?
  1. Systemic Corruption – Such a fundamental problem in nearly every nation – surely the fight for justice is also a fight to see corrupt things get set straight?
  1. The Glorious Gospel – Surely one of the main injustices in our world today is that people have not had access to the gospel, I shouldn’t even put it in this list. This message that brings meaning to the wrong that we see and a solution to the evil in men’s hearts. With this transforming power combined with providing so many areas of the world access to the Bible is surely the most important thing? Especially as we look to the needs of the Islamic world? Yet this is still something we have to do.

I could go on, but even with this initial 17 can you prioritize them from most important to least important? Once you have done this, can you place all of these needs into the context of the busy world that we mentioned at the outset. Now answer the question what can individuals do about this whole list? I think everything on this list is noble and needs to be pursued, the thing is I think someone is lying if they say they are actively doing something about everyone of the items on the list and therefore I don’t think it is a good idea to shame other individuals if you see them not doing one of them.

There is, however, one specific way to get involved in all of these and that is through prayer. Prayer changes things. When heaven gets involved things often shift quicker than twenty years of hard slog.

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Exploring the Transfiguration

transfiguration

 

A little while ago I spent an evening looking at the Transfiguration, what actually happened on the mountain and what was its significance. If you are interested here is the video and audio (and some accompanying teaching notes)

Teaching Handout

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A Short History of Day and Night Prayer

Have you ever looked at the rising number of prayer rooms around the earth and wondered whether this was simply the latest fad or whether it could be squared with New Testament Ecclesiology. I recently spoke at an IHOPKC Encounter God Service to give doubters and those who are becoming vocational intercessors some historical precedent for what we do. Hopefully you will find it helpful

Streaming and downloadable audio only: 

Download the notes here

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My Problem with Church

When James I of England agreed to a new translation of the Bible, a translation which would eventually become the 1611 Authorised Version in the UK and more commonly known in North America as the King James Version, he had only two stipulations to the translation committee. The first was that he wanted to keep the transliteration of the word “Baptism” rather than using a translation such as “dunk” “plunge” or “immerse” and the second was that he wanted to keep the word “Church”. I have some challenges with this stipulation and that is what has led me to write this hopefully short blog.

ChurchVarious words were used in the New Testament to describe the new community that was established after the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost. The Apostles use multiple metaphors to try and describe this “one new man”. The remnant of the faithful in Israel now had embraced Gentiles who had expressed faith in the Jewish Messiah. The most prevalent word that is used to describe this gathering is ekklesia. It was a common word, with no particular religious significance, it is alternately translated as “mob” in places where the context is a riot. Yet it was through this “ekklesia” of believers that “the manifold wisdom of God might be made known … to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10). 

Whenever the word “church” appears in English translations of the Bible the Greek word being translated is ekklesia (ἐκκλησία),which actually means “called out ones” but is always used in the context of a gathering.The English word “church” however derives from another Greek word κυριακός‚ (kuriakos) which means “belonging to the Lord.” It is only used twice in the New Testament and both times are not related to our understanding of what the “Church” is: “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s (κυριακόν) supper that you eat.” (1 Cor. 11:20, ESV) and “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s (κυριακῆ) day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” (Rev. 1:10, ESV).

Because the building where the believers met together eventually became known as “the Lord’s house” (using Greek kuriakon), it entered into the German language as “kirche,” Anglo-Saxon as “circe,” and Middle English as “chirche.” With the advent of “Christendom” and the meshing together of political power with the church, the name “church” became very convenient. The church meant building, the church meant institution, the church meant control. The origins of the word meant this and that is indeed what the institutional church became. However this was not the original meaning of the simple “gathering” or “community” of believers and therefore in the Reformation both Luther and Tyndale translated ekklesia into words meaning community or congregation (in German this became germeinde).

When King James stipulated that the word NOT be translated as community or congregation he knew that the word “church” conjured very different connotations in English as it means either a building or an institution. James wanted to retain this meaning and held a deep hatred towards the Puritans who wanted to see a return to New Testament understandings instead of preferring the institutional power and grandeur of the Roman Catholic Church. The King James Version became not only the standard Bible translation, but it had a defining effect on the entire English language. It is hard to get away from the word – for the idea of word in the New Testament – the New Testament community – the bride of Christ is one of the most powerful groups of people that see the love of God on earth. But the institutional “Church” has not been this throughout history. It has at times in fact been the direct antithesis of this, committing the greatest atrocities known to man. However the challenges remain today in very subtle ways for Christians – how many Christians on a Sunday morning say they are “going to church” – it is unsurprising that many will think of a building when they refer to a church, because that is what it means. What about “I love Jesus, but that doesn’t mean I have to go to church” – this is a foreign concept if you think that salvation means being “born again” into a New Testament community, it is not a strange thing to say if the church is merely an institution or a building to attend.

But at the end of the day we are stuck with the decisions of our forbears to use the word and so perhaps the only way forward with our English word is redemption rather than rejection.

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Does God have One People or Two?

IsraelIs the nation of Israel still relevant today to believers in Jesus? Do those who are ethnic Jews have any place in the plans and purposes of God if they do not believe in Jesus? And what about the land of Israel — I cannot think of a more controversial piece of real estate on the planet — yet does Jerusalem and the land of Israel hold any special place in the heart of God that is different from Tallahassee or Peru? I believe the answers to these questions are important to the heart of God and they are not academic. I also believe the answers to these questions have direct impact upon the lives of Jews and Arabs in the land of Israel therefore they are truly not academic, however in answering the question I want to beg your forgiveness as I must get a little academic to begin with.

Did you grow up Dispensational - always afraid you would be Left Behind?

Did you grow up Dispensational – always afraid you would be Left Behind?

For the last hundred years in North America two very vocal hermeneutical positions have held sway in the church and both have come to different conclusions concerning the place of Israel. The Dispensational position has been supported by the likes of Dallas Theological Seminary, the Assemblies of God, TBN and the Left Behind series – a strong proponent of this position today would be John Hagee. This position has supported the political nation of Israel almost without criticism, the theological position of this group is that God has TWO peoples: Israel and the Church.

According to the traditional Dispensational position God made promises to Israel in the Old Testament which still apply today, however the Church is a different people that began on the day of Pentecost (some even see the birth of the Church taking place in Acts 8 or even 10 – when Gentiles are grafted in). The church will be whisked away by a secret rapture according to this view before an event called the Tribulation while Israel unfortunately will have to go through the great trouble coming to the earth. The extremes of this view, which most Dispensationals eschew, but which most of the opponents will say that this view leads to is “Dual Covenantism”, this essentially means that there are two ways of salvation. Christians are saved through the sacrifice of Jesus, whereas Jews are saved by virtue of their chosen status through the Abrahamic Covenant. I am of course generalizing here, but this means that Dispensational groups will visit Israel en masse, but will often be hesitant to support any form of evangelism to Jewish people.

New Reformed? You probably are influenced by Covenant Theology

New Reformed? You probably are influenced by Covenant Theology

The other hermeneutical position that has been very popular and vocal in recent years has been Covenant Theology. This position has been largely formed and adopted by the Reformed wing of the church – think Presbyterians, many Baptists etc. It holds that there are two (and oftentimes three) covenants that God made (although not explicit and not to be confused with the explicit covenants of Abraham, Moses, David etc). The “Covenant of Works” was the covenant made between God and Adam promising life for obedience and death for disobedience. The “Covenant of Grace” was subsequently made after the Fall of Man – where life is promised to all who put their faith in Jesus. An additional Covenant of Redemption is often added to this framework, which is a covenant made between God the Father and God the Son about the way that the redemption of humanity would come about through the death of the Son. Humanity has therefore related to God since the Fall of Man according to this schema under the Covenant of Grace.

Under this position the church is simply a continuation of the people or assembly of God found during Old Testament times. The “qahal” of Israel is the beginning of the “church” in Old Testament times, then because of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the qahal or ekklesia of God’s people is now Jew and Gentile – one new man in Christ. There is not two people of God, there is clearly one. The extremes with this position is that there is no longer any significance for Jews or the land of Israel because the ekklesia of God and Israel are synonymous and the chosen people are now the church and in such way the ekklesia has “replaced” the blessings that were previously promised to ethnic Israel who had been given the land of Israel as an eternal inheritance. While those who hold dispensationalism do not like being daubed with the “Dual Covenant” brush, likewise those who hold to Covenant Theology will try to evade the “Replacement Theology” tag.

Confused yet? Does God have one people or two? At the heart of much theology is paradox and it is important that we don’t come down too heavily on one side for if we do we will only get part of the story and while this isn’t really paradox it does need nuance. For I believe the answer to the one or two people question is “both”. But you can’t have it both ways I hear you respond impatiently it logically has to be one or the other. Let me respond first by saying what I do not believe about the two people arguments of some dispensationalists. There is only one way of salvation through the blood of the Jewish Messiah. There are not two ways of salvation, furthermore I don’t believe that the “church” will be whisked away for the tribulation leaving the second people of God – the Jews on the earth. There is only one new man in Christ that will be ultimately saved. There is only one people of God ultimately.

However as I read both the Old and the New Testament I am convinced that the “church” (I actually hate our English word “church” and the historical baggage it brings, but that is a rant for another time) was hidden from ages past and was only really “revealed” in the first century after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. This initial gathering was nearly entirely Jewish in nature, and reflected something that has always been true in the history of Israel – the elect in Israel are always a remnant of the faithful (which is why we find Hebrews from the Exodus dying in the wilderness through unbelief). As time went on more and more Gentiles were grafted into the Ekklesia, however I do still believe that the entirety of the ethnic Jewish nation (including currently unbelieving Jews) is what most of the references to Israel were made in the New Testament. With this being the case although I hold to one people of God, there is still a truth that there are promises made to unsaved ethnic Jews, which are different to unsaved ethnic Peruvians.

israel_treeThe picture Paul paints for us in Romans 11 is instructive. He is giving an analogy about a tree – how many trees does Paul talk about? It is possible to answer the main answer is that there is one tree, however the answer has to be a little more nuanced than that. The analogy begins with a natural olive tree that represents ethnic Israel. This is a chosen tree. This is a tree that is actually “holy” in terms of it being chosen and separated for God’s purposes – this is not the case for the wild branches that will be grafted in subsequently – prior to their grafting in they are not to be considered “holy” or “chosen”. The analogy finishes with another tree – it is a hybrid tree, it is not a completely natural tree. This hybrid tree is ultimately the tree that will be saved. The one new man in Christ.

If we apply this analogy to the “unsaved Jew” and the “unsaved Gentile”, it is clear we see there are differences. The unsaved Jew is chosen until he rejects the salvation that is offered through the blood of Jesus. The unsaved Gentile is not chosen until he accepts the salvation found through Jesus Christ. There is therefore a truth to the fact that God has chosen both the natural and the hybrid tree – although ultimately (and eternally) it is only the hybrid tree that will enjoy the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. The blessings of this include the land of Israel which I have not mentioned hitherto now, yet the land is a hugely important component of the blessing of all the covenants of God and will ultimately be fulfilled by the Son of God returning to earth and ruling from Jerusalem. Therefore both the unsaved Jew is still “chosen” in one sense and the land of Israel is also still chosen and it is important for those of us who are grafted into this hybrid tree to never forget. Israel is important in the heart of God and for that reason must be important to us.

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Act of Killing and the Judeo-Christian Heritage we should not despise

Act of KillingThe Act of Killing is a hard to watch, thought provoking 2012 documentary which won Best Documentary at the 2014 Bafta Awards. It follows certain Indonesian ‘death-squad’ leaders from the 1965-66 purge which saw 500,000 killed in the space of a year. The documentary makers follow these guys as they chillingly re-enact some of their heinous crimes. As I said it is not an enjoyable watch. It becomes somewhat surreal in places, as they are trying to create a “movie” of these recreations. These “gangsters” as they are called are still somewhat revered by the authorities in Indonesia today. It made me think it would almost be like meeting up with ex-Nazi’s in South America and filming them re-enact some of their crimes – not for the faint of heart, but certainly thought provoking.

The reason it got me thinking was due to a comment by one of these murdering “gangsters” who questioned the standards by which society judges such crimes. He essentially said he cared little for the Geneva Conventions – tomorrow it might be the Jakarta Convention. He said it was the “winners” who enforced such standards. This made me think about some of the discoveries that were made in the making of the Nefarious Documentary. When the team went to South East Asia, it found that in some of the countries the practice of selling daughters into sex slavery was not only prevalent, but it was to a large extent an accepted part of the culture. When it is ingrained into a society that accepts these positions as Karma, and nobody even questions such behaviour as “wrong” it becomes very difficult to break rings of violence and evil.

Which brings us back to the Geneva Conventions and indeed much of what we consider to be right and wrong in Western Culture. Much of these standards owe much to the Judeo-Christian heritage that has prevailed in Europe for nearly the past millennia and in North America for the past 300-400 years. That is not to say that these places have been free from mass abuses of power and massive tyranny at times. But the basis for right, wrong, mercy and forgiveness, were largely set by the assumptions of this heritage. We actually have much to be thankful for. It is these standards that informed things like the Geneva Convention. Although I believe many of these standards come ultimately from God, there is nothing to stop us from rejecting this heritage and dispensing with these standards over time. However I think that as I ponder the lessons from South East Asia in these two documentaries, dispensing with objective truth and such Christian values does not bode well for our society.

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My Top Ten Book List

So I love reading. I can’t really pick one book that is my favorite. However I thought I would write a blog about my top ten books. Yet even as I start this I am breaking the rules. In nearly all of them I have picked an author, rather than a book. If I find a good author I tend to read nearly everything that they have written. Another disclaimer I need to make – this is a top ten, but I can’t in good conscience say that they are in order of preference, because I don’t really have a number one book of all time (excepting the Bible of course), but at least I’ve made an attempt –  here goes:

unlocking-the-bible10. Unlocking the Bible by David Pawson

I recommend all Christians to have this on their bookshelf. I obviously have an enormous spiritual debt to David Pawson, I would put him as one of the formative spiritual fathers that have shaped my theology. If you can’t afford the book go to davidpawson.org and listen to David teach – you won’t regret it.

Tipping Point

           9. Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is a fine and exceedingly interesting writer. Although I have to admit, I kind of like popular psychology (which Gladwell revels in). I have read all his books and many of his New Yorker articles. If you haven’t read him, get one of his books. The Tipping Point is a good starting place.

peace-child

8. Peace Child by Don Richardson

I grew up reading old biographies of the Wesley’s, Edwards, Finney’s etc and missionary biographies. I’m reading a great one at the moment entitled The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken. I encourage anyone to have their faith stirred by such missionary tales. Peace Child is fairly old now, but the tale of a missions effort to a tribe of cannibals was truly compelling.

Advantage

7. The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

I am a bit of a sucker for business management books, from the Seven Habits to Getting Things Done (which I would highly recommend). In this genre Patrick Lencioni is my new favorite and The Advantage is the new book which combines much of his older teaching on organizational health which is                                                   a must read.

till we have faces

6. Till We Have Faces by C.S.Lewis

I have loved C.S. Lewis since I was a child saving up pocket money to buy the next installment of Narnia, then in my teenage years reading through many of Lewis’s Christian books. I could have included Mere Christianity here, Screwtape or the Space Trilogy, but I have always had a soft spot for this myth retold – Till We Have Faces. I might also squeeze in Lord of the Rings by Tolkien on this entry, but that seems like something of  a cheat.

Apostolic Foundations

 5. Apostolic Foundations by Art Katz

I met Art Katz a few times when he came to IHOPKC. I found his messages meaty. But I have to say his writing needs to be read and then read again. Apostolic Foundations is a classic.

 

 

 

tale of three kings 4. Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards

A made up story by Gene Edwards about King David’s approach to Saul and Absalom. A study in brokenness and humility. I loved this book as well as some of Edwards other books like the Divine Romance however there are some books which Edwards has written, which I would not recommend as they come off angry and unhelpful.

Moments

3. Moments with the Savior by Ken Gire

This is a beautifully written book, as are some of the other titles by Gire which are well worth getting like Windows of the Soul and The Reflective Life. This one simply focuses on Jesus.

 

 

Passion for Jesus

2.  Passion for Jesus by Mike Bickle

This is another spiritual indebtedness thing. I have been more impacted by Mike Bickle spiritually than nearly any other man. Mike has several books. The Seven Commitments of a Forerunner is a book which deserves a much bigger readership, however if you are just starting the Mike, Passion for Jesus is a good place to start.

Prodigal God

 1. The Prodigal God by Tim Keller – I love all things Timothy Keller. I would particularly recommend Center Church, The Meaning of Marriage, Reason for God and Counterfeit Gods, however I have read The Prodigal God about 3-4 times in the past year and it is a great overview of the Gospel of Grace.

 

 

So there you have it – the Top Ten. I must make some honorable mentions to John Piper and Desiring God and What Jesus Demands of the World, N.T. Wright, The Heavenly Man and a multitude of History books – but there you have it. Which ones do you like?

If people are interested I could do my top ten history books…. but not sure if that would be as interesting to as many.

 

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