Justification might not be the whole Good News – but it is the best news you will ever hear in this life.

The CrossToday is Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – surely the most solemn day in the calendar of the Jewish people. It is also a day that we remember the perfect atonement that took place. Jesus/Yeshua died on a Roman cross so that through His blood our sins could be atoned for and we could stand righteous in the sight of God.

The cross is perhaps as foundational as you can get in terms of the Gospel. In the death and resurrection of Jesus we see the cosmic plan of redemption and the way of redemption for each individual collide in the bloody murder of the Son of God.  Yeshua’s incarnation was good news of the highest order. God had become man and not only that but he had blended the expectation for a Messianic, son of David with the God/Man identity. That was certainly good news – the solution had arrived and was evidence that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. This was the gospel that Jesus preached around Galilee. But the coming was only the beginning of the Good News, for without the fullness of the plan (coming to seek and save the lost), I as a heathen gentile would still be dead and lost in my sins. I am not dead.

Justification is not the fullness of the Gospel, it does not factor in the Good News that the Son of God will come to rule and reign upon the earth, making all things new where there will be no more tears, sickness or sin. But justification is one of the best pieces of news you can ever hear in this life. The fact that Jesus died on a cross for your sinful condition AND for your sinful actions means that we can come to him in repentance and faith and have our old life washed away. The amazing exchange we have been given is that we can give Jesus our life of sinful mistakes and religious striving and be given in exchange a life of perfect obedience and perfect sacrifice. He took our life and gave us His. This exchange, if we understand its implications must have world shattering consequences for us as believers.

And that is why on this day I want to remember again and let the fact that “Jesus died for my sins” not become a trite cliché. But rather the start of another conversation of thankfulness to the one who still dwells with me through His Spirit.

Thank you Jesus

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The Difference between Magic and Miracle

Protective Sterling Silver St. Christopher Medal Pendant

“The righteous shall live by faith” was initially a prophetic declaration by the prophet Habakkuk, this truth was then seized upon by the Apostle Paul as a cornerstone of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In two letters where the Apostle is trying to emphasize the radical nature of the free gift of righteousness that Jesus Christ has given believers through His death and resurrection Paul quotes the scripture. As he is writing to the Churches of Galatia who are in danger of succumbing to the religious obligations of the Judaizers Paul declares

“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith” (Gal 3:11)

Again when Paul is writing to the Church in Rome emphasizing that Gospel of Righteousness is a free gift for both Jew and Gentile alike he returns to this theme

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith”. (Romans 1:17)

This was a critical message for the early church where returning to Jewish religious obligations as a means of atonement was a constant concern. It was a concern, not simply because of the specific nature of the threat of the Judaizing influence, but because attaining a right standing before God on the basis of our own religious works is an inherent temptation in all fallen human nature. Not only is it a temptation, but it is at the heart of every religious system as man reaches out to God and tries through his own ethics to attain right standing with the divine.

It is no wonder that the recovery of the message that the Gospel of Jesus is not based on such works righteousness, but rather as a free gift through faith became the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. The tenets of Sola Fide and Sola Gracia stood in stark contrast to the religious penitential system that had built up in the Roman Catholic firmament. The bumper sticker asserting it is about relationship not religion is correct. The righteous do not live by religion, the righteous live by faith, always have and always will.

However there is another temptation that is inherent in fallen human nature that draws us away from living a life of faith and it is this that I want to examine in a little more depth. It is the pursuit of magic. Many will object that this is not a real threat to any believers that they know. Witchcraft and occultism are indeed a growing temptation for a small minority of our community, but it is not as big a challenge for believers as the problem of works righteousness. I would agree. However witchcraft and occultism is merely an overt extreme, for the temptations towards magic do not start with spells and potions.

Let me start the examination of this problem with a question: what is the difference between magic and miracle? Both involve an outside force breaking into “natural” process and producing a remarkable outcome either through speeding up “natural” process or by producing something that would otherwise be impossible. From the externals magic and miracle look quite similar. In truth the outcome might look the same. You may object that miracle comes from God and magic does not, but I want to submit that the heart of the problem with magic doesn’t come primarily from the source of the power that is released (although please understand me that seeking power from demons is dangerous, sinful and extremely unwise), but rather the main problem of magic comes from deep impulses within the heart of man. The heart that pursues magic doesn’t ultimately care where the power comes from, so in one sense the power source doesn’t matter. Indeed the “magic-seeking” heart may be seeking power from God and this is where the problem comes for believers, for I want to contend that living by magic is as much an antithesis to faith as living by religious observance, and yet many believers are prone to fall into this temptation.

Let’s take a few biblical stories as examples to try and tease out this magic seeking impulse and explain it in more depth. The first story took place during the time when the Judges led Israel. Israel were fighting against their arch-enemies the Philistines. We learn in 1 Sam 4:

 Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines… And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.”… As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

 10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured…

The “magic-seeking” heart is at core selfish. It seeks power through “religious” practices and often through physical objects that can be seen and handled. In this story the military leaders of Israel (Hophni and Phinehas, the evil sons of Eli) knew that God’s presence resided in the ark of the covenant, they therefore called for the ark to be transferred into the camp of the Israelites. Unfortunately for the Israelites, they were not seeking God in their fight against the Philistines, they were seeking power from the “magic box”. It was not YHWH who was going to save them it was literally the box that would save them. Here we see the magic-seeking heart in full motion. Hophni and Phinehas were not living faithfully before YHWH, they just wanted to beat the Philistines, they wanted power, they wanted easy answers and they thought that the magic box would give that answer. Interestingly the Israelites had been given many warnings about diviners and sorcerers, yet here we see them trying to use God in like manner. The ark had simply become a magic charm. You cannot manipulate YHWH in the presence of His glory and it is not surprising that the Philistines subsequently captured the ark and Hophni and Phinehas were killed.

This is not the last time we encounter this “magical” approach to power either in scriptures or in church history. We see it again in the New Testament in several places. In Samaria a man by the name of Simon (who also happened to be a magician) saw the power of the Holy Spirit and offered money to receive such power. Peter’s denunciation of his actions was quick.

“May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 

Likewise in Ephesus under Paul’s ministry we are told that “extraordinary miracles” were taking place. At this time we pick up the story where “Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva” were attempting to perform like miracles by speaking what was to them a magical formula “I adjure you by the name of Jesus whom Paul proclaims”. God presence was manifest in Ephesus and in the presence of His glory God will not be manipulated by magical charms and formulas, such that we find the demon in the possessed man whom they were trying to minister to answered them “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

This example of the sons of Sceva is a startling confirmation of what Jesus had previously taught in the Sermon on the Mount

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt 7:21-23)

In this verse Jesus gives us the startling information that because the name of Jesus has inherent power it is actually possible to use the name of Jesus as a “magical formula” and it will work. This is shocking news to self-serving, self-deceived and  power-hungry hearts (and I am thinking firstly of myself when I say this). We all want answers to our pain, our needs and our ambitions, we all want answers quickly and we all live in a world of “seven secrets to a better life”. We yearn for the short cuts. We long for formulas. Humanity always has. And this is not just a modern phenomenon, throughout history we have looked to charms (relics, crucifixes, anointed objects and places) rather than seek the face and the hand of YHWH.

The righteous will live by faith. Having faith in the Genesis 1 God means that miracles will happen. God has shown time and time again throughout the scriptures and throughout history that He longs to walk and work with His people. He longs for us to ask, to seek and to knock in prayer. He longs for us to understand the position he has given us and the blessings that come from that position. Yet too often we seek the power independent of the relationship, we want our pain medicated, our pride soothed and the power released now. Faith is an ongoing trust in the absolute ability of God and one element of biblical faith that is consistent throughout scriptures is waiting. Will we learn to wait upon God, will we learn faithfulness/faith or will we succumb to the easy answers of magic, which are ultimately no answer at all. The righteous will live by faith – always have and always will.

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Cornelius’ Journey in the House of Prayer for All Nations

warning_inscriptionMy name is Cornelius. I am a Centurion in the Italian Cohort. I have been stationed in a remote Roman province called Judaea. I was initially resistant to this posting, but in recent years have become very interested in the God of the Jews. I pray to him all the time, give money to the poor and I do feel somewhat more peaceful for doing so.

I recently traveled inland from my posting in Caesarea to the Antonine Fortress in the Jewish Holy City of Jerusalem. I was eager to experience Jerusalem, the place that all Jews consider blessed. My interest was heightened when I discovered the Antonine Fortress is placed next to the Jewish Temple. I could finally pray in the temple of the Jews to the Jewish God. I knew from my time in Judaea that worship of YHWH was an incredibly serious business to the Jews and that while I might not be able to enter into the inner courts of the temple as a Gentile there was an outer court reserved for Gentiles to pray.

I entered through a gate to this court (which I believe has been called “The Way”) and what I experienced was quite a sensory overload. The Gentile Court which was reserved for Gentile worship didn’t exactly look like a place a worship it looked more like a bustling market. Many tables had been erected with different exchange rates being offered for exchanging Roman coinage into the Temple coinage. As I looked at the exchange rates the changers were offering I can only say that I was glad not to be exploited in such a gross manner. Everywhere people were exchanging money, then buying doves, pigeons and lambs. It was not exactly the quiet place of devotion I had built up in my mind. I looked for a place to pray, but it seemed like every inch of the place was being used.

 The architecture of Herod was impressive Greek Doric columns throughout the temple, I was impressed with what Herod had accomplished and yet I kept walking toward the main place of worship the Jews were moving towards with their newly acquired animals intended for sacrifice. Suddenly I encountered a startling sign. It read

No Foreigner

Is to go beyond the balustrade

And the Plaza of the Temple Zone

Whoever is caught doing so

Will have himself to blame

For His death

Which will follow

 I now understood the passion the Jews had for their worship of YHWH. It went as far as murdering foreigners to keep them out of the places of Holiness, which was really the place being used for prayer.

 I left with a heavy heart. I would continue to pray to the God of Israel, but I didn’t know if the God of Israel would hear me. The Jews obviously thought there was no place for Gentiles to worship and their court designated for the Gentiles to pray was nothing but a cruel idea if a Gentile (perish the thought) should actually want to pray to YHWH.

I was heartened recently when I heard that a Jewish prophet had become so angry with this situation that he overturned the moneychangers tables, saying that this was supposed to be a House of Prayer for “All Nations”. I had heard that the intention of the Promise that God made to the Jewish Patriarch Abraham was that every family on the earth would be blessed through the Jews and be able to worship YHWH. I believe YHWH is the God we Gentiles must come close to and worship and I think that the Jewish Prophet who cleared the temple had the right idea. Maybe one day all nations, from every family, every group, every language will worship this God. I pray it comes soon.

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Were the Confusion of Languages at Babel a Curse or a Blessing in Disguise?

ImageSome people jokingly ask the question what language will be spoken in heaven. Is it English, Chinese, Hebrew or Aramaic? Humanity speaks about 7000 living languages on the earth today and throughout history this number increases dramatically (I’m pretty sure I would have a hard time understanding an Englishman from the 13th Century). The Bible tells us this confusion of languages came about due to the united effort of humanity to oppose God by building the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. God confused the language of man and humanity was dispersed across the face of the earth.

The division of humanity into language groups must have felt like a curse and still often does today. But the confusion of languages was actually not a curse, it was actually a divine mercy, its initial purpose was to disperse humanity that they would fulfill their mandate to fill the earth, but the ultimate aim is even more glorious.

What seemed initially to be a bad and painful judgment of God ultimately will work for thegood of all humanity and the glory of God. Heaven (contrary to some belief) will not be a homogenous group of peoples. We will not all be made Jews, speaking Hebrew. Every nation, people group, every family, every dialect and language will be there. God delights inbringing diverse people, gifts, skills and languages together to make something beautifully and lovingly united for His glory – this is what the new heavens and the new earth will feel like. We still speak different languages, but will be united in one song – what a glorious picture and an encouragement to go learn another language

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Can Homosexuality be “cured”?

There has been much in the news over the last few year about Christians trying to cure gays. Silly Christians…  In California there is a current court battle about the proposed ban on gay conversion therapies for minors. Between 1952 when the American Psychological and Psychiatric Associations published their first Manual of Mental Disorders including homosexuality as a disorder and 1973 when the National Institute of Mental Health took it off the list questioning its scientific accuracy. People did for a short period of time consider homosexuality a medical disorder which needed treatment. Recently a well known Christian leader withdrew from President Obama’s inauguration due to a message he had given 20 years earlier saying that gays could find healing. So is homosexuality a sickness that can be cured? I do not believe so, in the specific way we usually speak of sickness like cancer, schizophrenia or influenza. If it is not sickness then using language like healing, curing or praying the gay away would be inappropriate and I believe it is unhelpful and even harmful.

Before answering the “cure” part of the question before us, it bears taking some time to look at the “gay” or “homosexual” part of the question. There is an assumed premise in the question that homosexuality is not a sexual behavior, instead it is the identity of a people group. As a Christian I believe in the biblical view of sexual union. All sexual union outside of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman is sinful. Much sexual union in our culture happens outside of this covenant and is therefore by this definition “sinful”. However not all sexual activity leads to an identity. We do not identify individuals as fornicators or adulterers. However both the church, the LGBT community and wider society accept and use the term homosexual to refer to identity (which in turn leads to civil group) rather than activity. With this being the case there is a current culture war in the US which sees conservatives pitted against liberals in the war over LGBT rights. If the LGBT is a community they deserve civil rights and so the discussion is about civil rights.

Naming things and people has a profound power to create identity of that said thing or person. I believe that homosexuality is the action of same-sex sexual union, and not a necessary identity. This should be a point of profound disagreement between Christians who have a belief in the authority of scripture and those in the LGBT community. It is highlighted by Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly “gay” Bishop in the Episcopal church who recently stated “Gay is not something we do, It’s something we are. I’m not just gay when I’m making love to my husband. I’m gay all the time. I’m gay right this minute talking to you, and it … affects how I relate to the world, how I relate to people.”. 

This brings up by necessity another crucial question. Is homosexuality a choice? Or are people “born like this”? If people are born this way it is either “natural” and needing to be embraced or either it is a disorder that needs to be treated. I actually believe both of these approaches are red herrings. As a Christian I believe that all humanity is born “in sin”. The traditional approach of the Latin, Eastern and Orthodox Church (ie nearly the complete testimony of Church History) to sin that is found from the narrative of Genesis to the entire corpus of Pauline literature is that sin entered the world through Adam and Eve. Because of this initial action all humanity is inherently corrupt. Before this is dismissed as an absurd idea, please look at the data of just a few generations in today’s world. Doing studies on sex offenders (e.g. rapists, child offenders etc) We see that often sex offenders were abused themselves as children. Did these individuals have a choice over their destiny? I believe ultimately everyone has a choice over their actions, but it is not as easy a choice as we might like to believe, many of these individuals need help. In recent years it has been proved that there is an “alcoholic” gene. Often those who have parents who are alcoholics will have a greater propensity to become alcoholics themselves. Is the alcoholic gene natural? It would appear so, however even if it is I believe it is as a result of sin and inherent corruption in humanity and therefore should not be embraced as good, but should instead be recognized as sinful and harmful. This is the crux of the gospel however, we all are inherently corrupt and we all need help, none of us can redeem ourselves from the curse of sin. None of us will be released from the temptation of sin except through the power of the cross of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a foundational belief in Christianity, no matter what your sin, no matter what your false identity, no matter what your idol. Jesus can redeem you. So is same sex a sickness, no, but it is a sin. And like any other sin it requires the solution of Jesus’s redeeming blood. All people are inherently selfish and sinful, all people need help, Jesus offers that help.

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God Loves Uganda Review

By Jono Hall

god-loves-ugandaAt the Sundance Film Festival this year a film premiered entitled God Loves Uganda. The showing of this film resulted in a universal demonization of the the Christian ministry of which I am a part, the International House of Prayer in Kansas City.  Described as “A vehemently anti-gay church…crazed, hateful cultists…. (who preached that) homosexuality… can be cured by prayer. who “demonize homosexuality” spending “two of three months in Uganda spreading anti-gay rhetoric, then return to America when their work is done.” I also read the surprising news that IHOPKC had been successful in undermining the UN’s anti-HIV program, which promotes condom use”And this was simply the tip of the iceberg of the untrue vitriol spread about the ministry. I was needless to say quite apprehensive to view the film. I had helped the Director, Roger Ross Williams and their production team in good faith in Kansas City and Uganda and now I was in Christian-speak about to “enter the Lion’s Den”. I travelled to New York on a snowy March day and viewed the film with Roger, Julie Goldman (the producer) and Carolyn Hepburn (the line producer). What follows is my annotated synopsis and thoughts concerning the viewing.

The Film

The film opens with a Zambian Anglican Priest, Kapya Kaoma, who is seemingly in exile in US due to the fact that it is unsafe for him to work in Uganda. The virulent anti-gay feeling in this country and his opposition to such sentiment has meant that he now feels unsafe to work there. “I love Uganda,” says Kaoma, but, “something frightening is happening that has the potential to destroy Uganda.” His foreboding prophecy ends with his foreseeing “a lot of deaths” and the cause of those deaths which lie outside Uganda. Cue the International House of Prayer, a large controversial ministry in the heartland of America. We are introduced to Jono Hall (myself), the Media Director and Lou Engle, one of the senior leaders of this ministry. We are shown the broadcast of the prayer room and a message from IHOPKC, we are told that Uganda holds a special place for IHOPKC as a country that it send its missionaries to, and shown a prayer meeting for Uganda which also somewhat unnervingly intersperses strange manifesting people in the midst of the passion and the music. I think this is to enhance the feeling of the religious and emotional passion of IHOPKC, but it also makes the meetings seem quite strange. One commentator of the film noted that showing religious fervor out of its original context is an unnerving and I might add an unfair experience.

Lou Engle holds a “special place” in the hearts of the liberal and LGBT community and we are introduced to the messaging that has brought him much notoriety, particularly a comment where Lou talks on camera about the “sexual insanity” of the US at an event in California to support Proposition 8 in California. Combined with Jono’s statement about the sexual ethic of IHOPKC – “Sexual union outside of the marriage covenant is SIN,” we are introduced to the topic of the film; missionaries spreading their message of sexual morality which excludes certain other members of society and which has seen devastating and violent results in Africa.

The film now switches back and forth between Kapya Kaoma as an Episcopal Priest and academic in Boston trying to maintain his African culture in a foreign land and a group of young missionaries from IHOPKC who are preparing to go to Uganda. While the film is verité in nature, the voice of Kaoma becomes that of an authoritative narrator which somewhat negates the objectivity of the piece, particularly as he continually sets up straw man denunciations of Lou Engle and IHOPKC (and those like them, whom we never see), which is then juxtaposed with the footage from IHOPKC. Such editing is the first and main method to demonize the actions of IHOPKC. It is somewhat like the school yard bully highlighting the foolish actions of a “victim” then telling his audience to watch. Whatever action the “victim” does next will be undoubtedly ridiculed and viewed in light of the accusations of the bully.

 The team from IHOPKC travel to Uganda and team up with Jesse and Rachelle Digges from Tororo, Eastern Uganda. The introduction of Jesse and Rachelle is quite warm-hearted as we learn that Jesse has pursued his bride since the age of 11 when he prayed to God he could have her and then they married aged 18. We see some of the work as the team arrive in the country, as they paint the new prayer room. Again we are introduced to the sexual morality beliefs of the people in the film. We are also introduced to other characters in Uganda; Robert Kayanja is introduced as the pastor of the “Largest Church in Uganda”, a prosperity teacher who is thankful for the missionary work of Americans, because his church would never have been built without the financial help of these kind benefactors. We conveniently see the financial offering happen in his church and the opulent lifestyle he leads in Uganda. America is sending money, America is sending ideas….

We are introduced to the religious environment of Uganda by being shown street preachers who are preaching Jesus and denouncing homosexuality at busy street intersections. We are also introduced to a Ugandan Pastor who is obsessed with denouncing homosexuality, Pastor Martin Ssempa. Pastor Ssempa is featured showing gay porn in churches, but is the living embodiment of American Evangelicalism according to the film(Kaoma says he is an “American with Ugandan skin”). Finally we are introduced to one of the main reasons this issue has been ramped up to untold heights in Uganda: a “marginalized” US Pastor named Scott Lively, of whom we have “secret” camera footage from Kaoma who was in church meetings with him in Kampala.  Lively promoted political activism to stop homosexuality in Uganda and then preached to the Ugandan Parliament for 5 hours which resulted in the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill proposed by Hon. David Bahati, which includes the death penalty for repeat offenders of homosexuality.

We are introduced to David Kato, an LGBT activist who speaks about the persecution he receives and later to Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, an elderly Anglican Bishop who has been seemingly defrocked for his insistence on welcoming those in the LGBT community, not condemning them and not asking them to change.

Moving back to the young missionary group from IHOPKC we are introduced to a missionary who has been in Uganda since 2002, but became an intern at IHOPKC in 2009 – Joanna Watson. We hear about her belief that homosexuality should be kept out of Uganda as an “abomination” and see her denouncing sexual sin. We then see an event she organized in 2010 soon after the bill was proposed and caused international outrage – TheCall Uganda. In this prayer rally, where Lou Engle came to “stand” with the people of Uganda in their fight for righteousness, the footage seems to indicate Engle is supportive of the bill (something which is not true). We further find out that both Lou Engle struggled with pornography as a younger man and Joanna Watson engaged in lesbian relationships, but Jesus “healed” her.

The film goes between the political scene in Kampala to Kapya Kaoma in Boston and back to the young missionaries who go on a missions trip to a remote area. According to Kaoma these naive youngsters are simply parroting Engle’s “messages of hate”. The film lightly mocks the missionary’s attempts to engage the locals as they get “chicken on a stick” from food vendors beside the road (as this scene has been moved out of the chronology of the real time events, there is a perception created that this is a missionary tactic of the group rather than small talk with a food vendor). The group then move on in the film to speak with more rural individuals in adobe huts about the gospel, where we learn that the group believe in hell. Meanwhile we hear more about Bishop Christopher’s hard life with his first wife dying then his embracing of the LGBT community. We also see the aftermath of the murder of LGBT activist David Kato and the fiasco that surrounds his funeral with frayed tempers between the church who are denouncing him to hell and his LGBT compatriots. Finally Bishop Christopher decides to step in at the burial, he consigns Kato to the grave and to heaven where he will undoubtedly be.

The film finishes with the IHOPKC missionaries breaking bread together with their Ugandan counterparts and then praying for a couple of native Ugandans as they are sent into the rural areas of Uganda and beyond spreading their gospel message.

The Discussion

After watching the film we had a friendly conversation with Roger, Julie and Carolyn about their aims to start a dialogue over the issues raised in the film. Pondering the storyline, the making of the film and the subsequent conversation I posit several thoughts:

1. The Evangelical Church is a wide and diverse body of people representing many varied viewpoints. The movie does not in essence deny this, however the implications of Kaoma’s statements juxtaposed with the actions of the International House of Prayer state very strongly that these young people are the naive foot soldiers spreading a message of intolerance and hate in Africa. They represent at the very least a large part of the evangelical community. Then lumping IHOPKC with other entirely unrelated individuals and a bad piece of legislation creates a truly scary proposition, guilt by association, a conspiracy which every reviewer who has seen the movie understandably believes, but which is quite frankly untrue. IHOPKC has no relational or financial connection to any of the other ministers featured in the film and for that matter has very little to do with Uganda at all. While all missionaries have things to learn in becoming more Christlike in their presentation of the teaching of Jesus, there is no united conspiracy to spread American conservatism. Evangelicalism found a home in Africa due to the missionaries of the nineteenth century; perhaps as a result Africa is a very conservative culture. I would agree that ideas from the US culture war are being exported, however I would contend they are being exported by both sides in the debate and the last time I looked the liberal side of the argument is not acting like a shrinking violet.

2. A simple viewing of the film leads any uninformed viewer to think that the International House of Prayer sends a lot of money and missionaries to Uganda and that they are a significant force for political change in the nation. IHOPKC is now apparently sending missionaries out to this and other African nations to help win the culture war there as the culture war is “lost” in the US. One academic review of the film states “the International House of Prayer have been training and sending missionaries to Uganda for many years, viewing it as a place full of possible converts to be won for Christ. Their efforts have been rewarded by the conversion of many Ugandans.” The truth is that the crew from “God Loves Uganda” followed the first and only missions trip from the IHOPKC Missions School to Uganda. This was not just the first missions trip to this nation, it was actually the first group of students from the school period, the Missions School only beginning during the making of the film. We have not sent or supported other missionaries in Uganda before or since (and actually didn’t support this group – my own travel expenses for the trip were actually funded by the filmmakers). We have no indigenous presence. Although Joanna Watson did attend a 3 month internship at IHOPKC in 2009, she was not sent from IHOPKC, is not financially supported by IHOPKC, and is not even known by the majority of IHOPKC leadership. Likewise while Jesse and Rachelle Digges did attend the bible school for a year in 2001 and are friends of many at IHOPKC, they are in no way organizationally or financially connected to IHOPKC. As we have no representation in Uganda, it would make it rather difficult to have been successful in converting many Ugandans.

3. A simple viewing of the film leads viewers to think that all that missionaries are preaching is Christian sexual ethics and the need for locals to abide by such ethics or be damned, also that the ideas and the money sent are to support this end. Due to the nature of the film’s message this would have to be the case. If this were not true the film’s main premise would be entirely weakened. Although the stated purposes of the film may have been to investigate the impulses and work of missionaries, the film is clearly aimed at exploring a more narrow purview: the views of sexual morality as it relates to missionaries.  Several news outlets have taken this as the message of the film claiming that the missions teams from IHOPKC spend time spreading “anti-gay rhetoric” in Uganda. I would contend that this is far from the truth. The only team that visited in 2011 spent time in prayer, in humanitarian work and in evangelism. This evangelism never included any kind of “hate speech” against gays or for that matter any speech about sexuality. It did however focus on calling people into a relationship with Jesus Christ. The core of this gospel message is not a call to change someone’s behaviour. It is perhaps more offensive: a call to surrender our old identity, whether that is based upon what we do, such as our job or our family or even our sexuality and have Christ replace that with a new identity based upon who Christ is and what he has done. We believe Christ calls all to surrender the old identity and accept the new identity in Christ. We do believe that if a person accepts the grace of Jesus and becomes a disciple of Jesus it will by necessity bring about lifestyle changes. An individual’s entire approach to life, to work, to relationships and even to sexual union will change. This transforming, redeeming work is something the scripture calls salvation or being “born-again”.

4. While I cannot speak for the entire Christian or even the evangelical world, evangelism (Christian’s speaking to those who don’t know about the offer of a new life in Christ) should never be demonizing and for that matter is never concerned with changing the world’s sexual morality. I am certain this is true of all Christians I know. The process of discipleship in the Christian church however is a different matter. Christians according to  New Testament writings are to call each other to “sexual purity”. For those outside the church we are told by Paul to not spend any time concerned with their morality, as he said in his letter to the church in Corinth concerning sexual immorality, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” This means he would not pass any judgment on unbelievers, but did seek sexual purity amongst the believers. This would be true of IHOPKC and many bible believing Christians.

5. I disagree strongly with many of the provisions of the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill and have written as such in other blog posts and even stated my opposition in the times I was interviewed for God Loves Uganda. I do believe if enacted it could bring about victimization, a culture of fear, suspicion and even death. I am also firmly opposed to any violence or victimization against any sector of society. I firmly disagree with many of the disturbing actions of certain individuals in Uganda who promote and fuel such victimization (I think particularly of the actions of the Rolling Stone Magazine). I would also agree that sometimes the language that we as evangelicals employ is in need of refinement. Words have power and I would advocate changes to some sloppy language (especially as it relates to the seven mountains/spheres of influence) to reflect this. However, I do not agree that the message of the Gospel of Jesus and of the majority of evangelicals (including the young missionaries from IHOPKC) leads to an ideology of hate within any culture. Indeed I would contend the very language of Human Rights comes from within the Christian community.1

6.  I would also agree with the Variety magazine summation of the film that, “while the film outwardly endorses (a message of toleration) it “doesn’t entirely embody it as far as evangelicals are concerned”. The film is trying to provoke dialogue, but there is no dialogue in the film between the main detractor – Kaoma and the main protagonist – IHOPKC. Kaoma’s statements are taken at face value and as such targets IHOPKC as its victim.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that I and my brothers at IHOPKC are opposed to violence and victimization of any sector of society (wherever that society may be) and are opposed to ideology that feeds violence and victimization. This must be said first, foremost and loudest. However, I do not feel as a Christian believer that believing in the sexual ethic laid out in the Bible and the corresponding belief in the authority of scripture as understood for thousands of years leads to such views. I was finally persuaded to be involved in this project as I was told it would not pursue the same polarizing view of liberals opposed to evangelicals. I wanted to demonstrate friendship to Roger and the crew even in a limited way and that we as believers are not the caricature so often portrayed in the media of the imperialist, bigoted religious right. I was clearly not successful as it relates to the film portrayal. I hope that the friendship I extended is still welcomed, and I will in some way be successful in extending the love of Christ outside the film rather than in it. I bear no ill will towards any of the film makers or indeed any of those writers who have reviewed the film and have extended extreme vitriol towards our actions as portrayed in the film. I pray that we will all walk a little closer to the light as we carry on our journey.

Endnote 1 –

“In his history classes, C. John Sommerville used to demonstrate to students how thoroughly Christianized they were, even those who were atheistic or anti-religious. He would list the values of shame and honour cultures (like those of pagan northern Europe before the advent of Christian Missionaries) and include values like pride, a strict ethic of revenge, the instilling of fear, the supreme importance of one’s reputation and name, and loyalty to one’s tribe. Then he would list the corresponding Christian values, which had been hitherto unknown to the pagans of Europe – things like humility, forgiveness, peaceableness and service to others, along with an equal respect for the dignity of all people made in God’s image. Many of Somerville’s most anti-religious students were surprised to learn just how deeply they had been influenced by ways of thinking and living that had grown out of biblical ideas and been passed on them through complex social and cultural processes.

 His point was that much of what is good and unique about Western Civilization is actually “borrowed capital” from a Christian faith, even though the supernatural elements of faith have been otherwise neglected of late in the public sphere.” From Timothy Keller, Center Church, Zondervan, 2012 quoting C. John Summerville, The Decline of the Secular University (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 69-70.

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When Will We Give Up “Falling in Love?”

LoveI was watching a movie last night (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen). It was typical Hollywood fare (albeit set in Britain and the Middle East). One scene struck me; the main male protagonist of the movie was shown to be in a “loveless” marriage, with both husband and wife pursuing their own career paths. The scene was the final “fight” scene of the marriage. The wife was suspicious of one of the husband’s work colleagues (who happened to be the main female protagonist of the movie), the wife could see the husband liked this woman and asked a question “Do you love her?” The man did not answer the question, but the implication was that yes he really did love her. And if the answer, spoken or not, is that you love another person, then that in effect dissolves the cold loveless union that had previously existed, after all don’t we all deserve to be with the one we love?

This scene in effect cleared the way for the ensuing relationship between the male and female protagonists which finally, somewhat happened at the end of the movie. Hollywood has a love/hate relationship with adultery, as it knows that most of humanity believe it wrong, and as a result cannot glory too much in an adulterous relationship. The movie simply toyed with the idea of an adulterous relationship, but even if it had gone further down this path, I think most are in agreement that adultery is bad. The thing that struck me was not the adultery part, it was another more controversial and insidious subject; the issue of “falling in love” of “compatible partners” and of “finding your true love”.

The “Do you love her/him?” or “Have you fallen in love?” questions are common in movies, but they are even more common in everyday life. I think the reason this scene struck me so much was that I had just been reading a report about single women between in the ages of 25-30. In China if you are a 27 year old female and not yet married you are considered a “leftover”. In China there are a growing number of females who fit this description; nearly 25% of females in the 25-29 age-range are single. However in the article about China, I noticed in my native country (UK), over 70% of females in this age-range are single. Many are on a career path, but many would happily marry if they “Found the One” or if they truly “Fell in Love”. Falling in love and finding a compatible mate who fully supports your career path (or shall we elevate “career path” to a grander word like: destiny), is a tall order indeed and something I want to examine briefly.

What after all is “Falling in love?” Is it finding someone to whom you are physically attracted, someone who emotionally and intellectually meets your personality? Someone who is a provider and a helpmeet, someone who is an encourager? The question of falling in love with this type of Hollywood endorsed approach makes finding a spouse a truly consumer decision. We must all find the right “product” to meet all our life needs. The trouble with this approach is that “compatibility” is actually impossible. When all the marketing is put aside and we see our spouse for who they really are we will discover we have been sold an illusion, all of us. And when we realize this type of “love” is illusionary, we look to find that “love” elsewhere.

The challenge for today’s Disciples of Jesus is that we have completely bought in to this worldview. Many fight the redefinition of marriage in today’s culture war, maintaining it should be one man and one woman, while failing to realize that we have completely bought in to the fact that marriage has been redefined by our culture in another way and we have wholeheartedly agreed with this redefinition. The very premise of the question in the movie “Do you love her?” meant “Do you find her physically, emotionally and intellectually attractive and has she reciprocated some of those feelings?” This is I contend a complete redefinition of “love” as the bible defines it. A fuller examination of the biblical words for love should now ensue (but which I will avoid to keep the blog short), with a particular focus on Agape love, which is the love that the Bible shows is the glue of all good marriages. It is the love of choice, it is the love of service, it is the love of selflessness, it is the love of God.

 We must have a clear understanding of this Godly love, which must exist within the Covenant relationship of marriage. Without it we will move from one relationship to the next trying to find “the one”. I don’t want to downplay the need for sexual, emotional and intellectual attraction in marriage and finding your partner, but that is not covenant love. Hollywood sells Consumer “Love” which is selfish”, the Bible teaches Covenant Love, which is selfless. When we enter a covenant we must end the marketing and make the choice to love. Love is not about us, it is about the other person, but in the process of loving we will be changed too.

 Let us not embrace Hollywood’s redefinition of love and marriage, which will only lead to broken marriages, messed up kids and sexual immorality in the quest for the one true love. You will never find a perfectly compatible person, the real question for parties getting in a relationship or already in a relationship is are both parties in the relationship willing to enter into with a commitment to covenant love. The question is not if you have “fallen in love” but will you “learn how to love”. We live with the fallout of this approach to love and that is why many are not marrying, but we still hold tenaciously to this redefinition, evidenced by the movie I watched last night. The question for believers is whether we will accept this or fight for the biblical definition of love.

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Making Decisions?

ChoicesWe all have choices to make, some of them are small and inconsequential like what color socks I should wear today, whether I should order a burger or a salad (which might not be inconsequential if you order a burger every day!).

Some are bigger; should I marry this person, should I move into a new endeavor in my life? We typically don’t get hung up on the small issues, but the big ones are problematic for many Christians, because we want to know if it is the will of God. Making these type of decisions as believers is harder, so let me provide a little guidance on how I believe we should make these type of decisions and also give a few warnings concerning common mistakes that we are tempted to make.

The first truth I think it is important to remind ourselves as believers is that God speaks. He is the Word and he continues to speak. When Jesus rebuked the Devil during his temptation in the wilderness Jesus said to Satan “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”(recorded in Matt. 4:4, quoted from Deut. 8:3).  The word “proceeds” used here is a continuous active verb.  Jesus is stating that God’s Word proceeds and continues to proceed.  God has spoken, God is  speaking, and God will continue to guide His children by speaking to them. It is his word that brings life. He is speaking, but are we listening to him? God doesn’t want us just to know what he has done in Biblical times, he wants to partner with us today.

The second truth we need to know is that God has a multifaceted voice; he is not limited to one type of communication. Ways that God speaks (and still speaks) range from the earth shatteringly explicit like the audible voice of God, angelic visitations and heavenly encounters (despite the sneering of mainstream media to such ways). To more common, but perhaps harder to understand ways like dreams, visions and prophecies to other ways that we may not even discern God is speaking such as through reading the scriptures, through teaching (reading or listening to teachers or friends). If we discipline ourselves to listen to God in these ways it will lead to two common results, firstly we will develop a heart of wisdom and understanding which will help us make decisions, secondly it will make us conscious of the internal leading of the Holy Spirit which will mean it is easier to “keep in step with the Spirit” in our decisions which will mean we do not act presumptuously in our decision making (James 4:13-17).

Many (even believers) do not however use this as a way to make big decisions. For vocational or locational decisions are often made on the basis of “Open” and “Shut” Doors. I receive a big job offer in a particular part of the country with a big salary attached would be an “Open” door as we all know “Opportunity knocks but once”. So we go through the open door. Likewise when we feel something is right and the door closes we feel it is a “sign”. Your skills will open doors, this is a truth of life, perhaps a better question we should  be asking is how is God using me as part of his body upon the earth and will this move be helping the body of Christ or will it simply be bettering my career. Don’t get me wrong, we all need to provide for our family, but what are our motivations?

Another common way that we move is emotional response. A relationship “feels good”. A life situation “feels frustrating”. Frustration is a sign we should move elsewhere because things are not working out. It may be however if we look back we can see the hand of God in moving us to this place, and if He did lead us should we let frustration (or shall I use the biblical word – anger) lead us out.

Ultimately in this post I am just trying to get us to think biblically about hearing the voice of God and applying this to our life situation.

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Do Guns Kill or Do People Kill?

gunsI, like every other American, was shocked and saddened by the tragic events that unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary School recently. As well as thinking about the shattered hopes and dreams and painful loss of those in Newtown, my thoughts turned to my own five-year son in elementary school, thankful that such horrific events did not take place in his classroom.

The shock has not yet subsided, but already the debate about gun control has reared its head again, with both sides arguing their position. As a ex-patriot Brit, I have many thoughts on the differences of approach to this problem between my adopted country and my native land. In Britain I can only remember two mass shootings in my lifetime, one that took place at Hungerford in 1987 and one that tragically took the life of 16 little primary school children in Dunblaine, Scotland in 1996. After both incidents the public outcry against guns was such that legislation brought in heavy bans and amnesties against different types of firearms and as such it has resulted in one of the lowest gun homicide and gun crime rate per capita in the world (Although Switzerland has a very low gun crime rate I believe Britain to be lower). The amount of gun related deaths in the UK and the US isn’t even worth comparing, the US is hundreds of times higher.

The USA and Britain are very different however. Britain has never had a Second Amendment, Britain does not have the “on the Frontier” mentality, perhaps as a result, when VERY stringent gun control measures were introduced, they had almost universal backing. USA on the other hand has approx.. 270 million firearms; that is nearly one gun for every man, woman and child, that is a heck of a lot of guns. Many Americans love their guns. When anyone mentions “gun control” people hear “gun ban” and the argument of “don’t take away my guns” begins.

The arguments on both sides of the divide are reasoned for the short term. Because there are so many guns and crazy people have access to them, it makes more sense to arm the good guys so that innocent people can be protected. It is a good argument, but I want to examine some of the underpinnings to this approach and ask some questions, which need answers if we are going to come up with a comprehensive solution to this problem.

Do guns kill people or do people kill people?

 The first question I think that needs analysis is this – “Do guns kill people or do people kill people?” How you answer this question displays whether your approach towards technology is instrumentalist or determinist. An instrumentalist says technology is neutral and it is the user who determines how the technology is used. The determinist says technology is not neutral, some extreme determinists (think your Grandmother) may think that technology is not just “not neutral”, but it is morally repugnant (“That internet is a ‘dark’ place that will corrupt you). Most people who argue against any type of gun control are instrumentalists. Guns are not wrong, it is the bad people who have guns.

 There is however a challenge with this approach. Guns like any other piece of technology are designed for an express purpose. Invented and developed to kill efficiently. They do the job that they were designed to do and they do it well. If many people adopt a certain type of technology and use it for its express purpose (think 270 million applications) we should not be surprised if sometimes the deadly application is applied wrongly by many of the sick and mentally unstable people whom live in our midst, or even a “normal” person. I have heard in the news by gun lobbyists that guns are not the problem, but the glorified culture of violence is. I cannot help but think, that while guns are not the reason behind a culture of violence, they are certainly one of the contributing factors. If bad guys have guns, they will use them. If humanity has guns they will use them and culture will be changed as a result. Technology is not neutral and that includes gun technology. People do kill people, but people with guns kill people more efficiently.

This discussion however begs another question. If bad guys have guns, the good guys need to have guns to protect themselves. I do believe there is some truth to this argument, for instance I would be all for having armed guards outside schools, just like they are in front of government buildings and airports as a short term measure. However the question of who is a good guy and who is a bad guy is a little harder to answer. The Bible is clear that none are righteous and when you break it down, it is really hard to determine who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. The truth is we are all just broken humanity. It is interesting to me that most of the recent mass shootings in America, did not take place in the inner city by “criminals” but rather by withdrawn young guys from the burbs who had no criminal past.

What type of long-term future do we want?

This is something that needs thought. We need to think about short-term measures to try and avoid instances like the tragic events at Sandy Hook. However, do we want a long term future where every 25 year old elementary teacher needs to be “packing heat”. Do we envisage a future where guns increase (and gun crime will undoubtedly increase as a result, do not be fooled), where everyone has a firearm and everyone can shoot a potential threat to their safety. Do we want a future where a security guard is doing “pat downs” at the doors of our elementary schools?  If you were to envisage a future either with very few guns or with lots and lots of guns, which do you think would be a better future? I know MANY of my friends would pick a future with the latter. I am sad, because I know this will result in untold and needless deaths, which is why I would choose the former.

What should be done?

Putting aside the long-term future and some of the more philosophical questions, there are still short term things that need to be undertaken. I propose a few short term measures that need to be considered.

 1 – Increased security in certain areas – Schools, Universities, Houses of Worship etc (it pains me to write this, but I fear as a short term measure it may be prudent).

 2 – Increased public awareness of how to deal with many threatening situations (active shooter etc)

 3 – Review of our approach to mental health, which could be done in conjunction with –

 4 – Military training and issue of firearms through military channels (along the lines of the Swiss) in such a way to put controls on the distribution of firearms.

 5 – Increased controls/bans/amnesties on certain types of firearms (assault rifles etc)

 We need short-term measures to tackle the evil that has befallen us, but we also need to give serious thought to the type of future we want and point in the direction of that future. I believe America is a great nation and believe addressing this problem will not in some way diminish that.

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Tertullian on Marriage

Tertullain 200AD“How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in home, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice . . . Nothing divides them either in flesh or in spirit . . . They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake God’s banquet, side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts . . . Seeing this Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present.”

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