Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

There is a Muslimah that I encounter on a regular basis who typifies precisely the gulf in thinking between the typical Muslim and the typical Christian.

 

I have an unfashionable affinity for Israel and Jerusalem. Unfashionable, because most of the mainstream media and opinion leaders in the Twitterverse back the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel. As does pretty much the entire Muslim world.

 

The narrative is as follows: The Israelis stole Palestinian land and the Palestinians are firmly under their boot, so the caring thing to do is embrace the cause of the oppressed and oppose Israel. As with all of human history of course, no conflict is as simple as that.

 

If you point out the statistical abundance of Palestinian terrorism, why the narrative has an answer for that too: they have no other way to fight back, you see. Those mean Israelis have all the military hardware to oppress them indefinitely.

 

This Muslimah that I know is perhaps not entirely representative of Muslim thinking in general however in my exposure to the marketplace of ideas it cannot be emphasised too much that the adherents of Islam cannot generally tolerate Jews. At least not where they are in an increasing minority in Western countries, or in outright Muslim countries.

 

Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president, was assassinated in 1981 for daring to makes move of peace with Israel. Yasser Arafat – were he so inclined – would never have dared make peace with Israel for the same reason. The violence of course is not only on one side. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an ultra-nationalist Jew for contemplating the Oslo accords, ceding Jewish land to a Palestinian state.

 

The Middle East conflict can be seen in terms of a geo-political conflict where enemies must be eliminated. Paul reminds the Ephesians that the battle for the Christian is not against flesh and blood.

 

People are not enemies, but ideas are, especially sinful ideas.

 

People are either living according to the flesh or living according to the Spirit. In the Christian context, there are only two types of people:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A5+-+9&version=NIV

 

If my thinking is governed by the Spirit and not by the flesh, I see my Jewish brothers as needing to come to Christ, and the following verses suggesting a large scale awakening somewhere in the end times that moves me:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Zechariah+12%3A8+-+10&version=NIV

 

God has plans for people and his ultimate will is that as many as possible come to knowledge of the truth. Muslims have a need for Christ, much more so than they could ever realise. And I pray for this Muslimah and others that she would know the truth, because behind the zeal for Muslim things, I see a soul who wants to know God, but the only way she knows is through Mohammed.

 

There’s plenty that I don’t know, but one thing I do is that Mohammed didn’t have the answer and didn’t know the way. He took as good a guess as perhaps he could. I look at Muslims and see desperate human beings walking in the flesh who need God.

 

https://www.challies.com/articles/how-to-pray-for-unbelievers/

 

Scripture urges us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). Tomorrow, 14 May 2018 will be 70 years since the establishment of the modern State of Israel. President Trump has directed that the U.S. embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to the eternal capital of Israel, Jerusalem.

There’s something interesting about the timing of this move, and of the respect that Trump gives to Jerusalem. He’s perhaps not quite in line with living a moral life, at least in the past or recent past, however Jerusalem is a city that God is concerned about and notices.

 

It’s where Christ died, and it’s the city to which He will return. And therefore

 

“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.    (Psalm 122:7 – 9) NIV

Ancient and Modern

I confess that I have not watched the wildly successful Avengers: Infinity War from Marvel. As of 3 May 2018, the cumulative worldwide gross stands at R905 million. Although I imagine I will see the movie at some time or another, merely considering the popularity of the movie and public reaction to it is instructive.

 

The salient point from the movie is that there is a galactic madman whom the Avengers have to band together to defeat, and his agenda is killing roughly half of the beings that populate the universe. It’s a type of judgement, although capricious and random, and carried out by some weird looking guy with purple skin.

 

I tend to look at a modern movie like this and view it through a prism that looks backwards to antiquity. If we assume that the events that are chronicled in Scripture are true – such as a global flood and a city being pummelled with artillery that consisted of fire and brimstone – then we may understand that even modern humans have a collective sense that perhaps judgement is past as well as pending.

 

It seems that we prefer a comic book version of judgement filled with fantasy and heroes and avoid consideration of what happened in the past.

 

What if the deluge and the events as chronicled in Genesis are not as far removed in the past as we think? What if the accounts are true? For me, ancient judgements are very relevant to today. I would argue even more relevant than 4 phases of around 20 movies based on comic books (as fun as that is to watch).

 

https://answersingenesis.org/the-flood/flood-legends/flood-legends/

 

Creation science is very intriguing and not something that is broadly discussed unless you are a Discovery channel aficionado.   However it’s interesting to me that we generally do not take past judgement seriously, considering the evidence for it, whether a serious study of a site in Turkey near the Iran border believed to contain the remains of Noah’s vessel, or oddities near the Dead Sea in Israel that are chemically consistent with brimstone (sulphur):

Screenshot from Google Maps

 

 

 

Screenshot from Google (Noah’s ark site from shallow angle)

 

Screenshot from Google (Geological oddity named for Lot’s wife)

As modern people, it has occurred to me that we are remarkably incurious about where we came from or where we’re going, and simply live in the moment. Somewhere down the line of ancestry, separated by only a few thousand years, people lived and died, some of whom were subject to God’s judgement. And some who escaped it. Therein is a good lesson.

 

For the Christian, there is no condemnation:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A1&version=NIV

 

For the Christian, God’s wrath is satisfied and we stand in grace. And it’s a rich history that we can point back to of people who listened to God, whether Noah or Moses or David. An examination of the past helps me to live in the here-and-now. It’s easy to get distracted by temporal issues and popular memes in 2018.

 

It’s better to consider the past and learn the lessons from it, trust the future to Him who is faithful, and live for Him in the present:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A+38+-+39&version=NIV

Shining, or Stark relief

To throw something into stark relief is to have something be compared with something else and become aware of the contrast. A stark relief moment happened this week while driving to work and I came across a collective of guinea fowl crossing over a road in Bellville.

 

A collective noun for guinea fowl is a ‘confusion’ of guinea fowl. This in and of itself is not unremarkable. I was a little miffed with the wanna-be chickens for blocking my path temporarily.

 

http://www.hintsandthings.co.uk/kennel/collectives.htm

 

What is remarkable is that a few minutes before this I had found myself amidst a flock of human drivers, a ‘confusion’ if you will, not dissimilar from guinea fowl and my reaction to them was not as gracious. Not nearly as patient.

 

There became obvious a similarity in the flocking tendencies of guinea fowl and Cape Town drivers, but also a stark relief.

 

A stark relief in my reaction to said fowl (or foul driving). And a stark relief when considering how I should react.

 

A curious Newsboys song comes to mind about the Christian shining their light in the world. The world is dark: morally, spiritually and even unfortunately intellectually and if I or my Christian brothers don’t shine, then the world is going to remain a dark place indeed.

 

http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/47935/

 

I had to repent of course, but I was also glad that I didn’t have a fish sticker on my car on this particular morning. Having a meltdown in traffic is not very Christ-like.

 

It’s vital that we remember that aside from occasional errors and selfish meanders, we return to what Christ said about His people:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5%3A13+-+15&version=NIV

 

We are the salt of the earth

We are the light of the world

We are to let our light shine before others

Let your light shine

It occurs to me that our character should be in ‘stark relief’ to the environment around us. The absence of salt or the absence of light is very noticeable: like eating a cold, bland steak in a dark room. Add salt and light and it’s a candlelit dinner with ambience and taste.

 

If we mess up, we repent and get back on the proverbial horse. This morning: no episodes of craziness on the way to work.

 

It also occurred to me that my lone light – although making a difference – is more noticeable among a collection of lights, a candelabra of Christians if you will.

 

It’s good to shine your light, but even better to shine as a collective.

Gunny

To some people, Stanley Kubrick was a master of film, a figure as broad and artistically authentic as Hitchock.

 

I’m not one of those. There is but one motion picture directed by Kubrick that is any good, that I would watch when the mood struck me: ‘Full Metal Jacket’. I find the latter half of the movie unremarkable, but the first part is engaging, a celluloid temple to the profane and most ill-tempered of personal insults, a moulding of young men to prepare them for the crucible of war. And that only succeeds because of the casting of R. Lee Ermey as a Gunnery Sergeant at Parris Island.

 

It’s not for the faint of heart or the refined of ear. But anyone who has watched this movie will remember the Gunnery Sergeant.

Let me see your war face!

The actor who portrayed this loud curmudgeon passed away this week of pneumonia at the age of 74, an undignified passing for a former Marine, but an unfortunately typical one for a man of his age.

 

The passing of Winnie Mandela in this last fortnight meant very little to me as a South African. The passing of Barbara Bush most recently meant more to me as she was a strong conservative woman and I admired both her husband as well as her son, George W. Bush very much. To my political palate, ’41 and ’43 were decent presidents and decent men.

 

However it is the passing of R. Lee Ermey that caused me to reflect on a falling tree that is a man. The terrible Tourettes tour-de-force that Ermey brought to his role was forged in his time as a drill sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. For the most part, the US Marines churn out decent men who make it in society, and who also have the benefit of being able to kick bad-guy butt when the situation demands it.

 

https://www.history.com/news/history-lists/7-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-u-s-marine-corps

 

According to a brief bit of research, the Corps can be traced back to the formation of Continental Marines on 10 November 1775 during the Revolutionary war. Thereafter the Marines saw duty against the Barbary pirates in the attempt to take Tripoli.

 

It makes you think, Tripoli seems to have had its problems for a long time.

 

The Marine Corps has seen action in every war that America has been a part of: the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and most recently the War on Terror. Stick a pin in a map of the Middle East and odds are Marines have fought bravely there.

 

I compare the generally quiet and otherwise unremarkable life of R. Lee Ermey with the attention-seeking former FBI director James Comey who has fallen from grace but in a stunning bout of ill-timing decided to release his memoirs, called ‘A Higher Duty’, with what many law enforcement careerists agree is hubris and pettiness.

 

Washington D.C. is Rome. Back-stabbing, leaks, character assassination, sabotage and outright lying is the norm. James Comey found himself thriving in such an environment. R. Lee Ermey was a soldier and an actor. Not in the typical Hollywood sense where an actor is a hypocrite, akin to a medieval ‘fool’. In later years when Hollywood producers became more aware of his conservative politics, Ermey was black-balled.

 

https://www.lifezette.com/popzette/five-great-quotes-from-r-lee-ermey-late-actor-former-marine/

 

He took it like a man. And here is the rub. What Ermey, and other genuine men teach me is that a man has honour.

 

 

An unpopular notion, an un-cool idea, but honor: doing the right thing at all times and making it right when you do it wrong.

 

And that’s what I’ll remember about Gunny.

Thoughts while on camp

Camping out, to me, seems to be a very Biblical thing to do. The command from the Lord in the book of Numbers instructs the children of Israel to live in temporary shelters for a short space of time for Sukkot, or the festival of Tabernacles.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+23%3A42+-+43&version=NIV

 

The festival and living in booths relates to the Exodus when the Israelites escaped from Egypt and travelled to Canaan and also to celebrating the harvest.

 

From the point of view of a suburbanite such as myself, living in a commune in a rural setting provides a fresh context:

 

Waking up to mooing cattle and bleating sheep instead of traffic and airplanes overhead. Jesus lived in the proximity of animals, mooing cattle and bleating sheep.

 

Witnessing the Milky Way in all its magnificence, unsullied by light pollution and noise. Glancing at the sky and just wanting to capture it on pixels, by day or night.

To the sound of cattle and sheep in the morning

Disconnecting from excessive television and connecting with people.

Communal supper, South African style

There’s even a higher possibility of simply stumbling into God’s presence without quite realizing it. The quietness is like a water surface in the still of the morning: by it, you can look down and see up.

Reflections in the stillness

https://guidedchristianmeditation.com/181/meditation/be-still-and-know-that-i-am-god-the-meaning-of-be-still-will-surprise-you/

 

The campsite was situated next to a mountain. Why does the Psalmist look to the mountains?

I look to the mountains…
  • Because the eye is drawn to them.
  • Because they are solid landmarks that are never moved.
  • Because they are natural fortresses (the defender on higher ground has the initiative over the attacker).

 

However, they are inanimate objects rooted to earth, with no feeling or favor for people. Therefore the Psalmist observes that his actual help comes from the Lord, the one who made these things:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+121&version=NIV

Decontamination

Hot words spoken in anger. A higher path not taken, and there you have it: a crime scene, or more properly a ‘sin’ scene desperately roped off from the rest of polite society. An underbelly that would do well to remain unexposed.

 

Not keeping crime (sin) statistics, I don’t know what the tally is, but once again, the serial killer of sin strikes and there is a mess to deal with.

 

Perhaps it’s the sheer number of crime procedural shows on television – NCIS, CSI, NYPD Blue, Law & Order – but when I examine the scene of one of my moral failings, it evokes a crime scene.

No, not the trademark name for Chuck Norris’ left and right legs…the TV series

Blood. Shell casings. Spilled coffee. Garbage. And a plastic barrier separating the scene from the public for detectives to manage and investigate.

 

Why do I investigate the scene of the crime? To catch the killer (sin) and make sure it never strikes again. To pick apart the elements of the sin and analyse how it happened to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

 

And yet it keeps on happening.

 

Apart from the detectives, one of the aspects of crime that might make an interesting television series is the crime scene cleaners: the clean-up of blood, bodily fluids and other potentially infectious materials. This is known in the business as CTS decon.

 

I’m not sure whether Mike Rowe has ever gotten his hands dirty on a job like this, but the fact that people have this all sussed out is in one way admirable, but also kind of creepy.

 

https://science.howstuffworks.com/crime-scene-clean-up2.htm

 

The idea of mounds of bio-hazardous material for disposal evokes for me Isaiah’s message to Israel, that their righteous acts are considered as filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6).

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+64%3A6&version=NIV

 

A perpetual crime scene is the default state of our hearts, but we clean it up and pretend that everything is sanitized. This pretence, this self-righteousness, is where the idea of filthy rags comes from.

 

https://www.gotquestions.org/filthy-rags.html

 

It’s a mess that we cannot handle. I think it’s extremely interesting (and counter-intuitive) that in God’s way of doing things, it’s the blood of Christ that cleanses us.

 

https://genius.com/Matt-redman-nothing-but-the-blood-lyrics

 

Walking in the light and letting our sins be known to God (who knows anyway, so why are we trying to hide in some Adamic fail?) results in his blood cleansing us:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+John+1%3A7&version=NIV

 

It’s a lesson that I have to learn regularly – to be honest with God and stop trying to hide the evidence, and adios the blood and gore. In His great mercy, he applies the blood of Christ and the scene of that crime against God (the crucifixion) means that my particular crime scene is cleansed.

 

In the same vein as Mike Rowe’s television series ‘Dirty Jobs’ you might say that God gets his hands mussed by doing the dirty job of cleaning up our lives. You’ve got to be impressed with that level of mercy.

Man of sorrows

Its early morning building up to Easter 2018, and we’ve done Easter so many times it’s a familiarity that requires very little conscious thought. A short period of the sacred overlaid on the profane and the mundane.

 

It’s not as easy as you might think to push the regular stuff to the side and consider Holy week and the passion of Christ. Easter deserves our consideration, God deserves our time to think about Him and without a remote control, the world doesn’t pause very long at all. A smart phone with connectivity is merely a metaphor; we can switch off our data and sever the link with the World Wide Web, but our brains cannot disconnect from life and its concerns: dentist visits, school reports, super rugby.

 

In this last month, I read one of these daily verses about Jesus being a man of sorrows:

 

“He was despised and rejected—

a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.

He was despised, and we did not care.

4           Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;

it was our sorrows* that weighed him down.

And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,

a punishment for his own sins!

5           But he was pierced for our rebellion,

crushed for our sins.

He was beaten so we could be whole.

He was whipped so we could be healed.

6           All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.

We have left God’s paths to follow our own.

Yet the Lord laid on him

the sins of us all.” (Isaiah 53:3 – 6, NLT)

 

Although Jesus, being fully human, will have laughed and had a sense of humour, Scripture doesn’t dwell on any of that and reveals that he was ‘a man of sorrows’ and ‘acquainted with deepest grief’.

 

This is what makes it a solemn time for us to observe. Our collective sorrows weighed him down. I imagine my own sorrows and my own sins and they are difficult enough to bear, but to have the sins and sorrows of the whole world…from the beginning of the world until now that’s got to be – at a guess – 70 billion* distinct and common sets of moral failure and personal suffering to deal with.

 

https://www.livescience.com/18336-human-population-dead-living-infographic.html

(* I assumed on the lower end of the scale because these demographers speculate human births from 50,000 BC, which is not consistent with Biblical history).

 

That’s a heap of moral failings to have to deal with. It’s too incredible to actually think about, the weight of all that sin.

 

I remember a number of years back, reading a book by an American actor named Bruce Marchiano, who in his audition to play the role of Jesus, decided to be a smiling Jesus, with a heart of joy.

 

http://www1.cbn.com/ChurchWatch/archive/2010/10/15/a-jesus-movie-for-the-next-generation

 

It remains, to my mind, a stunning portrayal of Christ with a humanness seldom seen on the silver screen. However much He was filled with joy, the torment of the cross speaks to the lengths he went to in securing salvation for us:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZjBJuHgXPE

 

The picture you can get is of a man on a mission, a sinless Son of God in a world of evil, with everyone misunderstanding Him, His own disciples slow to grasp what He was doing, and the would-be shepherds of the time (the Rabbis) salivating over the idea of putting him to death, like wolves.

 

Nobody got his mission ahead of time. I like the way this author explores this idea:

 

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/jesus-understands-loneliness

 

His test is over and yet Scripture says that the scars remain, even in heaven.

 

Like the world in the 1st Century in Palestine, many still don’t understand today what He went through. The fact that he went through sorrow for me is reason to praise. And I can’t but think that Jesus is not scowling or sorrowful now.

It is finished!

Having finished the work of the cross, the many mansions are filling up.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+14%3A2&version=NIV

Knowing, or not knowing

Synchronicity is defined as an experience of two or more events that occur in a meaningful manner to the person considering the events, but where those two or more events are causally unrelated to one another.

 

In other words, there was no connection between the passing of British physicist Stephen Hawking and my listening to an address by RC Sproul as far as the world is concerned. However to me, the two events were connected by the question of knowing God, or not knowing him.

 

The passing of the British physicist Stephen Hawking this week was an intellectual loss to the world and a personal loss for his family. On the passing of anyone, I notice that there is no pattern or formula that determines how long a person should live. Sometimes the evil live long lives, and other times the good die young. There is a spread of life expectancy over multiple people-groups, religions, countries and moral actors. What seems random to me though is God’s prerogative. Prerogative is defined by Webster’s dictionary as exclusive or special right, power or privilege.

 

I’m not privy to his thinking and He doesn’t owe me an explanation, but He decided to take Billy Graham home when he did, and He struck Stephen Hawking this week so that he died. The world celebrated Hawking for what he knew, and to a lesser extent Billy Graham for Whom he knew.

 

It struck me that the key is not what you know (although there is value in what), but Who you know. Those old sayings didn’t just pop up randomly, they stand the test of time.

 

RC Sproul takes us to the first chapter of Romans, which can be summarised by the idea that God isn’t coy or hiding himself, and people know He exists, but they want to sin, and so pretend that He doesn’t exist.

 

“19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. “(Romans 1, NLT)

 

As RC Sproul says, the atheist’s problem with God is not intellectual but moral. Woody Allen’s flippant quote about the evidence for God (or lack of evidence as far as the atheist is concerned) offers a window into the thinking of the natural man:

 

“If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.”

 

We have all the signs we need just by looking out the window and observing the mechanics of the sky, the rhythm of the solar system, the incredible mysteries of the human body. The stubborn God-ignorer wants stuff, a genie to cater to whims.

 

Sproul reasons that pagans still have the ability to think, to reason with a syllogism and spot errors in logic but that with a starting point that denies God, no ultimate conclusion can ever be correct. Intellectual bias against God will always take the pagan thinker on a trajectory that cannot escape the gravitational pull of his or her sin and selfishness. Apart from being born-again, Sproul notes, the natural man does not seek God.

 

Does Scripture back him up?

 

“11 No one is truly wise;

no one is seeking God.” (Romans 3, NLT)

 

Does observation? I’m afraid yes, the Mark-I eyeball does a remarkable job of revealing this.

It all starts with thinking

Why the emphasis on thinking? Because thinking is the starting point for faith and for action. Sproul argues, and I agree, that Christianity is reasoned and logical. Many don’t see it that way, however they will be the first to accept those who believe in fairies, UFOs and the Jedi religion. All those ideas are based in credulity, silliness because they are beliefs that are not under-girded by reason.

 

Faith without reason is wishful thinking and the first chapter of Romans unpacks the idea that faith in God is not wishful thinking but that there is serious evidence for it.

 

Earlier I referred to God having a prerogative, and we will never be able to understand God in the ways that He chooses events to unfold, however we have Scripture, and without access to that, we have nature. They are both well designed and God reveals Himself powerfully through them.

 

We – collectively – know God, but we simply don’t want to know because that has implications. For those of us who have been regenerated, who have been awoken by the Holy Spirit, we understand that knowledge is foundational to relationship.

 

To know Him is to love Him.

 

If I forget my wife’s birthday (lack of knowledge), the relationship may take a hit.  However, as I mentioned to my wife before – apart from my study of God – she is the subject of lifelong study and my PhD in knowing her. Knowledge is foundational to relationship.

 

For the unbeliever who eschews knowledge of God, he lets them earn a lesson:

 

“28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done.” (Romans 1, NLT).

 

It’s a strong judgement, to leave someone to their own devices. And yet, there is wonderful hope, because at one time, all us believers were there, one-time unbelievers running away from God.

 

One of those old-time preachers described God as ‘the hound of heaven’. I like that. He pursues us like the fox that doesn’t stand a chance of escape in a hunt the likes of which we’ve never seen.

The Lamb that was slain

I realise its two years out of date, however at the 2016 Passion conference – a gathering for 18 – 25 year olds – Louie Giglio had a number of guest speakers, including the bookish John Piper, who wouldn’t look out of place in a musty school library.

 

Intended primarily as a resource for college age kids in the U.S. it seems to me that a Passion conference could be as useful to any Christian of any age or spiritual maturity. And so it came to pass that the wife and I purchased the DVD.

 

In two months, I have watched 7/8 of two messages, one by Christine Caine (an Australian of Greek heritage which is like all the charm of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ and all the quirkiness of ‘Crocodile Dundee’), and another by John Piper.

 

If I learn anything but watching these two, is that God can use people with voices that are not suited for a good radio show or a toastmaster’s shindig with an ‘A’ level of slick.

 

John Piper’s talent might not be the quiet baritone of George Clooney, but what he does have is an ability to provide perspective on a large canvas.

 

John Piper delivered his homily from Revelations 13, a strange chapter in a strange book. Is the world in 2018 any less strange and bewildering?

 

And right in the first verse, he sidesteps the inherent curiosity of the reader as to who or what the Beast is. Clue: it’s not the rampaging gentle giant Tenda Mtawarira from the Natal Sharks who elicits a BBeeeeeaaaasssst from the crowd whenever he carries the ball up.

The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. (13:1, NIV)

 

As Piper notes, the identity of the beast in Revelations 13 is not the most important point. Being ready to repel evil and simultaneously ready to follow Christ will put the Christian in good stead.

 

It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world. (13: 7 – 8, NIV)

 

As in the days of John who wrote down this revelation, Christians are under attack today. In the time of the beast’s appearance on earth, the slaughter of Christian will simply be more pronounced, but history’s arc has consistently been about resistance to His plan. The important part, Piper notes, is those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

 

They are part of the story, the story around which history is actually based.

 

https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/we-will-sing-bloody-songs-forever

 

The slaying of the Lamb of God was the plan before the universe, history or even sin existed. And it is the subject of the Lamb who was slain that will be the content of heaven’s songs.

 

The songwriter clearly got the point of what Piper was saying. Listening to this Phil Wickham song in the car this week, the bridge between choruses, reinforced what Piper was saying:

 

https://genius.com/Phil-wickham-this-is-amazing-grace-lyrics

 

Easter and the Lamb that was slain is the subject of the songs of heaven.

 

This brings me to an aside: a while ago I read the book ‘Heaven is for real’ (Thomas Nelson publishers, 2016) detailing the near-death experience of young Colton Burpo, who while experiencing a vision of heaven, tried to get angels to sing Queen’s ‘we will rock you!’…they politely declined. It seems that secular songs are not germane for the worship environment in heaven.

 

Which does beg the question of whether any songs written on earth that glorify the King of heaven are sung in eternity. It’s not an urgent question that needs answering, just a thought.

 

In eternity, we will be singing about the Lamb who was slain, because His being slain for us – according to the Father’s will – is a pretty big deal.

 

How great is the love of the Father, that we should be called children of God.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+John+3%3A1&version=NIV

The vineyard

This morning I was awake at before 04h00 and got to hear the birds start their morning chatter. In the serenity of a quite abode, and given the opportunity, I cracked my actual, physical Bible open. A necessity as the Bible app on the smart phone is dependant on data and I had run out in the night.

 

Maybe I’ve gotten too used to using the Bible app.

 

Mark 12 contains Jesus’ parable of the vineyard, which took on new significance for me considering the land expropriation debate in South Africa now, which essentially reduces to the idea that owing to abuses committed tens or hundreds of years ago by Europeans against native Africans, that white farmers owe the poor their farms or a portion thereof. The land belongs to the African; it was stolen and must be taken back.

Vineyard

The parable of the vineyard doesn’t address this issue directly, but here’s what I saw:

 

“1 Then Jesus began teaching them with stories: “A man planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country.”

 

The parable doesn’t begin with an African farmer or a European farmer, but a man who plants a vineyard and leases it to tenant farmers. Just a guy. The parable relates to God’s relationship to Israel, not past racial abuses in Africa.

 

However, if we take the EFF position that Mzansi (South Africa) only ever belonged to blacks and only ever should be and that all land currently owned by white farmers is stolen, then we will never have a rational conversation.

 

In the present, farmers have land. It’s a present fact and they are using it. There are poor people in this country who want land and it is my understanding that there are government programs to assist emerging small scale farmers.

 

According to an article I read (that I can no longer find), over 40% of farm lands in the agricultural powerhouses of Natal and Mpumalanga are owned and managed not by whites, but by blacks.

 

Birds be chirping. Farmers be farming.

 

“2 At the time of the grape harvest, he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop. 3 But the farmers grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed. 4 The owner then sent another servant, but they insulted him and beat him over the head. 5 The next servant he sent was killed. Others he sent were either beaten or killed, 6 until there was only one left—his son whom he loved dearly. The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’”

 

Its not a tie-in in this parable to equate the white farmer with the owner and farm invaders as the tenants who beat up his servants, but think of it this way: the tenants and the owner are in a symbiotic relationship where there doesn’t need to be acrimony. There are established roles and presumably negotiation, as in any business relationship. As I noted, this parable is about God and Israel, however purely from a relational point of view, those advocating land redistribution without compensation come across as pharisaical.

 

But the tenants hate the owner. Its personal, and that is precisely the vibe I get from the EFF and their many ideological bedfellows who advocate government theft of private land and its redistribution.

 

The EFF – if any of them were Biblically literate and inclined to consult Scripture – might look at the parable and see an interpretation where blacks in history were the owners and the whites were tenants who beat up and killed the black owners and conspired to consign them to eternal poverty.

 

I mean, I accept that if I see things one way, other people can see it another way, not that we should read a current situation into a parable that Jesus didn’t intend for the purpose.

 

Here’s where I think God’s heart is on the matter. Mark 12 continues with the Doctors of the Law (the Pharisees) trying to trick Jesus into incriminating himself and they ask him whether it is appropriate to pay taxes to the heathen government in charge of Israel in those days, the Romans.

 

“Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin,* and I’ll tell you.” 16 When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

His reply completely amazed them.”

 

Does land belong to the State? Or individual owners? If the land belongs to Caesar, it can take it away. In many socialist countries like Mozambique, all land in State-owned and individuals merely lease it over the long term. In our country, land that is un-owned is purchased from a municipal authority but any land that is owned, or sold is done so by individuals.

 

Drive through any neighbourhood on any given Saturday and look at the ‘For Sale’ signs. People are buying and selling all the time. Those who want Caesar to take land by force or threat probably don’t understand that Caesar is a piece of work that rides roughshod over human beings who will do it to your enemies today, but will trample you tomorrow.

 

I look at the parable and see not Caesar, but God owning the land.

 

Caesar has no business stealing land. When you don’t compensate for an item or service, that’s merely a technical term but it means stealing.

 

Do I have to quote one of the Ten Commandments about not stealing?

 

Later in Mark 12, a religious teacher asks Jesus which is the most important commandment:

 

“29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’* 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’* No other commandment is greater than these.””

 

There are serious issues in our country and a way can be made to redress past injustices, without resorting to State-sponsored theft.

 

In the most basic sense, when we see each other as black or white (with different rights and responsibilities attached to each respective race), are we not refusing to love our neighbour as ourselves?

 

A vineyard evokes for me John 15, where Jesus uses another illustration (he must have seen a lot of vineyards and been around a lot of farms in his time).

 

“1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

 

I want to be a fruitful branch in his vineyard.