2017 thus far, or on the eve of the inauguration

On Sunday we attended church and although sometimes it feels like a chore to get ready in the morning, going to church is better than skipping it. Popping into the store after church to make a plan for lunch almost feels like a holy endeavour for attending church beforehand.

 

In sum, the pastor took us to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

 

“1 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us* and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

3 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.” (NLT)

Connected
Connected

Perhaps Paul has to remind Christians of this because it’s so easy and natural to be consumed with the world while ignoring God until we need to get bailed out of a situation.

 

I have been following the election season very closely. Its historic and one day my kids or grandkids may ask me about it and I want to be well informed. This is reflected in my Twitter feed, but the Twitter users that I follow are split between the secular (and political) and the spiritual, from John Piper and Franklin Graham to Ann Coulter and Trump himself.

 

The election season is still producing fevers and TDS (Trump derangement syndrome), tensions and emotions are still high and along with the most histrionic impulses, the temptation is there to lose perspective. For all the partisanship, Trump will take his oath on two Bibles including one belonging to Lincoln, who presided over a divided nation after the end of a civil war. There’s lots of irony there.

Trump
Trump

Mike Pence will take his oath while resting his hand on Reagan’s Bible open to           2 Chronicles 7: 14:

 

“14 Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” (NLT)

 

It might occur to the thousands of protestors expected to show up, as well as the 50+ Democrat senators expected to stay away, that a country is not merely a political arrangement, but a people living their destiny before the eyes of God. A country is a spiritual thing and for a nation that turns back to God, as America needs to do, that nation will be blessed.

 

And I suppose we should also remember that we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom – with dual citizenship. And that in 100 years, these momentous times will be a footnote in the books and we will all know a different and surer reality beyond the veil.

Munchies
Munchies

In light of that, some questions from the passage (Ephesians 5:1 – 20):

 

How will you respond to God?

Are you truly a child of God?

Are you sexually pure?

Are you impure in any way?

Are you greedy?

If so, what are you going to do about it?

Are you thankful?

Are you playing in the dark?

Are you trying to find out what pleases God?

Are you filled with the Spirit?

Are you praising God?

History’s reach

Two things happened in Nebuchadnezzer’s reign in Babylon – approximately two and a half thousand years ago – that produced an interesting convergence in Israel recently.

 

Firstly, under the command of Nebuchadnezzer the Temple in Jerusalem was besieged and practically destroyed. After the intervention of many years and a second temple, the Romans finally finished what the Babylonians had started and destroyed the temple, leaving only a retaining structure for the site, known today as the Western or Wailing Wall.

Standing on holy ground
Standing on holy ground

It was to a viewing point overlooking this profound acreage of history that buses brought young Israeli soldiers to see the temple mount and the Wailing Wall. And it was to this point that a Palestinian terrorist drove a heavy truck, running down and killing 4 young soldiers – 3 of them young ladies – in a cowardly attack that left many more wounded. This was the news of the day on 8 January 2017. The first terrorist attack of the year.

 

Secondly, back in Babylon all those thousands of years ago, Nebuchadnezzer had a particularly humanist and prideful reaction to his kingdom, and utterly forgot that he was not the pinnacle of the world.

 

I love that pride goes before a fall, and fall he did. As recorded in the fourth chapter of Daniel:

 

“30 As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’

31 “While these words were still in his mouth, a voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. 32 You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’” (NLT)

 

And so it came to be, Nebuchadnezzar descended into madness for a time. Not the first time that madness has befallen a leader, whether temporarily or permanently. Wikipedia (in referring to other sources) suggests that there was a natural cause to the madness, because of course that leaves less for God to do, and makes us feel like we can explain things without referencing God. The speculation runs from clinical lycanthropy to paralytic dementia as a result of pre-Columbian syphilis. Who even thinks of this stuff?

 

Once Nebuchadnezzar had inevitably called out to God, his sanity was restored. You might wonder that he forgot. Some time previously – in Daniel chapter 3 – God had miraculously saved the lives of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. At that time, Nebuchadnezzer had commented:

 

“29 Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!”” (NLT)

 

Which brings me full circle to the reaction of the Israelis to the act of terror. The terrorist was of course killed in his attack but his family home suffered the fate of being destroyed, much like Nebuchadnezzer had decreed.

Ancient part of the world
Ancient part of the world

One of the most ancient postures in the world is opposition to the Children of Israel. One can argue about the Jews and their standing before God, but I think, what one cannot do is argue about the God of the Jews, and all who believe like father Abraham, who had many sons.

Until the whole world hears

It’s January and the city of Cape Town is staring to get back into the groove and as with many a morning, I was driving to work whilst listening to Big Daddy Weave, in obedience to the 19th verse of the 5th chapter of Ephesians:

 

“15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhn-UoWWibI

 

Of course, if you think about dying overnight, you might consider what happened to George Michael and whether he asked himself the question. I don’t know.

 

I wept as I drove, thinking of people I know who I’m not sure know God, as well as those I’m reasonably sure don’t. And it was pure and proper because I know that oftentimes I’m a selfish putz, and my words of prayer for people I know to come to know Him, was not a reflection of my heart, but of His. Salvation is His plan, his overwhelming desire for people and God is good at it, and He knows His stuff. I get parochial and short-sighted and He opens my eyes to His heart in my freshly car-washed Renault Logan.

 

May 2017 be a year of harvest. And may I be a part of His mission, until the whole world hears.

Nocturnal nuances

In the beginning, as Genesis 1 records, the world was in chaos. Reading hard news and social media, you might get the impression that 2016/2017 is the epitome of chaos on planet Earth right now.

 

“4          The Word gave life to everything that was created,*

and his life brought light to everyone.

5           The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness can never extinguish it.*

6 God sent a man, John the Baptist,* 7 to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8 John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. 9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1: 4 – 13; NLT)

 

In a stunning development – if you just sit and think about it for a moment – God let His Son visit Earth, as messed up as it is. And sadly, but not surprisingly, the world didn’t recognise Him, didn’t see who was right before them. And today so many still refuse to open their eyes, preferring darkness.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jddK0JlhLjg

 

When people refuse to let the Light of Christ into their lives, the destination is often rank foolishness, like the feminist as follows in darkness:

 

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

 

The light: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile,* slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28; NLT)

 

Or these depraved parents in Syria who sent their daughter on a suicide bombing mission, in darkness:

 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4043378/Girl-seven-walks-Syrian-police-station-blown-handlers-detonate-suicide-vest-remote-control.html

 

https://www.jihadwatch.org/2017/01/islamic-state-publishes-video-of-toddler-executing-prisoner-on-playground

 

The light: “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6).

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlFVVXqrs6U

Walking in the light

It’s not fashionable nowadays to be friendly to the idea of Christianity and Christians. Pretty much wherever you go in the world someone has a beef against the followers of the Way, sometimes for not very good reasons except for the sake of being contrarian and non-traditional and well – too cool.

 

However, think about it this way: being a follower of the Way, a Christian, is very internal, and therefore very unspectacular. God is slowly and deliberately working in the lives of His people, and that doesn’t make for great television. In the social media, marketing and television age you need an angle, an edge, an icon.

 

Everybody who is dismissive of Christ thinks they already know what he stands for, and His iconography has become last millennium’s news. A cross? I’ve seen one last Tuesday. A soaring cathedral? That can’t compete with branding like Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds and Apple which are geared towards instant gratification. And they don’t judge…so the narrative goes.

 

But what of religions that are more external? Geared towards outward conformity and shocking theatre, like ISIS with it’s affinity for the macabre and getting attention. The post-Christian Westerner is simultaneously repulsed and impressed. I think that’s why may people who are worldly understand Islam: it’s so visual and outwardly verifiable to follow a given set of rules than to wrestle with the nature of God in all His mystery and find a way to come to a place internally where you can only know that it’s for real by the way your internal communion with God comes to life in what you do, how you think and how you speak.

 

For all its alien-ness to the Western way of thinking, Islam is a classical religion in its format. Rastafarianism isn’t very demanding; Scientology is – aside from being incoherently insane – formulaic and obsessed with processes. Which is probably why Rastafarianism hasn’t taken off in the West and why Scientology is slightly more successful with those whose home language is English, but still not popular.

 

My conclusion is that a person can find a niche in many religions like Hindusim and Islam and simultaneously be running from God or at least at a satisfactory level of remoteness, where appeasement or rituals are sufficient to keep the divine content. In your basic religion a person can find dark corners and hide, keeping secrets and resisting the gentle inquiry of the Spirit.

 

This is not the case with being a Christian. St John puts it like this:

 

“5 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5 – 7; NLT)

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=id3uwj47XbE

 

Living in the light, being honest with God at all times is not easy but it’s liberating and refreshing. Religion is like a nest of roaches crawling around under a cupboard, venturing out in fear and with night and darkness as a solace.

 

When we walk in the light and allow God to examine us and set us right, that is the basis of our fellowship with Him. And it’s a good way to start 2017 and continue in it.

 

“8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.” (1 John 1: 8 – 10; NLT)

A new year’s prayer

Lord, You make all things new
You bring hope alive in our hearts
And cause our Spirits to be born again.

Thank you for this new year
For all the potential it holds.
Come and kindle in us
A mighty flame
So that in our time, many will see the wonders of God
And live forever to praise Your glorious name.

Amen

 

http://www.lords-prayer-words.com/times/new_year_prayer.html#modern

A look at 2017

The novelist William Gibson is reported to have said that the ‘future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed’.

 

In other words, the world as we see it today contains the future in nascent form. Many things that we have seen in 2016 will continue in 2017. From God’s point of view of course, He sees the development of trends and events and knows their true origin and as 2016 set with the sun on Saturday evening and rose again on Sunday morning in 2017, things almost certainly had not changed for Him to the degree it had for us.

 

So, what was 2016 characterised by? And what can we expect in 2017? Well, that depends entirely on with whom you inquire. What I noticed was a populist rejection of globalism as seen in the Brexit vote and the election of Trump, a push-back against the cultural dominance of the mainstream media and political correctness. I also noticed an increase in wickedness (morally speaking) in popular and normative culture, an inclination towards trying to contain all critical speech and thinking about Islam, and a continuing assault on the place of Christianity in culture.

 

In summary form and because we all have an affinity for lists, this is how I see 2017 going:

 

  • The rise of nationalism (Western spring)
  • Counter-culturalism
  • Increased personal evil and immorality
  • ‘Race-shaming’ of those critical of Islam
  • Islamic terror
  • Cultural assault on Christianity
  • Actual assault on individual Christians

 

Stacey Dooley’s trip back to Luton typifies for me the type of trend happening in Europe:

 

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

 

Race-shaming of those critical of Islam in action:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6XL2IS6CMk

 

The joys of counter-culturalism:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ATS7k_LKEc

 

Apart from the antipathy towards and violence against Christians, the Christians do what has to be done and have a heart for others:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCiSpp9r_F0

 

Those things are trends on a global or national scale. Zoom out from there and look at an eternal perspective, or zoom further in and make it personal. A new year, a new day, new mercies to put the past where it belongs (including the mistakes and sins) and strive towards His purpose for us:

 

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13 – 14, NIV)

 

In 2017, I will try to pray more.