A big box of manure, or Going in Style

A social contract is a grand experiment that doesn’t fit in with the history of all countries. Basically, it is an agreement between a State and its citizens as to how best to organise a society where the best common good is the goal.

 

It is characterised by a specific set of ideas that are at once both sweeping in scale and specific in practice. The Constitution of the United States is a fine example of a social contract.

 

The thinkers Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau considered the idea of a social contract and what it means. Historically the idea of a social contract was attempted in Western Europe and North America.

 

So, everybody knows what society should look like and agree on the way to get there. It used to be the best system going. People from horrible parts of the world still flock to Western Europe and North America.

A social contract is better than a repressive government dictatorship, I’m sure everyone would agree. And it’s better than an infomercial with hidden clauses that the buyer only encounters afterwards.

 

Something has gone wrong however.

 

Trust has eroded between the voters and the government that was said to represent them.

 

Nobody believes that others have good motives anymore.

 

I watched a charming movie called ‘Going in Style’ this week, a re-make of a previous movie about three retired friends who are let down by society and decide to rob a bank.

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2568862/?ref_=nv_sr_1

 

Now, what these characters did is wrong. The Ten Commandments are clear and forbid stealing (Exodus 20:15). In this movie, we are presented with a scenario that is familiar and maybe even some of us have experienced. Joe (Michael Caine), Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin) are retirees living simply from day to day in New York City when their former employer decides to ship off overseas leaving pensioners with no pension that they are owed.

 

It’s a technicality buried in a clause, but the employer invokes it and they are no longer obligated to support pensioners. A weasel clause in a contract wipes out a social contract to be a responsible employer and just like that these guys – and all the others – are left to rot. Additionally, the bank that handles their pensions has fooled Joe by glossing over another technicality and shepherding him to take a certain account whose fees quadruple overnight when he least expects it.

 

Joe, Willie and Albert discover that it’s all a house of cards based on lies, masquerading as clauses in incomprehensible contracts. It’s wrong of them to plan a robbery, however their employer and their bank have engaged in dubious ethics by lying and/or stealing.

 

Our own eyes teach us that elections are not honoured, lies are told with no shame. The ruling class are horrified that the Brexit vote went through, that Hillary Clinton lost out to Trump.

 

Pick any democratic country and you will see the pile of lies and breakdown of trust between the State and the electorate. The honeymoon phase is over.

 

I found it intriguing that the co-producer of this movie about a bank robbery is one Steven Mnuchin, former hedge-fund manager and occasional movie producer, and outrageously the current Secretary of the Treasury under Trump.

 

Could it be that even a cabinet member in the government subscribes to the idea that things in the economy are not as they ought to be? On a systemic level? When the film was in development, the script writer Theodore Melfi sought to craft a happy ending, making it different from the 1979 original version of the film, remarking that it would be perfect for the protagonists to get ahead these days (get one over on the bank), as ‘everyone hates banks now’.

 

Apparently banks are no longer noble or believable, along with the State, police, intelligence services or even the Boy Scouts.

 

For his trouble of being the Treasury Secretary at the time of a tax bill that was recently passed, Steven Mnuchin was the recipient of a large box of horse manure gift-wrapped as a present by a man who thinks Mnuchin and Republicans are evil.

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/12/25/a-gift-wrapped-package-of-poo-why-a-man-left-a-box-of-manure-for-steven-mnuchin/?utm_term=.56f14f8321f6

 

Apparently, in America in 2017, everyone’s motives are suspect. Indeed, everywhere in the world, going into 2018, everyone’s motives are dodge.

 

I like that God’s devotion to us is not based on a contract, but a covenant.

 

https://newcreeations.org/contracts-vs-covenants-why-the-difference-matters/

 

That’s a profound difference. God has no weasel clause in a contract but a covenant sealed in blood.

The miracle of condescension

This Christmas is in many ways the same as all that have gone before, all 44 of them. In other ways, it is as different as the year that has unfolded.

 

The same because the Christmas feeling and rhythm is familiar, and different because a lot has happened.

Wouldn’t be Christmas without it

I have tried to be more deliberate this Christmas, less passive. I have availed myself of a significant portion of preaching and teaching from the likes of R.C. Sproul (God rest his soul) and John MacArthur. Interestingly, both are 78 years old and I appreciate the wisdom that comes from being that advanced in years and studying God’s word for longer than I’ve been alive.

 

I watched the late R.C. Sproul discuss the problem of pain in a lecture, along with the attempt at a Theodicy (moral defence of God on the issue of pain and evil) and at this moment, he has the answers that he sought for so many years.

 

Some things stand out about Christmas: the miracle of condescension, as well as the same elements of a blue Christmas and the hatred of the people of God.

 

The miracle of the condescension

 

Christmas usually encompasses shopping, gifts, food, bright decorations and occasionally a mention of the Christ child. All this is from the point of view of the lowest common denominator in society and is built around the idea of commerce, whether we like to think of it or not.

 

In the sermon by John MacArthur that I watched, he views it from heaven’s perspective:

 

Jesus

 

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6 – 11, NIV)

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+2%3A6+-+11&version=NIV

 

We normally see the angel’s announcement and the stable, the baby, the animals, the manger. The theological term is condescension…God becoming flesh (https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_795.cfm)

 

The Son gave up every right and privilege and emptied himself of many of the advantages of being God without actually ceasing to be God, as that would be impossible (https://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/kenosis.html).  Being God was and is part of his nature and essence but Christ entered the world as a helpless baby and laid aside a lot of advantages that were due to Him:

 

  • Glory; In his prayer of John 17:4 – 5, He asked the Father to restore His glory, the glory that he had before;
  • Omnipotence; He opted not to use his power to escape the cross (Matthew 26:53) and he prayed for the Father to raise Lazarus (John 11:41 – 42);
  • Omniscience; He didn’t know the timing of the Second Coming (Mark 13:32);
  • He took on the form of a servant and lived in obedience to the Father, He trusted the Father and walked by the Holy Spirit

 

Merely the idea that God downgraded to humanness is a stunning move. In my humble opinion we don’t consider the implications of this when we merely think of a baby boy in a stable.

 

This is God coming to earth, way more cool than the large mother ships in ‘Independence Day’. That thought became more relevant to me as I consider the toll that life takes this time of year for many.

 

When Christmas hurts

 

Christmas is a time of mourning for many. A lot of people experience loss around this time of year and even if that loss is six months or six years old, the absence of a loved one is felt especially keenly at Christmas.

 

I was not surprised to discover that a liturgy and church service exists especially for those who are mourning at Christmas.

 

https://youngclergywomen.org/blue-christmas-service-when-christmas-hurts/

 

The first candle lit in the advent service is specifically for those who have lost a loved one, for when Christmas hurts. It’s really comforting that Christmas is not only tinsels and elves but real people going through real life.

 

Modern day Herods

 

2017 is hardly different from the time of Herod and the systemic hatred of God and his people. The Christmas season has seen many attacks and planned attacks that have – mercifully – failed to materialise:

 

http://abc7news.com/fbi-man-planned-christmas-terror-attack-for-sfs-pier-39/2812473/

 

https://www.yahoo.com/news/nine-foreigners-among-melbourne-car-attack-injured-013414270.html

 

http://dailymailnews.com/2017/12/18/nine-killed-in-terrorist-attack-on-church-in-quetta/

 

https://patch.com/new-york/midtown-nyc/nyc-bomber-5-things-investigation-reveals-akayed-ullah

 

If it wasn’t obvious before, it is obvious now: Christ is hated by many and His followers are targeted for bearing His name.

 

A New Hope

 

It is into this mess, this crime scene of humanity, with haters, with soldiers falling in the combat zone of life, that Christ enters.

 

He brings a New Hope. Better than any promissory note, better than a fictional Luke Skywalker, a light in the darkness, God made flesh.

 

This is my Christmas 2017.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIb4NC5ikYo

Too much Christmas?

The past week at work, I was listening to a Christmas overture by Coleridge and in the midst of my day and listening to this piece of music, the second stirring of Christmas took place for the briefest moment, much the way a globe illuminates and is switched off moments later because you activated the wrong switch.

 

The first was unexpectedly in a shopping mall of all places, hearing Christmas music in the background, an embarrassing cliché.

 

This Sunday just past, I was listening to the song ‘Lion and the Lamb’ by Big Daddy Weave and was reminded that we’re expecting God to resemble a Santa Clause laden with gifts to indulge us, when the return of Christ might better resemble a righteous butt kicking by John McClane.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMTfj4xOjZk

 

Let me explain.

 

Christmas is good if we use it to draw closer to Him and prepare our hearts, but unfortunately more often than not, we’re too busy. With a secularized Christmas. Read the following description by Jesus about people missing the message of Noah as well as the days of the Son of Man:

 

26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” (Luke 17, NIV)

 

The activities Jesus mentions of the spiritually unaware, could we not fit rushing around, buying presents, honking on our horns, losing our temper with fellow mall shoppers into the type of busyness that Christmas has come to represent?

 

Advent goes together with Christmas and helps us prepare for it. All too often we skip advent entirely and don’t slow down until the digesting feast in our bellies compels us to cease most other activity, and even then the discomfort of having eaten too much precludes being able to think about anything deep.

 

https://www.christianpost.com/voice/too-much-christmas-too-little-advent.html

 

I like the following clip which helps explain what advent is and why it is helpful:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eC0FGQLBp7w

 

  • Commemorating the birth of Jesus
  • Welcoming God into our lives everyday
  • Preparing for Christ’s second coming

 

We have secularized His first coming and all but ignore his second. When He returns, it will not be a grandpa in a red suit outwardly frosted but warmed inwardly by sherry and mince pies, spending an evening showering humanity with gifts.

 

There are wrongs to be righted and rescue to effect. Jesus is a lamb that was slain but simultaneously a lion, fighting battles for His people.

 

The world of the irreligious does not want truth, but merely comfort and indulgence.

 

The secular Christmas is associated with gifts, the idea of peace and a story, just not the real one.

 

Those who reject God understand the giving and receiving of gifts. It is a way of buying influence and is the currency of greed and manipulation. This is clearly evident in our country right now.

 

https://qz.com/825789/state-capture-jacob-zuma-the-guptas-and-corruption-in-south-africa/

 

The promise of peace is a genuine one when God initiates it and sustains it (peace with God and between men who are brothers, and even our enemies). When the irreligious speak of peace, it is a cudgel for politics. If you don’t accept their definition of peace, you’re a hater and desire war. Perhaps even a racist.

 

The narrative of the false Christmas is not of the Saviour born in a manger, but of other base and more personal concerns. You might say it is the ultimate fake news with an agenda that diverges from God with the most extreme counter-logic.

 

Our aim should be to draw near to God and let the rest fall into place, as it will when we do it right.

 

Christ is the cornerstone of Christmas, and I want to be as ready for Him as for the 25th December 2017.

The peace of Jerusalem

Scripture instructs the Believer to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Why Jerusalem? In the days of David and Solomon, it was where the Believer went to obtain proximity to the Lord.

 

Naturally, it must be seen through the point of reference of someone in Old Testament times. In this day, we can approach the Father through Christ in a way that was not dared thought of then, with complete confidence in His grace (Hebrews 4:16).

 

Jerusalem was the focal point of feast days and religious commemoration in the Old Testament. The city of Jerusalem is mentioned 806 times in the Bible, 660 in the Old Testament alone. The book of Revelation concludes with the New Jerusalem.

 

https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/jerusalem.html

 

Jerusalem is synonymous in name to the dwelling of God with His people. And in history it is inseparable from the children of Israel.

 

Why then do Muslims venerate and claim Jerusalem? An oblique reference to the farthest mosque (Al-Aqsa) in the 17th chapter of the Qur’an is the sole incident where Jerusalem is hinted at but not named. The account in the Qur’an chronicles a fantastical tale where Mohammed travels to an outlying mosque from Mecca and journeys from that point on a winged horse named al-Buraq to paradise. In Mohammed’s time, there was no mosque in Jerusalem, or indeed any Muslims who would have need of a mosque.

 

With Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel, a host of people predicted doom. This move was also thought to be hurtful to many of the world’s Muslims.

 

https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2017/12/10/trumps_bold_recognition_of_jerusalem_a_game-changer_135740.html

 

Doubtless, what many didn’t consider was how God sees the move, or indeed his covenant people, Israel.

 

When I consider the Jewish claim to Jerusalem and the Muslim counter-claim I think of the wise ruling by Solomon. Now, Solomon’s judgement about a dispute over a baby is not an allegory for Jerusalem. It’s simply an account of a dispute that showcased the wisdom Solomon displayed and of more importance, the God who gave it to him.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Kings%203:16-28

 

Briefly, two women claim a living child for their own, alleging that the dead child belongs to the other. Solomon instructs that the child be cut in half and the pieces shared among the claimants. The real mother is concerned with the life of her child and the false mother with her case against her rival. Thus, Solomon is able to ascertain the real mother and make his judgement.

 

Looking at that account, I think of Jerusalem, a city that the Muslims/Palestinians want to divide. It’s an impossible thing to divide, and makes about as much sense as killing a child by dividing it.

 

When I think of the word ‘peace’ (as in we should pray for the peace of Jerusalem), it evokes for me something whole, united, complete, at rest. Dividing the city does the opposite of what I imagine peace to do.

 

I will be willing to concede that I may be wrong in applying a subjective connotation of the word ‘peace’ with the unity of a city, however consider that Berlin was not a peaceful city during the cold war, when it was divided and two antagonists faced off against each other within its boundaries.

 

The nations move carefully, and some spitefully, when it comes to Jerusalem. It is my hope that God would cause the division in the world over Jerusalem to point the people of Israel to the One they have pierced, and mourn for him and repent of the time they wasted in not believing him.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Zechariah+12&version=NIV

 

It is also my hope that the nations that are arrayed against a Jerusalem under Jewish control can consider God’s will before attacking her and ending up on the wrong side.

 

From Psalm 122:

 

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“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. (NIV)

Rambling Santa, or A hybrid Christmas

In nature you sometimes find that an animal mates with a most unlikely beast to produce hybrids that sound like they’re made up. And then you look it up via the wonders of the internet and they really do exist.

 

Pretty much everyone knows that a male donkey mating with a female horse will produce a mule. A lion mating with a tiger will produce a liger.

 

Now this is where we get into the stuff that is not so well known: a zebra mating with another equine will produce a Zebroid. And apparently a female bottlenose dolphin can mate with a male false killer whale and they will produce…wholphins!

 

If it’s a cool day in a desert and a camel and a lama hook up, some time later there will be camas walking around. And bizarrely, if a cow and bison feel the love, there will come along a beefalo. Perhaps it would be good for eating, although I’ve never seen a beefalo steak offered on a supermarket shelf.

 

Now to my hybrid: Christmas approaches and this has mixed with the series of James Bond movies I’m watching. James Bond is delightful, yet tacky. Murmuring to himself after an amorous encounter with a female spy, ‘The things I do for England’. Or after dispatching a baddie with an electrical appliance in a bath, muttering ‘shocking, positively shocking’.

 

Bond is a throwback to the 1960s. Men were hunters, women were shot through, though not with a rifle, baddies were killed with barely a nod to conscience and with a one-liner that none of us would dare utter because of its lameness.

 

I got to thinking whether Bond would survive in the environment at MI6 currently and what that might look like at Christmas. And even more, if Bond had to ‘get saved’, would he be welcome at MI6…

 

According to the MI6 web-page, the spy agency is tasked with protecting Britain overseas from external threats whereas MI5’s remit concerns protecting Britain from threats internally. It does seem rather odd that an organisation whose motto is Semper Occultus (always secret) should have a web-page.

 

In the good old days – the 1960s for James Bond and derring-do – part of Bonds job was seducing Russian spy ladies and playfully interacting with rich and powerful villains. This invariably involved a shared meal, drink, game of cards or an extended conversation with said villain where Bond would dazzle with his charm and wit before ultimately dazzling with his Walther PPK by the end of the movie.

 

What do we have now for villains and villainesses? ISIS and women covered in Islamic garbs with only eyes visible. There go the card games, alcohol, as well as any pork on the menu, seductive nights in exotic hotels, and really any rambunctious fun that comes with the game of spying. Admittedly, a celluloid version of it.

 

Added to that, I looked up the working condition at MI6 and to my interpretation it resembles any run-of-the-mill corporate with an HR emphasis on gender equality, LGBT issues, cultural diversity and awareness of disability.

 

You get the distinct impression that Christians would be hard pressed to organise a lunch time prayer group, because Christians are seen as intolerant.

 

https://www.sis.gov.uk/explore-life-at-sis.html

 

The web-page doesn’t have any mention of a Christmas party, although being England, though it may not be called a Christmas party it’s almost certain that a party is obligatory at the end of the year. Although we wouldn’t want to speak of Christmas too much or – heaven forbid – Christ, lest we offend.

 

I fear that both MI5 and MI6 are aware of the dangers within and without Britain but the masters to whom they report have dilly political reasons for not doing a thing about it, in the fine tradition of not wanting to offend.

 

In a report from May 2017, the threat levels appear to be unprecedented:

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/25/five-uk-terror-plots-disrupted-past-two-months-mi5-battles-unparalleled/

 

As recently as a fortnight ago, two suspects were arrested for planning to assassinate the British PM at Number 10:

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/05/mi5-foils-islamist-terror-plot-kill-prime-minister/

 

I think back to the 4th Century BC and the birth of Christ, the odious stench, the heavy hand of Rome. Dust, constant dental problems, lice and the compulsion of a foreign empire on the lives of ordinary Judeans. I fast forward to the 21st Century and Rome is but a city.

 

We live in a more civilised world, but ruled by cowards riddled with ridiculous sensitivities.

 

James Bond no longer stands in the way of the wolves.

 

This Christmas, I pray for peace, and a good night for all:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMQj_h4FyR8.