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Friday 15 August 2014

That Kid Everybody Pushed Around

I was having a conversation recently, and the new Noah movie came up. You know the one with the guy, his family, and a big boat full of animals; kind of like the story out of the Bible, but actually not. One of the people I was speaking to quoted something I know they thought was golden, but actually it scared me, it scared me a lot, but I had to think clearly about why it did, and this post is the sum of my thoughts.

He mentioned that one of the leaders in the church movement he is a part of, and this is a really large and influential church movement, was invited to speak on a panel, and one of the things this leader was asked about, was his ‘influential Christian leader’ (air quotes and phrase mine) opinion on the new Noah movie. The church leader responded with what he thought was a gem, “Well at least it has got people talking about the Bible.”

Now let’s think about this for a second. The recent Noah movie was advertised to look like a Christian movie, but it was anything but. From the beginning it gives a different spin on creation to what the book of Genesis does; it more than implies that Satan is the hero, because every time Noah is wearing the snakeskin relic thing left behind by the serpent of old he is calm and not murderous, and it is his birthright to protect the earth; fallen angels help Noah build the ark, and defend it; Methuselah is a warlock or some other freakish kind of human being; Noah himself seems bent on killing off any chance for human beings to survive the flood, and if that was not bad enough the movie basically implies that aside from all the immorality of human beings, it is their destruction of the environment which is the worst of all their sins (If you have not seen Noah, check out Mennoknight’s review, the link is below). The movie is clearly and obviously shamefully made skin deep to appear like it is based on the Bible, but it is anything but. It mocks clear teachings in the Bible, and makes the most evil being in the universe out to be a positive influence on Noah and his descendants; and an influential Christian leader (and he is not the only one who has said this) can only say, “Well at least it has got people talking about the Bible.”

Now don’t misunderstand me, I don’t expect Hollywood to get any story based on any book reliably accurate, let alone the Bible. But there is a bigger issue here. You know what this Christian leader’s statement reminds me of? It reminds me of the kid who was sort of part of the ‘in’ group in school, but he was only there because they liked to push him around a bit, and he was happy to cop it to be accepted. You remember the one? We all knew a person like this, or two. Sadly, in some, ever growing circles in the Western World, Evangelical Christianity has degenerated into the kid everybody pushed around, but who is happy to cop it because at least he gets to sit at the table.

This is not our calling brothers. If you have a teenager at school who is pushed around by the other kids who say they are his friends, and when you go ask that teenager, “Are you ok?”, and he or she replies, “Yeah, at least they noticed me”, then you know you have a kid there with self-esteem issues and probably other issues as well. At the very least you know things are not ok. When you have an ancient religion, that underpins the foundations of Western society in so many ways, and yet is willing to have its very own religious book dragged through the dirt, used to make money for a person who obviously cares not one wit for the Bible, and those who believe in it, and the religion is just happy people are talking about it, then you know you have a religion with problems, and I am sorry to say this people, but Western Christianity has some serious issues.

Now I could mention if you did this to the Muslims, they would protest, hire lawyers, and maybe even riot at such a disrespect of their religion (note: the Noah movie was banned in some Muslim nations like: Malaysia, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain, [Lee, 2014]), but I am not going to go down that route. Instead I want to point out that our faith did not start out that way, and it does not need to be, and should not be like that. If somebody disses your wife, you don’t say, “Well at least they are talking about her.” When someone mocks your kids, you don’t say, “Well at least you are a topic of conversation.” No, you look that mocking person in the eye, you stare at them very intensely for a moment, and then you say to them, “That was disrespectful, don’t do that again”, and you look real serious, because you are, and you should be.

Could you imagine John the Baptist giving that weak willed, and obviously pandering to the ‘in group’ response that that highly respected Christian leader gave? Just read up on him in Matthew 3, and give me your opinion. Or what about Jesus? Read his words about the difference between a wise and foolish builder in Matthew 7:24-29, or his very relevant application of the Noah story in Matthew 24:36-51.

The ancient, and believe me some modern Christians, were not afraid to offend (and yes I know John the Baptist was not a Christian, but he still counts). Modern Christians are so afraid to offend; so, so, so, afraid to offend, that when we are offended, and when what we believe and what we know to be true from God’s word is made mockery of, so many of today’s influential leaders want to be seen as in, and hip, and with it, and don’t want to offend the ‘in group’ (secular humanist society), they are more than willing to just make it look like we are ok with being the laughingstock of society; and these people think they help the kingdom of God this way? Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me…for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12), he did not say, “Blessed are you when people make a mockery of the word of God, and you just roll over and say, well that’s ok, at least people mentioned God’s word.”

The Christians in the Bible made waves because they did not fit in comfortably with society around them. Sometimes when they shared the gospel it caused riots, because they shared the gospel with people they knew would riot if they shared it with them, and they did not care because they know God wanted them to be witnesses, even if it meant they lost their life, and those towns went into a few hours of civil unrest. But today we are the exact opposite, we let society dictate to us when we can share, how we can share, and what we can share, and if they make a profit off twisting the word of God we hold dear, well like that kid who got pushed around at school, our leaders cop it, because that means they get to sit at the table, and sitting at the table counts for something (in some people’s view at least).

Why has this situation transpired? How have we degenerated to such a weak willed presence in society? There are perhaps more than a few correct answers to those questions, but I want to give one that I think makes up a big part of it. I have heard so many of the most influential and popular Christian speakers that the evangelical church has to offer today, and their message basically amounts to this: Jesus died on the cross to give your middle class life vision and purpose, God-defined vision and purpose for sure, but still vision and purpose. In other words, God is not so much wanting to save us to radically do some major kingdom surgery on our lives, he has simply presented us with a gospel that helps our middle class life be a little more intentional, and motivated, and purposeful, until we get to heaven.

Jesus on the other hand put it a completely different way and here is one great summary of the emphasis of his message:

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9:23-27).

Jesus does not call us to him to tack on the Christian, or in the hipster way ‘Jesus follower’, tag on your middle class life, and help it have some purpose and fulfil your middle class dream of success as you view it. He has called us to be radically different in society, even to the point of being persecuted and maligned because we are so different. Whereas today sadly more often than not, being a Christian is often just a sub-branch of an inner city suburban subculture of wannabe hipsters. I know not every Evangelical Christian is like this and for those of you who aren’t I commend you, but there are more of them out there like this than is good for Christianity, and they occupy some of the biggest and most influential churches.

This post is not about the Noah movie per se, but really about a bigger issue. Too often Christians leaders are willing to cop blatant disregard for our Holy Scriptures, and just roll over and be happy that people are just talking about Christian things (even though that movie is not a Christian thing but is based on a twisted reading of Scripture from an ancient pagan heresy; seriously look it up). I am sorry but not all talk is good talk. The kind of leaders we need in the church are the kind that when asked about the Noah movie, or some other travesty of equal proportions, they stand against it for what it is: evil, plain and simple. I mean seriously Noah wears the skin from the snake in Garden of Eden as a relic, which gives him power. Warning bells anyone?

That prominent leader should have said something like this: “What do I think about the Noah movie? Well I for one won’t be seeing it. I do not want to use my money to support blatant Bible twisting, and profiteering. I am not saying other Christians can’t watch stuff like that, that’s up to them. But I will say this: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). I will have to account for a lot of things on judgement day, because I am not perfect, but one thing I do not want to be is the guy who twisted God’s work to make a profit. Jesus spoke about these people in Matthew 18:6-9, and what he said there scares me enough to stay away from something like this. But thanks be to God he offers forgiveness to all who want it and ask for it. That’s what I think about the Noah movie.” Or at least they say something similar to this

In other words they should not roll over, but stand up and point out that twisting God’s word, while common and done by many, is not something we should just respond with: “At least it is being talked about.” But considering what Christianity has become in a lot of circles, we should not be surprised at comments like these. Look I am all for reaching out to culture, but the truth is Christianity is in massive decline in the West, the numbers on the NCLS website give us insight to this, and so does the Barna group. Maybe, just maybe, if we had more leaders with back bone, who cared not one wit whether they get to sit at the table with the ‘in group’, but put up their hand when something like this happens and say, “That is not cool,” with a real serious face, (because we should take it seriously), we can stop being like that guy everyone pushed around at school. Sure we may be persecuted and excluded, but hey, it happened to Jesus, Peter, Paul and a few other guys and gals in the history of the church; I think we can take. What do you think?


Thursday 7 August 2014

How a Christian Should View the Conflict in Gaza

If you turn on the news at night or in the morning, listen to the news report on the radio, you are bound to see or hear something about the conflict in Israel/Palestine between the Israelite forces and Hamas. This is nothing new, it really isn’t. Just look up the Bible and you can read verses like this: “He (Hezekiah) struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city” 2 Kings 18:8. Flick over to CNN, or Fox news and you will hear about Palestinians being struck by missiles in Gaza. In other words there has been conflict there for a long time, it is a place where the blood that has been shed runs deep, and the memories of the people run deeper. But as Christians, how should we view this conflict? That’s what I want to help with in this post, so here are several things to consider:

Here’s a map to orientate yourself:

Blessed are the peacemakers (Matt. 5:9)

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus preached many incredible truths, perhaps none are more famous than the Beatitudes and none are more relevant to the topic than this one: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God” (NIV). Like most guys I love movies about war, Saving Private Ryan, Sniper, American Sniper etc., but the real thing is not spectacular, it is brutal and people die, often in horrible ways. That’s why it is no surprise that Jesus said that those who work to make peace happen are blessed.

Don’t get me wrong, in this fallen world there are times when war in unavoidable, but it should never be something we strive for, aim for, or really desire. It is something we should seek to avoid unless it is absolutely necessary. For Israel, often it is unavoidable. Hamas are firing rockets from homes, schools, hospitals and other crazy places, and no country can just sit there and cop that. However, our ultimate aim and desire for the Gaza situation should be peace, though considering the history of the place this is very likely a pipe-dream...but then again miracles can happen.

God is not partial (Rom. 2:11)

There is only one thing that annoys me more regarding the Gaza conflict than left wing media outlets presenting Israel as this evil militaristic government bent on world domination, and that is Christians/Christianized media outlets who whitewash almost everything Israel do. This is just wrong, and it helps no one. We should not show partiality “because God shows no partiality” (Rom. 2:11). Just because the Israelites are the main characters in the Bible and the Old Covenant people of God, does not mean that we should hold them to any less or more of a standard than any other nation. When Christians, and it seems to be especially American Christians, blindly wash over anything Israel does, it does not help the cause of peace in the Middle East.

Rather we should apply to them the same standards that we would apply to any other nation in war time, or who are defending their country. This is where things get sticky, and rather annoying. It is a well-established fact that Hamas, a known and recognized terrorist organization, situate their missiles in places that deliberately put Palestinian civilians in the line of fire. This makes Hamas terrible, but incredibly cunning. Why? Because it puts the Israeli defense force between a rock and a hard place: they can shoot back, with terrifying efficiency, destroying the Hamas rockets and killing innocent civilians in the process, or they can not defend themselves and then have to let a known terrorist group fire rockets at their own civilians unchecked, something no country can allow to happen to itself. So fight back and be painted as evil by the media, or refuse to fight back and be destroyed. This is not a situation anyone wants to be in, and if we show partiality in our judgment it helps no one. It does not help the situation if Muslims support Palestine just because they are not Israel. It helps no one if Christians support Israel, just because they are the Old Covenant people of God. We must use sound judgment in reviewing the situation, and this is not being done.

Israel is not Israel (see Galatians and Hebrews)

This point is probably going to make a lot of Christians mad at me, but it has to be said, Israel are not Israel, the church is Israel. Now I am talking from a purely biblical point of view here, and speaking to New Testament Christians, so if you are Jewish, or a non-Christian please feel free to disregard what I say here (or read with interest). Also do not get me wrong, I love the idea of modern Israelites having the land historically that was their own, it makes sense, I support it fully, and I am glad they have powerful nations backing their right to have that land. I am, however, a little bit perplexed that so many Christians see the current nation in Israel as the reestablishment of the people of God in their land. Why do I say this?

Well, because it is those who trust in God by faith who are sons of Abraham (aka Israelites; Gal. 3:7-9). The law was given as a temporary guardian, now that faith has come, through Jesus Christ, all who have faith in Christ are Abrahams seed (Gal. 3:29), and are the heirs of all the promises that God gave to the Israelites in the Old Testament (Gal. 3:14, 21-22). In fact that whole point of the book of Galatians is that the Gentiles, that is those who are not Jewish by birth, can become part of the people of God, Israel, by faith. That is why the writer of Hebrews can say to the Christians he is writing to, “22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24). Notice that the church is the New Jerusalem, the city of the living God. The church is clearly the new Israel, the new people amongst which God dwells. (Remember the church was founded by Jewish men and women who believed Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah, so national Israel played a big part in the church's founding).  

Now there are dozens and dozens of more passages we could look at, but my point is this: we need to stop looking at the modern state of Israel as the re-established people of God living in their land. All who are of faith are the Israel of God, the people of God, and wherever they live and meet together, is where a small part of the universal church of God lives. Also, so  many of the prophecies people quote concerning Israel returning to their land, from the Old Testament, were fulfilled when Israel returned from exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC. Talk about misquoting the Bible.

So does this mean I do not support a Jewish state, and the right for the modern nation of Israel to exist? No, not at all. Every Christian and every decent human being should support the right for Israel to exist and have a massively well-funded army to boot. You only need to read some European history to realize this. As long as the Jewish people were dispossessed from their land, which was done by Hadrian in 135CE, who also changed the name of the Jewish province of Judea to Palestine (yes the name Palestine came from the Romans, but it originates with the Greek version of Philistine, and is very ancient), they have been at the mercy of many countries. Both Christian and Muslim nations have mistreated them, and often in horrible ways, culminating in the worst Jewish persecution since the destruction of their Holy Temple in 70AD, the Holocaust in Germany in World War II. For this reason, and this reason alone, I support the right for the Jews to have their own nation, and their own state. From a purely pragmatic perspective it made as good a sense as any for the British Empire at the end of World War II to give the traditional land of Israel back to them.

Bringing this forward to today, this means that we should support any initiative that keeps the Israelite people safe in their land, and reject any proposal which sees the nation of Israel nullified, which is actually one of the stated aims of Hamas, “Israel will be established and will stay established until Islam nullifies it as it nullified what was before it” (Hamas Charter 1993, 122). Their right to exist as a nation, however,  must, by Christians at least, be disconnected from the unbiblical belief that they inherently have the land because of God’s will, and should therefore be able to do what they want.

The Crazy Neighbour Next Door (or in the front yard?)

One of the reasons the situation is so complicated is because Israel is surrounded by countries that do not admit its right to exist, and in Gaza (which is in their borders) they literally have a crazy neighbour next door (or in their front yard?). Aside from the aforementioned statement that Hamas want to nullify Israel, (how scary is that for the Israeli’s?) take these statements from the Hamas charter:

“Our battle with the Jews is a long and dangerous, requiring all dedicated efforts. It is a phase which must be followed by succeeding phases, a battalion which must be supported by battalion after battalion of the divided Arab and Islamic world until the enemy is overcome, and the victory of Allah descends” (Hamas Charter 1993, 123). 

“The historical dimension of the Islamic Resistance Movement originates from its adoption of Islam as a system of life…As for its geographical dimension, it is wherever Muslims – those who adopt Islam as a system of life - are found, in any region on the face of the earth” (Hamas Charter 1993, 123).

“Therefore, in the shadow of Islam, it is possible for all followers of different religions to live in peace and with security over their person, property, and rights. In the absence of Islam, discord takes form, oppression and destruction are rampant, and wars and battles take place.” (Hamas Charter 1993, 124)
Notice that for Hamas peace can only come if we all live in the shadow of Islam, no less Hamas’ interpretation of said Islam.
Hamas’s motto: “Allah is its Goal. The Messenger is its Leader. The Quran is its Constitution. Jihad is its methodology, and death for the sake of Allah is its most coveted desire.”

“The Islamic Resistance Movement [firmly] believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf (Trust) upon all Muslim generations till the day of resurrection.” (Note the land of Palestine, is formerly the country/province of Judea and includes all of modern Israel. Therefore, Hamas does not believe the Israelites have a right to rule in the land).
“There is no solution to the Palestinian Problem except by Jihad…In the struggle against the Jewish occupation of Palestine, the banner of Jihad must be raised” (Hamas Charter 1993, 126-7).

Also note that in Article 22 Hamas claim that “…there is not a war that goes on here or there in which their [the Jews] fingers are not playing behind it” (Hamas Charter 1993, 129). Ironic considering how many fights Hamas keeps picking with Israel. They even blame Israel for the world wars, including World War II, which is a horrible, horrible, statement considering what happened to the Jews in that war (Hamas Charter 1993, 129).

So think about all of this, each of the quotes above are from the actual words of Hamas's charter itself. They want to see the nation of Israel nullified, they believe every Muslim in the world should unite to their cause to destroy Israel by Jihad which includes war, they believe that there cannot be true peace in any nation until Islam rules there, and they have guns, rockets, and the will to use them, as can be seen. Could you imagine being Israel in this situation? Hamas want their nation nullified from the face of the Earth; the land of Israel scrubbed out and replaced with a Palestinian state, which technically has never existed.

As Christians we should feel for the Israelites; they live next door to a neighbour who is not entirely rational, and very dangerous, and armed to the teeth; that is a dangerous situation. Imagine if on the outskirts of Brisbane there was a population of several million people of a completely different ethnic group who were led by a terrorist group that is armed to the teeth, and were shooting rockets at your homes, and wanted to wipe you from the face of the earth. How would you want your government to respond? With lethal and protective force? Very likely.

The Being Behind the Curtain (Revelation 12)

Ultimately as Christians we believe in the physical world that we can see before us and we experience every day of our lives, but we must never forget that there is a spiritual world we consider to be very real, and full of very active beings, some of them evil. The main antagonist is of course Satan, “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole earth astray. He was hurled down to the earth, and his angels with him” (Rev. 12:9). This entity is here on earth causing trouble.

I do not personally cry devil whenever something bad happens, we should not see him behind every rock, or tree, or behind every plot and bad thing that happens. He is not all-powerful, and human beings are sinful enough to cause a lot of trouble themselves. But take into account the fact that about 2000 people have died in the Gaza conflict, and yet it is one of the largest news stories out there at the moment, with Israel being shamed by the UN and the United States for firing rockets into places where civilians live. Yet the President of Syria, “Bashar al-Assad has killed over 180,000 Syrians, mostly Muslim, in two years -- more than the number killed in Palestine in two decades” (Rizvi 2014). That’s not to mention the destruction being caused by Isis and other recent Middle Eastern conflicts. Don’t get me wrong, one person killed in conflict is one person too many. I wish none of this was happening, both Israelites and Palestinians being killed saddens me. But the Middle East is a never ending hodgepodge of conflicts, with people being killed left right and center, and the relatively minor conflict in Israel gets so such attention? It seems to me like something else is going on here.

Satan is real, he causes trouble, and he is definitely stirring the pot over there. But not just in Israel, he is causing trouble, via himself, and his angels, throughout the world, on a daily basis, in all kinds of different ways. As Christians we do not square off against flesh and blood enemies, but against the Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, we must remember this (Eph. 6:12). Our job is not to choose Israel, over Palestine, but to realize that there is some deep spiritual trouble in the Israel/Gaza situation and there are a lot of people in need of the gospel of reconciliation.

Have you noticed how every time a rocket is shot off in Israel, Christians start talking about the end of the world, and get all distracted and focused in on a small, but truly devastating conflict, in a region of the world that has basically nothing to do with the rest of world. It really, really gets people distracted, and focused on issues that have no bearing on the greater world (unless you hold to a very specific form of eschatology, but that’s a discussion for a different day). 

Therefore, it is my view that as Christians far away here in Australia when we see this conflict going on we need to realize that there is really nothing we can do about it but pray. Pray for wisdom to come to people on both sides, pray for the diplomats on both sides to have guidance, pray for the soldiers on both sides to become sick of war, and pray more importantly that the kingdom of God will spread into the area. By God’s kingdom spreading I mean that the gospel would flourish, and that both Jews and Palestinians may hear the gospel of peace and reconciliation that comes from Christ and him alone.

I said above that the conflict ending for good, and peace settling on the area is probably a pipe dream, but miracles can happen. For a miracle to happen we need to see God to work in that region. Pray that hardened hearts are softened so that we can see the greatest of miracles: people who hate each other, being reconciled to God and each other, by Jesus Christ who died on the cross for the sins of all of us, whether we liked him or not.


Charter of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) of Palestine, 1993

Ali A Rizvi 2014