Europe’s voicelessness in its own moral wilderness.

Yesterday, a rally of some 7,000 people gathered in Brussels to protest ‘against terror and hate’.  The march was led by some of those wounded or present at the suicide bombings at Belgium’s main airport and metro station on March 22.  Responsibility for the attacks which seized 32 lives was assumed by the militant group, Islamic State, who had also asserted their claim on the Paris attacks in November which killed 130 people.  The demonstration which took place yesterday is reported to have been subdued; carried out in relative silence.  The march was intended to mark a public display of ‘disgust and solidarity’ and yet it seems that neither expressions could find their voice.

Perhaps this voicelessness has no greater significance than the numb feeling which grips victims of extreme brutality, and yet on the other hand there may be more involved than the muted solemnity of mourning in yesterday’s gathering.

For the last 6 months Israel has experienced a wave of terror unlike any previously experienced in its almost 80-year history since the foundation of the modern state.  It has been dubbed the ‘Lone Wolf Intifada’ by many sources referencing the lack of organisation or co-ordination in the attacks carried out by individuals as young as 12.  It has also been referred to as the ‘Knife Intifada’  or ‘Stabbing Intifada’ referring to the principle form which attacks have taken, although weapons other than knives have also been used including automatic firearms, scissors, petrol bombs, and vehicles used to ram civilians or public servicemen.  A report released by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of March stated that there have been 338 attacks since September 2015, of which 42 were vehicular rammings, and 83 shootings; the rest stabbings.  34 Israelis and foreign tourists have been killed and 413 injured.  If molotov cocktail and rock-throwing attacks are included, the numbers are dramatically higher.

The response in Western media (not just in Europe) has been outrage, but of a completely inexplicable moral standard.  A comment piece published in the UK’s Daily Telegraph on 23 February titled, “The media is twisting the knife into Israel over the ‘lone wolf intifada'”,  aptly illustrated the problem.  A backwards form of reporting was employed from almost the outset of the wave of violence with a BBC report on one of the most shocking stories in which a Palestinian terrorist stabbed 4 Israelis (one a 2-year old, and another its mother) in Jerusalem’s Old City.  Two of the four were killed leaving a widow and a fatherless child.  The BBC’s initial headline read, “Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two.”  The headline was changed after complaints.  But the headline reflected only the first case of a reporting style which stubbornly upheld an equal apportioning of blame and outrage to what were viewed as two sides in a morally ambiguous conflict.  This also carried within it a false equivalence between attacker and victim, particularly piercing in its hypocrisy in the case of the 2-year-old child who evidently, by these standards, must hold a portion of the blame for the death of the terrorist who killed its father.  Occasionally this equivalence and statistical bartering for moral superiority handed the high ground to the terrorists such as in a case of 3 Palestinians who were shot dead while carrying out stabbing attacks on a number of Israelis (only one being killed).  The headline in The Irish Times read, “3 Palestinians, 1 Israeli Die in West Bank Incidents.”

Perhaps the voice of Europe’s moral outrage has been compromised, although certainly not consciously, in the localisation of terror in its own cities.  Can Europe assign equivalence to those who attempt to bring terror, confusion  and death and those who uphold order and law in Israel, and then at the same time with integrity uphold outrage against the same forms of terror, confusion and death in its own cities?  Some might suggest that media biases do not reflect the views of the masses, but McDonalds only serves cheeseburgers because people want to eat cheeseburgers.  Likewise, the Western media only presents stories that people will consume most easily.

The result of this dissemination of duplicity is that Europe can find no voice in the face of the same forms of terror which seek to destroy civilised society in Israel when they appear in its own cities.  It is confused about its own cause and that of its enemies.

“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. – Mark 3:23-25, NASB

I am not calling any nation or group of nations Satan, but the justification of terror and violence in Israel as something equivalent to the actions of the forces of order is both a Satanic and demonic agenda that Europe has been agreeing with in recent months.  When that same demonic agenda comes to bring death home to Europe, it is little wonder that Europe can find no voice to its own outrage.  I often even seem to hear attempts to ‘understand the motivations’ behind such violence in Western media, or even ‘find common ground’ and ‘dialogue’ with such groups.  Confusion and moral fuzziness seems increasingly prevalent.

I have no delight whatsoever in seeing in Europe the kinds of violence that have been common in the Middle East for many years, but I have little surprise either.  Europe cannot find a physical defence against such forms when its moral and spiritual defence against them has become so weak and faltering.  If a defence is to be raised, it must be raised first in absolute moral and spiritual outrage against the entire philosophy of those who engender such acts, no matter against whom or in which location they take place.

Today, April 18, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated the intentions of the government in Israel to deal decisively with whatever forms of terror arise, as the IDF have issued warnings of escalation over the Passover season.  With Independence Day on May 11-12 also often leading to violence and demonstrations following, it is a time when public servicemen must be especially alert.  But Israel is wise in its policy of absolute intolerance of terror and its refusal to negotiate its intolerance in any circumstances or pressure.  Europe and the West must find a similarly uncompromising moral voice if it is to counter the assaults which may come to it in the future.

In John 10, Jesus describes good leadership.  First He describes Himself in contrast to an antagonist, the ‘thief’, saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  The difference between Jesus and the ‘thief’ is stark.  Jesus comes to bring life, and the thief comes to bring death.  The terms in which these two opposites are described are absolute.  Jesus then goes on to describe His own leadership in contrast with bad leadership.  He describes himself as the Good Shepherd, a good leader who will defend His sheep against the wolves that come, but the bad leaders or ‘hired hands’ are those who flee when the wolves come:

He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. – John 10:12, NASB

God has promised that He will be a shepherd to Israel (Ezekiel 34:11-15; Psalm 80:1; Jeremiah 31:10).  He will protect her from the wolves, and He will give grace to a government that seeks to keep His people from wolves.  But for Europe and the West, it remains a choice whether its leaders will agree with the One who gives life, or the one who brings death; and whether the leaders of nations will take a stand against the wolves, or flee from them.  May God give grace for them to choose His heart, submit to Jesus’ perfect leadership and agree wholeheartedly with life and not death.

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Notes from the desert: total discipleship.

I am amazed by the first disciples of Jesus.  I recently re-read the stories of their call in the early pages of the gospels and considered the simplicity of their responses.  These men were not normal, or at least there was something totally abnormal about the incidents in which they surrendered so instantly to follow a man whom they did not know.  What made these men abandon there entire livelihood and personal connections in such a radical way, and with such unreserve?

Immediately they left their nets and followed Him… (Matthew 4:20)

Something about Jesus was so totally irresistible.

What is even more remarkable is that this seems to have been the expectation with which Jesus approached each one.  Consider for a moment what Jesus said to a disciple whose name we are never given, who in response to the call of the Lord said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”

Follow me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead. (Matthew 8:22)

I think that in the modern world, we offer much more trivial excuses for our delay to respond to the call of Jesus.  We say that we have an appointment, that our schedule is full, or that we want a few more minutes browsing Youtube, Facebook, etc.  We want to see the oh-so important final episode of our favourite tv subscriptions on Netflix.  We say this with our hearts every time we choose these comforts over His voice.  But Jesus was not satisfied even with the request to be present at the funeral of this disciple’s father.  Instead, He uses the man’s response to illustrate the absolute demands of His call, and the emptiness of a life without it.  Jesus calls everything which pulls us away from an immediate and total acceptance of His call ‘dead’.  And everyone whose life is made up of a life apart from following Him, He also calls ‘dead’.  That is stunning.  Are you totally submitted to Jesus’ leadership?  If not, He says you are dead, and living among the dead.  There is no room left for reserve in His call.

In the modern day, we accommodate a very half-hearted approach to Christianity.  We ‘encourage’ new believers not to be ‘too extreme’ and to stay ‘balanced’.  But there is nothing even slightly balanced about Jesus’ command to follow Him.

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:37)

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)

The call of Jesus is the call to reject all competing affections, personal and material.  It is the call to hate and refuse to be drawn aside by everything in our lives that wrestles with His call.  Saying yes to His call to follow requires that we refuse everything else.  It is not possible to simply live.  Every part of life must be lived through Him.  Anything less amounts to a rejection of His call.

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

There seems to be a very prevalent attitude that we can have Jesus as a convenient and helpful addition to our lives, which can otherwise remain essentially unchanged.  This is a fundamental misunderstanding.  The call of Jesus has to be an interruption.  Things cannot continue as they were on any level.  There must be a death.  Everything must initially be put to an end, and then there must be a subsequent holy upheaval.  Everything must be disturbed and reordered.  All our associations in life prior to the call of Jesus essentially master us.  When the perfect Master invites us to be mastered by Him, we must despise all of our old masters.  We must count them, and ourselves as dead.

We often try to have many leaders and many masters in our lives – the most dominant one being self.  I think this is the source of much of our sense of entitlement, which in itself amounts to no less than rebellion.  We still think we are entitled to our opinions.  We still think we are entitled to our decisions and our place in the world’s social structures.  But Jesus says, ‘Come and die that you may live!’

This same sense of entitlement often causes us to refuse God’s heart and our prayers become weak and selfish.  We are stuck in the affections of the world, and do not see that things that constantly break His heart – abortion, human trafficking, antisemitism and the global maligning of Israel, divorce, extreme poverty and epidemics that steal the lives of millions.  Where is the gospel’s outworking?  Too often it is bowed at the knees of comfort and complacency, or even legitimate natural affections which are given a place higher than His heart.

I am reminded of the cry of Elijah on Mount Carmel, “If Baal is God, then follow Him!”  But Baal is not God.  He is a deaf and dumb idol that cannot speak and cannot hear – he can give no remedy to the desperate need of the world for Jesus.  It is time to call an end to Christianity that tries to dip its sore feet into the soothing waters of salvation after a long day working for Baal.

The call of Jesus is a death and rebirth, represented in the burial of the waters of Baptism.  May the work of the Cross take effect in every place in our hearts and lives that we serve the perfect Master with total devotion.  May our answer to the call of Jesus be like Elisha’s response to Elijah.  He was plowing with oxen when Elijah threw his mantle upon him.  It says that Elisha slaughtered the oxen, boiled their flesh and gave it to the people.  Elijah knew the heavy demand that he had placed on this man.  He said, ‘What have I done to you?’ (1 Kings 19:19-21).  We must know the intensity of the call which is given by Jesus.  If this kind of absolute service was demanded by Elijah, how much more is it demanded by the Saviour of the world and God Himself.  May the grace of God empower us to understand the costliness of His call, and to say a radical yes to that cost in the same way as the twelve, that God’s power may flow freely through our lives.

 

 

Strategies for spiritual boredom.

Recently, I felt bored and stressed.  Nothing extraordinary you might say, but I was bored and stressed in conversation with God.  Talking with God; the almighty, the creator of the universe, the all-glorious and all-beautiful one; I was bored and stressed.

To me, one of the most convincing arguments for the reality of an accessible God is His intervention in human consciousness through prayer.  Famously, agricultural scientist George Washington Carver (1864-1943) asked God for ‘the mystery of a peanut’, and subsequently derived over 300 different patents from this unassuming beer accompaniment.  Prayer is very real.  At the centre of my faith is a God who is limitlessly powerful and consistently unpredictable, whose words and ideas are thrilling to the human spirit. To me, spiritual boredom is unacceptable; it is obtuse, unbelieving and even stupid.  And yet, there I was.

In the midst of this place of boredom and stress, God spoke to me like He sometimes does, by showing me an image in my mind’s eye.  I saw myself like a little child kneeling over something I was holding in my hands and I was clearly frustrated by it, like it was a toy I was trying to fix, and I saw my Father standing over me wanting to help me but He couldn’t seem to get my attention while I was so engrossed in my own task.  I realised that the object I was holding in my hands was prayer itself.  God was showing me that I was trying to do prayer with my own agenda and my own understanding of what the results should be.  My eyes were fixed down when they should have been looking up to my Father. I had missed the vision of heaven. God wanted to talk to me about cities and nations while I was fixated with a comparatively petty prayer list of practical concerns for the following weeks and months.

Much of the Christian Church is in this position.  ‘Strategy’, ‘model’ and ‘agenda’ have become Christian buzzwords that make us feel professional, but increasingly seem to betray a heart that is departing from the Lord.  We have become very good at ideas, but I’m not sure how much we are truly growing in the heart of God.  Jesus said it would be those who ‘abide’ in Him who would bear much fruit.  But are our goals His goals, and is our vision His vision?  Are they even becoming more united?  Too often it seems that the goals of Christian organizations and churches are about increasing ‘web hits’ and ‘likes’ on a facebook page, rather than the transformation of culture by the Word of God; the salvation of souls and renewing of minds.  The calling of a Christian was never to be ‘liked’.  We are called into fellowship with Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:9)

While we are counting how many likes, shares and comments were achieved on our social media feeds in the last week, and how many heads there were in our Sunday services, 37.5 million babies were aborted globally so far in the past year alone.  There are 36 million trafficked in an exploding global slave trade. The number of displaced persons has reached around 60 million.  The USA, still the world’s most prominent ‘Christian nation’, ranks among the the top ten ‘most divorced’ nations with a rate of 53% of marriages (the UK is not far behind with 47%, and 6 of the other top ten nations are from western Europe).  Over 200 million Christians around the world are denied fundamental human rights because of their faith according to the World Evangelical Alliance, and 322 Christians are killed for their faith every month (Open Doors).  Israel, God’s chosen nation through whom He communicated all of the scripture and whom He has restored to their land as promised repeatedly in the Prophets, is reviled and mocked globally and is condemned by the UNHRC more times than all other nations combined including North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Burma, Libya, Syria etc… etc…  According to Psalm 149, God’s people are called to ‘execute judgement’ in the place of prayer and praise.  Matthew 18:18 says that we are given authority in prayer to bind everything that disagrees with heaven.  In Luke 18:6-8, Jesus promises that God will ‘speedily’ answer those who cry out to Him for justice.

So seriously, there are bigger fish to fry.

When Jesus, the commander of heaven’s armies, met Joshua on the plain of Jericho, He did not come to hear Joshua’s plan to conquer the city.  He came to give Joshua His strategy for victory.

And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” (Joshua 5:13-14, NKJV)

Jesus’ strategy was bizarre.  He says to Joshua (paraphrase…), ‘I want you to walk round Jericho once every day for six days, then the next day I want you to walk around it 7 times and afterwards get the priests to blow trumpets.’  Jesus’ plan sounds crazy, but obedience in fellowship with Him releases supernatural power to break down the strongholds of the enemy.  The walls of Jericho fell down flat.

It is much easier for us to create comfortable human strategies than to walk in fellowship with Jesus, but it is so much more boring and exhausting.  If Joshua had been offended by Jesus’ strategy for victory, the alternative would probably have been a very protracted and potentially costly process of siege warfare.  God had a miraculous solution available, if Joshua was willing to walk in fellowship with Him.  God doesn’t want us to go through the pain of our own plans and strategies!  He wants to release miraculous solutions to us in our jobs, relationships and in building His kingdom but these strategies will never come from human intelligence and are often offensive.

In a very similar instruction, but a very different need, in 2 Kings 5 God asked Naaman the Syrian through the prophet Elisha to wash in the Jordan river 7 times for his healing.  Naaman became offended at God’s plan.  He didn’t want to wash in an Israeli river.  He thought that the Syrian rivers should be good enough for him.  But that wasn’t what God said, and he wouldn’t have been healed if he had washed in a Syrian river.

God already has a strategy for global revival at which a large proportion of the body of Christ are offended because it involves the nation of Israel, and politics has clouded a lot of vision on the subject.  Like Naaman, they do not accept Israel’s strategic place in God’s purposes, even though His Word is absolutely clear.  Romans 11:11 states that a core purpose of the gospel coming to the gentiles was in order to provoke Israel to jealousy for their own Messiah.  A remarkable statement and an element of God’s global purpose that is completely ignored by large sections of the Body of Christ, and sidelined by others.

There are now endless ‘mission strategies’ available in Christian media.  There are new methods of outreach produced on seemingly a daily basis and yet God says He wants to bring ‘life from the dead’ for the whole world (or global revival) through the Israel’s acceptance of their own Messiah (Romans 11:15).  God’s response to the cry of His Church for global revival is Isaiah 62:

I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
They shall never hold their peace day or night.
You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent,
And give Him no rest till He establishes
And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth. (Isaiah 62:6-7, NKJV)

God is calling out for watchmen who will embrace His purposes for the world, and agree with His agenda and His strategy.  He is looking for men and women who will lay down their lives in the place of prayer and allow Him to move through their lives in remarkable and supernatural ways.  He longs to find men and women who will embrace His heart for the nations, no matter how offensive it is to them personally.  He longs for those who will let His priorities become theirs, so much so that they become the burning cry of their hearts, day and night.

It is a mystery, and it looks like foolishness, but God has chosen to release healing to the world through an Israeli river!  God is going to set up His throne in Jerusalem and a river is going to flow out from His throne that will turn bitter waters into sweet.  Trees will grow on the banks of that river that will be for the ‘healing of the nations’ (Revelation 22:2).  Israel is not the only element in God’s plan for global revival, but it is a central element in His ultimate divine solution and the Church will witness a supernatural revival in its prayer life and a dramatic increase in fruitfulness when it embraces its role in intercession over Jerusalem and Israel.

As you read this, I pray that a fire might be kindled in your heart to let God draw you into an encounter with the Commander of the heaven’s armies, and that you might find divine strategies for your life and for nations as you walk in fellowship with Him.

 

 

Life at the very centre of pain.

On 26 January of this year, director Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List) gave a speech in Krakow, Poland, one day before the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  He spoke to a group of around 100 survivors of the holocaust, warning them of the continued dangers of what he referred to as the ‘perennial demons of intolerance’ (for a full transcript of the speech, click here).  Something he said at the time has stayed with me since.

If you’re a Holocaust survivor your identity as a Jew was threatened by the Third Reich… Antisemites, radical extremists and religious fanatics that provoke hate crime – these people…want to, all over again, strip you of your past, of your story and of your identity…

I had heard much about and studied the events of the holocaust.  I had seen films such as Schindler’s ListLa Vita e Bella, and The Pianist.  On my first visit to Israel, I had spent hours at Yad Vashem (the national Holocaust museum) overwhelmed by the magnitude of the suffering and pain which had been endured by the victims of the Nazis, and emotionally exhausted by the seemingly endless stream of personal testimonies that became ever-increasingly and tragically predictable in the destructive horror of their content.  But I had never considered the actions of Hitler’s demonic regime as an attack on Jewish identity.

But of course it was.  When the imports of this officially designated ‘sub-human’ race arrived at Auschwitz I (before systematic mass-murder was initiated at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, where four gas chambers and crematoria were constructed) they were stripped of everything which would have made them unique.  When the camp was liberated in January 1945, a room was discovered which housed pairs of shoes, floor to ceiling, which were taken from the prisoners.  Another housed sacks, piled floor to ceiling, of human hair shorn from the heads of man, woman and child alike.  Another housed suitcases.  When they arrived, all their possessions, clothes and even hair was taken and replaced by a number tattooed on the arm and a pair of striped cotton pyjamas which would be no match for the frequently sub-freezing working conditions at the camp.  Even dolls and other children’s toys were demanded from every child.  The hair was taken and used to make textiles, and many of their possessions were sold.  What was found was only a modicum of what was stolen; a token of a people reduced to saleable commodities.

Recently, I had the undesirable opportunity to visit the ‘death-factory’, Auschwitz, itself.  The prospect was hardly coveted.  I find the concept of ‘holocaust tourism’ disturbing on many levels, although I recognise the need to accurately record and remember the events of the holocaust that the lessons of history might at least be available to (and stand as a witness against) posterity.  But academic relationships took me to Krakow early this month and, having a day of free time, I felt that I needed to visit this place which bore witness to surely the most wicked acts of living memory.

As an archaeologist, I attempt to understand the nature of societies from the material remains that are left behind by their populations.  I spend a great deal of time, attempting to understand and identify people from their possessions.  So as I walked around the buildings at Auschwitz, and saw many of the accumulated possessions of those who were murdered there, it became startlingly vivid to me that this was an identity theft on an unprecedented scale – not for the purpose of possession but destruction.  The Nazi enterprise at Auschwitz was an attempt to permanently brand the Jewish people with death as their identity.  The Nazi ideology defined the very existence of the Jews as a ‘problem’ that had to be ‘solved’ by eradication.

Conversely, the identity and destiny of the Jewish people as defined by Biblical history and the words of God is full of beauty and vitality.

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself; a special treasure…  (Deuteronomy 7:6 NKJV)

You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God, (Isaiah 62:3 NKJV)

Israel in the Bible is eternally and irrevocably identified with God Himself.  They are given divine and royal associations.  It was through this people that the God of the Bible chose to reveal Himself to the world; an uncomfortable truth for many Christians that also carries through into the New Testament.  All of the New Testament writers (with the possible exception of Luke) were Jewish and Jesus Himself is Jewish.  This centrality of Israel will continue into eternity.  All of the names on the gates of the New Jerusalem (the 12 tribes), and all of the names on its 12 foundations stones (the 12 apostles) will be Jewish names (Revelation 21:12-14).  God’s future home in the book of Revelation is apparently a very Jewish city!  All of this is wrapped up in the mystery and permanency of God’s election.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29 NKJV)

It is one of the great mysteries of scripture that God has permanently given the Jewish people a divine and royal identity, regardless of their faithfulness to Him.

As I took the bus from the site of Auschwitz I to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau complex, I felt only a sense of deep desolation.  The tragedy, injustice and filthiness of the actions that had taken place seemed to be like a heavy cloud over my soul.  But when I arrived at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, I found something that shook my heart into one of the most profound experiences of hope that I have ever known.

Birkenau is the more famous of the the three compounds at Auschwitz dedicated to the fulfilment of the ‘final solution to the Jewish question’.  This second camp was constructed with optimum efficiency of extermination in mind.  The iconic train tracks stretched into the camp up to just a few yards from the gas chambers and crematoria.  The vast majority of those who came to Auschwitz II were dead within minutes of arrival.  As I arrived and saw the entry of these train tracks into the camp, I was deeply moved by just how sudden it would have been, and how unprepared the thousands of arrivals would have been for the closure of their lives.

I walked along the tracks until I reached where the gas chambers had been.  They are mostly ruined now, but what remained has been preserved.  The Nazis attempted to hide their activities with a hurried demolition of the structures after the war was lost.  As I approached the first of these structures, I heard a sound that I have come to know very well; it was the sound of Israeli Hebrew.  It was fluently and natively spoken by a young woman of about 17 or 18.  I noticed it as her voice began to falter and break into a quiver.  She was obviously trying to contain a great deal of emotion.  She was relating a story (I think!) of a family member who had died at Birkenau to a group of around 20 or 30 young Israelis, all wearing white and blue hoodies.  As she began to sob, many of the other girls from the group gathered around her in an embrace.

As I looked back across the site, and continued walking, I noticed that there were several of these groups.  There must have been around 200 Israeli young people visiting the site at the same time as me, learning together and comforting one another.  What was amazing to me was that in the midst of this place of such deep horror and grief, these young people were there and were filled with exuberant joy.  Some of them were running and laughing along the train tracks as they were heading towards the exit!  I couldn’t help imagining what rage Hitler would have felt if he could have seen this – how much he failed to destroy the identity of the Jewish people.  Instead, the presence of this new generation of native-born Israelis seemed to prove their resilience.

Those young people were a potent illustration to me of the unquenchable spirit and life that is the identity of Israel.  I was reminded of these verses from Isaiah, promises God gave relating to the time when Israel would become a nation in its own land again (that’s right now!).

So the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness;
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 51:11 NKJV)

For you will forget the shame of your youth,
And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore. (Isaiah 54:4b NKJV)

The words spoken by the prophets of the Old Testament about Israel’s future in the land of Israel seem to be coming to pass.  The bold, vibrant and vital identity of the Jewish people is being reawakened.  As I write, I am filled with a fresh desire to pray, that Israel might come into the full inheritance that she has in God; that she might receive her own Messiah, Jesus, and that her glorious identity might be realized.  As the apostle Paul wrote,

For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15 NKJV)

I am amazed at the faithfulness of God, that in the places of the greatest pain He is still able to come and show His life.  Like, Ezekiel prophesied, He has caused His people to come up out of their graves (Ez. 37).  He has given them breath and sinew and flesh.  He has revived them as He repeatedly promised, and brought them back to their own land.  As I walked around Birkenau, I kept hearing the famous Hebrew phrase, ‘Am Yisrael Chai!‘  ‘The people of Israel live!’  The identity of Israel is too powerful to be destroyed or permanently tainted.  It has its roots planted in the identity of God Himself, who makes everything beautiful in its time.

My thanks go to L-J B, who unknowingly helped condense some of these thoughts into something I could express on paper.

The Believer’s Inheritance.

I am writing from my parents’ home as sun sets at the beginning of Yom Kippur.  Jews around the world are beginning to fast for the holiest day of the year, remembering the days of the temple and the tabernacle, when God could be accessed; for repentance and for cleansing.  Many pray prayers of confession and repentance, asking that their names might be written in the book of life.

Yom Kippur, translated in most English Bibles as ‘Day of Atonement’, was the one day in the Jewish Calendar when Israel’s Levitical High Priest would be allowed to enter the most sacred area of the Jewish national shrine; the Ḳodesh ha-Ḳodashim or ‘Holy of Holies in its literal translation.  This was the place where it was believed the presence of God permanently resided.  The priest would offer a goat (a scapegoat) as a blood sacrifice for the sins of the people for the whole preceding year, and the blood would be presented by the light of seven lamps inside the Kodesh ha-Kodashim  before the golden winged-creatures on the Ark of the Covenant itself.   No other opportunity for cleansing for sin would be available until the following year and the repetition of the same bloody ceremony.

The mystery of this strange event echoed down the centuries long past the time of the destruction of the first and second temples, and today even some secular Jews treat the day with an awed sense of foreboding.  For the Christian, whose religion has been inherited from the traditions of their Jewish forefathers, the day seems stranger still.  A deeply weakened concept of the costliness of sin pervading Western Christian culture makes blood sacrifice offensive; even disgusting.  Yet the book of Hebrews makes it clear that sin is so costly that even such a blood offering cannot deal with it effectively.

But in those sacrifices there is a REMINDER of sins EVERY YEAR.  For it is NOT POSSIBLE that the blood of bulls and goats could TAKE AWAY sins. (Hebrews 10:3-4 NKJV, emphasis added)

What is most fascinating about Yom Kippur is that despite all the ceremony, it never actually dealt with the problem.  It was an illustration; a reminder of the costliness of sin and ‘a shadow of the good things to come’ (Hebrews 10:1).  Something greater was needed.

Without an understanding of Yom Kippur, the scripture in Matthew following the crucifixion of Jesus that describes the veil of the temple being torn in two ‘from top to bottom’ (Matthew 27:51) remains cryptic.  The death of the goat and the sprinkling of its blood on Yom Kippur foreshadowed the real event of significance which was the death of Messiah and the shedding of His blood.  Even the Levitical High Priest, in a bizarre prophetic utterance just months before Jesus’ crucifixion, had acknowledged the necessity that a man should die for the sins of the people (John 11:50-51).

The tearing of the veil of the second temple, made of four-inch-thick linen sixty-feet high, represented the fulfilment of Yom Kippur and the closure of the annual system by which the High Priest would enter the Kodesh ha-Kodashim.  The torn veil was a perfect physical representation of a cataclysmic spiritual event.  The sacrifice of Jesus finally and absolutely tore up the rule book of Yom Kippur because sin was permanently broken.

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering REPEATEDLY the same sacrifices, which can NEVER TAKE AWAY SINS. But this Man, after He had offered ONE sacrifice for sins FOREVER, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For BY ONE OFFERING He has PERFECTED FOREVER those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14 NKJV, emphasis added)

For He made Him who knew no sin to BE SIN for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV, emphasis added)

The annual system of entry to God’s presence was permanently brought to an end.  The writer of Hebrews calls it ‘obsolete’ (8:14).  The believer is given liberal permission to boldly enter God’s presence to receive grace and mercy any time through the veil of Jesus’ flesh.

Therefore, brethren, having BOLDNESS TO ENTER the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through THE VEIL, THAT IS, HIS FLESH, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

Yom Kippur remains a powerful reminder of the cost of calvary, and the requirement of every believer to live a life of consecration and repentance as a priest of the Most High God.  Since forgiveness and cleansing has been made so freely available, we are without excuse.  To run from God in shame and condemnation blasphemes the cross and underestimates the saving power of the blood of Jesus.

  There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus… (Romans 8:1 NKJV)

One of my favourite sections of any of the gospels is John 15.  To me the truth of remaining in Jesus is the central truth of my daily faith.  It is the truth that I never have to leave His presence, even in my weakness.  The inheritance of the believer which was won at the cross is the privilege of unbroken fellowship with God.  The Words of the Father and the secrets of His heart belong to me because Jesus calls me His friend.  That is a life-changing reality.  The believer’s inheritance is not just the ability to enter the presence of God, but it is the invitation to live in the very heart of God continually.  I would invite you this Yom Kippur to read through John 15 slowly and ask the Holy Spirit to personally reveal this reality which Jesus died to bring into being.  Consider fasting to pursue the precious prize of intimacy with Him, and as a reminder of its great cost.

5 very slow, agonising steps to a life well-lived.

The world we live in is astonishingly fast.  Everything is fast.  Food is fast, the internet is fast, information is fast, media is fast, shopping is fast, travel is fast… and just about everything is available.  A westerner can have what he wants when he wants it more easily than he has ever been able to at any time in human history.  Attention spans are becoming shorter, and it seems like if information is going to be conveyed from one human being to another, it must be done in three minutes or less, using as few words of more than one syllable as possible – preferably on youtube.

It has reminded me (and I find I need to remind myself increasingly regularly) that there are no shortcuts with God.

God is slow.

Or at least slow from our perspective.  He rarely does things as fast as we want Him to, and when he does we tend to get really excited and call it a miracle, as if it was hard for Him in any way.  What surprises me is that it seems that in some things, not by any means all (I believe healing for instance, we should believe to receive NOW), God actually would rather that we wait or, better, persevere.

Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7 AMP)

What does God want here?  Does He want to see us beg and cry?  I don’t think so.  I think He is looking for the persistent faith of a child that believes their loving Father will answer so just keeps asking and reminding Him that they are there waiting and expecting.

God is faithful and He is looking for faithfulness in His children.  God is patient and He is looking for patience in His children.

But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing. (James 1:4 AMP)

…endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation. (Romans 5:4 AMP)

Perfection and completeness in anything only come with time.  This is true of human character maybe more than anything else in life.  If you are like me, you will know that overcoming your own failings seems to be the hardest and most agonising process.  But this is what God is looking for in those who have given there lives to Him; a willingness to change and be changed by Him.  He is interested in developing character – and He is prepared for the long haul.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV)

Recently, I have been struck by the enormous quantity of 5-point plans that are flying around social media.  For whatever anyone would want in life, there seems to be someone who has developed a plan of ‘5 quick and easy steps’ to get there.  I laugh a little when I see these because I know that they can’t be true!  There are no ‘quick and easy’ steps to a life well lived.

Anyone who has done great things in life has done so through God, and there are no quick or easy steps to a relationship with God.  Like any relationship, it takes time and investment.  It develops through familiarity which develops slowly.  The renewal of the mind takes time in God’s Word.  It takes a lifetime.

So I present to you my alternative steps to a life well-lived.  I’m pretty convinced that if you do these things, you will live a fulfilled life and do great things.  Will it be easy?  I doubt it.  Will it be quick?  LOL.  Will it be worth it?  100% YES.

  1. Understand that there are NO shortcuts with God. 
  2. Cultivate a habitual, disciplined life of consistent PRAYER and Bible reading.
  3. Sincerely LOVE from the heart every person, every day.  
  4. Do the very BEST you can do in everything that you do.  
  5. Never, ever, under any circumstances, EVER give up.

Practicing His presence. Preparing the heart.

Major shifts come in life.  Moving from one place to another can often seem like a whole re-engagement with the world, and ultimately messes with all our self-certainty.  Such shifts are a welcome release for our spirits which are most of the time too clogged down by the power of habit.  Our habits actually need to be crushed once in a while to prove to ourselves that our minds are incapable of coping with the challenges of life.

I’m going home and a homecoming is always a celebration.  The prodigal runs into the Father’s arms and a radical shift takes place in his identity.  Radical because he is ‘re-rooted’.  Without homecomings, we lose track of where we are and are eventually without purpose and without roots.  Just going along the way we’ve started because we’ve started and so we have to finish.  Sometimes you don’t have to finish.  Sometimes you just have to drop it.

As I’m waiting for confirmation of some things before I begin to move forward in the next steps of my career, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which my heart is invested in circumstances.  Too often our identity is affirmed by what we do and our routines.  A crisis is triggered when the routine is interrupted.  The severity of the crisis will be determined by the measure of this investment.  Stability is not routine.  Routine leaves a person gutless, with no power of decision.  I pray that I would be continually saved from routine by a living present.

Serenity is the possession of the spirit that is not invested in or identified by circumstance.

King David and his son, Solomon, had an understanding that man’s purpose and identity are not defined by any circumstance of life, but are much more profound.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He also has planted ETERNITY in men’s hearts and minds [a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy]…  (Ecclesiastes 3:11 AMP, emphasis added)

Whether he knows it or not, every man is caught in the tension between the eternity of his creation and the immediacy of his daily life.  A sense of limbo in times of waiting or uncertainty can actually be healthy when it reminds us that we have a home and a stability outside of present circumstances, whenever we choose to embrace it.

David described it this way,

For we are ALIENS and PILGRIMS before You,
As were all our fathers;
Our days on earth are as a shadow,
And without hope.  (1 Chronicles 29:15 NKJV, emphasis added)

The sense of loss and instability in a time of waiting, or what many Christians would refer to as a ‘wilderness period’, is actually man stepping into his true identity which is far more enduring than a circumstance of life.  Man should feel like a stranger in the earth; his home is not on earth but in the heart of God where he was formed.  A soul estranged from the heart of God is inevitably in a perpetual identity crisis until it returns.  The despised times of waiting, or better continuing, are the real substance of life where character is formed.

The Westminster Catechism states that,

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

When we find our identity in God, we suffer tension, but find the glory of our creation.  A spirit that has this root is stable and has no hope in the circumstance of life, but in a living hope which far exceeds and extends beyond the earth.  According to the book of Hebrews, Abraham found this hope along with Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua and many of the other figures of Jewish history.  They didn’t see their hope on earth, but were unshaken, because their identity was in God and their perspective was eternal.

 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were STRANGERS and PILGRIMS on the earth.  For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a HOMELAND.  And truly if they had called to mind that country FROM WHICH THEY HAD COME OUT, they would have had opportunity to RETURN.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.  (Hebrews 11:13-16 NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus has prepared a place for you.  Live in God.  Practice His presence.  Be identified by heaven.  Be always at home.

 

This blog entry is dedicated to Tim Shey, the High Plains Drifter whose pilgrimage on the roads of America reminded me that I am a stranger on the earth.