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Monday, 13 December 2010

You will take your memory with you!

When we stand before God’s Judgement seat, we will have left our wardrobe behind - but our memory will still be intact! Hold on! We’re not there yet!

First, is there a better way of getting ready for the great event, a way which has so far escaped us? Yes, there is. Come with me and discover a secret:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!"
Robert Browning

The Bible asks us to get ready by committing God’s words to memory:

KJV Proverbs 7:1 My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee.
2 Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye.
3 Bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the table of thine heart.

Here Solomon tells us Wisdom invites us to do memory work. Likewise the Psalmist says we should esteem God’s word hidden in the heart, as buried treasure:

KJV Psa 19:10 More to be desired are [the judgements of the LORD] than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. 12 Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults.

So, when do we get too old to do memory work? Should the over 55’s lament their lot with a sigh and a wish: “Yes, well, if I were twenty years younger I might rise to the challenge!”

Have I got news for you!! There’s no ceiling to God’s memory bank! For example, Samuel T. Spear, D.D. a 19th century American writer, tells how he began to systematically memorise the Bible at 74 years old. In a short time he was able to repeat from memory a substantial part of the entire New Testament. He said:

“I am not now sorry that about five years ago I resolved to do what during these years I had been seeking to do. My only regret is that the resolution was formed at so late a period. Had its date been much earlier, as it might have been, and as I now think it should have been, the benefit to me, as I have no doubt, would have been correspondingly greater. What I have gained in the way of mental relief and spiritual comfort from the process described I would not exchange for all the honour and wealth of this world.”

Well, you say, that’s all very well for special people with doctoral degrees, but lesser mortals like me can’t rise to such dizzy heights! Yes, you can!

Did you know the latest medical research tends to show that throughout our lives we grow new neurons in our brain by focused mental exercise. It’s called the science of Neurogenesis. Says Mike Logan

“Our brain is not physically fixed, it is constantly changing, losing some neurons, growing some neurons, making or deleting connections, and we can encourage that growth . . . . Thoughts are things. They are electrical and chemical activities that by their very existence are changing the physical structure of your brain. Although you can’t stop it (and you wouldn’t want to), you can have some control over it. The question then becomes, are you changing your brain for better or for worse?

According to James Adams a study published in a journal Science, researchers Elizabeth Gould and Charles Gross of Princeton's Department of Psychology showed that new neurons are continually being added to the cerebral cortex of adult monkeys. The cerebral cortex is the largest and most complex region of the brain and is the seat of high-level decision-making, thinking, and personality. Monkeys and humans are reputed to have fundamentally similar brains, so the research is likely to translate to humans. For more details, click here

In a recently published book ("Can’t Remember What I Forgot"”) Dr. Sue Halpern of Columbia University, reports on experiments done on mice. View the video which reports the research. The experiments tend to show we have potential to grow neurons and thus improve mental activity. She quotes research which asserts that growing older simply means we produce less brain cells, and less quickly.

With some basic memory training, you could in fact memorise the entire New Testament with comparitive ease. There is no such thing as a “bad memory,” only an untrained one!

One key advantage of memorising from the KJV, is that it was written for the illiterate as well as the learned, and in such a way as to impinge itself on the memory. Alliteration (repeated letters and syllables), balanced phrasing, and deliberate metric rhythm . . . all these tend to attach themselves to the memory as soon as they are heard.

Take one simple example at random, to illustrate how the structure of the Bible lends itself to being remembered:

KJV Psalm 95
1 O come, let us sing . ,
. . . let us make a joyful noise . .
2 Let us come before his presence . . .
3 For the LORD is a great God . .

6 O come, let us worship . .
. . . let us kneel before the LORD our maker.
7 For he is our God . . . .

Said the Psalmist,

Psa 119: 9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. 10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. 11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

Are we hiding God’s Words in our hearts? What stops us doing some serious memory work on the Bible?

As we grow old together, unlike poor John Lennon, we have time to sing his song and smell the flowers!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Islam in Australia

This past w/e a couple of friends joined me in a visit south-west of Sydney to the Muslem-dominated area of Auburn-Lakemba-Liverpool. The first evening, Friday, Samuel Green (Australian fellowship of evangelical students, or AFES) led a team of students in a debate with Abdullah Kunde. The topic was "God: Trinity or Tawheed?" The next day saw another debate, this time with Mustafa Arja: "Did Christ die for the sins of the world?" Hundreds of Muslem students, young and old, listened intently to impassioned debate. Christians were there in much smaller numbers. Where is the missionary spirit in our churches? Islam is right under our noses, yet we still ‘pass by the other side,’ having no oil and wine to pour in (Luke 10:34).

Tawheed declares the absolute unity and indivisibility of God, which is the fundamental doctrine of Islam. The doctrine of Father – Son -- Holy Spirit flies in the face of that, Abdullah contended. No wonder this is so, he said, seeing that the Bible is corrupted, whereas the Qur'an is perfectly preserved. The DVD of this debate is available. He cited the ‘corrupt texts’ of John 8:1-12 (the woman caught in adultery) and the longer ending of St. Mark 16: 9 – 20 (being no part of the original Gospel - therefore by definition, corrupt). Compare the Koran, which he said has been standardised to one Text, so everyone can confidently point to the Text and say: “this is the Word of God,” without any doubt. So holy is this book that no criticism of it is allowed! Whereas Christian scholars constantly pull apart the words of the Bible, until the young Christian wonders what it is he actually believes! Do you think this is a powerful argument? perhaps you would like to comment below? If “the earliest and best manuscripts do not have these verses,” why are they in the Text at all? Either the scholarship which relegates them to the ‘margin,’ is unsound, or Islam has an understandable advantage over us here?

Samuel Green (AFES) also debated with Mustafa Arja: "Did Christ die for the sins of the world?" Mustafa’s foundation plank was Sura 4, 157 in the Koran. This denies Christ’s crucifixion, and therefore his atoning sacrifice, and resurrection, claiming instead that someone else died in his place. Also, because God knew from the beginning we were going to fall, He therefore does not expect perfection from us. Then again, how can it be a just act for the innocent to die for the guilty? As to the way of salvation, he said, the Bible is inconsistent because it teaches justification by works for the most part, whereas the Apostle Paul taught another way. As to the Bible’s authority, Samuel emphasised we accept not just some of the OT prophets, but all of them, as being the words of God not man. Isaiah 53 was a shared focus. It predicts a future individual servant of Jehovah who will be cut off (i.e. die, 53:8) as an unblemished (in the moral sense) Lamb-sacrifice. Compare Jesus who showed moral perfection, with Mohammed who admitted his sinfulness and needed to ask for forgiveness (Suras, 40:55; 41:19; 48:2)

Many arguments were raised and discussed on both sides. Keeping the channels open with our Muslem friends is so important. They claim to accept the authority (up to a point!) of the five books of Moses and the four Gospels, so we have a shared basis from which to start discussing the Faith. Having said that, please consider the import of KJV 1 Cor. 2:14, But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. How does that insight affect the way we approach a discussion with a Muslem as to what is true and life-changing about God and what He has revealed?

Friday, 10 December 2010

Relatively speaking, it’s an absolute mess!

Today, the news of student riots in London reached Sydney . . .

Violent crowds broke shop windows in Oxford Street and smashed their way through windows of the Treasury and other departments in the Whitehall government district, set fire to a giant Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square and sprayed graffiti on a statue of Winston Churchill outside the Houses of Parliament. Snooker balls, flares and paint bombs were thrown and one police officer suffered serious neck injuries. Police charged the protesters with batons several times and mounted police were deployed to break up the advancing crowds. Julian Phillips, 23, a student at Goldsmiths College in London, part of the University of London, had blood pouring from a cut on his head. He explained, "The guys who were next to me were pushing a metal fence towards them but a policeman decided to lash out at me instead with a baton." He said he was demonstrating because "education is a right, not a privilege."

I found myself asking the question, “What made the students so angry, that anarchy ruled in Parliament Square, and Winston Churchill’s statue was treated with utter contempt?” The answer was not far away. Their erstwhile hero Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal-democrats in Parliament had ratted on his promise (and it was a promise), to scrap student tuition fees altogether. They have now to pay more, not less, for their education. But, that was not the reason why they were smashing up the place. The reason was anger that he broke a promise. Clegg said, “'I regret of course that I can't keep the promise that I made because - just as in life - sometimes you are not fully in control of all the things you need to deliver those pledges.”

But, atheists are allowed to break promises. As the London atheist bus campaign said two years ago, "There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

When asked, “How do you think that not believing in God affects or informs your politics?” Clegg said,

“Well, my moral frame of reference Is clearly a Judaeo-Christian one. . . . . I think that fundamental concepts of tolerance, of compassion (of truthfulness), of love for your neighbour run very deep in our culture but they are also intimately bound up with our Christian heritage. . . . . Some of that ethos I very much espouse.”

Notice in the list of Biblical virtues there’s no place for truth-telling. But, truth is the essential ingredient of judgement and justice.

When I heard Jimmy Carter quote Micah 6:8 in his 1977 inaugural speech, it was clear we were in for an interesting time – a man of principle in politics (!), who knew how to aim for both justice and kindness.

KJV Micah 6:8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

How did Carter achieve it? - only at great cost to himself. For one thing, his ratings declined! He also continued to teach Sabbath Bible classes, and remained firmly oriented in Biblical truth. He believed it. He loved it. Truth for him was not a relative concept – it was rooted in the God who had revealed absolute truth(s) about Himself in the Bible. He was never my hero, but he was and is an example to follow - a man of truth.

Only by believing in absolute truth is it possible for a graduate of Westminster School, London (as is Nick Clegg), to acknowledge the value of his school motto: Dat deus incrementum [“God gives the increase,” 1 Cor 3:6}.

Not like that he doesn’t!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Two baptisms or one?

I was visiting a pastor today to offer prayer support for his family, and for his ministry. We found ourselves talking about the nine gifts of the Spirit. “Have you been baptised in the Spirit and spoken in tongues to prove it?” he asked me. We share common ground – a person becomes a Christian when he repents of his sins, and commits his life to Christ, but there’s more. “Well, yes, 1 Cor. 12:13 says all Christians have been baptised into the body of Christ by One Spirit." “Agreed," he says, “It’s the indwelling of the Spirit which every Christian has, but that’s not the baptism of the enduement of power for serving God, is it? Christ said He came to baptise in or with the Holy Spirit (Mat. 3:11). The book of Acts shows empowerment came on the disciples, with the descent of the Spirit!” “So, you take the book of Acts as normative for all Christians when they first receive Christ, they must be specially endued and prove that by speaking in tongues?” “Yes! You can be baptised into the Body of Christ, be indwelt by the Spirit, but not be empowered to witness, which every believer needs!” “So, you distinguish between the Holy Spirit baptising us into the Body (1 Cor. 12:13), as being something different from Christ baptising us into the sphere of the Holy Spirit, for power (Mat. 3:1)? As to the first, it’s the Spirit baptising, but as to the second it’s the Saviour baptising.” He goes on, “I teach my men to speak in tongues for five minutes or so, all together at the beginning of a prayer session, so we get tuned to the Spirit, and stop thinking carnally!” “Is that the same thing as exercising the gift of tongues?” No, says the pastor, “a gift of tongues is more than that. Praying in tongues is not exercising a gift, it’s doing what you first did when you were baptised in the Spirit. So, it’s not subject to the need for special interpretation, which it would be if it were exercising a gift of tongues. It’s like prophecy. You can get swept up in a spirit of prophecy in a meeting, but that’s not the same as having a gift of prophecy, which is an ongoing thing. If a person regularly shows regularly by a 'word of knowledge' and a 'word of wisdom' that they have that gift, then we have a third aspect – the gift of a prophet in the church!” “So, you would say a ‘word of knowledge’ (I Cor. 12:8) is a supernatural thing, where God gives you information about a person which you have not learned through the usual natural channels of communication.” “That’s right!” “And a ‘word of wisdom’ is where God tells you how to use that knowledge to someone’s benefit?” “That’s correct! - I’ve sat next to someone on public transport and God revealed to me a whole lot about that person, and I was able to help them with that knowledge.”

What do you think about this? Do you think there are two aspects to the baptism of the Spirit – one being a mere fact, the other being an experience? The first concerns the work of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13), the other concerns the work of Christ (Mat. 3:11)? One is about membership in the Body of Christ; the other’s about the dynamic of knowing the Spirit’s presence and power? How can we know for sure that an experience of speaking in unknown syllables is not psychological (‘soulish’), versus spiritual? Did the gift of prophecy “fail,” with the death of the Apostles (1 Cor. 13:8)? We have all twenty-seven books of the New Testament now. Do we, then, need any other special way of receiving communication from God? When you comment, please support your view, using Scripture.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Why did John Lennon die early?

It was 30 years ago today (Dec. 8th, in Oz) that David Chapman killed John Lennon, shooting him four times in the back, as he was standing with Yoko Ono outside their apartment in New York City. Why did the then-deranged youth with an evangelical heritage commit such an unchristian act? Chapman answered this himself at his trial:

"I would listen to [the] music and I would get angry at him, for saying that he didn't believe in God . . . and that he didn't believe in the Beatles. This was another thing that angered me, even though this record had been done at least 10 years previously. I just wanted to scream out loud, 'Who does he think he is, saying these things about God and heaven and the Beatles?' Saying that he doesn't believe in Jesus and things like that. At that point, my mind was going through a total blackness of anger and rage.”

Chapman had no right to wound or take the life of another, but the murderous act may be partly explained as having been brought on by John Lennon’s own words. Jesus said: "For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” KJV Mat. 12:37. Said John Lennon, “I have more years behind me than before and I hate the idea of growing old.” Yet another time he alluded to Paul McCartney’s, “Yesterday”, saying: “I don’t believe in ‘yesterday’ ... Life begins at 40, so they promise and I believe it. What's going to come?”

Paul McCartney was right to believe in yesterday, for, even if the broken romance he wrote about was painful, there may still have been some aspects of it which were worth remembering, into old age. Sanity is said to rest in the continuity of our memories.

The writer to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (AD 64) who were suffering for their belief in Jesus as their Messiah, were told to take courage by believing in the God of Yesterday: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” (Heb 13:8). Because John Lennon had no faith in the historical past - and the accuracy of the Bible in recording that past - he therefore deprived himself of any faith in the future either. Confidence in the future depends on trusting God’s Word, when it claims to explain the past.

We remember at Christmas time the event which fulfilled the prophecies of old time. Micah wrote his prophecy in BC 720, to teach that the promised Messiah would come:

"But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (Micah 5:2).
The prophet Micah predicted that the deliverer yet to come (it took another seven hundred years to be fulfilled!) was actually God Incarnate, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” How wonderfully different would John Lennon’s life have been, if he had believed that! He would have used his immense talents in the service of the eternal God, and he would probably have never lacked an audience, even to the end of time. He would have done well to live into old age.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Oprah and the spirit of antichrist

The Apostle John was referring to false teachers like Oprah Winfrey, when he said:

And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (1 John 4:3).

Here the Apostle says the spirit of antichrist speaks when someone denies that Jesus is the Christ who has come in the flesh. John had warned about this once already, in the previous verse 2. Most preserved manuscripts of 1 John (of which there are over 600) have it in the Text a second time - whereas the modern critical Text now omits it for being unnecessary. But, it is necessary! What other way but repetition did the ancients have to emphasise a point and underline it, put it in bold, or in Capitals? [The whole manuscript was written in capitals!] Repetition, then, was a necessary way of emphasising a critical truth. Just as a false prophet in Moses’ times rejected the unity of God (Deut. 13:5), so the false teacher of Christian times rejected the Incarnation (1 John 2:22). The Gnostics thought of the divine Christ as a spirit which descended on Jesus at His baptism, and left him before the crucifixion. Such a spirit, Oprah calls her “Christ-consciousness,” in true New Age fashion.

Bill Muehlenberg says:
“Unquestionably, Oprah Winfrey is the most influential woman in the world today. The television show host, author, publisher, actress, philanthropist, and media personality is a multi-millionaire, and when she speaks, people – especially her legions of dedicated female followers – consider her utterances to be almost divine revelation.”

You may leave out the “almost,” in the last phrase. Oprah Winfrey was named Orpah on her birth certificate, but two letters got interchanged along the way. Oprah is like Orpah in the book of Ruth, after whom she was named. Ruth clung to the God of Israel and refused to return to paganism. But her sister Orpah went back to her old pagan ways, which is what Oprah Winfrey has done. She once believed Jesus was the Son of God who had died for her sins on the Cross of Calvary. Hear her testimony, if you doubt my words.

New Age thinking has long since taken over this mega-communicator. For Oprah, the Christ spirit is radically divided from the Jesus of history. We can embrace the Christ-consciousness (our ‘higher self’) which was thought to inhabit Jesus temporarily, but the object of our faith is not the belief that ‘Jesus is the Christ who has come in the flesh.’ It’s all about feeling, not belief. If I feel it, it must be right. So, I am God; Oprah is God; the corporate identity of the American middle-income woman, aged 35 – 50, is God. And so, Jesus is not exclusively God! Neither did “God so love the world that He sent His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Were the Apostle John here today, he would say of Oprah’s global promotion of New Age ideas, in her TV shows: “.

. . and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”

“Oprah & Friends” led a year-long course on the New Age teachings of A Course in Miracles. The course teaches that we are all potentially Christs, that Jesus is not touched by evil, that he never died, that sin and guilt are unreal and that there is no death. The course claims the spirit of Jesus as its divine source (via the channeler Helen Schucman, who mediated the spirit). The Jesus of the course says: “I was not ‘punished’ because you were bad . . . . I have been correctly referred to as ‘the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,’ but . . . correctly understood, it is a very symbol that speaks of my innocence. And innocence is wisdom, because it is unaware of evil, and evil does not exist.” As one of the Course promoters said, “. . . if the Bible were the literal truth, the Course would have to be viewed as inspired by demons.” (1)

“To her audience of more than 22 million mostly female viewers, she has become a post modern priestess—an icon of church-free spirituality.” Sydney will see the celebs looking for a guest appearance . . . Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban and so on. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has even been touted to make an appearance, as has yachtswoman Jessica Watson, astronaut Andy Thomas and writers Thomas Keneally, Peter Carey and Tim Winton.

But, let’s remember - according to the Bible - goodness consists not in the act itself, but in the motive and reason for doing it: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” KJV 1 Cor 13:3. That is, love (“charity”) from Jesus Christ who is God’s Son - who has come in the flesh - is what matters. Repent Oprah, and show your fans the right way to lasting happiness.

(1) Douglas Groothius. Revealing the New Age Jesus, IVP, 1990, pp. 198 - 201