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2007 - 2015
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. (Eccl. 3:1-8)
The Christians Together (in the Highlands and Islands) came into being in January 2007. Since then the world has changed, technology has changed and the site has changed.
2007 - 2008
In 2007 the ‘Christians Together in the Highlands and Islands’ was launched at a time when the internet was just becoming widely available. It took the Christians Together title from a previous paper-based version which was published quarterly and essentially carrying news to and from the Christian community in and around the city of Inverness (in the north of Scotland).
(There was an amount of pressure to entitle the newsletter ‘Churches Together’ but I felt that the emphasis should be on believers rather than denominations.)
The ‘Highlands and Islands’ (in name and geography) were incorporated into the new website with the thought of each region within the north of Scotland ‘taking ownership’ of its own pages. Sadly, for reasons that only the ‘regions’ could/can supply, this opportunity was never taken up.
2008/9 – 2011 (approx)
As time went on the membership of site – in geographical terms – ‘stretched’ to include Christians from Scotland, then the UK and over a period, around the world.
Geographical spread of Christians Together site membership 2015
In parallel with this progression, the advent of social networking ‘took off’. Putting these developments together meant that articles needed to be of interest to a much wider audience while the (original) Highlands and Islands constituency was increasingly informed of events and local news via Facebook and other media of this type.
2011 – 2013/14 (towards the end of that period) –
Most topics of general (and sometimes specific) interest had been by now published on the site
The pace of change both in the church and the world accelerated dramatically (e.g. the Arab Spring and the growing apostasy regarding human sexuality in some of the main denominations coupled to an huge increase in out-of-church, home-based Christians)
As a result, the rate at which new articles were published diminished for the above reasons and those set out in the June 2013 update (click on image for full update document) –
----- extract of June 2013 update -----
---------- extract ends ----------
Additionally, the editor’s time became increasingly taken up in having to moderate the extent to which two or three non-site members were using the response facility as personal pulpits for their respective pet prejudices; and seeking to dictate editorial and site policy.
Where are we now?
2014 – Dec. 2015
At a personal level the editor (and his wife) have been blessed with two grandchildren, and the responsibility of looking after both our little darlings for two days each week. (Phew! A very tiring delight.)
However the main reason for the reducing frequency of updates and new articles was and is the scale, nature and frequency of what is surely ‘prophetic outworking’ in the church and the world. This may seem a paradoxical statement, however I believe that because God is so powerfully at work (typically Psalm 2) that the most important activity for any Christian today is not-so-much to ‘do’ as it is to ‘watch’ and ‘listen’.
I recently attended a meeting in London with national and international ministry leaders present.
I have appended an edited copy
of a personal response to one of the main organisers
Where to from here?
I recently received an e-mail from a site member asking if I could circulate some good news (in contrast to the more sombre subjects on the Christians Together website).
This was and is a perfectly valid request and I will endeavour on a now-and-again basis so to do. [Have a look at Myriam's story... ]
However, the site has mutated from being a ‘local and UK news’ site to taking on more of a ‘watchman’ role with a wider (international) perspective. So from the watchtower, the view I have (amongst others) is that of Habakkuk (1:1-11). While this is not a passage to cheer the heart I would encourage you to read it through the lens of what is happening today.
I would encourage any Christian who is looking for news of the very positive things that God is doing (especially amidst the Muslim world) to ‘Google’ on the subject : I really just don’t have the time to devote to all the news that is ‘out there’. But meanwhile an anecdote and a couple of verses...
A group of American theological students were attending an on-campus series of lectures. At lunch break they spotted the janitor of the building sitting in the sun, eating his sandwich and reading his Bible. Curious, the students asked him what he was studying? “The Book of Revelation” came the reply. Mightily impressed the students follow on to enquire what was the janitor’s view on the book. He summed it up in a sentence. “Jesus wins.”
Surely this is absolutely the best news we could ever have. Jesus himself said: “When you see these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads for your redemption draws near.”
Meanwhile... keep looking up and down
I read (somewhere, sometime) an article designed to counter the theory of evolution. It was about a fish who's food source was to be found on the surface of the water, while the fish’s greatest threat came from predatory birds swooping down from above.
So the fish needed to have a special ability: to survive it needed to scan horizontally (for food) while simultaneously looking upwards lest it fall prey to any threat from above. In this regard zoologists discovered that the fish had a very special eyes; those which could see in two different directions at the same time. This facility could not have ‘evolved’ from being a ‘normal’ eye as either the fish would look up (watching for the birds) but starve in the process (as it would be unable to see it the flies on which it fed) or alternatively..... (I’m sure you can work out the reverse scenario.) In either case the fish would never have survived.
Without wishing to push the illustration, we need to nurture the ability to look in more than one direction at a time. We need to keeping looking up (Luke 21:28) and looking out (Mark 13:5, 9, 14, 23, 33, 35, 37) while also - from our position in Christ - looking down (Eph 2:6).
Someone once said that we need to be found on our knees in prayer with the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other. See article 'Peter made the connection: we must do the same.'
The following is an extract of the Editor's personal response following a meeting of church leaders from a wide variety of Christian ministries which was held in London in October 2015.
--- Extract of personal response ----
“As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand...”
Elijah, the Tishbite (1 Kings 17:1)
“The man who stands before God will never kneel before men.”
In the ‘call for the men to stand’ the Lord affirmed to my spirit what He has been saying to me for a considerable time. And while my initial sense (from away back) was and is to ‘stand’ in the face of an increasingly godless society and culture, I am now sensing the need to articulate what I am feeling within the body of Christ. And I stress that I am speaking also to myself and with a great sadness and a very real concern.
Watch and Listen
What I feel that the Lord is saying (to me anyway) is that it is time to “stop doing, and do more listening and watching”. I think that we menfolk particularly feel compelled by the imperative: “Don’t just stand there, do something....!” Yet I feel that the Lord is saying “Hands off: I am at work in the nations..” And heaven preserve us from Uzzah’s deadly mistake (1 Chron. 13:10).
Over the past couple of years particularly we have seen any number of new initiatives (in prayer and action) all designed to counter the rapid spiritual deterioration in our nation. On the face of it this sounds and looks good, and gratifies the flesh. But...the psalmist’s word is not a gentle: “Be still and know that I am God.” It is more correctly rendered: “Cease striving.....” (NASB), “Stop your fighting” (HCSB) or “Let be and be still” (Amp. Bible)
And of course Hab 1:5 speaks of what God is doing, not man.
Words and more words......
Meanwhile and alongside all our ‘best efforts’ we are being overwhelmed with ‘prophetic words’, many of which are merely stating what is blindingly obvious to even the man in the street. (cf Job 18:2) And of course that is not to include the (false) ‘prophesies’ of a triumphant church.
A putting to death....
Overall I feel that every ministry in the land needs to be prepared to take its name, its reputation, its activities, to the foot of the cross, and – if the Lord so directs – be prepared to have a holy bonfire.
I believe that the need to hour is for a critical Spirit-obedient evaluation of all our efforts to stem the tide of lawlessness and for a humility which will place our various ministries on the altar.
A deadly mix
The other thing that has been much on my heart is the increasing and deadly danger(s) of ‘mixture’ and ‘compromise’ (as two inevitable bedfellows).
I remember as a young Christian asking an elder (senior) brother if he thought there were any born again believers in the Roman Catholic Church. He replied: “I do believe there are, but God knows how they stay within it.”
In the same fashion and in the context of same-sex marriage etc. I could (as a Scot and very sadly) ask the same question in relation to the Church of Scotland today, but not just to the Church of Scotland.
What I am suggesting is that any contemporary ministry which is in any way yoked to or identified with apostate religious structures needs to cut these ties. (2 Cor 6:14; Eph 5:11).
Haggai (2:11-14) outlines a very important principle regarding spiritual contamination and the devastating consequence: “Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.”
I feel that we are right on the cusp of something that God, not man, will do. Indeed I believe that the Lord, in a way that is not yet unmistakably manifest, is already doing it. In the shaking that will come may we, in His strength and grace, be found ‘standing’ as a called-out company of loyal servants.
The above-mentioned Haggai chapter concludes:
"Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I will shake the heavens and the earth.
I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms.
I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.
" 'On that day,' declares the LORD Almighty,
'I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,' declares the LORD,
'and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,' declares the LORD Almighty."
The Transit Camp
In 2004 and as a Christian columnist for a secular newspaper at that time, I wrote about the period (in effect a 15-year spiritual inter-regnum) between Saul and David. Following Samuel’s anointing,
David was set aside as a time of preparation during which Saul was ‘in office but not in power’. As we approach the new year of 2016 I believe that the moment for which the current preparation (of and in the body of Christ) has been purposed, is now coming upon us.
----- extract ends -----
Date: 31 December 2014
2014 - My Bookends
But the plans of the Lord stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.
In recent years I have become increasingly convinced that the Lord is putting a Plumb Line into the church. (By ‘church’ I mean both organised religion of the Christian form and the spiritual body of Jesus Christ.)
As any builder knows, the purpose of a plumb line is to test whether a building is ‘true’ to the vertical; and it is an absolute. Just as a woman cannot be ‘nearly pregnant’, a building is either ‘plumb’ or it isn’t.
Two 'Litmus Tests' of biblical orthodoxy
However aside from other issues which I believe are being put to the test, I am increasingly of the view that there are (at least) two major criteria which a righteous and holy God is employing to purify the church.
My experience during 2014 has been ‘bracketed’ by two situations in which I found myself in polarised contention with the majority of the people around me. The applause, literally and figuratively, in both cases was for the opposing view.
God’s heterosexual pattern for humankind
The 'Big Questions' TV show
The ‘left hand’ bookend of my 2014 year was formed by one of the two major ‘litmus tests’ which I believe God is using to expose most serious departures from His will and His Word: it is that of human sexuality.
“ the opposing voice in support of same-sex relationships which elicited great applause, was that of a Church of Scotland minister"
At the beginning of the year I was invited to be part of a studio setting whereby, Nicky Campbell, the TV programme presenter explored the question: 'Should Christians rise above their differences?' In his opening question to me, he drew the focus onto the subject of gay marriage.
Press and Journal 31/12/14
After I had outlined the Godly principles for a healthy society, Mr. Campbell then turned to another invited participant who spoke against the view which I expressed. In fact, as a discovered after the programme, the opposing voice in support of same-sex relationships which elicited great applause, was that of a Church of Scotland minister.
His position in fact has now been bolstered by the recent news that the Kirk will be presented with majority support at the forthcoming May 2015 General Assembly of the Church to accept same-sex marriage. The proposal is to allow individual congregations, clergy and believers 'freedom on conscience' to adopt the very sins that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. (To add to the sorrow, the 'mixed economy ambivalence of granting autonomy on this issue was proposed by the 2013 Moderator who was known as an 'evangelical'.)
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (James 1:21)
As it transpired the minister on the above-metioned TV debate who spoke against the biblical position on sexuality , having fired his first salvo on that topic, then attempted (unsuccessfully; he was blocked by the presenter) to drag the debate into the arena of my second major concern which, as the end of the year approached, formed my ‘right-hand bookend’.
God’s prophetic purposes for the Jews and Israel
Eden Court theatre
In early December, as the Christmas period approached I was alerted regarding a film about Bethlehem which was being taken ‘around the UK’ to public cinemas.
However while the one-and-a-half-hour film focussed on the city of Jesus birth and was dressed up as feature on tourism, in the event, it was replete with anti-Israel propaganda. (The initial financial sponsors, who insisted that the production should not be ‘political’, are now no longer supporting the project.)
The storyline, based around the Bethlehem-born producer's recent experiences suggested an otherwise-happy multi-faith environment in a friendly and peaceful city subsisting under an Israeli siege. There was no mention of attacks on indigenous Arab disciples of Christ 1
or the repeated bombings, suicide and rocket attacks which prompted the Israeli government to build a defensive wall in the first place. Following the screening in the Inverness Eden Court Theatre, the producer, Leila Sansour, was in attendance for a Question-and-Answer session with the cinema audience.
I put three points to Mrs. Sansour in terms of inviting her responses:
I explained I had recently spoken with and listened to a young woman who was native of Bethlehem and whose family home was encircled on three sides by the wall separating Bethlehem from the adjacent Israeli neighbourhood. Yet Christy Anastas is an Arab believer who has had to give up her university studies and leave Bethlehem because of death-threats from her own people because she is speaking out internationally on the corruption, abuses and violence within the Palestinian leadership and community2.
I instanced the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem to illustrate that far from living peacefully with the Christian churches, followers of Christ are having to flee from Bethlehem or face life-threatening attacks.
In conclustion I asked: “Giving that Jesus came as King of the Jews, would he be welcome in Bethlehem at this 2014 Christmas time?”
Her replies could be summarised as follows –
She opined that Christy Anastas is just a deluded young girl who has been duped by pro-Israel propaganda and bribed to come to the UK by a sect.
She hadn't heard of the First Bethlehem Baptist church and knew nothing about it.
She (weakly) said that: “Jews are welcome in Bethlehem.”
These responses – in similar fashion to my first ‘bookend’ situation, elicited a hearty round of applause from those gathered.
In summary most of the world and much of the Christian church (including, very sadly and significantly those who would class themselves as ‘evangelicals’) are now openly, volubly and resolutely in direct conflict with God’s righteous standards and His revealed will in end-time purposes.
But of course the Word of God warns us that this will be the case, and we are encouraged to ‘look up’ when we see these things come to pass (Luke 21:28). [See below: 'A Response - Of roots and fruits']
One newspaper, commenting in advance of the Roman Catholic pontiff’s recent visit asked the question: “Will there be any Christians in Bethlehem when the Pope visits?
” A recent news report focussed on the hostility shown by Muslims towards Christians and stated: "For centuries, Bethlehem was a Christian city, with believers comprising around 80% of the population as recently as 50 years ago. Today, however, it is less than 15% Christian, and that number continues to dwindle. Bethlehem is increasingly occupied by Muslims, some of whom exert great pressure on their Christian neighbours". [Return..]
Christy Anastas has recently written to her own people:
“We Palestinians, whether Fatah, Hamas, Moslem or Christian, must accept responsibility for our actions and those among us who seek to perpetuate violence. We must recognise that violence only leads to more violence and must admit we are committing war crimes ourselves.” [Return..]
A response - Of Roots and Fruit
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." (1 Pet. 3:12)
In amongst all of this the Holy Spirit enlivened a verse to me as the New Year season approached.
Hezekiah petitions the Lord
is one of my Biblical heroes (2 Kings 18:5).
One of the first things he did was clear the rubbish out of the temple and restore the Feast of Passover. These things along with parallel reforms (2 Chron ch29), led to a great revival (2 Chron. 29:36; 30:26). However Judah's sovereign was also prone to contemporary threats from neighbouring powers.
Shalmaneser, the King of Assyria had been mightily victorious in conquering other nations (2 Kings 19:11) and, over a three-year period in early years of Hezekiah’s reign, overran the nations of Israel and took them into captivity (2Kings 17:18; 18:10,11).
Seven years later that the Assyrian overlord then moved to invade the southern portion of the land and successfully seized the ‘fortified cities’ of Judah (2 Kings 18:13). It was now crunch time for Jerusalem.
In the first instance Hezekiah mistakenly tried to buy off the existential threat (2 Kings 18:14-16): but his efforts failed and he then turned to prophet Isaiah asking him to pray to the Lord (2 Kings 19:1-4). Isaiah’s response was to instruct the King to trust in the Lord (2 Kings 19:6). Meanwhile the ‘voice of the enemy’ pushed Hezekiah back into fear (2 Kings 19:10-13).
Finally, in desperation, Judah’s king turned directly to the Lord (2 Kings 19:14-19). And the Lord answered: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard you’ (2 Kings 19:20 NASB). At that point Jerusalem was saved (2 Kings 19:32-34) and Sennacherib’s fate was sealed (2 Kings 19:35-37).
And in the midst of all of this the Lord gave Hezekiah a promise
“Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (2 Kings 19:30,31)
Roots and Fruit
(Col. 2:7; Eph 5:9)
We are informed by the Word of God that apostasy, lawlessness and utter rebellion against the Lord will be hallmarks of the end-times (2 Tim. 3:1, 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:1; . We are now seeing these things in abundance.
Nevertheless I believe that the Lord is preparing a ‘remnant’ from amongst churchianity of those faithful disciples who will ‘take root below’ in the foundation which is Jesus Christ; and ‘bear fruit above’ in terms of prophetic witness – in word and deed - to the saving of souls, the strengthening of the body of Christ and all to and for the glory of God.
May the Lord strengthen and keep all who hold steadfast to ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’ (John 14:6) as we enter into this New Year: a year which undoubtedly be full of challenges and opportunities for those of ‘the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’ (Jude 1:3).
A Church beyond the pale
Faced with having to make an immediate and 'on air' response to a question of the Church of Scotland and same-sex marriage a 'short-hand' expression came into play.
This writer was recently asked to appear - along with other invited guests - on a BBC1 Sunday-morning TV programme entitled 'The Big Questions'.
Described as the BBC's 'religious, moral and ethical' slot, the programme entered its seventh series in January 2014. It is broadcast live from different locations around the UK and goes out when most Christians are either happily tucked up in church or getting ready to leave for same. However the programme could be considered 'church for non-church goers'.
On that particular February morning one of the three subjects related to 'church splits'; ostensibly over different issues including that of women bishops but, in the event, focussed on the matter of same-sex marriage. When asked about the Church of Scotland in particular the expression just popped out. And in no way would I wish to retract it. However a couple of things may need explaining.
Beyond the pale
To those site members and others outside of Europe, the expression 'beyond the pale
' dates back to the 14th century when the part of Ireland that was under English rule was delineated by a boundary made of such stakes or fences, and known as the English Pale. To travel outside of that boundary, beyond the pale, was to leave behind all the rules and institutions of English society, which the English modestly considered synonymous with civilization itself.
In everyday speech the expression is used to mean that which 'is beyond acceptable limits'.
Much later, Catherine the Great created the Pale of Settlement in Russia in 1791 as the name given to the western border region of the country, in which Jews were allowed to live. The motivation behind this was to restrict trade between Jews and native Russians. Some Jews were allowed to live, as a concession, 'beyond the pale'. In contemporary everyday speech the expression is used to mean 'that which is beyond acceptable limits'.
But Scotland's national church?
So why do I consider the Church of Scotland as being in that position? Well, in an 'on air' setting there was no opportunity to explain: had there been, I would have used at least three current situations to justify the view. In chronological order these being:
The acceptance of same-sex marriage (and homosexual/lesbian clergy).
The effective denial (in the General Assembly of 2013) of God's everlasting and unconditional covenant with the patriarch Abraham.
The Kirk's bipartite alliance with the Humanist Society Scotland (in January 2014) to remove the reference to 'religious observance' from the relevant Scottish education act. The Church's spokesperson stated: "We welcome this exciting opportunity to collaborate with our humanist
colleagues in supporting genuinely inclusive Time for Reflection in schools".
"They are helping godless secular humanism to be lifted to the status of state religion"
One minister from a different (and more biblically-faithful) denomination wrote: "I sometimes wonder if the Monty Python scriptwriters are running the Church of Scotland - essentially they are helping godless secular humanism to be lifted to the status of state religion. We now have a so-called national church collaborating with atheists to prevent Christian worship and prayers happening in the State education system."
However, and this is the real point – there are clergy in the Church of Scotland who claim they will remain within the denomination seeking to reform it; indeed I have heard some say they will never leave it. (Never say "never" in the things of God.) In so doing they effectively neuter themselves in terms of preaching against these things from their pulpits. It would also seem that these ministers are ignorant of, or choosing to ignore, a very basic scriptural principle.
The Old Testament prophet put it to the people this way:
"Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled."
"This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Ask the priests what the law says: If a person carries consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, oil or other food, does it become consecrated?' " The priests answered, "No."
Then Haggai said, "If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?" "Yes," the priests replied, "it becomes defiled." Then Haggai said, " 'So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,' declares the LORD. 'Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.'" (Haggai 2:11-14).
The dirty pollutes the clean
To illustrate the point in an address to young children a minister took two tumblers; one was full of crystal-clear water while the other contained a muddy mixture. He then asked his young audience whether the clean water would 'wash' that which was dirty.
Anticipating a conjuring trick of some sort, the children remained silent. However when the minister poured the clean water into the dirty the reality was readily apparent: dirty makes the clean dirty no matter the direction of the pouring.
In New Testament times Paul wrote to the church in Corinth asking:
"For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?" (2 Cor. 6:14).
Back in Haggai's day the end result of 'contaminated spirituality' was as follows:
"When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not turn to me,' declares the Lord" (Haggai 2:16-17).
Paul delivered the antidote to the problem of pollution:
"Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you" (2 Cor. 6:17).
At the time of the exile in Babylon God delivered a scathing rebuke to the worthless shepherds and blind guides, but also brought a word of comfort to the faithful flock. The verses speak volumes into the situation we find in the church today.
"This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.
"For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. (Ezekiel 34:10-12).
"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27).
It is ever vital to follow the true Shepherd's voice; and not least when we observe a denomination which, in terms of righteous standards, has moved well beyond the pale.
Date: 11 June 2013
The update for June 2013 (A Plumb Line amongst My People) can be accessed by clicking here.
The title of the update is based on a judgement of God pronounced through the prophet Amos. On the vital issue of the authority of God's Word we are seeing very substantial sections of the universal church turning their backs on Scripture in relation to same-sex relationships and the eternal and unconditional covenant which God made with the patriarch Abraham.
Acknowledgements and thanks - The above extracts are taken from two videos which can be obtained from source -
The Forsaken Promise/A Call to Repentance (with David Noakes) - Hatikvah Film Trust
The Place of Israel in God's Purposes (with Derek Prince) - Derek Prince Ministries
Date: 31 December 2012
What do we make of all of this?
It’s perhaps no way to start a message, but I need to say that I have struggled – inwardly, and I am still struggling – to write this particular ‘update’. What it should
be, at this time of year, is a nice little uplifting homily – a message of good cheer to all men everywhere. However .... (and to explain my 'struggling')....
We are living in truly tumultuous times and much of what we read, see and hear would cause us to lose hope were it not, that is, for the faith which the Lord of all creation has placed in our hearts.
In the UK, but also well beyond these shores, we are seeing all of the ‘pillars of society’ being shaken. In an earlier e-mail
to registered site members I spoke of what is happening in the nation in terms of shame and discredit coming upon the worlds of finance, commerce, politics, the media, the police, etc. And even since the most recent update we are seeing the sectarian ethno-political and religious violence in Northern Ireland breaking out again.
[For those who are not familiar with the situation in the ‘Emerald Isle’, there is basically a north/south split in Ireland/Eire. The north is a mix of Protestant/Unionist (in terms of relationships with Great Britain and the monarchy) and Roman Catholic/separatist : whereas the south is a independent republic and predominantly Catholic.
In the north, religious affiliation is the shibboleth which defines a person’s allegiance: it is the totem pole around which the differing political views gather and war against one another.
Belfast (the northern capital) has suffered decades of murderous violence and very sadly, following a peaceful first decade in the new millennium, rioting and killing is again on the streets.]
Of course this news is overshadowed by the mass killings in the US, with the Newtown/Connecticut shootings
being dubbed ‘America’s Dunblane
’ (the reference being to the slaying of teachers and school-children in 1996 in the Scottish township of that name). And of course that is not to mention the horrendous killing spree in Norway in 2011
. Add to that we have – and it’s ‘Syria’ at the moment – the civil wars in the Middle East and Africa.
Most recently the Taliban shooting of a Pakistani school girl
on her school bus plus the story from India of a young woman who died after being gang-raped have exposed the underlying societal degradation that is 'abroad' in our world; and convulsed these two populations in outrage and shame.
However, while these things (understandably) grab the headlines, what we are also seeing on the inside pages is the most despicable attacks on the most vulnerable (from the youngest child to the oldest pensioner). Even as I write there is a news report about an elderly church organist beaten to death
on his way to a midnight service in his church on Christmas Eve. These things are representative of lawlessness in the extreme; and speak of a ‘spirit of violence’ running around and through the earth (cf Rev. 6:4). And I’m sure that you understand why I am struggling to write these words.
So how do we understand and interpret all of these things? And how do we pray? Is this the shaking that is written of in Haggai (Hag. 2:7) and echoed by the writer to the Jews (Heb. 12:26-27)? And yet there are – although liberal theologians wouldn’t agree – many prophecies, as yet unfulfilled, which speak of even greater trauma coming upon the earth prior to the Lord’s appearing.
The oil in our lamps
When I was in Jerusalem recently a shop-owner gave each of us each a gift of a small oil lamp (a la
the wise and foolish bridesmaids). I asked our Jewish guide how long a lamp-full of oil would last. She replied: “It would depend on the quality of the oil.”
So for you and for me, as we await the coming of the bridegroom, the questions is this: “What is the quality of the oil in our lamps?”
Are we ‘filling up’ with the Word of God; in prayer, and in fellowship with the Holy Spirit and other committed believers in our locality? Are we resisting the mindless chatter of the electronic age around us in order to ‘stock up’ on our knowledge of and faith in the promises of God?
These are serious questions; and I pose them with absolutely no sense of personal complacency. Will it help when we stand before our Maker for us to say we know all about the antics of our neighbour’s cat from the message that he/she has just posted on Facebook? How can a preacher spend the requisite hours in the study, in the Word, and in contemplative open-hearted prayer while also committing chunks of a day to surfing the social networks and twittering to the world? Yet tragically this is what is happening.
Word and Spirit; Spirit and Word
In the light of this we each (and irrespective of our position and ministry in the body) need to be mining the Word of God for ourselves; seeking the eternal truths and the leading of the Holy Spirit. We need indeed to be like the sons of Issachar who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”
And speaking (again) of Israel...
You might not have picked this up in the welter of other news, but the UK – including a foreign Office government minister who is supposedly an evangelical – is setting up the country (but not just the UK) for a big fall.
At the most recent meeting of the UN in Washington the UK abstained from the vote
which awarded the Palestinians the status of being a ‘state’. (William Hague admitted even before the vote that this change could well be used to try and bring the Israeli government (or individual politicians) before the International Criminal Court
charged with war crimes; and all for defending its citizens against murderous attacks on its civilian population. )
The UN (with the support of the British Government) is now heaping condemnation on the response by the Israel government
to the UN’s ‘Palestinian statehood’ award.
"I will gather all nations to Jerusalem to fight against it."
Not mere politics
Now all of this is political I know. But it is more, much more than mere politics. The prophet Zechariah (speaking 2500 years ago) said:
“This is the word of the Lord concerning Israel. The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him, declares: "I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.” (Zech 12: 1 -3).
“I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it (Zech 14:2). But the prophet Joel also spoke: “ 'In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land. (Joel 3:1-3).
Dear brother/sister in Christ, you may have had it taught to you (in Bible college/seminary or from a pulpit) that as all this has either been fulfilled (preterism) or is to be understood merely as allegory without any literal outworking. It may even be that to believe in God’s prophetic purposes for what He calls ‘My people’ and ‘My land’ (Ezek 38:16; Joel 3:2) will require to turn your back on much of what you have been led to believe by your church’s tradition.
But (and I say this in humility and as earnest entreaty) the hour is far spent; and as we move into the new year of 2013 - two thousand and five hundred years after these words from the prophets were uttered - we can see the nations (and the ‘United Nations’ is surely one embodiment of all that) moving against the Jewish people who live at the centre of the world
(Ezek 38:12) and the land of Israel; ultimately, and perhaps very soon against Jerusalem - Zion city of our God; that unique spot on the whole of planet earth, ‘the centre of the nations with countries all around her’ (Ezek 5:5) where God has ‘caused His name to dwell’ (Ezra 6:12).
God's banner to the nations
It is that tiny nation (roughly the size of Wales, Belgium or the state of New Jersey) and its people, the Jewish people, that have been chosen by God since the time of Abraham and Moses, as His ‘banner (standard) to the nations’ (Is 11:10, 12; Ezek 36:36). If He, the Lord of all heaven and earth, does not keep His promises to them then we should throw our faith in the bucket/trash can. But He will keep His word. One of the things that God cannot do (no, I am not being blasphemous here) is to fail to do what He said He would do. And we read that His glory and His name is at stake:
“Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you [Israel] before their eyes” (Ezek 36:23b).
As I witness all that we see going on around us I am more and more persuaded that we must follow the instruction repeated three times by Jesus in the space of one chapter of the Gospels: “Watch!” (Mark 13: 23,33,37).
Isaiah spoke the words of the Lord: “ I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” (Is 62:6).
We are here given explicit permission by our Father in heaven to ‘pester/bombard Him with our prayers’ (cf Luke 18:7). [I am told by those who are of ‘Hebraic’ background that the Isaiah passage speaks of the duties of the secretary to the company boss. As his Personal Assistant, she is required to remind him of the things that he himself has placed in his appointments diary. When we are told to ‘remind’ the Lord, the sense is not that He forgets, but rather that we are to make mention of them before him.]
Fightings and Fears
It may be – if you have managed to read this far – that there is much going on around you. Perhaps there are things pressing down on you – matters relating perhaps to family, church, finance, employment, children, parents, health or relationships? These are all important matters; and all – at one time or another – become the focus of our attention and place demands on our energies. But in contrast to James Bond’s cocktail formula, we may at times be stirred but we are not to be shaken.
God has promised (and this is for all who have faith – man/women; Jew and Gentile):
“In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts. Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.” And the promise is given: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD for ever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal. (Is 26:1-4)
I am your fellow ‘Prisoner of Hope’,
Date: 19 August 2012
A Personal Testimony
(at least a bit of it; for a purpose)
My wife and I came to know the Lord more or less at the same time. When we were both in our spiritual nappies, a mature Christian lady in our church invited us, with some other friends, to her home one evening.
God during the week
As we had very young children at the time it was not possible for both of us be there. So we decided on that occasion that I should go while Sheila stayed at home with the children. Given that the night in question was a weekday, we assumed that it must be a social gathering. (If it was anything to do with God, I thought, it would have been reserved for a Sunday.) However on arriving at our friends home along with the others who had been invited I quickly discovered that the whole evening was about God and His Word.
I can’t remember much about the first half-hour of the meeting, but I was aware that there was a man there who had been invited to come and speak to us. He was unknown to me (then at least); and from his accent came from the Central Belt. He wasn’t dressed in any clerical garb (which was the common custom for clergymen back then), so I wasn’t sure what position he held in the church. I can’t remember at all which passage(s) of the Bible he spoke from, but what I do clearly remember is that he was speaking about the Jews and God’s prophetic purposes for them and for the land of Israel.
Questions from earlier years
Rewinding even furher back now to my formative years, and leaving aside Sunday School Bible stories from the Old Testament, at that stage in my life my main perceptions of the Jews were both curious and confused. Three things had stuck in my head from my pre-teenage years.
The first of these arrived when I was around 7 or 8 years old. On occasions in the family home I would be, as children can be, at a bit of a loose end. And I remember at these times, when I was ‘getting under my mother’s feet’ that she would sometimes say to me: “Go and sit down: you’re like a wandering Jew.” My curiosity was aroused: “Who or what were the Jews?” “And why were they or it wandering?”
Later, in my early teenage years, I used to spend time in a carpenter’s workshop. Some of the men there had been in WW2, and sometimes they sang army songs. One of these was derived from the song ‘There’s a tavern in the town’. One verse in the original goes: ’Adieu, adieu, adieu, adieu my friend adieu. I can no longer stay with you.’ But the soldier’s version was a parody on the first line; it substituted the French word ‘Adieu’ with the same-sounding (homophonic) words, ‘A Jew’. And the revised line went: “A Jew, a Jew, a Jew, a Jew, a dirty Jew”.
Neither my mother nor the carpenters in their workshop carried in their tones any sense of personal animosity or opprobrium, but from their words I was left now wondering who were these people the Jews, who were both ‘wandering’ and ‘dirty’?
Around my early teens I was shopping for a birthday present for my Dad. While browsing in a bookshop I came across a paperback book about the war-time years and I thought my father might be interested in it as he had lived through that period. But as I flicked through the pages and came to the pictures contained within the book I had my first encounter with the most horrifying and violent of images. These and the book told of what I soon came to understand as ‘the Holocaust’.
Somehow and for some reason these different memories became embedded in my brain; images and perceptions of a people. A people who were ‘wandering’, ‘dirty’ and most horribly persecuted. Why?
By revelation and with conviction
So, back now to the speaker in my friend’s home. Again, in a way I cannot explain in human terms, what the speaker was saying ‘came alive’ for me. My guess is that the others there were broadly familiar with the teachings, though what the impact on them I didn’t know.
But for me, and that was nearly 30 years ago now, I became utterly convinced – in a manner no less profound than the matter of my own salvation in Christ – of God’s special purposes for the Jewish people: not only in terms of history, but into the present and latter days.
From that time I started to absorb more and more of God’s word and teachings from the OT prophets on the subject. (Fortunately I was not surrounded by liberal theologians who often distort the word of God, and interpret it as ‘mean-and-say-whatever-you-want’ allegory.)
As I came to learn more and more – from gifted Bible teachers and from my own readings – I have, over the period, become a little bit more knowledgeable on the subject; both from the Word of God and from history books. However I have also been careful to avoid the trap of become ‘a bore for Israel’, or causing my interest to neglect other important themes. Having said that, I have also been very happy to speak on the subject if questions arose from one person or another; or from a group within the body of Christ. (Interestingly enought it is only very recently that the subject seems to have gained a wider awareness; but more on that sometime later.)
Response to a View
In the mid-nineties I was encouraged to start publishing a quarterly newsletter for the churches in my local area, and in the Winter 2000/2001 edition I published a page of Bible verses on the subject of God's purposes for the people and the land. (I inserted a minimum of my own words just to ‘join up’ the passages to form a narrative.)
I wasn’t necessarily anticipating any response, but one arrived in nevertheless.
A high-profile clergyman was at that time leading an inter-denominational Bible-study group; and he wrote to me to let me know that neither he nor the people of his group were happy with the article. I acknowledged his letter, but as the bulk of what I had published was the unadulterated Word of God I was not-so-much concerned about the dissent of the clergyman and his group, as saddened by it. He was after all a senior man in his denomination and the group he led was drawn from different denominations.
Even more sadly, alongside liberal theology, I have since come to discover that much of the so-called ‘Bible-believing’ church is antipathetic to what I published back then. [More of this later, but for the moment I offer (below) the article which caused the Provost's concern.]
You may wonder why I am writing all of this? Well, I believe that it is vitally important, for every true disciple to each come to their own personal view on these matters.We are living in quite remarkable times; 'this is that' days (cf Acts 2:16) in which Bible prophesy is being fulfilled before our eyes. So I want both to both readers know where I am coming from, and also lay down the following as a ‘Bible-based foundation’ for what I believe.
The critical issue
However, and this is the most important point by far, I also believe that we might very soon see the most serious division within the (thus-named) evangelical community on a world-wide level.
Though it could well match the Reformation in its intensity and scope, it will not be something that will – necessarily or initially at least – be precipitated from within the body of Christ. Rather it may well be more brought into focus by world events as these unfold before our eyes (cf Zech 12:1-3).
In January 2007 a number of Scottish believers formed a loose-knit grouping called Yachad
(the Hebrew word for 'together'): the purpose being that of encouraging the churches, if they hadn't already, to look into what the Word of God says about the Jews and the land of Israel. (Actually, it's God's land.) Part of that exercise was to offer a free copy of trailer for a DVD entitled A Call to Repentance.
In the two years following all the efforts of the group were focussed on bringing these things before church leaders. Having done that, the scope has since been broadened to the whole church. This work continues.
THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL:
Past, Present and Future
An extract from Christians Together
(an Inverness newsletter) - Winter 2000/1 edition
THE conflict between the Jews and the Palestinians in Israel is one which attracts differing and deeply- held opinions. However it is pointless, for a Christian, to view the situation from the same secular-humanist perspective as most commentators. What follows is a small attempt to clarify the question from a biblical (God's) standpoint.
Israel was chosen by God and promised possession of the land if the nation remained true to God (Note 1). However they did not.
"Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman's monthly uncleanness in my sight. So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions." (Ezek 36:17-19)
But God has promised:
"Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the Lord."
"I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone."(Ezek 36:21) And thus God said to them: "I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth--"(Isaiah 43:5&6)
God has - increasingly over the last 50 [now 60 – Ed.] years - gathered the Jews back to Israel. He has said that he will use "hunters" and "fishermen" (persecution and inducements) in the process (Note 2). This has been especially evident in the holocaust and the re-creation of the modern state of Israel through a 2/3rds majority vote by the United Nations in 1947. However, the Jews have been gathered in unbelief; and so God has said of His plans for –
"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." (Ezek 36:25)
And all for the sake of God's holy Name:
"Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes." (Ezek 36:23b)
"In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations [diaspora] and divided up [partitioned] my land." (Joel 3:1-2)
He also warns:
"On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem."
And He will ultimately open the Jewish eyes to the Messiah:
"I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son" (Zech 12:10).
Meanwhile: GOD has given some guidance to the Gentile church regards what should be the Christian's attitude to his ancient people:
"If some of the branches [the Jews] have been broken off, and you [Gentile Christians], though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, 'Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.' Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith.
Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!" (Rom 11:17-24)
"I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: [know that] Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved" (Rom 11:25,26). (Note 3)
Note 1: Possession of the land was conditional; ownership was and is an eternal and unconditional covenant made to Abraham and subsequently confirmed to Isaac and Jacob. (Gen 17:8; Psalm 105:8-11)
Note 2: But now I will send for many fishermen," declares the LORD, "and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks". (Jeremiah 16:16)
Note 3: Nowhere in the New Testament is the word "Israel" used to mean "the church".
(cf: The Destiny of Israel and the Church. D. Prince.)
Date: 26 July 2012
With revelation comes responsibilty
As I write this Editor’s update I have just heard the news that the Scottish Government is planning to introduce same-sex marriage.
So it seems that all the efforts to counter this proposal have failed. But the letter which I wrote to Alex Salmond
was something I felt I had to do: it was something which was ‘burning in my bones’. But, to be honest, it was partly inspired by self-interest. (To explain that remark I need to refer to a couple of passages found in the book of Ezekiel; of which more later.)
In my letter to Scotland's First Minister I opened by saying that ‘with leadership comes responsibility’. While the rest of us may not be leading a nation, there is a responsibility that lies upon us all: that is the responsibility which comes with ‘revelation’.
I’m no psychologist but – medical problems apart – once a person knows something (through learning, experience or revelation) then it becomes impossible to ‘not know it’. It is through revelation that God first, through His grace, revealed the wonders of salvation to each and every believer. It is through revelation that the Holy Spirit opens up God’s word to us to give us understanding of God’s character, truths, injunctions and promises.
In my previous update I quoted a verse from the book of Jeremiah: “after I came to understand, I beat my breast” (Jer. 31:19). In this case the revelation came to the tribe of Ephraim and its people’s of their sin.
In Ezekiel’s case, he had to ‘eat this scroll’ and take God’s word to the house of Israel (Ezek 3:4). The prophet was reminded by God that he was not being sent to an alien people who spoke a different language, but ‘to the house of Israel’; to his own people; a people who should be able to clearly understand the Lord’s word as it was spoken out (Ezek 3:5-6). But Ezekiel was also warned by God in advance that ‘the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate’: they were hardened and rebellious (Ezek 3:7-8). Nevertheless, the man of God had to ‘go to them’; and ‘not be afraid’ whether they listened or not (Ezek 3:11).
Ezekiel was given revelation (Ezek 3:12-14); with it came a responsibility and a commission (Ezek 3:17).
For such a time as this...
I was speaking to a Presbyterian minister friend the other day and he remarked on the problem of the Presbyterian system – that of having no Pope-like figure who could speak for the whole church. (However, given the current levels of apostasy in some Presbyterian denominations it’s perhaps just as well as I shudder to think what some in an elevated positions might say.) In this context it is even more important - when there is opportunity to ‘bear witness’ to the saving grace and the statutes of God - that we do this.
Reverting to OT times, we have the story of Esther to remind us of ‘responsibility’ and ‘consequences’. The temptation facing the King’s wife was to remain silent; to approach the monarch would take her into an exposed and very dangerous position with the potential to bring disaster down on her head. She had access to the top man; but what would be his response to her approach? (Imagine the position for a Christian politician today serving in a godless party.)
But such was her position as part of the royal household - God would want to use her to protect her people. It was not that God couldn’t have achieved His purposes without her; but her obedience to the call was essential to her well-being. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish”. And then the intriguing question: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). Was it merely rhetorical? In our day, have the children of the God ‘come to the Kingdom for such a time as this’?
Off the hook
With our royal position, comes responsibility and responsibility brings consequences.
“When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood”
(Ezek 3:18); and in similar fashion (Ezek 33:6).
It’s here that I get back to my letter to Mr. Salmond and to some further verses in the third chapter of Ezekiel (Ezek 3:17 – 21). The principle set out in these verses is a fairly straightforward one: do your duty and you will live; shirk your responsibility and you will suffer. The principle is repeated later on in the same book (Ezek 33:1-9).
So perhaps by now my earlier remark about ‘self-preservation’ in relation to writing to Scotland’s First Minister becomes clearer.
In New Testament times we see this dynamic at work again in Paul’s travail amongst the Jews at Corinth. Eventually he wiped his feet saying “I am clean”: he was ‘off the hook’; he then left them and went to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6): but he had been obedient to the call ‘to the Jews first’.
For myself I can sleep at night knowing that, to the best of my ability before God, I have discharged the burden of responsibility that revelation brings. And I thank God for all those other believers who, each in his or her own situation, brought their witness to bear through it all.
So, and in spite – nay, because – of the outcome, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds
(Heb 10:23-24) and present [ourselves] to God as those alive from the dead, and [our] members as instruments of righteousness to God
The days in which we live
What a crazy fast-moving world we are living in. I have recently been on holiday and whenever I pass through airport departure halls or the concourse of a big mainline railway station, I find myself pondering the words from Daniel’s prophesy.
It tells us that ‘many will go back and forth and knowledge will increase'
(Dan 12:4 NASB).
Add together the advances of science and technology, the distributive power of the internet transmitting information to the mass-movement of millions of people around the world each and every day and we surely see a present-day fulfilment of Daniel’s picture of latter days.
But stepping backwards in that passage we also read that Daniel was told to ‘seal up the book until the end of time’
. This is surely a reminder that some things in God’s prophetic word are not immediately clear; and will remain that way until the time of their consummation. Indeed it seems that some things we will only fully understand in glory (1 Cor. 13:12). This realisation and acceptance could perhaps remove some of the endless debates within the body of Christ concerning several areas of doctrine and interpretation. Additionally if we were to ‘think Hebrew’, rather than with a Greek mindset, that would help too.
Either/or: or both?
The perennial Calvinist/Arminian debate about salvation is normally polarised around the one view or the other: whether our salvation is a sovereign selective act of God or, alternatively, our individual responses to an invitation? In contrast, the Hebrew mindset would simply answer “Yes”.
We normally think of repentance preceding salvation (and so it should), but Jeremiah wrote: “after I came to understand, I beat my breast” (Jer. 31:19). Accordingly we see here conviction (of sin) following on from revelation rather than the other way around. So which is it? The answer? Both.
In the same manner the ‘once saved always saved’ view is bolstered by the verse in Daniel just prior to the one quoted above.
Concerning the traumas surrounding the end times we read: “But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered” (Dan 12:1). But there again God was speaking to Daniel who was a Jew. So how do we understand 'your people
'? Is this promise confined to those of whom Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome (Rom 11:26)?
And what about the repeating refrain in the letters to the ‘Revelation’ churches: “To him who overcomes...?"
Jesus himself stated: “It is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved”
So....are we eternally secure; or do we need to persevere to the end in order to be saved in the end? Greek dualism creates a huge argument: the Hebrew mindset simply says “Yes”.
"You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky,
but you cannot interpret the signs of the times." Matt 16:3
What is beyond question is the fact that we are seeing events of increasing magnitude and import occurring at an escalating pace. The biblical metaphor is that of the final stages of childbirth - an exponential increase in frequency and intensity of ‘labour pains’.
Much of the prevailing eschatology in the churches is post-millennial – a time of great harvest and blessing for a fixed but lengthy period prior to Jesus’ return.
But this is not how my Bible reads to me.
In fact it is quite the reverse. Moving back three chapters in Daniel we read: “War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed”
(Dan 9:26). And Paul warns young Timothy: “But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days...”
(2 Tim 3: 1-7).
We are seeing around us many signs of the times. One observer alternatively described our age as ‘the times of the signs’. Now we know that there will always be wars and rumours of wars, but in response to his disciples' question, the danger Jesus first warned of was ‘deception’. And we see this in abundance today. So does the term ‘last days’ cover the total period between Jesus first and second advent; or does it refer to a prescribed period right at the end of this age? One answer is surely “Yes”: it is most often both. But we need to note that sometimes the Bible narrows the expression down to the ‘last of the last days’.
"Learn the parable of the fig tree.."
One validating sign which sets the more general and background signs into a more specific context can be found in Luke’s gospel. In the parallel apocalyptic passages (Matt 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21) Jesus instructs us to “learn the parable of the fig tree”
However and interestingly, Luke’s account expands the passage: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees"
It would seem that we are being told to look at the specific sign (of the fig tree) against the general backdrop (of all the trees).
Regarding ‘all the trees’, we are seeing apostasy on a grand scale, deception abounding, wars raging, drought, famine and earthquakes on the increase. Set alongside these things there has been a most serious collapse – in fact and in confidence – regarding the main pillars of our society: the nuclear family; politicians; the media; the police; the banking world; the health service; the organised church. The list goes on and on.
Meanwhile, regarding the fig tree (which certainly speaks of the nation of Israel) we further read: “when its branch has already become tender and put forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
(Mark 13:28 NASB).
A Bible teacher who lives in the Middle East has said that under certain conditions the fig tree can be one of the last trees to produce its leaves; and does so in late spring, at the very threshold of summer. It seems that on these occasions, the fig trees can go from bud to full leaf almost overnight. This understanding certainly adds weight to the warning: “Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognise that He is near, right at the door”
(Mark 13:29 NASB).
God's prophetic timepiece
Since the recreation of the nation/state in 1948 Israel has never been out of the headlines. The nation, its people and its capital are the absolute dead centre of God’s end-time purposes. God has planned it this way; the Bible tells us so. However, vast swathes of the Christian church either don't know this truth (a great concern) or, in some cases, refuse to believe it (a tragedy) (Luke 24:25 cf Luke 24:44).
Just as the Jews ‘missed’ the (list of) prophesies regarding Jesus first advent, it seems that much of the church has allegorised those relating to his second coming. Could this be what Jesus was talking about when he referred to those bridesmaids who lacked oil in their lamps and had no time to rectify their plight (Matt 25:3)? Are we in danger of failing to ‘stock up’ on God’s word and our understanding of it, only to find that one day it will be too late?
Our calling and expectation
As for our deportment, Paul instructed Timothy: “Keep your head and in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”
(2 Tim 4:6). And let us also: “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us] to will and to act in His good purpose. [Let us] do everything without complaining or arguing, so that [we] may become blameless and pure, children of god without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which [we] (pray God) shine like stars in the universe as [we] hold out the word of life”
"All men will hate you because of me,
but he who stands firm to the end will be saved". Matt 10:22