Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A weekly Bible reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – What Did You Expect? (Luke 7:18-23)

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of the signs of the end of the age and gives a very clear warning about wrong expectations:

“At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible. See I have told you ahead of time.

So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightening that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Mt.24:23-27)

He addressed a common human problem and weakness, especially in the community of faith; a tendency to anticipate God’s purposes, work it all out beforehand and gain some degree of control and, dare I say, kudos. We see it in people who become pedantic about particular forms of church organisation and government; in those who scour the text of the Bible looking for ‘signs of the times’; in people who slavishly follow after signs and wonders, revival and refreshing, anything other than the steady and unspectacular growth in faith and understanding that is the lot of most Christians in this world.

There is nothing wrong with revival, refreshing and an understanding of the times of course and the cry of every Christian should be ‘Come Lord Jesus!” However, the work of the Lord goes on all around us in our every-day lives and not just in the so-called mountain top experiences so beloved by some. We can have a tendency to construct our own elaborate picture of what it will look like when God fulfils his promises, to say more than God has said and promise things other than what God has promised and this is what happened to John in this passage.

Like so many of his generation he had a picture of the Messiah coming, driving out the invaders and restoring the glory to Israel and the reports he received of Jesus’ work from his disciples did not fit the picture. Jesus was not exactly behaving like a liberator in the commonly understood mould and John, languishing in prison, had understandably begun to have doubts. In an ascending scale of works Jesus reminds John of the things predicted of the Messiah:

“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Lk.7:22, see Is.29:18-21; 35:5-6; 42:7; 61:1)

It is as if Jesus was saying, “Did you expect something else?” or, “What did you expect?” John had seen less than he expected while Jesus was, in truth, delivering more than anyone could imagine. The focus of Messiah’s work was people and not just abstract concepts of leadership and politics or spectacular shows of power. Jesus sent this message back to John:

“Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me”

We should take care that we don’t fall away because Jesus’ focus and work does not altogether fulfil our expectations. He is not in the desert, or in the inner room and nor does he associate with an elite; signs and wonders are no guarantee of his presence and he does not live to accommodate our misguided interpretations. But if we will look we will see him with the blind and the lame, the deaf and those who are dead because of lost hope in this world and preaching good news to the poor. Perhaps we should ask ourselves what exactly we have expected and compare it with what God has promised and Jesus has demonstrated to be God’s work and maybe we need to be with this Messiah for the common man among the people he loves most, people like you and me.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Scientology

Scientology has been much in the news lately and one wonders if there will be some changes ahead. The trial in Paris could lead to their work being curtailed or banned altogether in France. The trial is still in its early stages but here is a recent update:

http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/273868

However, what is already clear and out in the open is a report that appeared in St. Petersburg Times in Florida. Mark C. "Marty" Rathbun left the Church of Scientology staff in late 2004, ending a 27-year career that saw him rise to be a top lieutenant to Miscavige in the organization. For the past four years, he has lived a low-profile life in Texas. Some speculated he had died.

In February, Rathbun posted an Internet message announcing he was available to counsel other disaffected Scientologists.

"Having dug myself out of the dark pit where many who leave the church land," he wrote, "I began lending a hand to others similarly situated."

Contacted by the St. Petersburg Times, Rathbun agreed to tell the story of his years in Scientology and what led to his leaving. The Times interviewed him at his home in Texas, and he came to Clearwater to revisit some of the scenes he described.

Seeking to corroborate Rathbun's story, the newspaper contacted others who were in Scientology during the same period and have left the church: Mike Rinder, one of Rathbun's closest associates for two decades; Tom De Vocht, who Rathbun named as key to his decision to leave; and later, Amy Scobee.

Rathbun and Rinder were well known to the reporters, who had interviewed them dozens of times, sometimes combatively, through years of controversy in Clearwater. They also hosted the reporters in Los Angeles in 1998, when Miscavige granted the only print media interview he has given.

Two reporters met Rinder in Denver, where he now lives, but he declined to be interviewed. About a month later, two Washington-based lawyers who work for the church showed up unannounced in Denver, informed Rinder that they had heard about the newspaper's visit and asked what he had revealed.

Full details of the revelation of what is described as a culture of intimidation and violence under David Miscavige can be found at the following link:

http://www.tampabay.com/specials/2009/reports/project/

All this is happening just as the book Deceived, one woman's stand against the Church of Scientology, is published. In June 1999 Bonnie Woods won a ground-breaking High Court libel battle against the Church of Scientology. In this moving book Bonnie tells of her wasted years with the Scientologists, the intimidating dramatic court battle and the Christian faith that sustained her as she sought justice.

A special offer on this book is available at:

http://shopping.reachouttrust.org/shopping/reachout.nsf/(ProductsByCode)/BV004

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

ldsapology.org Petition to the Mormon Church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for reconciliation with Gays and Lesbians.

Here is an interesting development. A blog to petition the Mormon Church to change its policy on homosexuality – by Mormons. Whatever your view on the issue this is a thoughtful blog and a very interesting development. Another example of Mormons beginning to think for themselves and face the issues of the modern world without simply toeing the party line.

"We the undersigned, in the spirit of love and peace, earnestly seek to create a climate for reconciliation between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and gays and lesbians who have been affected by the policies, practices and politics of the Church. We recognize that issues surrounding sexuality and gender orientation are complex; that understanding of these matters has evolved, especially over the past several decades, and are continuing to evolve as scientists, therapists, theologians and others continue to explore and ponder their meaning and significance; We believe that people of good will may have differing views about homosexuality, while maintaining amicable relationships."

ldsapology.org Petition to the Mormon Church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for reconciliation with Gays and Lesbians.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A weekly Bible reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – The Test of Faith (Mark 8:1-30)

Faith is a strange thing. Everyone thinks they know what it is yet many people you might expect to have it fail to exercise it. We are told that “Herod feared John [the Baptist]...knowing him to be a righteous and holy man” (Mk.6:20) Yet Herod had John beheaded at the whim of his wife. Knowing things to be true is not the same thing as having faith it seems.

When Jesus was moved by compassion for the people that had followed him for three days he shared his concern with his disciples (Mk.8:1-4) who began to wonder where on earth they were going to get food for so many in such a remote area. Jesus sat the crowd down and fed them. The disciples had seen Jesus do this and many other miracles before but were slow to realise what was really going on. Being around holiness is not the same thing as having faith either. You don’t ‘catch’ faith from others or absorb it by osmosis and you can’t live on borrowed light.

The Pharisees came to test Jesus and asked him for a sign from heaven (Mk.8:11). Of all the people who had followed Jesus the Pharisees seem to have been among the most consistent as they sought every opportunity to catch him out. They had probably seen and heard reports of more miracles than anyone, yet they were not convinced and demanded greater proof. Jesus’ answer is very interesting:

“Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given it”

Jesus had already given ample proof of his credentials and no further sign would be forthcoming not because he couldn’t perform more miracles but because the request for proof came from unbelief. They were not interested in signs and proof and even when Jesus gave the greatest sign of all in his resurrection they remained sceptical. Seeing wonderful things done in the name of God is not the same as faith. Having faith is not a spectator sport.

When Jesus warned them to “beware the yeast of the Pharisees” (Mk.8:15) they totally misunderstood him and thought he was angry that they had not brought bread with them. But Jesus was not talking about bread but about the sin of pride and unbelief that refused to see the clear evidence presented in Jesus’ teaching and miracles. Faith is not simply outward things evidenced in the religious observances of the Pharisees or the finery of the court of Herod and their lip service.

The miracle at Bethsaida (Mk.8:22-26) illustrated very well how faith comes gradually. Just as the man began to see people looking like trees walking around so the disciples and followers of Jesus, because of hardened hearts, did not see everything clearly immediately. But just as the man’s “eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly” so the disciples would eventually see everything clearly. Of course, Herod and many of the Pharisees were so hardened in their hearts that they would remain blind because they refused to see.

Finally, Jesus asked them directly “Who do people say I am?” There had been much speculation and people accepted he was one of the prophets but couldn’t agree on which one.

’But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’

Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ’

Here Peter identifies the focus of Christian faith. It is the most important question anyone will ever be asked – who is Jesus? When we come to see, like Peter, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and confess it then we enter into a living relationship with him (Ro.10:9-13) We may not see everything clearly at first but as we trust him (which is what Christian faith is) so our vision clears and we trust him more because he alone can save us from our sins, from the hardness of our hearts. Indeed, he alone can transform our hearts so that we come to trust him completely. Only transformed hearts and lives can live for him and only such hearts can issue in works of service that are acceptable to God (Eph.2:10)

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Polygamous fundamentalists baptized by proxy into LDS Church, researcher says - Salt Lake Tribune

Now here’s the thing. If you ask a Mormon about polygamy they will patiently and firmly explain that a few Mormons did that ‘back in the day’ and for reasons best known to God (population problems, culture, who knows) but it is such a long time ago and so passé’ that   you should even ask.

If you press them about the inclusion of definitive teaching on polygamy as a church dogma in Mormon Scripture (D&C 132) as well as definitive statements by early Mormon prophets (Brigham Young et al)they will say that the benefit of having prophets is that they can tell you God’s will for today and Mormons don’t practice or teach polygamy today. Its the classic evasive argument.

So here’s the Mormon Church baptising dead ‘apostate’ polygamous fundamentalists and sealing them in a proxy temple ceremony to their polygamous wives – even the ones from whom they were divorced while alive. The truth is that polygamy is part of the very fabric of Mormonism just as monogamy is fundamental to Christianity (1 Tim.1:6; 3:12; Eph.5:33) and Mormons are sealing polygamous relationships between people who were excommunicated in the first place for practicing polygamy.

Prominent fundamentalist Mormons, most of whom were excommunicated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for practicing polygamy while they were alive, have been posthumously re-baptized in LDS temples, a Salt Lake City researcher says.

Helen Radkey said in a new report that she obtained church records on 20 fundamentalists -- from murderer Ervil LeBaron to Joseph Musser to Rulon Jeffs --- showing that they've been baptized and have had their plural marriages "sealed" for time and eternity by proxy LDS members, one as recently as this year.

Polygamous fundamentalists baptized by proxy into LDS Church, researcher says - Salt Lake Tribune

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

It’s amazing what people rely on!

Crop circle 'experts' are seeing the latest pattern discovered in Wiltshire, a phoenix rising from the flames, as a warning about the end of the world. It is amazing to me that they can be so glib about the world ending in 2012 with the certainty that civilization will rise again from the ashes.

Christians, relying on the authenticated word of God, have been saying for years that the world will end but are not so glib. They have shown the way people need to get ready for the event to ensure that they will 'rise again' afterwards. I guess it's all part of the world we live in – let's ignore the historical proven character of Jesus Christ and rely on the mythical aliens! I trust many will see the error of this philosophy before it is too late – be that 2012 or whenever. Remember too it could be much earlier if we die before the event.

Then there are those who were asked which dead person they wanted most to talk to. They weren't asked what they wanted to say but with folks like Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe in the top 10 you can imagine.

Much to the surprise of the organisers of the 3000 people poll, Princess Diana was pushed into second place by Jesus Christ. However, I've got news for them Jesus is disqualified! The simple reason being He is alive!

How sad that around a 1000 of the 30000 people asked would really like to meet Jesus – when they can if they follow His way of repentance and receiving Him into their lives.

There is nowt as queer as folk – is there?

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Christians being ‘sidelined’, says head of Asian Christian Fellowship

“Christians in this country are being sidelined and discriminated and even some pastors have been threatened and beaten, because of preaching the Gospel,” he said.

“I believe it is time for Christians to raise our voices and stand up for our rights and values, which are being sacrificed in the name of political correctness.”

Who is speaking and which country does he have in mind? The speaker is Canon Yaqub Masih of the Asian Christian Fellowship so you might expect his concern would be for an Asian country but no. He is addressing the problem of growing persecution of Christians in the UK.

It is reported that one in five Christians now complain of discrimination because of their faith. Have you noticed that people hate Christ now? Say you are a Christian and often people will screw their faces up in a sneer and exclaim, “Don’t ram your religion down my throat!” Defend your faith and they speak disparagingly of Christian superstition and ignorance. The reaction is positively violent and they will speak of anything but Christ.

I think it is time we stopped apologising for being Christians. You may look through all of Scripture and never find a text prescribing political correctness or niceness (that bane of Western Christianity). By all means let us have the fruit of the Spirit, peace, love, etc, but always remembering that it is to make our Christianity more real and challenging not more respectable and accommodating.

Turning the other cheek does not mean turning our back on the truth; neither does loving your neighbour mean not warning them of impending judgement for fear of offending. Standing for truth necessarily means exposing and refuting error and while we do it with love we do it nevertheless.

Christians being ‘sidelined’, says head of Asian Christian Fellowship