Thursday, March 29, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 37: Start (small if necessary), but . . . please . . . start!

Going back to 1 Chron 12:32, we may read of the two hundred "men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do."

Q: Why was this noteworthy?

A: Because, the coronation of David as King over all Israel was at a turbulent, confusing time, at the end of a civil war while also fighting off deadly invaders from outside. But, by recognising the prophetically anointed David as the founder of a new Dynasty, the foundation for two generations of greatness were laid. Thus, the men of Issachar were noted for their ability to spot and take advantage of a key opportunity in the mids of a confusing situation -- the essential point of strategic insight.

Similarly, in our time, there are many challenges, hurts, clashing voices and worse, too often leading to confusion and paralysis.

For instance, many of us in the Caribbean are caught up in the debt trap: inflation eating a hole in our salaries or wages or profits, stiff mortgages, car loans [even as the price of new or even "deportee"/ "Internet" cars soars out of sight], the prospect of College loans, or having to pay off student loans, or worse. And, that is the more prosperous classes who are often living "month to month." For vastly many more Caribbean people [and not just in Haiti, Guyana and Jamaica], as Dr Mark Figueroa of UWI Mona Campus has said, their daily focus is "the dinner problem," i.e. will they find enough to have as much as one decent meal today -- living "hand-to-mouth."

We are also in the midst of a confusing era as environmental panics sweep the world, e.g. over claimed human contributions to global climate change and associated scientific and policy debates, agendas and initiatives. A global conflict between the West and militant, surging Islamism dominates headlines, even as media figures spin, highlight or suppress the news from the fronts in the struggle to serve their own ideological agendas. Here in the Caribbean, we see a triangle of global forces in contention: (a) De-Chistianisation from the North, (b) Islamism from the Middle East, (c) the ongoing surge of Christian reformation in the South.

In the midst of all of this turmoil, confusion and pain, Solomon's 3,000 year old counsel speaks, with telling force:

PR 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

PR 3:6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

PR 3:7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.

PR 3:8 This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

PR 3:9 Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;

PR 3:10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

Surely, if we are to soundly understand our times and understand what we are to do, and walk in the right and blessed path, we must heed this voice.

Similarly, let us listen again to Mordecai's counsel to his ward, Esther, in the face of an irrevocable decree of genocide against the Jews in the Persian Empire:

EST 4:13 . . . "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 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 who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"

For, despite our many confusions, fears, challenges and even predicaments, we the people of God in the Caribbean have never been so well-off, so educated, so free to travel and initiate actions on our own behalf. Multiply that by our strategic potential under God for the mission of the church in and from the region, and we come to the decisive questions: Why not now? Why not here? Why not us?

Q: But, what can we do in the here-and-now?

A: Many things -- as was discussed a few days back.

Q: But, how -- given our resource, focus/vision and cooperation/unity challenges?

A: First, we must think along the lines of the even- more- challenged but oh- so- dynamic Chinese church -- an army of ants and worms that together can accomplish much, one tiny step at a time. Second, if we accept that God has called us forth for such a time as this, then we can seek a vision on his way forward. I believe we have outlined some of that already, starting with the many local projects just pointed to. Third, we need to recognise that we in fact have a lot more potential capability and resources than we think. Then, we can address the issue of how to go about planning, funding and implementing such local and then international projects.

As a first step, let us now take a leaf from the sustainable development movement, and briefly explore the concepts of strategic planning through comparing business as usual [BAU] vs alternative paths [ALT], and associated capacity-building through what we could call Nehemiah projects.

So, let us turn to Strategic Planning 101 in a nutshell:

1] Accepting the need to change: Whether as individuals, families, organisations, businesses or communities, we always have a strategy: we are deploying means to get to ends. The question is what means, and to what ends, why? Too often, the answer is "business as usual," in the short-term interests of the powerful in the situation -- often without realising where that will lead in the long run. It is therefore always useful to pause and ask, where will we end up, given our situation and trends? In this regard, Jesus' warning about gaining the whole world but losing our very souls, takes on cutting force. It is fair comment to note that by and large, we simply are not doing well enough to be satisfied. [And, are we really confident that on a certain day, we will hear: "Well done, good and faithful servant . . ."?]

2] PESST and SWOT factors: Realistic plans start by scanning our environment and assessing our potential. What are the relevant PESST factors and trends -- political, economic, socio-cultural, spiritual and technology-and-science? What about SWOT -- our strengths and weaknesses, in light of opportunities and threats lurking in the PESST factors and trends?

3] Robust vs brittle strategies: A robust or sound strategy builds on our strengths. It uses them to (1) exploit opportunities, (2) counter threats, and (3) compensate for (and where possible, correct) weaknesses. In so doing, it reckons with the fact that sometimes, trends are not easily predictable, so it may be wise to look at optimistic, intermediate and pessimistic scenarios. A robust strategy will be resistant to uncertainties about the way things will turn out. By contrast, a brittle strategy usually thinks in terms of just one scenario, often, that things are going to go on pretty much as they are. Or else, it may construct a rosy vision of how "our" particular movement is going to dominate the future. (The case of Paul at Fair Havens, Crete in Acts 27 should serve as a salutary warning to such folly. Cf the post series starting here.)

4] Comparing BAU and ALT strategies: BAU as a rule serves the short-term interests of the dominant power groups, and may exploit the lack of a voice of marginalised groups to mislead or even oppress them. A serious look at PESST SWOT and brittle vs robust strategy issues will as a rule expose BAU as highly brittle in our age where change seems to be the real constant factor. That means we need to look at what a robust alternative could look like and then consider the comparison between where BAU is likely to end up, both here and hereafter, and what a robust alternative credibly would lead to -- given Haggai and Psalm 127:1 as we looked at a few days ago.)

5] Changing from BAU to ALT: Step 4 has a name: "gap analysis," i.e. identifying the gap between where BAU is likely to end up, and where a robust -- thus, sustainable -- alternative will credibly go. But, is that enough to motivate change? As a rule, no: very few people are sufficiently confident and have the resources and power to make drastic changes on mere analysis. So, we need to begin small and see what happens with the new way, then as we see and learn from points of success and failure, we can begin to adjust. Then, when we are satisfied, we can scale up. Indeed, the list of local projects from a few days ago accommodate this pattern of demonstration projects and then absorbing lessons as we scale up. [It is also probably part of why we see in Acts 1, that Jesus speaks of going first to Jerusalem, then Judaea, then Samaria, then to the ends of the earth.] Start small, here and now, in short.

6] Organising a cluster of "Nehemiah projects": We can take a leaf from Nehemiah, as was recently discussed on the MVAT steps 2 and 3. Namely, he organised the overall initiative as a cluster of projects done side by side by different groups, working together. Modernising the idea, we come to the Project Team or "Matrix" organisational strategy -- using resource units to supply what is needed for project teams to carry forward the projects under the overall goal. Then, coordination requires working with the resource team leaders and the project team leaders in a steering group. (NB: This gives a voice at the top to the innovators, who are too often blocked, frustrated, stifled or silenced and even slandered in the typical power-pyramid style organisation; which emphasises the power of routine business as usual. For more details in a step by step format, cf The MVAT Kit steps 2 - 4.)

7] Exploiting a Breakthrough: When, God willing, a notable success has been achieved and lessons have been drawn and learned, it is wise to pause and reflect, celebrate and project corporately or even publicly. This provides an occasion for igniting a fire of renewed vision and hope, that can trigger momentum towards transformational change in the church and wider community, i.e. repentance and renewal often leads to revival and reformation. Certainly, that is what happened with Nehemiah and Ezra, as we may read from Nehemiah 8 on. Similar points can be seen in the life of the early church as seen in Acts, and in the history and cycle of annual festivals for Ancient Israel. Then, we can move on to a higher level of strategic action, God willing.

In this context, it is well worth looking again at the raw potential capacity we have, as was summarised a few days ago:

. . . Say that we can have 1 in every 100 Christians [just counting the 8 million or so evangelicals] as a full-time worker, and that we target tithing that number to the mission fields beyond our region. Counting just the claimed eight million or so evangelicals across the region, that would give us 72,000 full-time workers in our region, and 8,000 mobilised for the mission fields of the 10/40 window and elsewhere. In army terms, that's nine or so "divisions" at home, and an expeditionary "division." [But as Paul more than proved in Acts, a well supported "platoon" of say 20 - 40 can be more than enough to be a very effective missions force in any given targetted region or community! Maybe, even a "squad" -- or, thinking in Cavalry, tanker or air unit terms, a "squadron" -- of 5 - 12; which is in fact about the scale of Paul's missionary teams. (Of course, we aren't out to shoot people, just to love them. Love is far, far cheaper -- and in the end, more effective, too -- than war.)]

How could we fund such a division-strength global "expeditionary force" of missionary workers?

Per capita incomes are of order US$ 2,000 - 5,000 across most of our region, so the "evangelical regional product" in our region is maybe of order US$ 10 billions. One percent of that is US$ 100 millions, and a tithe of that would give an annual potential regional missions budget of US$ 10 millions. With reasonable matching funds from partners across the world, that could go a long way towards supporting serious initiatives with both people and money. (And, with a shared vision, we probably would be far more generous than that.)

In short, an "army" of Caribbean "missionary ants and worms" -- ever notice how we hear folk sayings about suicidally uncooperative "crabs in a barrel" but never any such sayings about ants in a barrel? -- can do a lot more than we think.

We have more than enough raw capacity to transform our region through God, and to make a material contribution to the global mission of the church.

So, again, let us consider: Why not now? Why not here? Why not us? END

UPDATE, Apr 4: minor adjustments.

Monday, March 26, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 report, 36: On building houses . . . and on creating an "army" of worms and ants

As we think about initiating truly sustainable and practical "mission to and from the Caribbean" projects in communities across our region and beyond, we first of all must put our priorities right. For, as Haggai warned the people of God in his generation -- on why their apparent prosperity seemed so brittle and futile:
HAG 1:2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: "These people say, `The time has not yet come for the LORD's house to be built.'"

HAG 1:3 Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 4 "Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?"

HAG 1:5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it."

HAG 1:7 This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the LORD. 9 "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the LORD Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands."
That sounds a little close for comfort in today's Caribbean!

Maybe, there is more to our region's economic woes than meets the matrerialist's eye, then? So, too, we can see the searing force of the song of ascents sung by the returning exiles, in Psalm 127:1, which (ironically, given what Haggai had to warn more or less the self same returned exiles some years later!) begins:
PS 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.
Of course, we have glossed over a major gap: an individual or family often has enough resources to build a house or start up a business, but (with extremely rare exceptions) no one individual or family can [re-]build a Temple.

That gap is what this post adresses.

As, the vital issue is: how can we mobilise such a critical mass of the community of God's people across our region, as can begin to fulfill our potential?

A book just in -- thanks to the kind gift of a certain brother over in Florida; God bless him, his family and a certain highly favoured cat! -- brings forward a crucial idea from the Back to Jerusalem movement of the Chinese church: an army of worms. In their words:
Sometimes it seems as if a lot of mission effort consists of "elephant" plans -- huge and grandiose strategies . . . But it is easy for border guards to detect an elephant . . . . [W]e believe God wants to send an army of insects and crawling creatures . . . We don't have a lot of money or any grandiopse plans. But we are an army of little ants, worms and termites who know how to work underground, because that is how we have learned to work in China . . . . little worms and ants can go anywhere . . . [Hathaway, Yun, Yongze, & Wang, Back to Jerusalem (Carlisle, UK: Piquant, 2003), pp. 90 - 92.]
This -- as the authors take time to point out -- is all in line with an astute biblical observation by Agur:
PR 30:24 "Four things on earth are small,
yet they are extremely wise:

PR 30:25 Ants are creatures of little strength,
yet they store up their food in the summer;

PR 30:26 coneys are creatures of little power,
yet they make their home in the crags;

PR 30:27 locusts have no king,
yet they advance together in ranks;

PR 30:28 a lizard can be caught with the hand,
yet it is found in kings' palaces.
In short, the joint combination of a great many tiny efforts has a cumulative effect that can be astonishing. This of course is exactly what happened with Nehemiah when he mobilised the people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem: what had lain in ruins probably for generations, was rebuilt in fifty-two days [Neh. 6:15.]

So, we can see a challenge: a heavily persecuted, largely underground Chinese church with far fewer per capita resources than we have here in the Caribbean is seriously targetting mobilising, sending and supporting at least 100,000 workers as a missions force, i.e. as a tithe of their full-time workers. Can we even begin to come close to thinking like that? Can we actually develop a self-sustaining, practically achievable strategy that would yield similar results, relative to our own scale as a region and to our huge strategic potential?

I am confident that we can do just that.

For, just as a thought experiment, let's do what Physicists call a Fermi calculation based on educated guesstimates that may tell us a bit about the possibilities we can unleash.

Say that we can have 1 in every 100 Christians as a full-time worker, and that we target tithing that number to the mission fields beyond our region. Counting just the claimed eight million or so evangelicals across the region, that would give us 72,000 full-time workers in our region, and 8,000 mobilised for the mission fields of the 10/40 window and elsewhere. In army terms, that's nine or so "divisions" at home, and an expeditionary "division." [But as Paul more than proved in Acts, a well supported "platoon" of say 20 - 40 can be more than enough to be a very effective missions force in any given tartegtted region or community! Maybe, even a "squad" -- or, thinking in Cavalry, tanker or air unit terms, a "squadron" -- of 5 - 12; which is in fact about the scale of Paul's missionary teams. (Of course, we aren't out to shoot people, just to love them. Love is far, far cheaper -- and in the end, more effective, too -- than war.)]

How could we fund such a division-strength global "expeditionary force" of missionary workers?

Per capita incomes are of order US$ 2,000 - 5,000 across most of our region, so the "evangelical regional product" in our region is maybe of order US$ 10 billions. One percent of that is US$ 100 millions, and a tithe of that would give an annual potential regional missions budget of US$ 10 millions. With reasonable matching funds from partners across the world, that could go a long way towards supporting serious intiaitives with both people and money. (And, with a shared vision, we probably would be far more generous than that.)

In short, an "army" of Caribbean "missionary ants and worms" -- ever notice how we hear folk sayings about suicidally uncooperative "crabs in a barrel" but never any such sayings about ants in a barrel? -- can do a lot more than we think.

Next time, let us begin to explore how we can begin. END

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Blog visits 7: On The Problem of Evil, over at Barbados Free Press

It is unusual for me to post twice in a day, but this one is important enough to do that.

I often visit over at other blogs, e.g. I am now having a now fairly extensive visit to Uncommon Descent, even though I am quite uncomfortable over some language used by one of hte blog principals just now. (This blog deals withtthe Intelligent Design controversy, and related matters. But that is for another day . . .)

A few days back, I was asked to take a look at a disinformation-laced comment over at BFP, to which I responded. On a follow up visit, I found that someone else had thrown out the following in a string of comments starting here:
Seriously, why do people waste time believing in religion? I can’t bow to any God which allows such suffering to continue . . . . i can blame god and i do blame him for our stupidity. How and why does a supposedly perfect god make such imperfect people??…..then your going to convince yourself a such powerful being didn’t know this was going to happen before he made the first man? . . . . man fears anything he dosent understand…..God is just a figment of something man made up so he can rest what he dosent understand on. [Verbatim excerpt, pardon the uncorrected typos -- I am not the only one who struggles in that dept, even through a spell checker.]
Often, we tend to ignore such challenges to the faith here in our region, or at most to respond at a personal relationship and needs level (as did someone else in the blog thread).

While such responses have their palace and indeed our veridical personal encounters with and experience of God in the face of Jesus under the promises in the Bible are a powerful -- and in fact, properly speaking, unanswerable -- warrant for our faith, such may not carry great force with the sort of skepticism, rage and dismissive contempt we see here.

So, I took up the issue, for the record, as follows:

Hi all:

I see the good old problem of evil came up.

Professor Alvin Plantinga’s remarks on the free-will defense, as summed up in desperate brevity here, ever since the 1970’s, are the context for any serious onward discussion of that issue.

Let’s just sum up a major thought in a tight little ball.

Start with the point that virtue is a moral issue, e.g we cannot love unless we have minds of our own. To have a world in which real virtue is possible, real choice has to exist. So, abuse of choice is automatically also possible. Thus, the existence of evil is a twin to the existence of moral good and nobility and the beauty of the queen of the virtues, love.

Thankfully, in love, God has given us a way of penitence, forgiveness and restoration to the good, and indeed a Saviour. If we choose the way of the right, however much we stumble along the way, he will happily receive us. If we choose instead to selfishly reject the truth we know or should know, and follow evil, then that is obviously our own fault — and it is we who are to blame for the consequences. [Cf Rom 2:5 - 11 for a brief summary.]

Such consequences — as in the case we are discussing — often very predictably fall on innocents like both the children in the bomb-car, and bystanders harmed by the terrorists who were misusing the name of God. Even greater blame attaches to those who brainwashed, trained and equipped the terrorists.

But since, as Solzhenitsyn pointed out, the line between good and evil passes not between nations, classes and religions etc, but through each human heart, let us start with our own penitence and persistence inthe way of good. Then, we will see clearly to help our brothers and sisters across the world with the sawdust in their eyes.

Finally, we can trust that in his own good time God will wrap things up perfectly well enough. Judging by the signs of our times, that could be real soon.


Grace, open our eyes — and soften our hearts


Just thought this might be helpful to others out there, who just might be struggling with this biggie issue.

Drop me a line if you need more on it. (Follow up the link to a lecture on Arguents to and against God first, though . . . it may help you quicker than I could come back to you..)

God Bless. END

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 35: Getting down to business -- developing and doing gospel-based projects in the local community

Over the past several weeks, we have been looking at mobilising ourselves as the people of God under the mission of the church in, and from, the Caribbean:
1] For such a time as this: our opportunity

2] Getting started: pulling together a circle of interest, discussion, study and prayer

3] The Antioch Timeline challenge: it's high time . . .

4] Working together: principles for working together under God, across our diverse church theologies and traditions.

5] The Wilberforce principles: what worked before can work again . . .

6] The Wilberforce model: how he led a reformation.

7] When change is not progress: the balancing point.

8] The Olaudah Equiano story: drawing on a culturally close exemplar

9] Getting organised: pulling together an MVAT team
Now, we need to draw on all of these strands, as we look at the initiation of projects on the ground. So, we move on to the MVAT Startup Kit, step 5.

First, what sort of projects can we do? Of these, there is an almost endless variety:
Missions awareness, prayer, action and support workshops can be developed and held in churches and even schools and community centres.

A study, prayer and action group for people considering the call to the missions field can be established, as a start-point for sending and supporting short- and long-term overseas missionaries.

A "One-Stop Missions Shop" can be set up in a local Christian bookstore, as a permanent point of contact on missions activities, opportunities and information. ["Kit" available.]

Training seminars on how the gospel speaks to core cultural issues and challenges can be used to spark specific projects that respond practically to such concerns. ["Kit" available.]

Key apologetics issues -- especially those tied to Islam, secularism and neo-paganism in the postmodern globalised age -- can be studied and a series of articles developed and published in the press, to give a sound Christian alternative to the public.

A mini-thinktank and advocacy group can be set up to study and respond to mission-relevant apologetics, development, public policy, law and international issues -- including how the Christian Faith promotes good government and good citizenship, current events, bringing reconciliation to the Middle East situation, the Suffering Church, and more. Position papers and policy proposals can then be published as a guide to local and regional decision makers.

A small business development workshop can help Christians enter into and shine a light in the business world, as well as developing a base for funding missions projects. [Training Programme available.]

A Christian Community College can be launched, to address educational and skills needs in the church and wider community, based on the life- and community- transforming power and relevance of the Christian worldview. (This coud perhaps start out as a mini cybercampus using Internet resources and a cluster of PCs with some mentoring and tutorial support in the local church and/or community, to support distance education. Later on, such a cluster of mini cybercampuses and full campuses might become affiliated with the emerging regional Christian University being developed on the basis of the established JTS/CGST in Jamaica.)

An Arts ministry group can be developed, with foci on drama, dance, poetry, writing, the graphics arts and the Internet. Such a group can then address the range of cultural concerns, showing through Spirit-anointed art forms how the Christian Faith can bring blessing and transformation to the Caribbean.

A Family Life Transformation ministry group can be started, to address the single biggest cluster of core concerns in the Caribbean.

Gospel-based community upliftment initiatives can be launched. (Existing projects could be studied for startup ideas.)

And many more . . .
In short, there are many things we can do, starting right where we are, and right now, and targetting clear goals through specific action steps that use modest and accessible resources.

Next time, DV, we will take a look at how such projects can be practically organised and strategically planned, in light of some notes here. (After that, equally DV, we need to look at fundraising. Then it will be time for looking at International projects.) END

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Matt 24 Watch, 15: Kathleen McGowan -- the Dan Brown effect mutates and metastasises

A few weeks back, about the time when the brouhaha over the Cameron video came up, I was browsing the stacks in the local public library. While doing so, I ran across Kathleen McGowan's recently published The Expected One, intended to be book 1 of a trilogy. [NB: I have seen a claim that it reached No 13 on the NYT bestseller list, so it is plainly worth at least a passing glance, if only to understand what becomes popular today, why.]

So, I borrowed it, and have been wading though it -- it is a sad, painful read.

Thus far, I see that it seems the author believes herself to be a descendant of the marital union between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, basing this on visions she claims to have had, and on various folk tales and legends that she claims constitute “proof,” though not "academic" proof. An exchange with Ms Diane Sawyer during her ABC TV interview is quite revealing:

Sawyer: "For everybody who says, a novel, fine, write a novel, promote a novel. But there’s no proof here. There’s really no proof either of Mary Magdalene and Jesus being together."
McGowan: "That’s absolutely untrue, there’s all kinds of proof."
Sawyer: "Tell me."
McGowan: "It’s just not the traditional academic proof . . . . I set out to find proof that had not been written down. My work took twenty years because I spent so much time in the cultures, the folklore, the living traditions of this marriage and their children."
Sawyer: "So you’re say–you’re saying that the proof is in the persistence of the stories that have been passed down?"
McGowan: "Absolutely, and the endurance of these cultural traditions. But there’s all kinds of historical proof, you just have to dig to find it, and that’s what I did as I put all of that together in this book." [HT: Newsbusters]

In short, legends and stories, in Mrs McGowan's opinion, are proof enough to make major adverse claims against the historic Christian faith and its scriptures.

Further to this, as part of the "evidence" she cites, the book's chapters are typically headed by long citations from the alleged lost book, The Arques Gospel of Mary Magdalene, The Book of Disciples. In the text, she also has her revealer of the secrets of the Cathars speak of a gospel penned by no less than Jesus himself [!], which is stated to be the basis of the Cathar teachings and the trigger for the crusade and massacres against them. These books appear to be artifacts of her imagination, and/or the murky world of legends she seems to inhabit, as they are evidently unknown to the world of scholarship.

The novel itself is about Maureen Paschal, a red-headed [it's important!] feminist journalist and her vision-driven journey of discovery in the murky world of Catharism and two alleged ancient hidden and/or lost Gospels allegedly suppressed by the Roman church. It can most accurately -- and charitably -- be described as a thinly disguised fictionalised fantasy pseudo-autobiography. (I am not sure if this is a new genre that is emerging; more or less, my life as I wish it to have been, turned into a novel that reveals my view of the world's hidden truth, suppressed by evil conspirators..) Thus, what Dan Brown said of his fictional heroine, Sophie Neveau, we see here Mrs McGowan saying of her red-headed heroine and herself. As a USA Today article (complete with a picture of the red headed author standing in front of a church door and sporting near-Jesus-style long hair) reports:

Kathleen McGowan, novelist and self-proclaimed descendant of a union between Jesus and Mary Magdalene . . . says she's ready to cope with people who think she's crazy or a heretic . . . . her powerful literary agent and the editors at New York publisher Simon & Schuster . . . are throwing their weight behind her autobiographical religious thriller The Expected One, out July 25, with a sizable first printing of 250,000 copies . . . .

"I certainly expect there to be a backlash," says McGowan, 43, a Little League mom from Los Angeles who with her husband, Peter, has three sons: Patrick, 16, Conor, 12, and Shane, 4. "But I have the support of my family and friends and that's what I draw from." . . . .

McGowan says her book is not a Da Vinci Code knockoff.

"Everyone's going to think I'm on The Da Vinci Code bandwagon, but I'm not," says McGowan, who began working on her book in 1989. The Da Vinci Code was published in 2003 . . . .

Simon & Schuster is spending $275,000 to promote The Expected One and is sending the author on a cross-country tour beginning Aug. 3 in Los Angeles. But when it comes to McGowan's claims about her own bloodline (which she mentions in the novel's afterword), the publisher is treading lightly, with no plans to promote the author's personal story.

"It's an interesting back story, but we're marketing this fabulous novel," says Trish Todd, editor in chief at Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster.

Todd says she has no problem believing McGowan's claim that she descends from a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. "Yes, I believe her. Her passion and her mission are so strong, how can she not be?"

Indeed, that is the vital issue. And, while it may be painful to look such a grim warning in the eye, it is wise for us to heed Solomon:

PR 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man,
but in the end it leads to death.

PR 14:15 A simple man believes anything,
but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.

PR 14:18 The simple inherit folly,
but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.

PR 14:25 A truthful witness saves lives,
but a false witness is deceitful.

Harvard's Simon Greenleaf, a founder of the modern theory of evidence, adds, in his now classic survey on the evidentiary credibility of the biblical Gospels:

Every event which actually transpires has its appropriate relation and place in the vast complication of circumstances, of which the affairs of men consist; it owes its origin to the events which have preceded it, it is intimately connected with all others which occur at the same time and place, and often with those of remote regions, and in its turn gives birth to numberless others which succeed. In all this almost inconceivable contexture, and seeming discord, there is perfect harmony; and while the fact, which really happened, tallies exactly with every other contemporaneous incident, related to it in the remotest degree, it is not possible for the wit of man to invent a story, which, if closely compared with the actual occurrences of the same time and place, may not be shown to be false . . . . in the testimony of the true witness there is a visible and striking naturalness of manner, and an unaffected readiness and copiousness in the detail of circumstances, as well in one part of the narrative as another, and evidently without the least regard to the facility or difficulty of verification or detection . . . the force of circumstantial evidence is found to depend on the number of particulars involved in the narrative; the difficulty of fabricating them all, if false, and the great facility of detection; the nature of the circumstances to be compared, and from which the dates and other facts to are be collected; the intricacy of the comparison; the number of intermediate steps in the process of deduction; and the circuity of the investigation. The more largely the narrative partake[s] of these characteristics, the further it will be found removed from all suspicion of contrivance or design, and the more profoundly the mind will rest in the conviction of its truth.

In short, deception is exposed by want of coherence and correspondence between what is said and the material facts, but "simple" (or, naive and undiscerning) persons will too often fail to take the time to distinguish between what they feel or hear from those they look up to and what is credibly so. So, let us first go to the hinge of facts on the early history of the Christian church. For, Paul Barnett, in his classic, Is the New Testament History?, provides a much better place to start than with visions, untraceable books and legends, by giving us a resume of the consensus view of early non-Christian sources from late C1 to early C2, on the roots of the Christian faith and its characteristics:

On the basis of . . . non-Christian sources [i.e. Tacitus (Annals, on the fire in Rome, AD 64; written ~ AD 115), Rabbi Eliezer (~ 90's AD; cited J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1929), p. 34), Pliny (Letters to Trajan from Bithynia, ~ AD 112), Josephus (Antiquities, ~ 90's)] it is possible to draw the following conclusions:
  1. Jesus Christ was executed (by crucifixion?) in Judaea during the period where Tiberius was Emperor (AD 14 - 37) and Pontius Pilate was Governor (AD 26 - 36). [Tacitus]
  2. The movement spread from Judaea to Rome. [Tacitus]
  3. Jesus claimed to be God and that he would depart and return. [Eliezer]
  4. His followers worshipped him as (a) god. [Pliny]
  5. He was called "the Christ." [Josephus]
  6. His followers were called "Christians." [Tacitus, Pliny]
  7. They were numerous in Bithynia and Rome [Tacitus, Pliny]
  8. It was a world-wide movement. [Eliezer]
  9. His brother was James. [Josephus]
[Is the New Testament History? (London, Hodder, 1987), pp. 30 - 31.]

The pattern in these corroborating sources is instantly familiar; that is, the NT accounts plainly fit into a recognisable historical pattern of facts credibly established through a range of quite early non-Christian sources on the C1 origins, claims and spreading of the Christian movement; though of course the primary Christian sources give far more details than one would expect from sources that mention such facts in passing as they go on to make their own points. That corroboration should not be surprising, given that (as Barnett goes on to observe, pp. 37 - 41) in the very first cluster of writing sub-apostolic church fathers -- Clement of Rome [c. AD 96], Ignatius [c. 108] and Polycarp [c. 110], 25 of the 27 books in the New Testament are cited or alluded to, as authentic and authoritative scripture [only the two rather brief works, 2 Jn and Jude, are not cited or alluded to]; so the subsequent textual history of the NT documents begins in the 90's, i.e. within living memory of the Apostles, and it continues in an unbroken chain of custody to the origin of printing.

The core testimony of that New Testament, traceable to the mid 30's AD, and preached all across the Mediterranean world starting right next to Jesus' empty tomb in Jerusalem, is this:

1CO 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you . . . . 1CO 15:3 . . . Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 . . . was buried, . . . was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and . . . appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

1CO 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

That is the record of those who were there, many of whom died for their witness. The Apostle Paul, who wrote down this witness in 55 AD, some ten years later went on to warn in his last Epistle, just before he was killed, that:

1 Tim 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths . . .

Peter, one of the 500 eyewitnesses, also wrote, as he approached the end of his life in 64 - 65 AD: 2PE 1:16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

So, whose report will we believe, why?

And, if one chooses to disbelieve the testimony of the C1 church, how will s/he then answer to the Morison Challenge:

[N]ow the peculiar thing . . . is that not only did [belief in Jesus' resurrection as in part testified to by the empty tomb] spread to every member of the Party of Jesus of whom we have any trace, but they brought it to Jerusalem and carried it with inconceivable audacity into the most keenly intellectual centre of Judaea . . . and in the face of every impediment which a brilliant and highly organised camarilla could devise. And they won. Within twenty years the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish Church and impressed itself upon every town on the Eastern littoral of the Mediterranean from Caesarea to Troas. In less than fifty years it had began to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire . . . . Why did it win? . . . . We have to account not only for the enthusiasm of its friends, but for the paralysis of its enemies and for the ever growing stream of new converts . . . When we remember what certain highly placed personages would almost certainly have given to have strangled this movement at its birth but could not - how one desperate expedient after another was adopted to silence the apostles, until that veritable bow of Ulysses, the Great Persecution, was tried and broke in pieces in their hands [the chief persecuter became the leading C1 Missionary/Apostle!] - we begin to realise that behind all these subterfuges and makeshifts there must have been a silent, unanswerable fact. [Who Moved the Stone, (Faber, 1971; nb. orig. pub. 1930), pp. 114 - 115.]

This challenge is easy to duck, but not so easy to answer. So, indeed, whose report will you believe, why? END

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 34: Steps Two & Three -- getting into action

If we are to be effective for God in the Caribbean and beyond in our time, we have to not only start by catching a vision and sharing it among a circle, but we need to become active on the ground as God leads us, even in the face of possible misunderstanding and hostility, perhaps even slander or worse.

That brings us to the second and third steps in the Missionary Vision and Action Team [MVAT] process.

So, following up from the first step of seeking God togetner, discussed a little while ago, we need to see how we could organise ourselves for effective, God-directed action on the ground. In that process, it is helpful to look at the example of the 18th Century Evangelicals, who began as small circles and isolated groups, who then dared big things for God and saw dramatic results: revival, and even reformation. Similarly, there is a whole series of Transformations videos on how the church has seen spiritual breakthroughs, in surprising places such as Cali, Columbia and Fiji. (Whether or not we agree with all that has happened in the 18th Century awakenings or in more recent and current situations -- and remember, true revivals are as a rule a blend of the glory and the shame -- that is at least a possible place to begin from, reflect on, and learn lessons, drawing out a challenge to seek God-blessed breakthrough in our own communities.)

But, beyond such historical or current examples, there are relevant biblical cases (which make for quite eye-opening and highly motivating Bible studies, too). Among these, an excellent place to start is with Nehemiah:
1] Learning of the plight of God's people, he was concerned. So he prayed then obtained support, authorisation and resources from a key powerbroker, the king. [Ch 1.]

2] On going to Jerusalem, he quietly surveyed the scene then called the people together, giving them hope and a vision of the way forward. [Ch 2.]

3] He organised the work, delegating manageable tasks to specific groups and their leaders. [Ch 3.]

4] As challenges, opposition and crises arose, he stood on his strengths and made sure he was not distracted from the main task in hand. [Chs 4 - 6.]

5] When the project was finished -- very quickly -- time was set apart for celebration and worship, with the help of Ezra, a key spiritual leader. Revival broke out. [Ch 6:15 - 7:5, 8:1 - 11, & 8:13 - 9:38.]

6] The project and revival then triggered waves of national renewal and reformation that continued for centuries. [Chs 8 - 13.]
Of course, we should adjust such a strategy to match our own circumstances. For instance, if we have started with a prayer, study and discussion circle of concerned believers, then that puts us into a situation where it is natural to think about an initial project, and to organise for action. For the sake of argument, let us use the idea of doing an awareness and action seminar, organised by the circle acting as a work team.

Such a team probably could include at least the following:
1] Chair: coordinates and is the public face and voice of the emerging local MVAT initiative.

2] Projects Coordinator: organises and manages the seminars and other projects as they come online through the action teams. [Also, Vice-Chair.]

3] Secretary: correspondence, minutes of meetings, periodic reports on progress/gaps relative to
plans; also sees to correct procedure, records and protocol.

4] Treasurer: manages and helps raise funds, providing transparency over finances.

5] Partners & Public Relations Officer: promotes good relations and collaboration with partners, and outreach to the church community and wider public.
Such a team can accomplish a surprising amount of work, once organised.

Now, let us assume that the initial project is to host a weekend workshop event in which people from the church and wider community sit down together to watch the Amazing Grace movie together, and discuss it, then organise some initiatives to follow up on this.

Perhaps, this could be through an evening event in a church, school or community hall, where the movie is shown, and a panel leads off a discussion focussed on Wilberforce and Equiano, with parallels to our own situation highlighting the three tidal waves vision and our opportunituies to strategically contribute to the church's mission in and from the region over the next several years. It would be natural to make provision for people to sign up for follow up workshops and teams that emerge from those sessions.

Thus, in an amazingly short time, we could organise a MVAT for action in almost any local community across the region, i.e. we are looking at "step 4" in the MVAT process. Beyond that, it is natural to work on local projects, fund-rsising and international projects, which would require regional networking. So, in short order, a pretty serious initiative couls be up and running all across our region. That brings us back to the basic question and challenge again:

Why not now? Why not here? Why not us? END

Sunday, March 11, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 report, 33: The relevance of the Olaudah Equiano story

Over the past several weeks, we have begun to look at how we, as a Gospel-blessed region, can contribute to the positive transformation of the emerging global era, in the face of a myriad challenges and confusions -- in which lurk several dangerous threats.

Among other things, that led us to briefly look into the significance of the Amazing Grace story, and the three men touched by grace who form the centre of that movie: William Wilberforce, John Newton, and Olaudah Equiano. Since Equiano is culturally close to us, and indeed can be counted as a Caribbean person [having been a slave for an extended period in Montserrat], let us now focus on highlights from his story. For, Equiano was an evangelical Christian and African abolitionist, who had been kidnapped and enslaved in his homeland as a child then was sold into servitude in the Caribbean, but who eventually managed to obtain his legal and spiritual freedom, and has many lessons for us through the still telling impact of his own story in his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative . . .

A taste of that story can be seen from the closing words of Chapter 2, where he has told of his early life and of how he was taken and sold into slavery, ending up on a slave ship bound for Barbados. Along the way, he vividly ilustrates the brutality and horrors of the slave trade. For instance, having himself been separated from his sister who had been kidnapped with him in Africa, he then speaks of the routine and callous separation of families of newly imported slaves in the Caribbean:
I remember in the vessel in which I was brought over, in the men's apartment, there were several brothers, who, in the sale, were sold in different lots; and it was very moving on this occasion to see and hear their cries at parting. O, ye nominal Christians! might not an African ask you, learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice? Are the dearest friends and relations, now rendered more dear by their separation from their kindred, still to be parted from each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of slavery with the small comfort of being together and mingling their sufferings and sorrows? Why are parents to lose their children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their wives? Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty, which, while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery.
It is little wonder then, that he -- a victim himself -- had significant impact as a spokesman and writer against slavery, especially the slave trade. However - as with John Newton (who returned to his accustomed trade in the early 1770's [i.e. before there was an organised antislavery movement], but who finally left the sea and became a Minister of the Gospel and an antislavery leader) -- this was after quite a personal evolution. For, even after his conversion and purchasing of his freedom, as well as an unsuccessful attempt to save John Annis (a fellow freedman) from re-enslavement, he became involved in a slave-owning venture on the Mosquito Coast of Central America:
Equiano . . . went out to the Caribbean again, in 1775, and this time he became involved in a project to set up a new plantation - or colony - on the Caribbean coast of Central America, probably in present day Nicaragua. This 'adventure' seems somewhat problematic to us today as Equiano was involved in two projects which are specifically associated with European colonisation. First of all he appoints himself as a Christian missionary, hoping that he can bring Christianity to the native Americans in the area. Secondly, he and his associates buy slaves to work on the plantation and Equiano is clearly involved in this at a high level, although he is at some pains to point out that he did 'every thing I could to comfort the poor creatures, and render their condition easy'. We have to remember that in the mid 1770s there was as yet no organised anti-slavery movement and, indeed, there were very few individuals who thought that slavery should or even could be abolished outright. There were, however, a growing number of people who argued that just because people were slaves it didn't mean that they should be treated cruelly. These people sought to ameliorate the conditions of the slaves by stopping corporal punishment, and by making sure the slaves had access to decent housing, food and medical care. Equiano can be placed with the ameliorationists at this point, although clearly he is not yet an abolitionist.
Thereafter, he became a part of a project to resettle Africans in Sierrra Leone. He had the integrity to expose the corruption and warn on the resulting logistical defects in the project. This cost him his job, commissary of provisions and stores. Unfortunately, precisely because of the same resulting improper provisions, only sixty of three hundred and sevcenty four people shipped there survived the first four years. It was after these adventures, that he wrote his autobiography and became a public spokesman against the slave trade and slavery.

While the above is a mere smattering of excerpted points from Equiano's indeed "interesting" story, they already speak powerfully to us as we seek ways and means to promote godly transformation in an emerging global world tottering on the brink of global catastrophe:
1] Here we see a victim of our painful Caribbean history of slavery, overcoming by God's grace, and finding a way to positively contribute to his world, thus becoming a model for reformation leadership.

2] His story intersects the same triangle of global forces that so marks the crises and opportunties of our own age: [a] the nominally Christian but too often apostate and/or largely secularised North, [b] the partly Islamised South, and [c] the emerging Church of the South. (In this regard, his appeal to the "nominal Christians" of the North in the name of the God whom they have acknowledged, is especially telling.)

3] The focus of that appeal is also quite significant: he points to the pivot of morality, the Golden Rule [Mt 7:12 etc], and uses it to prophetically appeal forcefully in the name of God for repentance and reformation.

4] Nowadays, of course, given the dominance of evolutionary materialism and secularisation leading to dismissal of Judaeo-Christian ethics, such an appeal would most luikely be brushed aside with a rhetorical barb or two. But in fact, the root principle of sustainability is the self-same Golden Rule, in another form. (To see that, reflect on what the Bruntland principle means when it says that development initiatives are only sustainable if they allow usto meet our needs equitably today, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Is that not simply another way of saying that we should do as we would be done by?)

5] In this light, it is sadly telling that the specifically evangelical Christian dimension of Equiano's story is often censored out today:
[By the early 1770's he] had been exploring the scriptures and examining his own faith for some time, but it was on a voyage to Spain that he tells us that he saw 'the bright beams of heavenly light' and was 'born again'. To many secular twentieth-century readers this has seemed like the least important part of his narrative, and in some editions of The Interesting Narrative the section describing Equiano's conversion is cut out entirely. But to many readers in the eighteenth century - and, of course, to Equiano himself - this really was the key moment of his life.
Thus, plainly, there are many lessons we can draw from Equiano's example and story, as we take up the challenge of the unfinished mission of the Church to, and from, the Caribbean. END

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Matt 24 Watch, 14: Recent News Roundup, Mostly tied to the ME

A lot has been happening in the Middle East and elsewhere recently, and trying to keep up is like trying to drink from a firehose on full blast.

Unfortunately, the perspectives that we will pick up almost unconsciously from the major media easily accessible in the Caribbean tend to be biased to an uncritical acceptance of secularist progresssivism and its typical positions, so it is useful to pause every now and then to get some balancing thoughts. (Then we can form our own conclusions in light of having heard a bit on both sides of the story . . .)

So, here are some quick links, comments and excerpts, almost at random from my recent web clippings:

1] Barbados Free Press and the Veils issue:

Some weeks back, I had occasion to comment on this issue. BFP has done an interesting follow up on it. A telling excerpt:
After the London transit murder bombings in July of 2005, one of the surviving (male) Jihadists evaded police by dressing as a Muslim woman wearing a burka . . . .

In Florida, a court ruled that Muslim women who wish to drive must allow their face to be photographed and must reveal their face to any police officer just like any normal driver.

The Florida litigant, a Muslim woman named Sultana Freeman, had argued that removing her veil for a driver’s license photograph was against her religious freedom - but her comments on her blog showed wearing the veil in a different light . . . . [in her blog she commented] “Nobody said the path would be easy; wearing niqab alone can become jihad in an oppressive land.”‘

So, there is plainly more than one side to the veiling story.

2] More on the Discovery Channel film on the alleged tomb of Jesus

I particiapted in a still ongoing blog thread discussion on this, here. A thoughtful point that we should consider was made at no 54 by Mats:
[Darwinists] seek to undermine the Book which is overwhelmingly responsible for the existence of people skeptic of unguided evolutionism. . . . . [they] show once again that they don’t understand what are they up against. Even though many people can rightly list the Bible as the major reason as to why they reject unguided evolutionism, there’s also the scientific aspect of the all issue . . .
It will be interesting to see how the differeent opinions interact in a forum moderated for civility, so I encourage you to take a read. This one on the Egnor case and the stunning contrast between this thread and the onward linked one at Time Magazine are also illuminating, not only on the ID issue, but also on the issue of the breakdown of civility in public discourse in the West, and where it is largely coming from. (If you have been following some recent blog visits, you will be saddened but not surprised.)

3] On Moral equivalence arguments . . .

Some seem to see a moral equivalence in the Middle East and beyond as regards possessing WMD technologies and arsenals. Perhaps a read of this blog post may give pause, and some balance. Excerpting:
. . . the safe driver and the drunk driver are not morally equivalent. Simply put, sober drivers behave better, so we trust them with cars; convicted felons can't be trusted with guns. These allowances have been motivated by our morals.

The same is true of nations and nuclear weapons. Moral equivalency does not exist between Iran and Great Britain; nor between North Korea and the U.S. . . . . why do we perceive these nations (Pakistan and China) along with others (N. Korea, Iraq) as more likely to use WMDs? Why do we see them as a "greater threat"? Answer: Because of their demonstrated past [largely unrestrained tyrannical and oppressive] behavior . . .
Worth a pause and a thought or two -- including on the implications of the current push to delegitimise the Judaeo-Christian frame for morality in the West. Do we really want to go where that is likely to lead?.

4] Key Iranian Defection?

It seems fairly likely that a major Iranian leader, "Ali Reza Asgari, Iran’s former deputy defense minister," who reportedly "defected to the US after arriving in Istanbul from Damascus on February 7th," is causing waves of concern or possibly panic in Iran. For, as the linked notes:
Asgari is a man privy to numerous secrets which Iran desperately does not want revealed. As well as being a former deputy defence Minister, Asgari was also a General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). The IRGC, more than any other branch of Iran’s armed forces, is aware of, and has access to Iran’s nuclear program. Its members are in charge of monitoring and protecting Iran’s nuclear installations, and scientists.

Furthermore, the IRGC is in charge of developing and testing Iran’s missiles, an arsenal which Iran has threatened to use if attacked. Last but not least, the IRGC is in charge of training and arming Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iraqi Shiite militants in Iraq.

So, if the debriefings are declassified at least in part, we will soon begin to hear a little more on the inside story on Iran's push to nuclear power and associated missile technologies. At least, if we monitor the sort of news sources where such information is likely to be headlined . . .

5] Is this World War III or IV, or . . . ?

A former head of Mossad observes:

A third World War is already underway between Islamic militancy and the West but most people do not realize it, the former head of Israel’s intelligence service Mossad said in an interview published Saturday in Portugal.

‘We are in the midst of a third World War,’ former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy told weekly newspaper Expresso.

‘The world does not understand. [Ed: Why, since we have more media than ever before . . .?] A person walks through the streets of Tel Aviv, Barcelona or Buenos Aires and doesn’t get the sense that there is a war going on,’ said Halevy who headed Mossad between 1998 and 2003 . . . . Halevy, who was raised in war-time London, predicted it would take at least 25 years before the battle against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is won and during this time a nuclear strike by Islamic militants was likely.

‘It doesn’t have to be something very sophisticated, It doesn’t have to be the latest nuclear technology, it can be something simple like a dirty bomb which instead of killing millions only kills tens of thousands,’ he said.

By my count, of course, if we note that the Cold War was global in scope and cost millions of lives, coming to the edge of nuclear confrontation once or twice [depending on how you vciew the events of the Yom Kippur War in 1973], this is actually WW IV, and it dates to the rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its global campaign.

Thus, it is fair comment to observe that the current world war is at the nuclear thereshold as we speak.

6] Homefront defeat looming for the US in the Iraq campaign?

The ongoing conflict in Iraq has turned into simply one campaign in one theatre of operations in the ongoing war to counter Islamist expansion. [Note the distinction from Islamic.]

So it is no surprise to have seen evidence of Iranian involvement and supplying of weapons and support there.

Similarly, given the tone of militant Mahdism and Islamist supremacism, there is no great surprise to see a deep antisemitic strain among the Islamists, especially in Iran. However, it is a bit disheartening in the aftermath of the plain evidence of the cases of Czechoslovakia inthe 1930's and that of South Vietnam in the 1960's - 70's, that the West again refuses to learn from history.

As Mark Steyn warns, with more than a hint of sarcasm:

The Middle East is . . . a tough nut to crack, but the myth of the unbeatable Islamist insurgent is merely a lazy and more neurotic update of the myth of the unbeatable communist guerrilla, which delusion led to so much pre-emptive surrender in the '70s. Nevertheless, in the capital city of the most powerful nation on the planet, the political class spent last week trying to craft a bipartisan defeat strategy, and they might yet pull it off. Consider this extraordinary report from the Washington Post:

"Democratic leaders have rallied around a strategy that would fully fund the president's $100 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but would limit his ability to use the money. . . . The plan is aimed at tamping down calls from the Democrats' liberal wing for Congress to simply end funding for the war.

"The Murtha plan, based on existing military guidelines, includes a stipulation that Army troops who have already served in Iraq must be granted two years at home before an additional deployment. . . . The idea is to slowly choke off the war by stopping the deployment of troops from units that have been badly degraded by four years of combat."

So "the Murtha plan" is to deny the president the possibility of victory while making sure Democrats don't have to share the blame for the defeat. But of course he's a great American! He's a patriot! He supports the troops! He doesn't support them in the mission, but he'd like them to continue failing at it for a couple more years. As John Kerry wondered during Vietnam, how do you ask a soldier to be the last man to die for a mistake? By nominally "fully funding" a war you don't believe in but "limiting his ability to use the money." Or as the endearingly honest anti-war group put it, in an e-mail preview of an exclusive interview with the wise old Murtha:

"Chairman Murtha will describe his strategy for not only limiting the deployment of troops to Iraq but undermining other aspects of the president's foreign and national security policy."

Observe that key word: undermining. Plainly, the very predictable results of the US again abandoning allies in the face of adverse press -- battlefield success notwithstanding -- are not part of the equation here. No wonder, Mr Cheney observed acidly: " "If you're going to advocate a course of action that basically is withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, then you don't get to just do the fun part of that, that says, 'We'll, we're going to get out,' and appeal to your constituents on that basis."

7] Fun stuff vs harsh realities of war-policy decisions:

Mr Cheney's remark above met with the complaint that he was improperly challenging the patriotism of the Democratic Congressmen.

This was his further reply:
I'm not sure what part of it is that Nancy [Pelosi] disagreed with. She accused me of questioning her patriotism. I didn't question her patriotism. I questioned her judgment . . . .

You also have to be accountable for the results . . . What happens if we withdraw from Iraq?. . . And the point I made and I'll make it again is that al-Qaida functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. That's their fundamental underlying strategy, that if they can kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in Iraq, then we'll quit and go home. And my statement was that if we adopt the Pelosi policy, that then we will validate the strategy of al-Qaida. I said it and I meant it.

So, we all need to pause, and think about the implications of "popular" policy choices and opinions at this moment, in the deepest winter of our discontent.

And more . . .

We could go on and on, but the above should be enough for now. Are things as simple as they seem over inthe Middle East and elsewere? Could the consequences of events there affect us here in the Caribbean? is it just a matter of the wicked western imperialists at it again, and three cheeers for their getting a bloody nose? Or, is there more at stake?

Food for thought, for now. END

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 report, 32: Sometimes, "conservatives" are right -- discerning when would-be "reformation" should be resisted

Last time, we looked at how Wilberforce exemplifies that godly reformation that can help to positively transform a culture, overturning inappropriate conservatism and avoiding the pitfalls of ill-considered radical revolution.

But, it is not always the case that innovation is right: sometimes, change -- even very popular change -- is to be stoutly resisted if we are to be faithful to what is right, sound and true. Or, when a would-be reform will end up costing the pain, dislocation and chaos that inevitably accompanies large scale social change, without sufficient compensating benefit that it makes sense.

Thus, discernment becomes a central question: when is change right, when is it wrong, when is it not worth the cost?

For instance, as we look across Western culture today, we can easily see that there is now a very "popular," media-promoted notion that marriage as we have traditionally known it, is in need of radical change to accommodate the "rights" of homosexuals. As a case in point of how that case is often made, let us observe on US Presidential candidate Mrs Hillary Rodham Clinton's recent statement on the subject, as made to the pro-homosexual Human Rights Campaign.

Speaking in opposition to the proposed amendment to the US Constitution to protect traditional marriage as being between one man and one woman, she said:

. . . This amendment was wedge politics at it's worst. It was mean-spirited, it was against the entire forward movement of American history . . . . It was the first time anyone was proposing we amend the Constitution to deny citizens rights rather than widen the circle of rights and opportunities . . . . we stopped the Federal Marriage Amendment and we sent a strong message that we will not stand idly by when anyone tries to write discrimination into our Constitution . . . .I want you to know this is exactly the kind of partnership we will have when I am President. [Go check the video at the linked page.]

First and foremost, we need to look a bit more closely at the issue of "rights." For, we have clearly reached a point where once something is tagged a "right," those who oppose it are going to be viewed as discriminatory, oppressive bigots. So, we must properly discern whether marriage in general is a right, and if the "marriage" of men with men or women with women, can properly be deemed a right.(Failing that, all that is going on is a subtle way of saying that one faction has power to shout down and improperly demonise, smear and shout “shut up!” at the other by using incivility to usurp the language of rights while suppressing the substance.)

Now, a right, rightly understood is a binding moral claim that others must respect, based in our being made in God's image. There is no other stable foundation for rights -- what governments or tides of public opinion and laws as the expression of that force of will give, they can take away again, and evolutionary materialism consistently and predictably founders when it tries to ground moral claims in anything beyond "might makes right." (And, of course, this sick slogan is the exact opposite of what a right properly is; the strong have no need to plead for respect!)

Immediately, we can see, too, that, properly we have no inherent binding moral claim on anyone else that they must marry us. In short, marriage is a covenantal agreement under God in light of the creation family life order for the human race, not a "right" that we can properly claim from anyone or any community.

To see that in a bit more depth, it is worth pausing to see how Jesus handled the debate over divorce in his day, and the grounds for it:

MT 19:3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"

MT 19:4 "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator `made them male and female,' 5 and said, `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' ? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

MT 19:7 "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"

MT 19:8 Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."

In short, answering to the easy-divorce game [which is again a major problem] Jesus immediately pointed to the underlying creational, moral context: the one-flesh covenantal union we term marriage is rooted in the creation order of maleness, femaleness and the procreation and nurture of children, and woe betide those who tamper or trifle with it.

So, even before we come to the shocking statistics and other credible reports and analyses on just how short term, unstable and non-monogamous same-sex "unions' are, or eye-opening analyses of the devastating legal and cultural implications of the “redefine marriage” agenda, we can see that if easy divorce and mistaking permissions on account of the hardness of hearts fly in the face of God's intent and will, how much more so would confusing Adam and Eve with Adam and Steve or Eve and Sue?

Or, maybe, we do not need to guess. For, through the Apostle Paul [not to mention, Moses!], the scriptures are quite plain on what widespread acceptance or incidence of homosexuality in a culture mean, e.g. classically in Romans 1:

20 . . . since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

RO 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

RO 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen.

RO 1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

RO 1:28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

So, plainly, not every instance of change demanded in the name of "liberation" or "rights" or "science" [cf. here, "knowledge”], etc. is progress or reformation. But, equally, in a culture that is tempted to dismiss and throw off the force of Scripture, how can we effectively discern and resist such immoral innovations campaigning under the false colours of "liberation" and "rights"? Or, should we simply throw up our hands ans say, "It's the last days?"

The Apostle is again solidly firm, in his last epistle. Just before he speaks of his upcoming beheading as a libation he offers as an offering to God, he grimly charges those who follow him, and explicitly warns:

2TI 4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

So, indeed, in the last days, men will be willful and wayward in rejecting the Word of God. However, that is no excuse for us to neglect our duty to stand by it and teach it, even in the teeth of threats or worse, far worse.

Moreover, let us observe carefully: in days like these, men will not put up with SOUND instruction, but will flock to those who will tickle their itching ears with what they want to hear, and to the myths that make them feel good about saying, doing and thinking that which is factually, logically and morally in deepest error.

That is our opening.

For, what is unsound, what is false and what is mythical give off highly characteristic signals that tell those who are interested in seeking and serving what is true, sound and right that they are moving off track, into the bogs of error. Namely, they are based on falsehoods, assertions in the teeth of credible evidence, they follow fallacies,and they appeal to our wishes and lusts, not our duties. So, as a practical first step in discernment about a "reformation" proposal, we should ask if our ears are being tickled with what we wish to hear, or whether our consciences and minds are being stirred to turn from error and folly to the truth. That means that we can easily enough tell the sound from the unsound, the uplifting from the degrading, the pure from the impure, if we will but heed the plain facts of the world without and our consciences within, then apply -- whether glorified through formal study or simply and plainly based on common sense and good conscience -- tests of sound thinking, purity and prudence to what we do in response.

Indeed, that is the precise force of yet another Pauline teaching, in Rom 2:

RO 2: 6 God "will give to each person according to what he has done." 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger . . . . 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, . . . they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

In short, there is a very valid edition of the word of God written on each human heart, if we will but listen to it and persitently and penitently heed it. So heeded, it will lead us to the truth and the right, and will open our heart to the prophetic voice of the written word when it is taught to us, leading us to joyously receive the gospel, if we but have the privilege of hearing it. (NB: There are many famous Missionary stories just like that, my favourite being that of the Karen of Burma. Don Richardson's Eternity in their Hearts is a wonderful read on this well-documented fact.)

Consequently, the basic duty of the Christian as a persuader is, by light of Paul's own example:

2CO 4:2 . . . we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
If a "reformation" proposal, opinion, agenda or policy cannot pass such tests, it is a false, not a true reform. So, it is our duty to resist it, through the truth in love [Eph 4:15 - 16]. But, if a reformation is indeed a call to turn from the wrong and the foolish tot he right and the sound, then we should heed, support and if God so calls us, even lead it. Of this, William Wilberforce is an excellent example. By God's grace, may we have courage and grace to follow it. END


UPDATE, March 8: Slight cleanup. Emphasis on truthin it in love, Eph 4:15 - 16.