Crime against humanity

I have recently been encouraged by the published UN report which details the labour and prison camps currently being enforced by the North Korean dictatorial regime. The report compares the systematic human rights abuses that are being carried out to those of the Nazis and has already referred the matter to the International Criminal Court. Ever since I read Blaine Harden’s book ‘Escape from Camp 14’, which relates the account of one man’s escape from such a camp, I have had North Korea very much on my mind. The constantly changing political landscape and the instant, immediate way that the news is broadcast nowadays means that it is easy to adopt a passive indifference every time we hear of a new dictatorship that has emerged or a civil war that has sprung up, but I believe that the situation in North Korea has been going on for far too long for the West to continue to justify turning a blind eye to it. Prayer and action can make a difference!

Here is one of many petitions being run online to raise awareness. This one is being carried out by the British Government:

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/61060

Here is a video taken from a North Korean tour bus which gives a very brief glimpse into the hardships taking place:

Here is an insightful article about the UN report, taken from the UK’s Guardian newspaper:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/17/north-korea-human-rights-abuses-united-nationshttp://

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Prophetic

What is one to make of the approximate 2500 prophecies that exist in the Bible, at least 2000 of which have currently been carried out precisely as they were predicted? I have recently begun to think about the probability that so many prophecies have actually come to pass. Although some of the prophecies that apologists claim to have been fulfilled could be regarded as being a little vague or ambiguous, one cannot doubt that for the gospel writers, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies was a compelling reason for believing in Jesus’ Messianic claims. On this basis alone, one must also treat their realization with the upmost seriousness. Here are two prophecies that I find to be particularly noteworthy:  

Prophecy one: Shortly before his death, Jesus prophesied both the destruction of the entire Jewish temple and the city of Jerusalem.

Bible Verse: Matthew 24:1-2“Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’”

Fulfillment: This was carried out 40 years after Jesus’ death, when Rome destroyed the temple and Jerusalem.

 

Prophecy two: The Messiah would be betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver. Prophesied in the book of Zechariah in approx. 586 B.C.

Bible Verse: Zechariah 11:12-13 – I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.”  So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.  And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter” – the handsome price at which they valued me!  So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.

Fulfillment: “Then one of the Twelve – the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?”  So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.  From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.” Matthew 26:14-16.

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Into the desert

“We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them; we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good. But this is only a secondary end. The one end that includes all others is the love of God.”

Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation.

I am not very good at any kind of purposeful meditation or contemplation. To spend long periods of time in solitude attempting to be still or ‘look within myself’ feels too hard, too anxiety ridden. I have tried many times but invariably end up surrendering after about three minutes, congratulate myself on a job half done and resolve to try again another time.

For this reason, reading Thomas Merton’s book about contemplation has been very insightful and quite exciting. He accepts that physical solitude and interior silence are important for a contemplative life, but forcefully rejects the idea that we need to ‘go into the desert’ simply because we like or need to be alone. As highlighted in the above quote, for Merton, contemplation is important so that we can learn how we can best be of service to our neighbour, friend, brother, or stranger. I very much like this idea, because I believe in a relational God. I believe that a life is at its most fulfilled when we are fully invested in the lives of others, those who are our natural friends, and those who are suffering.

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Call myself a believer

Although God lives in the souls of men who are unconscious of Him, how can I say that I have found Him and found myself in Him if I never know Him or think of Him, never take any interest in Him or seek Him or desire His presence in my soul? What good does it do to say a few formal prayers to Him and then turn away and give all my mind and all my will to created things, desiring only ends that fall short of Him.”

Thomas Merton. ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’.

If I don’t know any of the players on a soccer team, am oblivious to any of the team’s achievements, and never watch any of their games, can I still call myself a supporter? Technically, yes, but doesn’t being a supporter of a team mean that one has to provide some kind of support? Surely one has to invest some part of his/her time or resources into following the club, otherwise the word ‘supporter’ simply becomes meaningless. I think an approximate analogy can be made regarding one’s relationship with God. If we don’t invest anything into our relationship with God, do we still maintain the right to call ourselves a believer in Him?

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True test of character

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” John Wooden

In a previous blog I commented on how challenging or testing situations allow one to see the condition of his/her faith. In the same way, I think we only get to genuinely see the state of our character when we discover how we chose to spend our time when no one is present to observe our actions. Although we may often need certain people or specific situations to “bring something out of us” and reveal more about our personality to both ourselves and those around us, I believe that what we do when we are alone will disclose more to us about where our heart really lies, what truly motivates us. The question that inevitably follows is what to do when we realize that that part of our heart actually needs to change.

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Genuine prayer

I’ve been challenged recently about how one can easily disengage the heart when praying and slip into the familiarly repetitive, pre-meditated expressions that almost seem to be solely for our own benefit. The quote below is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship’.

“Genuine prayer is never ‘good works,’ an exercise or a pious attitude, but it is always the prayer of a child to a Father. Hence it is never given to self-display, whether before God, ourselves, or other people. If God were ignorant of our needs, we should have to think our beforehand how we should tell him about them, what we should tell him, and whether we should tell him or not. Thus faith, which is the mainspring of Christian prayer, excludes all reflection and premeditation.
Prayer is the supreme instance of the hidden character of the Christian life. It is the antithesis of self-display. When men pray, they have ceased to know themselves, and know only God whom they call upon. Prayer does not aim at any direct effect on the world; it is addressed to God alone, and is therefore the perfect example of undemonstrative action.” (P.163)

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Faith at gunpoint

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.   James 1:2-4 (New International Version)

In J Warner Wallace’s book ‘Cold Case Christianity’, the author offers a fresh perspective on the difference between believing in something and believing that something will happen. The author recounts how a policeman friend of his was called to a crime scene where he was suddenly threatened at gunpoint by a convicted criminal out on parole. Before the policeman could draw his own gun, he realized that the convict was going to shoot him in the chest, and so in that brief second of realization he was forced to trust in the bulletproof vest that he was fortunately wearing. He had naturally been briefed before that bulletproof vests can protect the wearer from the force of a bullet, but, as the author points out, there is a big difference between believing that bulletproof vests can save your life, and actually believing in them.

The link between this story and faith in God is evident, and I think that the dramatic situation of being forced to believe in something at gunpoint is also very relevant. The Bible verses quoted at the top of this blog are some of my favourites, as regrettably it often seems to me that my default position when things in life are going well is to ease off from praying and trusting in God. It sometimes feels like I have to be suddenly confronted ‘at gunpoint’ with the potential gravity of a situation, before I will sincerely come before God in petition and prayer.

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We are all something or someone’s disciple

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”   Matthew 6 v21.

I have been thinking a bit more on obedience and how we all obey or follow something whether we consciously choose to or not. In our post-modern society, we shy away from notions of objective truth, ironically we seem to feel that it is morally right that we are uninhibited and free to choose (outside of common law) that which we decide is right to obey. But I don’t think we can escape the reality that we are all someone or something’s disciple, whether this is a conscious decision or not.
To find out who or what we obey, one simply has to think about what he spends most of his time thinking about because that is where his heart really is, that is what he follows. Family, sex, job, social standing, finances, intelligence, the list is considerable. The problem is that whatever our treasure is, then that will end up defining who we are. If what I hold dearest is my job and I get fired, then my entire sense of who I am, my very identity, could be crushed.

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Faith without obedience?

Can you have faith in something without obedience? If the being or entity is either inanimate or makes little demands on my behaviour, then the answer is clearly yes. But if something is actually required from me, well, what then?

In day to day life, if I am instructed to do something, then I have a choice regarding whether I will obey that instruction. I will invariably weigh up the consequences of not following that directive, consider how much authority that person has, and decide how beneficial it would be for me to conform. It is quite likely that I will opt for doing things my way as I trust that I have more insight or a better perspective into what I am being asked to do.

When I am being asked to obey an omnipotent, all-knowing God, I still have a choice, but if I decide not to obey, then the consequences are at least two-fold. Christians believe that there may be some form of punishment or discipline involved for disobeying, but what currently concerns me more is the amount of faith I can actually have in God without obeying Him. A decision not obey someone can be done for many reasons, but I think that what often lies behind the reasoning is a belief that ultimately I know what is best for me. That may be true when a fellow mortal human is telling me to do something, but to (unconsciously or not) decide that I know what is better for me than God does, surely belies a form of agnosticism in God.

In the Bible, Jesus simply said one thing to his then potential disciples as he saw them working their trades: “follow me”. I am not sure whether it was an act of faith or obedience that came first when the disciples chose to do as he told them, but it is clear that both faith and obedience were entwined. It would stand to reason that this always has to be the case when it comes to belief in God.

 

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A rational faith?

One thing is sure: You are somebody’s disciple. You learned how to live from someone else.

Dallas Willard “The Divine Conspiracy”

Unconsciously or not, one cannot escape recycling the ideas, expressions and old sayings that he heard in the surroundings in which he grew up. As a child, one is inevitably reliant on his parents’ view the world, which will mold and colour his own perception of it, until he starts to hear conflicting views which force him into making shape of the world for himself.

Tragically, however, I would argue that the opinions and ideas that we grow up with are rarely confronted as we get older. Does one stop to think about where he got that certain point of view from? It simply becomes part of who we are, and as one reaches his late twenties and thirties, the clamour of societal and familial needs mean that views that one may have held since his teenage years are simply allowed to go unchallenged.

Following on from this line of thinking, the question in regards to faith is whether it can stand up to being challenged in such a rational way. Can one believe relationally, experientially and intellectually?

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