Daily Devotional

A Future for Failures

“Fear not; you have done all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart; and do not turn aside after vain things which cannot profit or save, for they are vain.” (1 Samuel 12:20–21).

John Piper

When the Israelites have been brought to fear and repent of their sin of demanding Samuel to give them a king, then comes the good news: “Fear not; you have done all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart; and do not turn aside after vain things which cannot profit or save, for they are vain” (12:20–21).

This is the gospel — even though you have sinned greatly, and terribly dishonored the Lord, even though you now have a king which it was a sin to get, even though there is no undoing that sin or its painful consequences that are yet to come, nevertheless there is a future and a hope.

Fear not! Fear not!

Then comes the great ground of the gospel in verse 22. “For the Lord will not cast away his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.”
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ANZAC Day Memorial

Oh What a Lovely War–And All That
We are in the midst of the centennial remembrance of World War I.  That war commenced one hundred years ago in 2014 and the centennial remembrance will conclude next year in 2018.  From New Zealand’s perspective some of the “stand outs” in terms of our national remembrance have been the respective exhibitions in the Dominion Museum and the national museum, Te Papa, both in Wellington.  

For some reason, World War I has been a war which in the telling of popular history has been vilified repeatedly.  World War II (which was arguably a continuation of World War I) has by contrast been celebrated as a great and glorious triumph.

Why has WWI been so scandalous in popular memory?  And how scandalous has it been?  Historian Robert Tombs has pointed out that antipathy towards the Great War, as it has been named, emerged well after the event.  This probably is an instance of populist history being, once again, a trick that the living are playing upon the dead.  

Tombs surveys the modern canon of poetry to illustrate how sentiment towards WWI has changed from positive to negative in our lifetimes.  He writes:

The modern canon of war poetry was created from the 1960’s onwards, selected to reflect modern beliefs and sensibilities.  It became part of the school curriculum, as in no other country.  Those who served in the Second World War are by comparison ignored: their poetry unknown, their letters unread, their novels unstudied, their sufferings and struggles overshadowed.  We cherish the memory of those we think died for nothing.  [Robert Tombs, The English and Their History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015),  p. 650.]

Clearly, World War I failed to deliver what had been claimed: it manifestly did not turn out to be the “war to end all wars”.  Thus the “Great War” failed to live up to its press.  Yet it has become a powerful symbol–an anti-war symbol–in our day.

Tombs again:

. . . the Great War retrospectively changed its meaning.  Unanswerably, it had not “ended war”.  Many came to see it  as the fault of lying diplomats, blundering generals and ignorant civilians, compounded by a political and social elite that was callous, incompetent and exploitative–“hard faced men who . . . have does very well out of the war,” in John Maynard Keynes famous phrase.

These messages, mixing indignation, mockery and pathos, fitting the anti-Establishment 1960’s, whether for left (such as the socialist Joan Littlewood, director of the satirical musical Oh What a Lovely War) or right (the proto-Thatcherite Alan Clark, author of a military history, The Donkeys . . . )and including long-time pacifists such as Bertrand Russell and Benjamin Britten, whose War Requiem . . . chose texts from First World War poets.

The fiftieth anniversary BBC television series The Great War (1964) used archive footage and sound effects to bring the obscenity of trench warfare to a vast audience.  But, significantly, the war also became the subject of mockery.  Oh What a Lovely War (1963), filmed in 1969, made it a pantomime.  The Oxford historian, A. J. P. Taylor, in The First World War: An Illustrated History (1963) . . . combined satire and scholarship.  The 1989 television series Blackadder Goes Forth features endless attacked aimed to “move [(General) Haig’s] drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin.”  This use of black comedy seems to be uniquely British–it would be unthinkable in France, and probably meaningless elsewhere.  [Ibid.]

Doubtless English readers, along with their cousins in Australia and New Zealand, can identify with much of this material.  Blackadder going forth was (and remains) an excellent vintage amongst the barrels of satire and black comedy.  And so it has come to pass that entire generations have been captured by re-works of history by less-than-objective historians and those who followed in their train of cynical disgust.

Tombs reckons that those who attend memorial ceremonies do so, these days, to honour those who suffered and died, rather than to celebrate the beliefs, the principles, the ideology upon which the war was based.  There remains, it  seems, no convincing answer to the questions, Why were they fighting?  What was the Great War really about?  Yet, he offers a caution:

But while lamenting their fate, must we reduce those who really did fight and suffer, mostly by choice and in the belief they were doing right, to deluded victims or simpletons? [Ibid., p. 651.]

Given modern sensibilities about the Great War, the fact that in Britain millions volunteered to fight ought to give us pause, lest we fall prey to hasty generalisations and a superficial, facile, self-righteous rage over the meaninglessness of it all.

Yet the question of the meaningfulness of the war remains.  The force of that question–which deserves a much more comprehensive answer than the satirists of our generation have given–remains.  This is especially the case when we recall the following:

On 11 November [1918] at eleven o’clock, fighting stopped.  The BEF [British Expeditionary Force]–now 1,859,000 men, half of them teenagers–halted just north of Mons, where it had begun. [Ibid., p. 646.  Emphasis, ours.]

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Monday quote

If youth knew, if age could.
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Islamic Thuggery in Australia

Australian, Wearing Cross, Beaten By Muslim Gang

Jack Montgomery

Christians in Sydney, Australia, are being advised to hide their crosses after an Arabic-speaking gang shouting “F*** Jesus!” attacked a couple on a train while transport officers looked on from a “safe space” and did nothing.

The Sydney-based Daily Telegraph – a News Corp outlet unrelated to the Telegraph Media Group newspaper of the same name – reports the couple were attacked while riding the train through “Muslim enclaves” in south-west Sydney.  Mike, who asked for his surname to be withheld for fear he might be targeted, said that four men of Middle Eastern appearance ripped his cross from his neck, stomped on it, and rained kicks and punches on his face, back, and shoulders. Two women attacked his girlfriend when she tried to protect him.

Five uniformed transport officers watched the attack take place but failed to intervene, Mike claimed, leaving the police to meet the train at a later station.  “I was born in Australia of Greek heritage,” Mike told the Telegraph. “I’ve always worn my cross. For [them] to rip it off and step on it has to be a religious crime … It’s not on to feel unsafe in your own country.”

Mike went to Greek community leader and former Sutherland Shire Council deputy mayor Reverend George Capsis, who believes Christians in Sydney face growing persecution at the hands of Muslim gangs, about the attack.  “This is not an isolated incident,” said Rev Capsis, who explained that Mike was the fourth Christian to have come to him about a religiously-motivated attack in just the last six months.  “There are gangs of these young fellows of Muslim background who have been harassing people they identify as Christian … You don’t hear about it because no one’s reporting it.”

Like Mike, the three previous victims who went to Rev Capsis said they were assaulted around public transport in the south-west of the city.  “It’s like their territory,” he said. “They don’t want Christians or other types of infidels there.”  The minister believes that the problem has to be “nipped in the bud” but, in the absence of any robust action from the authorities, he can only advise Christians to hide their faith in the presence of Muslims, so they do not feel “provoked”.

“People like Greek Orthodox carry a big cross,” he explained. “I tell them to be practical and if they’re in those areas and wearing a big cross and a group of young guys comes, hide it in your shirt. Why provoke it?”

A police spokesman said: “The incident [had] prompted police to remind the community that any bias-motivated crime will not be tolerated.” He said the incident was still under investigation.  Sydney Trains defended the transports officers who stood by as the attack took place, telling the Telegraph their main responsibility is tackling fare evasion and that they are trained to observe from a “safe space” if passengers are assaulted.

“Why are ticket inspections deemed more important than passenger safety?” commented Telegraph journalist Miranda Devine.  “Surely, if taxpayers fund dedicated Transport Officers to ride the trains all day, they should be authorised to do more than just observe crimes and call police. Anyone can do that.”

Rev Capsis believes that, “If this keeps up, someone will be hurt.”
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Daily Meditation

A Rumour Going Round The Shop

C. S. Lewis

What man, in his natural condition, has not got, is Spiritual life—the higher and different sort of life that exists in God. We use the same word life for both: but if you thought that both must therefore be the same sort of thing, that would be like thinking that the ‘greatness’ of space and the ‘greatness’ of God were the same sort of greatness. In reality, the difference between Biological life and Spiritual life is so important that I am going to give them two distinct names. The Biological sort which comes to us through Nature, and which (like everything else in Nature) is always tending to run down and decay so that it can only be kept up by incessant subsidies from Nature in the form of air, water, food, etc., is Bios. The Spiritual life which is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe, is Zoe. Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe: but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or a statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.

And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.

From Mere Christianity
Compiled in A Year with C.S. LewisMere Christianity. Copyright © 1952, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed © 1980, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Year With C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Copyright © 2003 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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Hindsight and Crystal Balls

 Rethinking The Causes of World War II

As we approach ANZAC remembrance in New Zealand, thoughts will be turning once again to war, and in particular, New Zealand’s involvement in World Wars I &II, along with lots of smaller actions since the Korean War to which New Zealand has contributed soldiers.

We have been ruminating once more on whether World War II could have been averted.  Now, a disclaimer is required: hind sight is always 20/20 vision, which means that it is speculative to one extent or another.  But the matter has assumed more relevance, given that Hitler turned out to be the wild-card which led Europe into armed conflict.  In our days, we face similar kinds of threats.  Replace Hitler with Kim Jong-un and we all get the point.

Therefore, re-thinking how Britain failed to avoid the conflagration which exploded when Hitler unleashed his legions, is not as academic today as it was three or four years ago.  Historian Robert Tombs provides a list of some things, which, in hindsight, Britain got wrong during what he calls the “Twenty-Year Truce” between the two world wars.  These become potential lessons for the future.

1. A Nation Ought to Keep Its Friends Close


A closer relationship with France, bedevilled throughout the interwar period by mistrust and misunderstanding, might have deterred Germany–rulers, people and army–from embarking on aggressive adventures: but Lloyd George had backed out of alliance in 1920.  [Robert Tombs, The English and Their History (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2015), p.692.]

 2. Beware the Trap of Self-Projection


Politicians, pundits and public in Britain and France grossly overestimated German strength and underestimated Hitler’s monstrous ambitions–an enfeebling combination of errors.  They wanted to believe that he was a normal human being, and, despite his bombast, a politician who had rational aims, with whom a deal could be reached, and who would keep his word. [Ibid.]

Ah, yes, it is so blindingly obvious now.  But then?  The lesson is that we ought not to assume that leaders of other nations are “just like us”.  As someone once observed, ideas have consequences.  World-views guide, if not control, actions.  And world-views differ.  By extension, nation states, under the influence of a profoundly different world view, cannot be expected to conform to our “normal”.  Kim Jong-un, for example.

A corollary of this lesson is that our national leaders ought to be severely self-critical, and self-aware of the pre-commitments of another party due to their dominant world-view held by rulers, people, and army.  Don’t fall into the trap of naive personalism, whereby our leaders think that if they can develop personal relationship connections with other leaders, all will be well all the time.  There is far too much of the “hail, well met fellow” kind of diplomacy these days, which can wilfully prevent seeing duplicity on the other side.

How many leaders, statesmen, pundits, and politicians commented at the time on Stalin’s charming hospitality, and Hitler’s bon hommie–only to find, in hindsight, they had been gulled.  The reality is that both men were marching respectively to the beat of very different drummers, which British leaders and opinionistas failed to discern.

3. Beware the False Security of Hindsight

These days appeasement is a dirty word.  Neville Chamberlain has been mocked, derided and vilified as a myopic, idealistic dope.  We see this clearly, now that we have the twenty-twenty hindsight into Hitler’s true intentions and ambitions, and into the fact of his carefully planned and executed deception.  But this may lead to another trap: we forget that Chamberlain was doing none other than what we normally applaud and endorse–and ordinarily rightly so.

So “appeasement” became a dirty word: but only hindsight makes it possible to distinguish it from things we today approve of–“engagement,” negotiation, peaceful compromise.  At the time, there was a marked lack of agreement or consistency in suggesting alternatives to Chamberlain’s policy.  [Ibid., p. 693.]

The implication here is that there are limits to negotiation and peaceful compromise.  Even worse is to draw Red Lines, then allow one’s bluff to be called, and do nothing.  Even worse still is to make up foreign policy or conduct military actions for partisan political gain, as Obama so frequently did, and, we fear, Trump will also do.

4.  The Long Term Damage of Peace-Movement Idealism


The peace movement was the largest popular mass movement in Britain between the wars.  Reconciliation with Germany had been seen as morally and materially necessary.  War had been rejected as dooming civilization, and rearmament as barbarity.  It seemed impossible that anyone, even the most brutal dictator, did not, deep down, share these sentiments.

“Appeasement” was this belief in practice: seeking the reasons for German discontents and working together to resolve them peacefully.  This might have worked–or at least conflict might have been contained or limited–had it not been for the Great Depression and the rise of the Nazis.  Hitler crystallized and gave direction to all that was sick in German society.  Wishful thinking and fear–not admiration for or sympathy with Nazism, which hardly existed in England–then caused “appeasement” to continue until Hitler’s repeated aggression made it irrelevant and finally contemptible.  [Ibid., p. 691.]

The Christian believes in the ethic of a Just War.  The Christian state, out of love for its citizens and the holy duty to defend its people, must therefore maintain armed preparedness and readiness to go to war, if it be just.

Evil is real.  States may be ruled and led by evil human beings.  There are limits to negotiation and compromise.  Conceptually, therefore, Red Lines are inevitable.  Beware the naive seduction of thinking that all others think and act as we do.    Know who your friends are.  Talk softly and respectfully, and in good faith, but carry a very big stick.

Some may argue that if Hitler were bent on war, as increasingly became the case, nothing would have prevented the outbreak of World War II.  This may well be true.  But, there was a period of time when Hitler and the Nazis faced considerable opposition from within Germany itself during the period of Nazi control of of the German government prior to the outbreak of war (1933-1939).  A much stronger resistance from England may have tilted the scales in favour of the anti-Nazi groups and interests, leading to an overthrow of Hitler from within Germany.

These are some possible lessons from the past for this ANZAC memorial season.  One take-out is clear: there is no room for simplistic nostrums, nor grand slogans, such as, “Peace in our time”.
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God’s plan, not Herod’s


devotional post #1,997

Luke 13:31-33

Luk 13:31 At that time, some Pharisees came up and said to Jesus, “Escape from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”
Luk 13:32 But he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Look, I am expelling demons and performing healings today and tomorrow, and by the third day I will complete my work.
Luk 13:33 Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the next day, because it is impossible that a prophet should be killed outside Jerusalem.’

God’s plan, not Herod’s

Here is an interesting bit of commentary on this passage:

“Jesus does precisely what the Pharisees urge him to do (v 33), but only after making it very clear that he is doing it on his own initiative and not theirs (v. 32). They tell him to “go” (v. 31), and in reply he defiantly tells them in turn, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Look, I drive out demons and accomplish healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I am finished’“ (v. 32). But then he announces his own intention to “go” after all—not at their request but out of divine necessity: “I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the next day, for it is not possible that a prophet should be killed outside of Jerusalem” (v. 33). He does what he is urged to do, but not because of the urging. As an itinerant prophet, he moves according to God’s plan, and no one else’s.” (J. Ramsey Michaels, “The Itinerant Jesus and His Home Town,” in Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, ed. Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans (Boston: Brill, 1999), 187.).

Our Saviour had a plan to accomplish, but it was God’s plan, not Herod’s plan. Whose plan are we living by?

LORD, show us your plan for our lives, and give us courage to follow it, no matter who says otherwise.


wide enough


devotional post #1,996

Luke 13:28-30

Luk 13:28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves thrown out.
Luk 13:29 Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God.
Luk 13:30 But indeed, some who are last now who will be first then, and some are first now who will be last then.”

wide enough

The wider hope theory posits that Jesus must save some people apart from their understanding and acknowledgment of the gospel. Theologians suggest this because they cannot see God condemning so many who have never heard about Christ. Yet, this passage shows that God does care about the masses who have not. His solution to the problem is to send us to the far corners of the planet to reach them with the good news of deliverance through his Son.

Christ’s generation had all sorts of evidence of Jesus, yet many of those who were first to hear him and his gospel refused to accept him and it. The multitudes from all nations who were last to see him will accept his kingdom, and celebrate his return, while those who were first will only see the kingdom with regret and shame.

LORD, thank you for the hope we have in Jesus Christ. It is wide enough.


The Narks Are Watching and Listening–At Oxford, No Less

The Thought Police Are Right Behind YOU… 

Don’t look now

Peter Hitchens
Daily Mail

I have a brilliant suggestion for a new TV detective drama. Its glamorous but sternly correct heroine is newly in charge of enforcing ‘diversity’ among the domes and towers of Oxford.  She lingers in its donnish common rooms, listening out for incorrect remarks and swooping righteously on those who ‘stereotype minorities’.

As usual there are false leads and picturesque panoramas of Oxford embowered in water meadows. Unlikely suspects are revealed in the final minutes as homophobic reactionaries – or even Christians.
At the end of each episode we see handcuffed offenders being led away to police cars, their heads pushed down by officious constables as they bend to take the seat of shame.

Actually some of this is happening now. The arrests are a little way off still, but the nasty snooping is going on, and careers are in danger. We know this because of what happened to former Lord Chancellor Michael Gove when he recently attended a dinner at an Oxford College.
 Before he sat down, his hosts gave Mr Gove a warning. He should be ‘aware’ the college had a diversity officer. He wondered why there were warning him. He was told: ‘The job of the diversity officer… was to be alive to any comments in informal conversation or formal teaching that might be thought to be capable of giving offence to third parties.’

‘So anything that seemed to stereotype, show disrespect towards minorities or create a climate in which an individual might feel their dignity infringed was to be recorded,’ reflected Gove.  The culprit would be warned to stop. But if he persisted, he would be ‘disciplined’.

Gove concluded: ‘The job of the diversity officer in an explicitly intellectual institution was thus… to reduce the range of opinions expressed and thereby limit intellectual diversity.’  He will not name the college. But I researched and found that All Souls, famous round the world for its concentrated brainpower, does indeed have such a diversity officer. Its Warden, Professor Sir John Vickers, says he ‘does not recognise the description’.

But I think I do. The College website boasts: ‘The knowledge and awareness of diversity issues in the College has improved considerably in the last four years with the appointment of a Diversity Fellow.’
One of that official’s achievements has been ‘reminding colleagues of the importance of upholding equality principles in all aspects of College life’.

We know that students themselves are often childishly intolerant. But is liberty safe when a great institution of learning such as All Souls behaves like this?  Universities are supposed to be places where everything can be discussed freely. If Oxford is reduced to sending thought policemen to stalk its quadrangles, then what hope is there for those who speak out of turn in a normal workplace or anywhere else where willing narks are listening and officious ears are flapping?

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Daily Meditation

Take Comfort From the Fear of Our Saviour


C. S. Lewis

2 April 1955

In great haste. I hope your next letter will bring me news that the operation has gone swimmingly. Fear is horrid, but there’s no reason to be ashamed of it. Our Lord was afraid (dreadfully so) in Gethsemane. I always cling to that as a very comforting fact. All blessings.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III
Compiled in Yours, JackThe Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963. Copyright © 2007 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis. Copyright © 2008 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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