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In the World But Not of the World: Transformation

(Picture from here)

This is the last part on a series of posts that link to a sermon I recently did at my church, Church on the Square in Sandton, Johannesburg.

In the last post I mentioned that in this post I would talk about transformation, since the series has focused more on the separation of Church and State and how that means the following:

1) That the Church should never be the State and should never wield the sword. The State’s responsibility is to wield the sword. The Church is a people, not an institution.

2) Christians are transferred into a Kingdom which functions under a King named Jesus — ie. political opinions must be seen as separate to the Church. If you’re a socialist and I believe in democracy our core mission, the Kingdom, is the same — which is to love others sacrificially and unconditionally like Jesus did, and let the world know that they can find love, joy, peace, salvation, real eternal life, and much more in Jesus. We should make sure we understand that political opinions are not the same as theological opinions — democracy or socialism is not a theology, it’s merely just a political opinion. Sure, one might turn out to be better than the other, but that doesn’t mean it is necessary more Christian, because the only thing Christian in this world is essentially people.

3) That the Church (the people) should never mix world ideologies with Christian ones — ala thinking that democracy is of the Bible and the spread of democracy akin to the advancing of the Kingdom; living like capitalists with our money instead of Christians who give generously and don’t make upgrading their lifestyle their core mission in life; always exercising our rights over others and looking to have power over them rather than serve them as Jesus served/serves us; judging people according to their income, education; and so forth.

4) The Church should never run as the world does — ie. running a church like a democracy (pastors / elders are voted into their job); running a church like a socialist state; and so forth.

That summary shows how difficult it can be to understand how we are still to transform our world and make it into a better place. After all, Christians do pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is done in heaven. Plus, the Kingdom works its way through the whole dough, meaning that it is meant to permeate every aspect of society in every way.

‘In the world but not of the world’ is probably the best way to explain this. I think that the principle way transformation is done is through love first, which puts us on a relational level with others or those in power. Only then can we suggest (and only suggest) what might be good in a particular situation, or point politicians towards the basic principles espoused in the Bible, leaving it to them to work it out in detail, as that is, after all, their job.

Christians should also get involved with social causes as much as they can, as long as the social causes don’t become the core focus. We can bring as much food to poor people as we want, but until their hearts are changed (by Jesus himself as they believe in Him) they will not be able to truly break out of the systems of thought and spiritual entanglements that hold them in poverty.

Poverty is perhaps the easiest way to show what I mean. It seems pretty obvious that God has a big heart for the poor and so should we. This means that we should encourage our government(s) to look after the poor in various ways. But HOW that is done is a matter of political and economical opinion, not biblical opinion. It probably makes more sense to work in helping poor people be lifted out of the systems of thought that hold them captive rather than just give them hand-me-outs, but there is a time for hand-me-outs too. How that is worked out is not mentioned in the Scriptures — the Scriptures merely show us that we SHOULD care for the poor and for justice, but it’s up to us to work that out in the details, and to work with the State as best we can to work it out, but only as advisers never anything more.

Something like freeing people from slavery is an obvious evil to work against. But there are evils that are not so obvious, especially when it comes to things such as whether the State should allow homosexual couples to get married. (I realise this is controversial but it’s worth saying and it might stir up some conversation.)

After all, is it fair for a State to give benefits to heterosexual couples but not homosexual couples? Shouldn’t it view all people equally? Aren’t all viewed equal in the sight of God? The argument for or against it can be quite persuasive both ways.

I believe the Bible speaks against homosexuality as a lifestyle, but that’s something for Christians. Whether or not the State should allow such couples to get married is more a matter of political opinion than of anything else. Sure, I think a healthy country boils down to healthy families, but how this is all worked out in detail is a matter of opinion. What I do know, however, is that the State should never force the Church to marry homosexuals, as much as the Church should never enforce its morality through the State. Both have disastrous consequences.

People should come to Christ willingly. Our job is to love them sacrificially and unconditionally so that they would choose our God, enjoy the life He gives, and then choose His morality and lifestyle for themselves. The legalising of homosexual marriage I don’t think makes our job any harder than it already is. We love people just the same and counsel them just the same. Sometimes we have to love through difficult situations, but we ought to do it just the same.

Through the changing of hearts society itself will look more Christ-like, which is what we want, but that would be through people exercising a freedom to choose, rather than being under a compulsion — either socially or legally — by the Church. And it will come through us loving and living like Jesus.

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In the World But Not of the World: Ideologies Do Not Rule Us

(Picture sourced from here

Because the Church and State are two separate entities and serve two different functions — the State serving to keep justice in the land, the Church serving to love others sacrificially — Christians can hold different political / economical opinions and yet still work together in the same Kingdom, because the Kingdom is our primary concern.

In Jesus’ day Simon was called a Zealot, which indicates that he held a certain political opinion. Basically, the zealots believed the Romans should be chased out of Israel by brute force.

On the other hand, Matthew was a tax collector, who effectively was working with the Romans and collecting tax for them. It’s easy to see that these two men held two vastly different political opinions, but Jesus calls them to the same Kingdom and they work together for the same end. That’s how the Kingdom works.

Likewise, you may be a socialist and I may be a capitalist. Or, rather, to prevent those ideologies from being our identity (calling you a socialist makes it your identity, which it isn’t) let’s rather say that you may believe a socialist form of government / economics will work, while I believe a capitalist economical system will work for the nation. We may hold extremely different viewpoints politically / economically, but we can work together because we agree on the same things in the Kingdom — we both agree we should love all sacrificially, that we should tell people that God loves them and wants them to know Him.

There are a couple of points that can be highlighted here.

First, neither capitalism or socialism is more biblical than the next, because the New Testament makes no comment on how a country should be run, but more on how a Christian should live. There are some basic principles that a country should do (uphold justice), but there are no detailed policies listed in the New Testament. As I said in my previous post, Christians are called to turn the other cheek, the State is not.

Because neither is more biblical we should never use the Bible to promote a political / economical ideology. Many pro-democracy people, especially some Americans to be honest (I’m not slamming Americans), think that Democracy comes from the Bible, and that the Bible supports democracy, so if they spread democracy they believe they are spreading the Kingdom. But if you check it out there are scriptures to support socialism in the Bible as well, and there are many. The point is that the Bible isn’t interested in these ideologies.

Second, in reference to this, our ideologies do not rule us. We are born into a Kingdom with a King, who is Jesus. HE rules us. He tells us what to do and we do it.

Third, we should never bring these ideologies into the church. Churches must not run like democracies or social governments. They run according to the Kingdom, under one Head, who is Jesus, and work through relationships between those in the church.

So when it comes to how we live we don’t apply the principles of capitalism on how we should handle money. We may believe capitalism is good for the country and good for our business, but it’s not good for our personal lives, and it’s not good for the Church. Jesus said we cannot serve two masters. We serve God and Him alone, and we don’t run our personal lives or the church by ideologies like democracy, capitalism, socialism, collectivism, or any other of these types of ideas.

So do you run your personal finances like a capitalist or a Christian? Do you approach your income like a capitalist or a Christian? That’s the challenge for us in South Africa, where capitalism is becoming the culture.

Sorry for the long post. The next post will cover transformation — so how should we affect government / society / politics / economics then? Do we have nothing to do with these? Or do we influence them in some way? And how could we influence them without getting sidetracked and with keeping our focus intact?

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In the World But Not of the World: Not Being Sidetracked

(Image sourced from here.)

This is the third part of many in which I will share some of my thoughts as I plan for a sermon I’ll be preaching at my church, Church on the Square (Sandton), this coming Sunday, 19 September.

Once we understand our unique calling and the uniqueness of the Kingdom of God, we are better equipped to not be sidetracked by the Enemy (the Devil) and this world, and get involved in missions that have nothing or very little to do with the Kingdom of God and God’s main objective in this world.

Jesus was born into a hot political climate, yet the Scriptures don’t have one recording of any moment when he made any political declaration or comment of any sort unto the political issues of the day.

The State rules by the sword, and so it should. It is interested in outward conformity not inward change, unlike Christianity which is interested in inward change and transformation of the heart.

In Matt 26:50, one of Jesus’ disciples (Simon Peter, according to the book of John) cut the ear off of one of the men that came to arrest Jesus. Jesus rebukes him and says that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. He then heals the man’s ear. The Kingdom, as we see, is a healing Kingdom not a Kingdom of the sword. The state wields the sword, the church wields reconciliation, self-sacrificial calvary, unconditional love, and such things.

The Church is called to turn the other cheek, the State is not. When we mix Christianity / the Church / the Kingdom with the State, we usually get a Church that wields a sword (now acting as the State), enforcing people to bow to its State Religion. It can either go this way or it can become a state that turns the other cheek on its enemies, which has never happened in world history because no state could possibly do that.

So that’s why State and Church cannot mix. They must never be the same thing. Christians should not let politicians play the “Christian vote” either, in my opinion.

Jesus explains why he didn’t get wangled into the politics of his day in John 19: 33 – 38, where he clearly says His Kingdom is not of this world, and if it were his followers would be fighting. But they weren’t. His is not a political Kingdom but an altogether ‘Other’ Kingdom.

The primary concern of the Christian is the Kingdom, not politics. When guys want to burn Korans they are making political statements, not Jesus statements. When guys want to make who you vote for a sign of whether you’re a Christian, they are not making Jesus statements. When guys want to make how you view Israel a sign of your Christianity, those are political statements, not Jesus statements.

What are Jesus statements? Well, when you walk alongside someone hurting — praying for them, helping them, caring for them, walking alongside with them, being their friend, crying with them, laughing with them, and ultimately leading them to God, THAT’S a Jesus statement. Remember, Jesus said that whenever we feed the poor and visit those in prison it’s as if we were doing that for Him.

I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t or can’t give their political opinions, they’re welcome to do so, but nine times out of ten political opinions are nothing more than opinions, but some do declare that their political opinion is the Christian or Bible opinion. It’s not.

Tomorrow I’ll make a more clear post on how we, as Christians, are not ruled by ideologies but by our King. Ideologies come second, Kingdom comes first. We’ll expound on that then.

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In the World But Not of the World

(image sourced from here)

This is the first part of many in which I will share some of my thoughts as I plan for a sermon I’ll be preaching at my church, Church on the Square (Sandton), on Sunday 19 September.

In these posts and my sermon I’ll put forward the notion that Christianity should never mix with politics. I say this because the Kingdom, which Jesus always spoke about, has nothing to do with politics. And not only politics but also the economical and social systems of this world, or any other kind of system in this world.

I do not mean to say that Christians should never affect change and bring transformation to our world. I believe this vehemently. We are to be salt and light and we pray that our Father’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What I mean is that we should never make who we vote for a sign of whether or not we’re Christians; we shouldn’t get politicians to come speak to our church; we shouldn’t preach to people about which specific party they should vote for; and we shouldn’t make political policies or economical ideologies a core basis of our theology. This will make more sense as we go along.

In the meantime, here is what I think is a key verse:

Matt 22: 16 – 22

[The Pharisees] sent their disciples to [Jesus], along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

This verse has, rightfully so, been used to justify a separation of Church and State. In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees and Jews were hoping for a political Messiah — one who would free them, politically, economically and socially, from Roman rule. Jesus never provided this for them.

That’s one context of this scripture worth noting. The other is that the Jews were very offended by Caesar putting his image on money — they had to use money that bore his image. It was seen as an egotistical and unlawful act on their part. But Jesus tells them to give what holds Caesar’s image to Caesar, and give to God what is God’s. And what holds God’s image? Us! (Genesis 1.) So who we pay our taxes to has nothing to do with our relationship to God, and the Kingdom of God is not at all interested in our politics, economics and social systems. It is entirely Other. We are to be concerned with giving ourselves to God, and do whatever we’re required to do in this world, but not link the Kingdom to a political liberation movement, which is what the jews were hoping for.

This boils down to a number of practicalities which we’ll explore in further posts.

End of part one!

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I Don’t Live in a Democracy

The systems of this world have nothing to do with me - Ceasar is not Lord

Some of you might think this is going to be a political post, but it isn’t a rant about the ANC or anything like that — it’s about something far, far more awesome.

This weekend for me has been brilliant, and I’ve begun to really get this revelation that I, as part of the Church, have been transferred from this world and its oppressive systems into a Kingdom, a Kingdom with a King whose name is Jesus.

That might sound all typically-Christian-like but here’s the main thrust of the matter: ALL of this world’s political and economical and any other system you can think of have nothing to do with me whatsoever. They literally, not just figuratively, have nothing to do with me and I have nothing to do with them.

Essentially, I no longer live in a democracy. In this Kingdom I live in there is a King and I follow out his instructions to the tee. I don’t have a vote or a say. Because He is an exceedingly good King I need never fear His decisions, His council, and His rule. I can obey Him in perfect freedom because every one of His decisions are / will be perfectly just and good.

I’ve said before that I would prefer to live in a monarchy with a good king than a democracy. There’s a lot of pressure in a democracy — I need to make things happen for myself, I need to put the system to work, and everything revolves around me and myself, and I’m sick of that kind of self-absorption where the centre of the universe is me.

Now, I’m transferred into a Kingdom where the centre of the universe is a living (yes, living) King who rules in perfect goodness. Now I can just enjoy life as He takes care of the big things, while I just enjoy being His child and His agent on this earth, and do whatever He tells me to do. I know that He’ll take care of things and I needn’t worry.

I can’t tell you what a relief it is. I realise this little write-up probably doesn’t do it justice but now I understand more than ever why the early Christians used to say, “Jesus is Lord” and why we do too. Because Ceasar is not Lord — the systems of this world are not my Lord, and Zuma and Malema and Obama are not my Lord. Their governments have nothing to do with me and I have nothing to do with them.

Sure I still live in this world and that’s the point — I am in this world but not of this world. I’ll live with wisdom as God gives me direction in terms of my finances etc., and there’s nothing wrong with people being in politics either and we need to be salt and light to this world. All I’m saying is that His Kingdom is not of this world, and the Kingdom Christians live in is wholly and completely and utterly different — and free in such wonderful and unbelievable ways.

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Faith, Love and Good Works — Ben-Hur

1959 movie of Ben-Hur
(The infamous chariot race in the 1959 movie adaptation of Ben-Hur, starring Charlton Heston. It won 11 Academy Awards.)

Last night while waiting for the game between South Africa and Uruguay (which we will not talk about 😉 ) I was sitting reading an old 1960 print of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, by Lew Wallace.

There are reasons why this book’s a classic. It’s written incredibly well and the dialogue is incredibly interesting — at least until where I read to.

Other than the feeling of serenity I enjoyed while reading an old hardcover book originally written in 1880 while my feet were warming at a gas fire, one quote in particular stuck out to me.

“The world [will learn] a new lesson — that Heaven may be won, not by the sword, not by human wisdom, but by Faith, Love and Good Works.”

The scene is a vivid one. Three wise men have travelled from different parts of the world because God has told them that they will meet the Redeemer of mankind. One is an Egyptian, the other is a Greek, and the last is an Indian Hindu (spelled Hindoo in those days). Each of them have rejected the religion, philosophy and gods of their culture and upbringing and have, through much persecution, come to believe that there is one God and creator of all, and that the soul is immortal.

Each has come to this realisation through the testing of their faith, their love, or their good works. Wallace does a brilliant job of resolving their stories in this quote.

God has told them to meet at this place in the desert, even though they have never known each other before, and the Spirit has guided them to meet the Redeemer. They are the Three Wise Men from the Bible who meet Jesus when He is born (Matthew 2).

I find the quote interesting because of the way Wallace has connected these three things — Faith, Love and Good Works, and said that these will win a man Heaven, not human wisdom or the sword.

I would be theologically sound, I think, to mention right off that heaven has already been won through the faith, love and good works of Jesus. That’s what I believe and that’s what Grace is. Yet heaven is not entered without faith in Jesus, and inheritance not gained without love and good works, and the bridge between faith and good works is surely love.

The Christian life is one of walking in these three things.

As an aside, this quote also perhaps makes something else clear — that faith and good works are not the same thing. The endless Calvinist / Arminian debate (for theologians reading this) centres very much around whether or not faith is a work. But faith is not a work. Faith is faith, and works are works, and love is love. They are connected in a mysterious way but they are not the same thing.

Check out Ben-Hur at Project Gutenberg or read it online here.

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Theological Approaches to Social Action and Transformation

I don’t know much about Ed Stetzer, but I admit I found a blog post of his very interesting lately and will probably mill around his blog more.

At any rate, I wanted to quote a few paragraphs from the blog post I particularly enjoyed. Read the full post here.

Evangelicals have tended to try to find a way not to turn their social justice into the problematic approaches that came before them. I have tried to unpack those here. But, we cannot just say, “Well, that’s why we need to avoid societal transformation.” That’s like saying we need to avoid “grace” before some people misunderstand it. Just because someone misuses a biblical principal does not mean that we are excused from using it.

I remember planting my first church among the urban poor in Buffalo, NY. I had well intentioned believers tell me to avoid being involved in social action because it would detract from the gospel. They warned me specifically about the dangers of Liberation Theology (by name) and told me to be sure to preach Jesus.

I found that I could not preach Jesus and not care about justice. And, if I wanted real justice, I had to preach Jesus. They did not seem separable, but history has shown that they can be.

So, as Evangelicals have worked to make a biblical connection between social justice and the gospel we can see different approaches take shape. Should social action and justice be seen as a part of our evangelism, or as a consequence of it? Or perhaps you would like to suggest another connection.

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South Africa: Being Optimistic, Negative or Realistic?

Over at Sipho Hlongwane’s blog he makes quite a positive statement about South Africa succeeding.

Responses to his post are, well, negative largely. I commented on this and said:

Wow, the amount of negative comments was unexpected.

We need strong leaders. Where are they? Are they the people who are commenting here negatively? Somehow, I think they aren’t. I’ve never seen a conspiracy theorist become a wonderful leader. All I see conspiracy theorists do is complain, they never make a difference. For them, it’s all fated to go down the toilet anyway.

Nice article Sipho. Keep them coming.

Guy, another reader, responded to me by saying:

@ryan peter: the comments aren’t necessarily negative. they’re realistic. the writer is just offering hope, which in itself is nice and fuzzy, but in the context of south africa today and in light of the argument here presented, it is a commodity fast depleting. those that hold onto it in the face of all that is going on are either saints or stupid. and i’m not one to believe in saints.

i agree. let’s get up and do something for the good. but what? how? where? with whom? will it have any effect? will anyone join me? will anyone oppose me? will anyone threaten me to be quiet? these are not small questions to answer, ryan. and it is absolutely of no use to tell us to be optimistic and offer no reasons why or how.

Here was my reponse thus far:


Some are negative, some are realistic, but you ask where or how you can do something for the good?

There are PLENTY of organisations doing good things into this country. Heck, even your local church is probably doing SOMETHING for the community.

Every little bit counts. Changing the mindset of people involves not only writing articles such as this or being involved politically, but getting to people at a grass-roots level, so that the grass-roots level of society would stop voting for useless leaders and would never support a tyrant etc. etc.

There’s a lot going on at grass-roots and one needs to just actually change the mind-set at this level. I’m not one for blindless optimism, but I am one for saying, “look, telling people to get out of the country is no solution. Telling people to get involved with this or that organisation or their church — there’s a solution!”

I’m just tired of people sitting in their leather couches watching sport on TV and drinking their beer complaining about the country. Why not spend those hours they watch TV getting involved DOING something.

Let’s be doers, not complainers. We’ve all got skills, are we just using them to make money or are we also using them for others? Many of the negative people just want to make money and fill their own pockets, but nothing more. So they’ll complain and complain and complain…

Why am I posting this here?

Because I’m passionate about this point. There are plenty of ways people can get involved to do something. Every little bit counts.

In Matthew 13 Jesus talks about how the Kingdom is a mustard seed, something tiny, and then grows to become a huge tree that even the birds can come find rest in. Every small thing counts. Every little thing.

But I’m sorry, sitting on your couch complaining that someone must do something may be all fair and well, provided you do something yourself, otherwise it’s meaningless babble in my opinion.

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Let’s keep revelation relevant

Well, it’s been a while since my last blog update. Bloem LTT, a week of being horribly sick, some scary times about my income and business, and a whole lot of things inbetween – finally, I get to write a blog entry. Yay! And, let’s hope it’s an interesting one.

Basically, last week when I was horribly sick I was watching TBN at home and listening to a ‘prophetic conference’ that happened somewhere (with some guy speaking who I can’t remember.) Medicine sometimes does that to you. It also makes you incredibly paranoid. After watching the guy talk about who he thinks the anti-christ is and all this information about an organisation called the Club of Rome (google them and check out their site), I kind of suffered from some minor paranoia and worry about what is going to happen next.

In fact, for many years now, I’ve been slowly trying to undoctrinate (if that’s a word) myself from all the conspiracy theories I had been taught at previous churches (didn’t you know the pulpit is a place to discuss conspiracy theories?) And try and find out what the different views of ‘eschatology’ (the doctrine of last things) were. To my surprise, I found the recent ‘pre-trib’ view (the one about a rapture and a 7 year period of the antichrist ruling… basically, the “Left Behind” novels) only came out in the last 100 years. Before that, Christians were either post-mils or a-mils (which, basically believe that the church is slowly becoming more and more victorious.) I obviously don’t have the space to discuss the differences here, only that I have really got a different view on the subject now. One where I’ve been trying to make the book of Revelation relevant to my life. All the books of the Bible have a practical application – something you need to ‘do’ or watch for, in order to continue in the race and receive the prize. Revelation is certainly no different. Only that, I’ve never been able to read it without trying to make predictions. I don’t think that’s the purpose of the book.

In truth, The Beast represents the world systems while the false prophet represents religiosity and false spirituality. The Anti-Christ almost seems to embody both, but represents man setting him/herself above God and claiming to be God. How much of this is in my own life? Do I trust The Beast – the world systems – more than I trust God? How much of my christianity is just religion? Just ceremony and lip service to God? How much of the anti-christ doctrine – that I am the center of the world, and the most important – is in my thinking? In my living? Do I wear the mark of the beast on my hands (what I do) and on my forehead (the way I think?)

Personally, I think Revelation is there to show us who our enemies are. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood – we wrestle against the Beast, the false prophet and the antichrist. We wrestle against these spirits in ourselves, our churches, and throughout world history – evidenced by things like communism, nazism, fanatical and fundamentalistic religion, economic ruling etc. etc. It’s all there – spread across history. But you know what? Every rebellion against God will be put down and defeated by Christ, until he puts everything under His feet. And we defeat these things – and ultimately Satan – through the preaching of the Word of God (see Rev 19 and Rev 20.) THAT’s exciting.

My problem with the idea of the rapture is that most people have this attitude that “the world can go to hell, cause we’re out of here.” It’s like the church has this silent attitude that if things get worse – the better. Because that means Christ is coming soon. No wonder we don’t have much influence in the world like we used to – there are christians that actually WANT things to get worse. This is not the attitude of Christ and the Kingdom. We should be influencing our world, working against poverty and the Beast, fighting AGAINST the spirit of the anti-christ, exposing the false prophet in religion. Not secretely hoping evil would grow so that we can high-tail it out of here!

And God’s promise is that we WILL succeed. Micah 4 tells about ALL the nations coming to God, wanting to follow His ways. And that they’ll beat their swords into plowshares, no longer learn war and war against each other anymore. This is supposed to be the kingdom dream. This is supposed to be what we’re working towards – peace, joy and love to and for the world. Only the Gospel can do this. We should be busy working, not sitting around watching prophetic conferences and marveling at organisations that are trying to make a one world government.

Well, I still have lots to say but we can leave it there for now 🙂