Archive for December, 2012

Pray for the peace of Bethlehem: 20 December

December 20, 2012

Bethlehem has always been a little place that people and armies blunder into. Jacob was just passing through after the disaster of allowing his sons to murder the Shechemites, looking for somewhere else to live. Genesis tells us that God had just left him. In Bethlehem Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. When David was fleeing from Saul, Bethlehem had a Philistine garrison. Then there were the Romans blundering around, not understanding the chaos their census rules would create in this culture and these people. The magi blundered in having alerted Herod. To their own understanding, asking the way seemed just sensible. It turned out to be a disaster.

I have some sympathy with the not so wise magi. In January 1997 my wife, daughters and I were in Israel for a family reunion. My father was a refugee to Britain from Nazi Germany. His brothers and sisters settled in Israel and America so the main way for us to know our cousins has been occasional grand reunions. While in Israel we decided to visit Bethlehem, just as we had visited other towns with great Cathedrals. We had an Israeli hire car. I drove out of Jerusalem, ‘knowing’ it was a short straight journey and it wouldn’t be hard to find Manger Square in a small place like Bethlehem. It was probably the most stupid thing I have ever done in my life.

We blundered into the outskirts of Bethlehem. From the European order of Israel, we were plunged in the Third World bustle of Palestine. There were no road signs, just minor roads that all looked the same. One wrong turn and we were lost in the back streets, assailed by shouting smiling lads who each wanted us to use their parking place. In desperation I decided the only thing I could do was trust one of them, pay him well, ask someone to walk us to Manger Square and hope that the car was still there, not too defaced, when we returned. We had a wonderful welcome, thank God, and were perfectly safe. Today the same journey would be probably be suicide. At the time I didn’t realise that in Bethlehem everyone arrives by coach and organised tour. I was just blundering in, following my own European understanding of what you do when you are a tourist, which was of no use in Bethlehem.

Armies have blundered into Bethlehem less innocently, – Herod’s massacring soldiers, the Moslem and then Crusader armies, now the Israeli troops of the Occupation. It is ironic that 2000 years after the Romans, today’s army of occupation is Jewish. They may have allowed a Palestinian Authority, but the Israelis still send in their troops whenever they deem it necessary. All the armies have cared little for the people of the town, concerned only about how Bethlehem fits into their own strategic understanding.

For years Bethlehem has been a Christian majority town. In more recent years radical Palestinian Moslems have been targeting it, partly as a base to attack Israel. We were there on a Friday and Manger Square was filled with the blaring of the loudspeakers from the Mosque. The pervasive noise felt intimidating. Israeli soldiers respond to terrorist threats with harsh security. They too think not of the ordinary local people and only of their enemies. Today there is a section of the Separation Wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. There is no peace.

Some people are working and calling for peace, thank God. Some of the strongest critics of the Israeli Occupation are Jewish. This is not just that for every three Jews there are always four opinions. Many Jewish critics see the Occupation as both deeply immoral and working against the long term security both of Israel and of Jews across the world. (Jews for Justice for Palestinians jfjfp.com Independent Jewish Voices ijv.org.uk) There are still prophets in Israel calling those in authority back to morality and justice. Some of the critics of the way that the Palestinian leadership has failed to stand against their own violent radicals are themselves Palestinian.

These courageous people give us pointers as to how we can pray. “Thank you Father God for your prophets of peace and justice today. Please give them persistence, the support of friends, boldness, imaginative ways of bringing the critical message of peace. Please send the Holy Spirit to the leaders of Israel, Palestine, America and Britain to confirm in their hearts the message of the prophets.”

God speaks in the hearts and dreams of people like magi, blundering pagans caught up in their own ways, ways which just lead to more violence. It is not too hard to believe that the same God will give to those in authority today dreams that will guide them in the paths of peace.

But the magi didn’t hear God speaking to them until after they had seen Jesus. I think all along God must have been saying “No! Not Jerusalem! Please not Jerusalem. Just follow the star won’t you? Let me guide you, not your own understanding.” They couldn’t hear God speaking then. It was only after they had seen Jesus and recognised Him as King, that they were able to hear God in their dreams.

We pray that leaders today will also see Jesus. This is hard for them after centuries of Crusaders both military and evangelistic. My own liberal Jewish family don’t want to talk about Jesus; they see him instinctively as their enemy. “Father God, please forgive us for our violent ways which have hindered people from seeing Jesus. Please open the eyes of the leaders to see Jesus, to recognise Him for who He is and, like the Magi, to see the way that leads to peace. For He is the Prince of Peace, now and for ever.” Amen?

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Kindle and YouTube: 6 December

December 6, 2012

The Lie of Hell is now available on Kindle. It might make a challenging Christmas present.

www.rethinkinghell.com continues carefully to explain that the wicked will not end up burning forever like a glowing coal, but will be burnt up, utterly destroyed, for ever, like stubble in a furnace. Chris Date, the genial intellectual interviewer for the website, grilled me warmly about The Lie of Hell today. This interview will be on www.rethinkinghell.com in a few weeks.

Another American source of information on hell is YouTube. Several people have posted their testimony of having been to ‘hell’ and back. (Search ‘near death experience hell.’)

Tamara Laroux’s interview with Pat Roberston on the 700 Club shows her telling the story which she also wrote about in her book Delivered.

As a 15 year old Tamara was determined to end her painful life which had no prospect of happiness. She pointed her mother’s .38 calibre pistol directly at her heart and pulled the trigger. Travelling faster than light she found herself, falling, falling until she experienced an explosion of pain. She was in a sea of people in intense pain. Like them she had become a being of fear, in total isolation and intense regret. She could also see heaven, across a great gulf of black nothingness. She ‘knew’ that she was never going to experience that glorious place.

But God’s hand reached down, lifted her up and out, and brought her to heaven. She realized that to God the great gulf was no distance at all. Before she pulled the trigger, Tamara has asked God to forgive her. She regretted never having accepted Jesus as her Lord and Saviour. In heaven she experienced indescribable unity with Christ, in a place of love, grace, mercy, wholeness, beauty and understanding. Her soul was laid back in her body. Now she had surrendered to Jesus. She called out to her mother who called the emergency paramedics. In hospital she made a quick and remarkable physical recovery. The journey of emotional healing through taking in the truths of God’s Word took longer.

Tamara’s story closely mirrors that of the Rich Man in Luke 16, in the place which Jesus specifically calls Hades. Tamara’s experience is of Hades, which is not the same as Gehenna. Tamara’s experience shows Jesus having the divine ability to save from Hades those who repent and are looking to live with Him.

Angie Fenimore also committed suicide after years of intense depression following an abused childhood. She believed the common suicide’s lie that those closest to her, especially her children, would be better off without her. She felt her spirit powerfully leaving her body. Then she saw all her life from being held as a baby by her mother, and she felt all the feelings of everybody connected to her. Most importantly she knew that her mother, who had left home when she was 9, loved her. Angie also sensed another person with her, male, reviewing her life with her.

Then the review reached her suicide. Angie was surrounded by darkness. She heard other spirits all mumbling to themselves, completely self-absorbed, caring nothing for anyone else. They, and she, were living continually in the turmoil and agony of their death. A voice from above said ‘Is this what you really want?’ Looking up Angie saw a pin point of light, like a star. It came  swiftly towards her. As it came closer she knew it was a person – this was God. ‘You can’t take your life it’s not yours to take,’ He said. ‘Life is meant to be tough. That’s how you learn to care.’

Then there was another presence next to God, just the same as God. This was the same being who had been with her in her life review. Angie felt incredible love, peace, pain, compassion from Him.. ‘Don’t you understand, I’ve done this for you?’ He said. Angie knew she was In the presence of the Saviour of the World.

Then Angie was shown what would happen to her children if she stayed dead. She saw her oldest son terribly harmed by grief and pain. The desire to die disappeared. She was ready to come back and work through the pain of living. She accepts the need to overcome what has been done to her, with the help of the beings of light whom she met. Angie has written a book: Beyond the Darkness.

Carl Knighton also died and went to a place of horrendous torment. He called out with all his might ‘Jesus! Jesus! Help me Jesus!’ The hand of God came and put him back in his body.

Some of those speaking on YouTube saw ‘hell’ and were brought back to life without, they say, specifically calling on Jesus. But, back in life, they turned to Jesus and now live with Him instead of without Him.

You can also listen to Howard Storm and Christine Eastell whose stories I quote in The Lie of Hell.

The complete picture and understanding is the one Jesus gave us: not the one place called hell, but two places Hades and Gehenna.

Roger Harper