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I’m a huge fan of the Jason Bourne franchise. In the first instalment, Jason eventually becomes aware of a CIA conspiracy to assassinate uncooperative international political figures called Operation Treadstone. But unlike many of the internet conspiracy theories, Jason has good reasons to believe that Treadstone was more than just a theory, because he discovered that he was central to it, and interacted directly with its proponents. That is, Jason engaged with the ‘primary sources’ of the conspiracy which enabled him to verify it. This is also what I would like to encourage all those who too quickly and too easily embrace the various conspiracies that are going ‘viral’ on the internet. But I think my greatest pastoral concern is for those ‘spiritual’ conspiracies being promoted on the various social-media platforms which are demonstrably wrong which I think deserved to be categorised as conspiritual conspiracies.   

¶ They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.”
Genesis 37:18-20

 

WHAT IS A CONSPIRACY?

A conspiracy is generally thought of a sinister, secretive, plot, involving a limited number of people. When some suspect that a conspiracy may be in play they often develop a theory in an attempt to account for certain key details and raise objections to the official explanation. Many conspiracy theories place great credence in the idea that there are powerful people who have often formed secretive societies (such as the Illuminati or Cabul) are essentially manipulating and deceiving the general public to increase their own power. These conspiracy theories leverage people’s general sense of life’s unfairness—which is what makes them so appealing because people’s run of ‘bad luck’ can actually be shown to not be bad luck but the result of a sinister conspiracy to monitor and manipulate people to their detriment. This concept makes for a great movie plot-line and divides the world into an “us and them” or “the good guys (us) and the bad guys (them)”. George Lucas built the Star Wars franchise exactly around this conspiratorial motif. The 1999 Hollywood (or should that be Sydney) blockbuster, The Matrix, was also built on the idea of a world where nearly everyone was deceived by ‘the Matrix’ conspiracy.

For a conspiracy to sound plausible it has to have elements of verifiable truth. For example, there was a conspiracy theory that NASA didn’t actually land a man on moon but staged it in a studio with cameras to make it look like it. One of the supposed elements supporting this conspiracy theory was that the American flag which Buzz Aldrin planted into the surface of the moon didn’t flutter like a normal flag. That was true. But there is a simple reason why it didn’t: the atmosphere of the moon isn’t like that of earth’s breezy flag-fluttering atmosphere. Today we have sophisticated telescopes that can actually detect some of the artefacts left behind on the moon from the various lunar landings.

He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.
Job 5:13

 

BIBLICAL CONSPIRACIES

Conspiracies do happen though. Several unsuccessful ones and one global one (still underway) are referred to in the Bible. Joseph’s brothers conspired against him and it seemed that it had initially succeeded. Mordecai uncovered a plot (a conspiracy) to assassinate the Emperor. Sanballat and Tobiah conspired against Nehemiah but were thwarted in their schemes. Haman conspired to kill all Jews but was outwitted by a teenage Jewish girl named Esther (Esther 7:6-7). Judas conspired against Jesus to betray Him (Mark 14:10). Some Pharisees conspired to overrun a squad of Roman soldiers and kill the apostle Paul whom they were guarding (Acts 23:12).

As for the scoundrel—his devices are evil;
he plans wicked schemes
to ruin the poor with lying words,
even when the plea of the needy is right.
Isaiah 32:7

And when the three-days-dead corpse of Jesus suddenly and dramatically came back to life and walked out of the tomb His cold lifeless body had been placed in, there was a conspiracy to cover up the facts and spin an alternate narrative.

¶ While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
Matthew 28:11-15

 

THE FIRST WIDESPREAD CONSPIRACY TO PRESENT A SERIOUS THREAT TO CHRISTIANITY 

By the middle of the first century Christians were increasingly under threat from what we might call a conspiritual conspiracy. This threat had all of the hallmarks of a conspiracy but also had the added danger of lacing it with a spirituality that claimed to be Christian. Proponents of this conspirituality joined themselves to local churches and did what conspiratorialists do well – they redefined terms and offered a different narrative of the gospel story. They claimed that everyone outside of their group was blind and needed to be ‘enlightened’ in order to see the truth. They claimed that those who had been promoting the gospel and the stories of Christ’s life and ministry were deceiving people. Every person, they claimed, had the light of truth within their soul and by the correct spiritual practices could unlock that knowledge. These spiritual practices involved keeping certain rules, frequent fasting, avoiding the material world as much as possible, and most all, being taught the true knowledge. This philosophy came to be known as the Knowledge (the Greek word, gnosis) which in English is translated as Gnosticism. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians was written to counter the conspirituality of the Gnostics and to prevent their conspiracy to undermine Christianity from succeeding. The Gnostics taught that since the material world was evil, the Son of God did not actually take on a body of flesh, instead He just docetically appeared to have flesh. This Gnostic conspiracy was also countered by the Apostle John – 

¶ And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
1John 4:2

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
2John 7

John’s response to this conspiritual conspiracy reveals how we are to test the truthfulness of a conspiracy or conspiracy theory. John pointed people to the verifiable facts which countered the conspiracy. While Gnosticism continues to try and weasel its way into the Church through its conspirituality including: the hijacking biblical language to radically redefine its terms, inventing a different narrative about Jesus merely being an enlightened person who attained divinity by discovering the True Knowledge (“gnosis”), attempting to discredit the Scriptures so that its sexual moral standards where merely the opinions of first century Jewish bigots, and claiming that Constantine was responsible for inventing modern Christianity — still need to exposed and challenged wherever and whenever it rears its ugly tentacles. But, there is actually an overarching and more sinister conspiracy which was around at the inception of Christianity and still seeks to secretly and wickedly manipulate the unsuspecting.

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them…But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible
Ephesians 5:11,13

Today, conspiritual-conspiracy theorists frequently attempt to invoke biblical prophecy to support their claims and nearly always completely ignore the biblical context and fulfilment time-frame given in the Text.  Added to this, their conspiratorial interpretation of these biblical prophecies within the time-frames they assert nearly always prove to be false.

 

THE DEVIL’S CONSPIRACY

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Second Corinthians 4:4

The Devil’s scheme is to blind, deceive and destroy all the divine image bearers – for eternity. The apostle Paul told the Ephesians to put on the armour of God against to counter this scheme. I suspect that many Christians today tremendously underestimate just how insidious this devilish conspiracy is. Our Enemy attempts to hinder and thwart every effort we offer to advance the cause of Christ, and we need to heed the teaching and examples given in the Scriptures to be able to counter it. These biblical insights are also adaptable to discern whether any conspiracy theory is more than just a theory.

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith [in the truth].
First John 5:4

 

HOW WE CAN ANALYSE A CONSPIRACY’S TRUTHFULNESS

Many of the claims within many conspiracy theories cannot be tested. What scant evidence there is supporting it is drawn from the opinions of people who, like the ancient gnostics, claim to know something as a fact but cannot provide the supporting verifiable evidence. Their appeal to “Do the research” often points to an unfounded but very authoritative-sounding opinions of often anonymous sources. This is why the early conspiracy to discredit the physical resurrection of Christ quickly failed. It couldn’t be substantiated or corroborated by the known facts and because it was built on a lie it almost certainly involved inconsistent retelling of the false narrative promoted by the corrupt priests.

Conspiracies depend on ignorance and incomplete evidence. In the 1957 classic movie, Twelve Angry Men, starring Henry Fonda, a young Hispanic man is being tried for murder. Initially the evidence looks overwhelming in support of a guilty finding by the jury. There was apparently his finger prints on the murder weapon, an eye witness, someone who heard the young man say “I’m going to kill you!” and several other convincing proofs. But one of the jurors wasn’t quite convinced and since the trial required a unanimous vote by the jury they had to continue their deliberations. The one unconvinced juror then went through each piece of evidence and showed that it actually didn’t correspond to the narrative presented by the prosecutor, and the jury unanimously came to realise that the young man was not guilty. This highlights that evidence is often interpretted within the story that it is presented not the actually context of the event it relates to. Whenever you hear a claim that sounds as if it is linked to a conspiracy it might be worth considering what the original context of the evidence was first.

But test everything; hold fast what is good.
First Thessalonians 5:21

This is why we can have great confidence in the accounts given in the Bible. Two of the four evangelists (Matthew and John) who wrote Gospels were eye-witnesses to many of the events they describe – particularly and critically – the resurrection appearances of Christ. Rather than appealing to a “trust me when I tell you…” approach, the Biblical writers of the New Testament invite readers to examine the evidence for themselves and consider carefully what they have presented. They do not present their accounts anonymously or in an only share this after I’ve died memoir approach. When the apostle Paul could say that the physically resurrected Christ was seen by up to 500 people at one time and that most of these people are still alive (1Cor. 15:6), he was inviting verification of the facts that he presented (and we have no record of anyone ever refuting Paul’s claim). This made the claims of Christianity verifiable and it therefore makes the further claims of Christianity about a spiritual new birth testable and verifiable today.

¶ Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John 20:30-31

Your pastor,

Andrew

Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.

1 Comment

  1. Therese Stepanovic

    With everything going on in the world and particularly in our own backyard it is more important than ever to seek Gods truth through knowing Gods word. There are so many people ( I encountered 2 this week) who didn’t know what Christianity was about and didn’t understand the different denominations.

    Thank you Ps Andrew.

    Reply

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THE PRODIGAL FATHER

 Does anyone know what the word prodigal means? Perhaps most people assume that it means: “wanderer”, or “rebel”, or perhaps even “backslider” or that it only applies to sons. This seems to be based on the story that Jesus told in Luke 15 to which most Bible Publishers assign the division title – The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But the word prodigal does not occur in this parable. Interestingly, there are three lead characters in this shocking and famous parable: the father and his two sons. One of these was genuinely ‘prodigal’, and, as Tim Keller points out, it was neither son! To appreciate what Keller means we might need to take another look at what the word prodigal actually means. It comes from the verb prodigious which means remarkably great in extent, size, or degree (New Oxford American Dictionary). It is a word often used to describe an author who regularly writes books – John Grisham is a prodigious author. A prodigal person is therefore, prolific, extravagant, excessive, and, lavish. Keller points out that even though most people ascribe this to the wayward son in the parable, it is more appropriately a designation for the lead character in the story, the father!

SUPER SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIANS

Spare a thought for those people who are often overlooked by churches—and if they are Christians—they frequently struggle to even find a suitable church where they can deepen their relationship with Christ. Often we think of those who struggle with life as those who are “down and out” and blighted by impoverishment, or destitution, or ill-health, or family breakdown, or poor mental health. But surprisingly, even those who are seen as super-successful because of their wealth, social stature, public acclaim or amazing achievements, are actually struggling with loneliness, emptiness, and poor mental health — even if they are a Christian. These super-successful Christians are CEOs of large companies, or world-class or national sporting champions, or internationally renowned performing artists, or A-lister actors, or media personalities, or highly sought after professionals such as surgeons or barristers. They often pay a high price for their success, including, long work hours, constant stress, public criticism, extended time away from their families, fierce competition, and strained marriages. These pressures are exacerbated by their constant travel associated with their work which also makes them vulnerable to exhaustion and extraordinary temptations. This is why these super-successful Christians need to join the kind of church that can provide them with the kind of support, counsel, and accountability that every Christian needs. Here’s how a church can become this kind of church.

MAKING CHURCH A WELCOMING HOME

For many people, making a decision to attend a church is a significant and potentially daunting decision. As they come through the front door they are entering an unfamiliar environment. It is also an environment that may be associated with preconceived ideas of what the expectations and rules of the church community may be. These people probably will not know anybody and they might have concerns that relate to their previous or current lifestyle. For those of us who are regular church attendees, it is possible that we may not fully appreciate the challenges a new attendee may be facing. When we can relate to these concerns, I believe we are better equipped to provide a warm and patient “welcome” to what we hope will become their new church home.

LOVE IN ACTION

Physical illnesses and stressful events are endemic in our society. They can be likened to the thorns that cause both pain and damage. It doesn’t take much for them to impact a person’s life in ways that they did not expect. I believe that we can become more resilient as followers of Jesus by applying an appropriate solution to a known problem. I believe that an appropriate and important part of the solution is for us to show love the way that Jesus demonstrated love during His ministry on earth.

THE TOOLS OF REMEMBERING

I like to think I have a pretty good memory.  I like to think I’m organised.  Generally, I am – I don’t double book appointments, I keep track of what I’m doing and when, I mostly turn up on time. But, on reflection, I’m not so sure this means I have a good memory.

TRUTH vs SOMETHING BIG AND HAIRY

“You were lying in your bed, you were feeling kind of sleepy.
But you couldn’t close your eyes because the room was getting creepy.
Were those eyeballs in the closet? Was that Godzilla in the hall?
There was something big and hairy casting shadows on the wall.
Now your heart is beating like a drum, your skin is getting clammy.
There’s a hundred tiny monsters jumping right into your jammies”!

These are lyrics from a song on the very first Veggie Tales video every made. The title of the song?  “God is bigger than the Boogie Man”. Junior Asparagus was lying in bed frightened, and Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber appeared to tell him that he doesn’t have to be scared of the imaginary monsters because, “God is the bigger.” My childhood night-time fears weren’t so much about big and hairy monsters, aka boogie men, or Godzilla in the hall. My fears were house fires – our home burning down, and “burglars” or “robbers”. But I certainly identify with lying in bed, my heart beating like a drum, my skin getting clammy, my imagination in overdrive.

CLOSING THE DEAL

In 1871, the American evangelist, Dwight (“DL”) Moody was preaching to huge crowds each night in Chicago. At the end of each message he would give an appeal for people to either respond immediately to the gospel message he had just presented, or at least go home and consider it. But on Sunday October 8th, 1871, a huge fire broke out in Chicago. It burned through the city for days and became known as The Great Chicago Fire. Around 10,000 people were homeless as a result, and hundreds of people lost their lives. Moody was heart-broken when he realised that many of the people who had died were the people who had attended that Sunday night meeting where he had urged them to consider accepting Christ. His deep grief over this tragedy led him to make a vow that he would never again merely urge people to simply consider accepting Christ. From now on, he vowed, he would plead with all those he preached to – to immediately turn away from their sins and turn to the Saviour. DL Moody committed his life and ministry as an evangelist to be someone who would always strive to close the deal because he was now aware—more than ever—that people’s eternal destinies were in jeopardy! 

BUILDING A MOODY CHURCH

The three things that make the Christian life exciting and enthralling are the same three things that enable a believer to develop a closer relationship with God. The combination of these supernatural gifts gives the child of God an awareness that there is more, much more, to this world than we can see, touch, taste or feel. When the Christian’s faith is grounded and buttressed in God’s Word, godly prayer, and God’s house he or she flourishes. But there are forces at play that are determined to stop the believer from reaching their spiritual destiny. While we might think these enemy forces only use the fiery darts of doubt to hinder the believer’s journey to glory, there is something that they successfully use far more often: our mood. This is why, for any church to be successful, it must discover how to build moody church.

PRAYING PRAYERS

The amazing thing about prayer, is that nearly everyone does it – but hardly anyone thinks they do it well. If you visit any Christian bookstore you will notice that the largest display of books is about prayer. And it’s not just Christian bookstores where you’ll find books on prayer. Regular bookstores also sell a wide range of books on prayer (even if they do classify them as books on ‘meditation’!). One of the most frequently searched questions on Google is, “How to pray” (which then points enquirers to over 2.3 billion web pages answering their question). But in all of human history – and two thousand years before anyone but one had ever heard of Google – there was just One person who was supremely qualified to answer this question. And fortunately for those of us who really want to know the answer to this question (without having to peruse more than 2.3 billion web pages!) He gave us the answer.

WHY SOME BELIEVE

Why is it that two people can look at exactly the same evidence and can come to completely different conclusions about it? Even more puzzling is how two equally qualified scientific experts can look at the same data and utterly disagree about what it means. This happens many times in court cases where the prosecution will call their “expert witness” to give his or her professional opinion to verify that the defendant is guilty only to have the defence to present their “expert witness” who gives his or her professional opinion as to why the prosecution’s expert witness was wrong and to prove that defendant is innocent! This at least illustrates why it is not always the quality of the evidence that leads a person to accept or reject a claim. This especially apply to the claims that Jesus Christ made. Of the four accounts in the New Testament written about His life, three of them were written by eye-witnesses and the other one (Luke’s) was written by someone who interviewed many eye-witnesses. It is with interest that we turn to the last one to be John’s Gospel, where he describes dramatic proofs that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Yet despite these otherwise inexplicable proofs that at times thousands of people witnessed, many still wouldn’t believe. But it seems among those who did believe they all had one thing in common.