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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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EXCUSE ME

The essence of an excuse is the word, no. If we get invited to a party that we don’t to go to and we make a polite excuse to decline the offer, in essence we are saying “No, I will not come to your party.” This is the gist of the parable that Christ told in Luke 14 about His Father who sent His Son as His Servant to personally invite those who had already received an invitation to come to a great banquet. (It’s interesting how Jesus describes His Father’s heaven as a great banquet.) By saying “No” to the great banquet invitation those who were declining this invitation were saying that they had a better offer. What offer could be better than dining with the Source of Life, Joy, Peace, and Power, as His special guest in His luxurious mansion? What happens next in this parable also says a lot about how God feels when people make excuses to decline His offer to dine.

BELONGING

I’m not sure about you, but one of my great wrestles in becoming more Christlike is that sinful tendency to see my time, my resources, my life as belonging to me. I like to control it. I like to own it. I like to decide what happens and when.

God, in His great grace and wisdom, seems to work in our lives reminding us how little we truly control and that it all truly does belong to Him. So often these reminders come in the way of hardship and loss with the call to surrender ownership and control.

If our Heavenly Father was a despotic God, a cruel, tyrannical God who acted arbitrarily and selfishly for His own ends, knowing we belonged to Him would cause us to tremble and live in fear and apprehension.

But praise Him that this is not our God!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies your with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Psalm 103:2-5

ROOFS AND DRAGONS – THE VALUE OF PLANNING

ROOFS AND  DRAGONS – THE VALUE OF PLANNING
John F. Kennedy once said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”  J.R.R. Tolkien said, “It does not do to leave a live a dragon out of your calculations, if you live near one.” Having a plan is generally a strategy that will help us to get things done, or respond correctly when things go wrong. A plan may help us to find a solution and a way through an adverse situation that we are experiencing. A plan also helps us to know what resources we might need for dealing with situations that we can foresee.

When it comes to thinking about the importance of planning, a statement that is worth considering is one that I like to get my Maritime Passage Planning students to contemplate:

‘The best thing about failing to plan, is that disaster comes as a complete surprise that is not preceded by hours or days of stress and worry associated with the planning process.’

SOMETHING FOR SLUGGARDS TO CONSIDER

There are those who look busy but are not very productive. There are those who are busy but are highly productive. Often these people have learned that busy needs to be managed so that their time is focused on maintaining their important relationships, taking regular sabbaths, prioritising the important over the urgent, and cooperating with others. These busy people have learned to recognise God’s open doors and have confidence that the Apostle Paul had that it is God who gives them supernatural energy to toil, struggle and work to get things done when no-one else thought it could be.

WHAT COVID DID TO CHURCHES’ MOMENTUM

The Covid pandemic and its effect upon Churches has caused many church leaders and their teams to reevaluate what it means to be the Church. This leads into some really healthy questions that challenge what many had previously unquestionably accepted as “Church”. What ‘should’ a church do when it meets together for its weekly gathering (especially if it can’t actually ‘gather’)? How should the leaders and members of a church contribute to the issues confronting society and culture? Or should the Church be disengaged from ‘the world’ and treat its Christianity as purely ‘private’ matter between the worshiper and God? What do the ministries within a Church within a church — especially that of an evangelist — look like it the Church can not actually meet due to ongoing Covid lockdowns? Perhaps several of these questions might never have even been asked if it wasn’t for Covid. But one thing is for sure, the answer to these questions can be found within Scripture and the lessons from Church history and require that we prayerfully seek the Spirit’s guidance as we apply the best answers. Perhaps it will be then that we can build some fresh momentum and reach the current and next generation for Christ.

CONSPIRITUAL CONSPIRACIES

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

THIS WILL ONLY TAKE A MINUTE!

When we reflect on the life of Christ we can’t help but notice that He was a supremely important mission but what we may not as easily notice is how often Jesus was interrupted. Out of these interruptions came miracles, moments, and monumental messages. It’s as if Christ considered these interruptions to be divine appointment that actually furthered His mission! For those of who live busy lifestyles and find interruptions to be frustrating, Christ’s example presents an inconvenient challenge. To meet this challenge involves a posture of worship and divinely ordering our priorities. And I do not at all suggest that this will only take a minute!

FAILING WELL

If there was a ’Year Book‘ for Christ’s Twelve Disciples, which one would have been voted “Most likely to succeed”? Probably Judas Iscariot would have. I doubt that Simon Peter would have received any votes. After all, he had failed and goofed up so many times! But in the end, both men failed in similar ways yet only Peter ‘failed well‘. How he did it should give those of us who regularly fail — and all too often feel like failures — hope that God is able to redeem both us and our failures.

EVEN THOUGH IT’S UNFATHOMABLE, UNSEARCHABLE, AND UNCOMPREHENSIBLE, YOU STILL NEED IT!

Jesus Christ Himself was the ultimate personification of wisdom (1Cor. 1:24, 30), yet He Himself, when He became incarnate, had to ‘increase’ in wisdom. And chances are that if Jesus had to ‘increase in wisdom’ then so do we! In God’s unfathomable wisdom He permits us to learn how to increase in wisdom by learning from our mistake and failures. Yet, there are times when, as James the brother of Jesus wrote, that God gifts wisdom to His children. This may not be a ‘Matrix type’ of human-software update, but it could come to you in way you did not expect in response to your prayer for God’s wisdom where you have a “light-bulb moment”. And when you experience one of those rarer moments of ‘received’ wisdom (where God gives us wisdom), it might be time to implement some wisdom from the life of Daniel, who, when it happened to him, he gave God the glory for it.

SCARED, SCARRED, SACRED

The gospel offers hope and healing for those who have been violated — those who were once scared (for good reason), and who have been scarred by the hurt they have endured — have found redemption and a sanctuary in the sacred community of God’s redeemed.