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 OperationTreadstone. 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
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.
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
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.
Have you ever had someone come to you with a request who said, “This will only take a minute!”? I did it this week to a tradie who came to do a quick little job in our new kitchen at church. My “This will only take a minute” actually worked out to be about an hour of Mark’s valuable time (sorry Mark). I’ve to realise that the expression “This will only take a minute” is code for – “There is no way this could be done in under an hour.” A few weeks ago, the 105.3WayFM General Manager popped into my office and asked, “When you get a few spare minutes, could you knock up some more Godspots for us?” (A Godspot is a one minute radio spot for a Christian radio station that takes about 90 minutes to create.) “A few spare minutes!” I thought to myself. Is this guy kidding? But I think Jim has come to know what most successful people have come to know, that when you want something done, always ask a busy person to do it! (I haven’t done the fifty new spots that he needs yet, but I have managed to “knock up” a few.) When I was a young pastor I was completely unprepared for the number of interruptions that a pastor in a church office had to deal with. I was utterly caught off-guard and wondered how I could ever accomplish all that needed to be done. But then something dramatic happened that changed everything.
A THEOLOGY OF INTERRUPTIONS
As part of study program I undertook a few years ago, which involved taking a course on pastoral time-management, there was a requirement to study how Christ responded to interruptions. What I found in my research was stunning. The majority of Christ’s miracles and profound teaching moments were the result of people interrupting Him. For example, consider the time that Jesus sat down for His dinner and had His meal interrupted—
¶ And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15:21-28
While Jesus was God-incarnate (and therefore fully human), there was at least one emotion that every human experiences that I doubt Jesus ever experienced: surprise. Therefore, each time it appeared Christ was being interrupted or caught off-guard, the reality was: He was never surprised and He was always ready forit! While Christ had the advantage of divine knowledge to anticipate such interruptions, we don’t. But what we can do is treat our interruptions the way Jesus did. It seems that He viewed every ‘interruption’ as an appointment made for Him by His Father. And so can we.
I cannot begin to describe to you how much this realisation revolutionised my life. As I then read through the Gospels I became increasingly aware that Christ stayed on course with His mission even though He was continually interrupted by people wanting something from Him. Some wanted healing. Some wanted to challenge Him. Some wanted Him to settle a family dispute. Some just wanted to get a glimpse of Him and even climbed a tree to get it (which resulted in a spontaneous lunch for Mrs Zacchaeus to prepare. In each instance, Jesus treated the people prompting these interruptions as important and valuable. And as it turned out, each of these interruptions were actually integral to His mission! Therefore, consider that the interruptions (and even disruptions) we all have to deal with, may well be a part of God’s plan for us that are not a distraction away from fulfilling God’s mission and purpose for our lives, but might actually be an integral means of us fulfilling it!
From Luke’s Gospel it is apparent how Jesus managed His time and maintained His mission focus while being regularly being interrupted.
In these days He went out to the mountain to pray, and all night He continued in prayer to God. Luke 6:12
Jesus intentionally spent time alone with His Father away from the crowds. Down through the ages Christians have considered solitude with God a necessary spiritual discipline just as Jesus did.
¶ While He was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind Him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her He said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. Matthew 9:18-22
JESUS IS NOW UNINTERRUPTIBLE
As I hope I have briefly demonstrated, Jesus had a knack for being interrupted well. He viewed each of these interruptions as divine appointments which aided Him in His mission. He was, during His days in the flesh, essentially uninterruptible because He didn’t regard any of these interruptions as disruptions. In other words, Christ did not seem to view these apparent interruptions in the same way that most of us seem to. And if you think that’s amazing, then consider this: Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father in the dimension of eternity with the divine ability to “be with you always” (Matt. 28:20). That is, despite sustaining the very universe (Col. 1:17) and ordering the events of history toward the culmination of His redemptive plan (1Tim. 6:15), He sees you, He hears you. He knows exactly what you’re going through. Put simply, you can not interrupt the uninterruptible God!
Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25
CHANGE THE WAY YOU VIEW INTERRUPTIONS
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!
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.
I want to discuss the story of two men who failed but where only one who failed well. The story of these two privileged men is similar but couldn’t be any different. One of them grew up, lived, and worked in a small village all his life. In his village, everyone knew him, and he knew everyone. The other man moved around a lot with his family when he was young and eventually moved to a large city where he was quite a loner and could never seem to make many (if any) friends. But the day came when providence brought them together and they nearly became lifelong friends. One of the things they had in common was that they both famously failed – yet only one of them failed well.
THE ONE MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED WAS THE ONE WHO FAILED BEYOND REPAIR
If the twelve disciples of Christ had a “Year Book”, the one that would have been voted “the most likely to succeed” each year would have been the one with the highest academic credentials, the most sophisticated grasp of at least four languages, and a sound financial background. This was Judas Iscariot. The other disciple would have been voted least likely to succeed, because, quite frankly, he failed so often and so frequently and so magnificently. On several occasions in the Gospels he is recorded saying things that are “stupid” (which should give rest of us some comfort who also have a track record of occasionally saying stupid things). Take the time when Moses and Elijah appeared to Christ on Mount Hermon and Peter suggested that he run to the camping store to buy and erect some tents to shelter them (Matt. 17:4). Then there was the time when all the other disciples were there when Jesus publicly and sharply rebuked Peter for what he had just said –
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:23
While Simon Peter failed so often, there is actually no record of Judas Iscariot ever failing before he betrayed Christ. But I suspect that there were seven warning signs that led to Judas Iscariot on an accelerated process of failing before he ultimately failed by betraying Christ. Unlike those who have learned to fail well, Judas Iscariot’s path to failingbadly included deceit, duplicity, dishonesty, and adopting a double life.
YOUR PAST DOES NOT HAVE TO DEFINE YOUR FUTURE
Peter seemed to have a knack for putting his foot in his mouth and doing the wrong thing. Judas on the other hand gave the appearance of having it all together and never failing. But all the while he was actually setting himself up to epically (literally) fail. Here’s what his downward (invisible) spiral looked like (which were also the seven warning signs that something was wrong and getting worse) –
1. CLOSED: While Jesus was challenging His disciples to be authentic, Judas was not open or transparent with the other disciples.
¶ “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Matthew 5:8
2.COCKY: Judas probably felt superior to the other disciples and this arrogance and pride (Satan’s origin sin) would have caused him to distance himself from his faith community.
Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him. John 6:70-71
3.CONFUSED: Judas probably confused God’s grace as God’s approval due to him being used to work signs and wonders (Lk. 10:17) and that he was selected as one of Christ’s special disciples.
¶ And He called to Him His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. Matthew 10:1
4.CONCEALED: Judas increasingly withdrew from the other disciples with excuses for his absence (John 13:27-29).
5.CONCEITED: Judas seems to have been largely unaccustomed to failing – at least, not in public – and he had certainly never learned to fail ‘well’, he was not prepared to ask for help.
6.CONTEMPT: His increasing withdrawal and bitterness toward the other disciples (who were all, apart from him, from Galilee) caused him to be susceptible to Satan schemes and therefore in the latter part of his life he was actually living a double-life.
¶ Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver Him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray Him. Matthew 26:14-16
7.CALLOUSED: Despite spending three years with God Incarnate who spoke with the greatest love and authority that any man ever spoke — before or since — Judas’ heart had become hardened and indifferent to the Word of God even to the extent when Christ directly warned him that his betrayal would have eternal and damnable consequences!
He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with Me will betray Me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray Him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” Matthew 26:23-25
HOW DID PETER LEARN TO FAIL SO WELL?
It might be easy to think that Peter had learned to fail so well because he had so much practice at it! But that would be the same mistake as thinking that a blow-fly was really good at flying through a glass window inside your house! Just because you practice something over and over and over again, does not mean that you can do a thing well. But Peter did know how to fail well because he consistently did the four things that everyone who fails well does well.
1.CONNECTION: Despite failing, making mistakes, doing the wrong thing, saying something stupid, Peter remained transparent and kept within his faith community (the other disciples and Jesus). Our Enemy knows how easy it is to inflict condemnation on God’s children and tries to leverage this by tempting them to withdraw from their church family.
2.CORRECTION: Peter was lovingly and firmly corrected, and learned how to humbly accept this correction.
3.CONTRITE: Each time Peter failed he humbled himself and repented.
4.COMMUNITY: Peter stayed close to Christ and close to Christ’s community of believers who each restored him after he had failed.
If you want to learn how to fail well it will always involve the same four principles for you as well.
FAILING ALWAYS BRINGS BROKENNESS
There is a simple and charming picture, presented by Christ at the Last Supper, of what becoming a blessing involves.
¶ Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Matthew 26:26
Jesus took. Jesus blessed. Jesus broke. Jesus takes a person who yields to Him. He blesses that person—and that blessing often intensifies when that person is somewhat broken when they fail well. Every one who has a heart for Christ, just like the apostle Peter, will fail — and not just once. In fact, as I reflect on each of the great leaders in the Scriptures, it occurs to me that each one of them failedwell.
> Abraham denied that he was married to Sarah.
> Jacob tricked and deceived his dad to steal the first-born blessing from Esau.
> Moses got angry and murdered a man.
> David committed adultery and ordered the murder of an innocent man.
> Jeremiah was overwhelmed with discouragement and told God that he would no longer serve Him.
How you respond to your failures reveals what you think about God! Our God redeems our failures. He is able to take all of our mistakes and use their result for good (Romans 8:28). But we must learn to fail well. Perhaps this begins by understanding that God is a merciful, loving, gracious, forgiving, redeeming God toward us – not because of anything we have done – but because of who He is! This is why First John 1:9 is not just a new Christian’s memory verse. It’s an integral means by which we can fail well.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. First John 1:8-9
WELL, FAIL 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.
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.