Pete's Reviews and Sermons

Some of my more detailed reviews - books, films, theatre trips, software etc. I will also post the text of some of my sermons here.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Field of Blue 2018

I used to think Bluebells were just some bulbs that came up in spring. Where I lived then had plenty, but it wasn't like Norsey Wood, where there is such a glorious display.  In the last ten years we've got to see them almost every year.  This year, as often happens, we get there when the flowers are just beginning to die off.  Here are this year's pictures, all done on my phone.
 Perhaps it is the very odd spring we have had this year, occasional very hot days and lots of rain, but they seem to be a paler blue.  They also seem more concentrated in certain areas, so the title isn't quite so accurate.  More clumps than fields.
This is my favourite view this year, the carpet leading to the back of the visitor centre.

Monday, April 02, 2018

April Fool?

Preached 1 Apr 2018 at Christ Church, Billericay

April Fool

As it April fools day, I thought we’d take a look at one of the most famous April Fools ever. 
[Show Video] -  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVo_wkxH9dU
That was shown in 1957, I don’t remember it, as I was not yet a year old when it was shown,  but I have heard about it many times since. Apparently it was quite successful – in that a lot of people believed it, and I was wondering why it worked.

Why it worked

Here’s a few ideas:
Firstly, in 1957 few people would have known what went on in Italy or Switzerland, or where Spaghetti came from.  The war had not spread European culture across Britain.  Secondly, the film is well made, and perhaps most importantly was shown by a trusted source – the BBC.  So many people were fooled.

April Fool – Meme

Today there will no doubt be many attempts at April Fools based on the fact that it is also Easter Day.  I found this one last week [Meme] and I expect to find lots more, on both sides of the argument today and in the next few days.
These are all nice little jokes, and its fun to be fooled occasionally, but the world today is full of people who want to put their own ‘spin’ on the facts.  Spin is an old term now, today it is called ‘fake news’ and some of it is completely made up.

Countering Fake News

So how do we tell the difference?
We must research the facts and find out which of the claimed facts are reliable and which ones aren’t.

Christianity’s Claims

Christianity not only claims that Jesus lived and died, but that he was resurrected.  That’s quite a claim.  We all know that dead men don’t walk or talk. There is plenty of evidence for that, so to claim that someone did requires some very strong evidence.
Because if that claim is true it changes everything that we think we know. 

Objections to the resurrection

Some would like to tell us this is all ‘fake news’ and argue against the truth of this story.  Some of their arguments are easy to counter, some are harder.  I’m going to look at a few of these now.

Myth

It’s just a myth, like the Greek and Roman gods. 
If a resurrection were to happen today, we wouldn’t consign it to myth, just because there are plenty of myths with a similar theme.  Neither would the new testament writers.  We have already seen that the historical evidence is good enough for us to be confident that Jesus was a real person.  While there are plenty of myths of gods being resurrected and saving the world, they lack the detail and historical perspective that the gospels provide.

Guardian

In 2017 The Guardian ran an article “What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died?”
That’s a good first step, because if he didn’t live and die, he can’t have been resurrected.
In summary, historians accept that Jesus is a real historical person, even if 40% of English adults don’t.

Legend

Or perhaps its the product of legend.  One person tells another, the story gets embellished each time, after all it’s been 2000 years now. 
The evidence from the study of scriptures is that the textual purity is highly reliable – in other words it hasn’t been tampered with.  If it were a legend we should be able to see the story develop as we compare early copies with more recent ones.  This is not the case with the Bible.

Wasn’t Dead.

There are also some objections to the events described in the Bible.  Some say that Jesus wasn’t really dead.
It’s true that some (a very few) people survived crucifixion.  Once all the ‘show’ of a public killing was over relatives would come and take them down from their cross.
In Jesus case the evidence of the Bible is that Jesus was most definitely dead.  Because of the circumstances of his crucifixion (just before passover) the authorities wanted to make sure the three being crucified were dead, so a soldier was told to ‘finish them off’ by breaking their legs.  This leads to suffocation quite quickly.  When the soldier got to Jesus he spotted that he was already dead, and stuck a spear in his side.  Blood and water was seen to come from his body – a sign that death has occurred and that blood is no longer circulating.
We should also remember that Jesus had been brutally beaten before his crucifixion and was therefore weaker than most who are crucified.
If He wasn’t dead, He would have had to recover enough to move the stone from the mouth of the tomb and walk away.  This is not a credible idea because of the physical state His body was in and because he had no access to water, so would have been weakened by blood loss and de-hydration.
If he wasn’t dead, and He moved the stone, He would have been seen or more probably arrested by the guards placed outside his tomb.

Disciples stole the body

The guards at the tomb lead us straight to the next objection.  The disciples stole the body.  This is, if you like, the official excuse for the body being missing.  The guards fell asleep and the disciples sneaked in and stole Jesus’ body.  If the guards had really fallen asleep they would have been put to death – dereliction of duty was a capital offence. If the disciples had stolen the body it is unlikely that each one of them would have kept to their story as they were persecuted and for most of them put to death – after all they would have had no hope of resurrection because they already knew that it hadn’t happened.

The wrong tomb

Perhaps there is a simpler explanation, perhaps it was all a mistake and the women simply went to the wrong tomb.  Jesus’ death was unusual in that He was hurriedly removed from the cross and His body placed in a tomb in an unprepared state.  Then on the third day, the women went to the tomb to complete the treatment of His body.  Supposing in their confusion they had gone to the wrong tomb.  They were clearly all very upset and had had their hopes dashed, either they remembered the wrong place, or in the darkness they simply went in the wrong direction.  These things happen.  They had ended up at a new unused grave.
They wouldn’t have been able to work in the darkness, so dawn was on it way, by the time they had got back to the disciples it would be light.  Then Peter and John had run to the tomb, are we supposed to believe that these two disciples made the same mistake – it seems a little far fetched.  It gets even harder to believe when the grave cloths are described.  This excuse is too unlikely to be a proper argument against the resurrection.

Hallucinations

The disciples and the followers of Jesus were so traumatised by the events of the crucifixion and the resultant grief meant they became mentally unstable so they saw Jesus when He wasn’t really there – they suffered a hallucination. 
Hallucination does not explain the empty tomb.  Hallucinations are individual, it is unlikely that the many disciples would have consistent hallucinations at different times. 
Hallucinations cannot explain the conversion of Paul and James.
Paul was persecuting Christians, and very zealous in his job.  He was not suffering from grief, nor had he suffered any trauma.
James was a sceptic, but after the resurrection became a follower.

Delusional

The disciples wanted the resurrection to happen so much that despite His death they continued to live their lives as though it had.  They had become delusional.
Again Paul and James make this a difficult objection to support.  Neither of them had shown any signs of wanting Jesus to succeed in any way, yet after the resurrection they changed and both of them were ultimately martyred for their beliefs.

Strong Evidence

We’ve looked at six different objections to the story of the resurrection, and I’ve provided short answers to each of them.  It is not a proof, but it is very strong evidence.  Human beings, however, usually need than straight forward evidence before they will believe something.

Sceptics cannot believe in super-natural events

Some sceptics simply cannot believe in super-natural events and are desperate to find ways to explain away the challenge that this story puts in front of them and I was once one of them.  We have been looking at the evidence, and if we are going to follow the evidence then we must respond as Arthur Conan-Doyle advised in Sherlock Holmes “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

So do we believe in the resurrection?

If we do it changes everything.  If not, it changes nothing and “we are still in our sins” as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:17.

Changes Everything

If everything changes, one of those things will be the way we live our lives.  Jesus said ‘follow me’ and that is what we try to do, but we cannot change ourselves.  50 days after the resurrection comes Pentecost, when God gave the Holy Spirit.  Until then the disciples remained largely as they had been before the crucifixion – perhaps a little more scared, but after receiving the Spirit of God they became bold and fearless.
It is their witness, and the witness of those who followed them that caused the early church to grow at a phenomenal rate.

Positive Evidence

The positive evidence for the resurrection is not found in arguments put forward by sceptics, but in the life of the followers of Jesus Christ.  Those who have realised that He died for them, and that His resurrection is the proof of what He said.  Those who know that everything has changed, that the world they once knew has no value whatsoever.
Those who understand Matthew 21:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Those are the people who are convincing others, because they live as though what they believe that makes the difference.  There are thousands of them throughout history.  There are many in this church, and some that were in this church many year ago convinced me that Jesus had died and risen from the dead.

Just people?

So if its just people, why have I spent the last 15 minutes or so talking about the intellectual objections?  Because we need to be able to demonstrate that the faith we have is consistent and makes sense, otherwise we are not April fools, we are lunatics, and however we live we will convince no-one.
It turns out that those who have listened to His message and accepted it are not the April fools – they are the ones who know that Jesus is alive and they are living a life where everything has changed.
So that just leaves the ones who haven’t listened or who haven’t heard – Pray for them!


Perhaps we look at that meme again.




References

https://strangenotions.com/5-possible-theories-that-explain-the-resurrection-of-jesus/
http://charlietaylorministries.com/the-final-four-objections-to-the-resurrection/
https://worldviewofjesus.com/2013/03/27/objections-to-the-minimal-facts-argument-for-the-resurrection-of-jesus-christ/
https://www.jashow.org/articles/guests-and-authors/dr-norman-geisler-2/evidence-for-the-resurrection-of-jesus-christ-from-the-dead/
https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865676737/The-best-April-Fools-Day-pranks-in-history.html
https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-ressurection-road-jimmy-dillon-sermon-on-easter-resurrection-111462
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resurrection_of_Jesus
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus
http://www.brentcunningham.org/?p=584
http://sherlockholmesquotes.com/sherlock-holmes-on-problem-solving/
http://christianworldviewpress.com/what-about-the-guards-at-jesus-tomb/
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/14/what-is-the-historical-evidence-that-jesus-christ-lived-and-died

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A confused donkey & a disappointed crowd

Change of Direction for Jesus

So far in the gospel of Mark Jesus has been secretive about his mission, warning his disciples not to tell the crowd what they know.  The disciples for the most part have been portrayed as lacking understanding and generally unable to do the things that Jesus asks of them.
All that is about to change.  Jesus is about to make a very clear statement that anyone – and most importantly the Pharisees – can’t miss, even if they have only the most basic understanding of their faith.

Disciples knew Jesus had changed

The disciples have known that Jesus’ attitude has changed since He declared that they must go to Judea.  In John 11 the disciples reminded Jesus that last time He was there they tried to stone Him.  Jesus is going to raise Lazarus (one of the people he loves the most) from the dead.  At the end of that conversation in John 11:16, it is Thomas who says “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  The disciples are dreading the journey back to Judea – but they can’t yet know the full horror that they will go through.

Bethany

Lazarus lived at Bethany, which is less than two miles from Jerusalem.  It’s at Bethany that we pick up the story this morning. Bethany today is known as el `Azareyeh which the place of Lazarus.

Disciples Instructions

Mark doesn’t mention Lazarus, but has the disciples in the village anyway.  Here they are told to go and get a colt – a young donkey that had never been ridden.
The instructions are very simple and very clear.  They are told exactly what to say if they are challenged.  They are not given any other information, so probably don’t know why they are doing what they are doing – perhaps that is the best way sometimes.  They do exactly as they are told, and respond correctly to the challenge - “The Lord needs it and will send back shortly”.  As a result they are allowed to take the donkey to Jesus.

Miracle or plan?

Was this a miracle or a careful plan that Jesus had made.  There are a number of possibilities, if we are going to claim it as a miracle we need to be sure it wasn’t a plan.  The main objection to the plan theory is that Jesus hadn’t been here for a while – so how could he have arranged with someone to borrow their donkey.  It’s possible though that the donkey’s owner is in fact one of Jesus’ followers, and so had been with Him at various times and had made the arrangement.

Unridden Donkey

Miracle or not (and some commentators say ‘take your choice’) Jesus had chosen a donkey that had not been ridden. Animals that have not been under human control are specially valued for certain tasks.  Just as in 1 Samuel 6:7 when the Israelites were being given instructions about transporting the Ark of the Lord “Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up.”
This way it seems that it is clearer that God is in control, and that humans can have had no influence on the outcome.
The fact that Jesus was riding on an unbroken colt is a miracle.

The prophesy

Riding into Jerusalem on a donkey sends a very particular message.  The prophecy is in Zechariah 9:9 and says “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Jesus is making a claim to be the king of the Jews.  The crowd see it, the Pharisees see it and their reactions and responses will lead ultimately to the crucifixion.  That is Jesus’ plan, that’s why he is heading to Jerusalem in this way.

The crowds response

The Pharisees response can wait until Good Friday, what’s of interest today is the crowd’s response.  Remember its coming up to passover.  Jerusalem is filling up with pilgrims from all over Israel and further afield.  The city will be heaving with people going in all directions – but here outside the city the crowds will mostly be headed towards the city.
There will be lots of foreigners who won’t know who Jesus is, but there will also be many people who have seen Him and even more who have heard what He has done.
At the sight of Him riding a donkey, they begin singing his praises ‘Hosanna in the Highest’ and ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.

Royal Homage

They spread their cloaks on the road in front of him.  That must have confused the donkey!  You don’t do that for just anyone, I’ve never even heard of a celebrity receiving such treatment.  This response is reserved for Kings and Queens.  When Jehu was anointed king in 2 Kings 9:13 they immediately took off their cloaks and put them on the bare steps for him to walk on, the trumpets sounded and the crowd began shouting ‘Jehu is king’.

Simon Maccabaeus

The tradition of cutting branches seems to come from the victory of Simon Maccabaeus over the Syrians in 141 bce, where his return to Jerusalem was marked by his followers holding and waving palm branches.  As palms are not native to Jerusalem, the people responded by cutting down whatever leafy branches they could find and waving them and laying them in front of Jesus.  That must have confused the donkey too!

Peoples expectations

It is clear from these reactions and the chanting - “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (v10) that the crowd were expecting just one thing.  They saw this as an opportunity to remove the Roman occupiers and restore the kingdom of David.  They saw this as a chance to restore their religious freedoms once again as Simon had done. Even though for the most part the Romans didn’t interfere with the Jewish religion.

Hosanna

We should look briefly at the other two chants – Hosanna and ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.
Hosanna simply means ‘save now’, but by this time had already become a shout of praise to God, and has retained that meaning to this day. 

Blessed ...

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ was the greeting use as pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem, so it would have been very familiar to them all.  Both these chants come for Psalm 118 verses 25 & 26, one of the Hallel psalms that would have been sung on the pilgrimage anyway.  Now though the attention of the crowd is on Jesus and the chants and shouts are focussed on him and the expected outcome of his journey to Jerusalem.

Frenzy – return of the kingdom

The crowd has whipped itself up into a frenzy.  They have been calling for the return on the kingdom of David, not the return of the king, so they are going to be disappointed, because in the excitement they have missed the second part of the prophecy, so their understanding is limited.

Jesus in Jerusalem

Jesus enters Jerusalem and goes to the temple.  In verse 11 “He looks around at everything” might make Him sound like a tourist, but Jesus has been to the temple before – more than once.  He is looking around to see just how things work, the money changers, the people who sell small animals for sacrifice, any other trading activities that might be taking place.  He’s taking in the layout and getting ready for tomorrow.  By now its too late, and its time for the walk back to Bethany, two miles away across the valley.

No crowd

Now there is no crowd – where have they all gone?  They have melted away towards the homes they are staying in, to the outlying villages, to the camp sites.  They will be reflecting on what they saw today, and as they do their anger will grow as they believe their hopes have been dashed. 
Jesus did not begin an insurrection as they were hoping, he just looked around the temple and then left.  Herod’s palace is on the opposite side of the city, so word will have got around quickly that Jesus did not go there.

Donkey not enough?

Surely riding on a donkey was enough to convince them what Jesus was about, but apparently not.  The next verse in Zechariah says “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

Save the World

Choosing to re-enact part of this prophecy should have made it very clear that insurrection was not the plan.  That the plan was crucifixion and resurrection.  That plan was to save the entire world, not just the Jews.  By dying the way he did he took all our sins, so that we can be forgiven.  And by rising to new life He proved, to his disciples and anyone else who will listen, that He was more than just a man.
We’ll hear more about that next week I’m sure.

The crowds reaction

The crowd reacted as they did because their vision for God was too small.  They were focussed on just their immediate problem and had lost sight of the amazing promises of God – even though they knew their scriptures much better than we know ours.  It is easy for us to be like the crowd and loose our sense of wonder and miss the big things that God is doing across His world, while getting very entangled in our own parochial problems.  It would be better to be like the disciples.

Be like the disciples

That’s much harder for us.  They were so attached to Jesus that even when all they could see was certain death – they still chose to follow Jesus.  Its hard for us to be like the disciples and simply follow commands, to respond to situations exactly as he would have us respond, with little or no understanding of what the point of our actions is.  If we can do that then Jesus mission will go on in the way that it should, bringing God to the world and

Glory to God.

It is those disciples and the ones who came after them who have made the ultimate difference.



References 

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/jesus-enters-jerusalem-tj-conwell-sermon-on-triumphant-entry-187873
https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/whose-line-is-it-anyway-troy-borst-sermon-on-palm-sunday-200703
http://www.icf-online.org/icfprof.php?ident=bl06&name=Palm
http://bibleatlas.org/bethany.htm
https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/simon-maccabeus

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Gospel, the whole Gospel and nothing but the Gospel

John Sentamu on Billy Graham

I was listening to the radio on the way home from work on Wednesday evening and Archbishop John Sentamu was saying a few words about Billy Graham who had just died.  He didn’t have long and I don’t remember all he said, but the few words that struck me were that he said of Billy Graham “He just said ‘the bible says’, ‘the bible says’, ‘the bible says’, he never put his own views in the message. He was the first person since St. Paul to do that.” 

Evangelist and Preacher

That is the job of an evangelist, and a preacher.  When I stand here and speak to you my job is to tell about Jesus and speak the good news that his life, death and resurrection are to us, allowing us to be with God forever. Tt is not to tell you about my good ideas about how to run the world, or to explain from my limited experience about how the world could be better for everyone.  I’m sure I do that from time to time, some of you may even remember an example, but that is not why I am here.  I am here to speak the gospel, the whole gospel and nothing but the gospel.
We will see how that lines up with our reading this morning as we go.

Marks Gospel

The reading from Marks Gospel, is the first of three sections where Jesus begins to teach His disciples about His death and resurrection.  They have been with him for a while now, probably more than two years, although the time frame isn’t that clear.  They have seen miracles, healings and have listened to all sorts of interactions with individuals and crowds.  All that time Jesus has been teaching them about what God wants for them, and interpreting the scriptures for them. 

Peter’s Confession

In the passage immediately before this one we hear Peter identify Jesus as the Christ – the long expected Messiah who has come to save the Jews.  We don’t know how much time passed between that statement and this mornings reading, but its possible that they happened close together.

Teaching a new topic

Jesus starts teaching a new topic – how He must suffer and be rejected before He is killed and will then rise again.  Jesus either thinks they are ready, or perhaps he knows they never will be and just decides to get on with it.

Peter’s Thoughts

Which ever it was, it was too much for Peter, he took Jesus aside and rebuked him.  There is little doubt that Peter was only saying what they were all thinking.  Something like: “We’ve followed Jesus for two years, we’ve seen that he is the one God promised, now He’s saying its all over.  He’s going to take us all to Jerusalem and He’s going to be executed.  What will become of us – the same fate I expect.  We were hoping that He would overthrow the Romans and re-establish proper Jewish rule and it would be clear that our God is in control again.”  Peter assumed that that is what God wanted – it sounds right doesn’t it.  It certainly did to Peter.

“Rebuke”

We don’t know what he said to Jesus, but that word translated rebuke here is the same word used in Mt 17:18  “Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.”

Jesus’ reaction

Jesus graciously hears what Peter has to say, and then turns to go back to the rest of the disciples.  Perhaps it was the look on their faces that triggered Jesus’ response, or perhaps it was coming anyway.  “Get behind me, Satan!”  You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Contradict a Teacher

Wow, talk about put someone in his place!  That must have hurt, but then Peter’s outburst had been unprecedented.  He had been following Jesus and learning from him.  He had thought of Jesus as a Rabbi – a teacher.  Even at school these days, pupils do not say to their teachers “you can’t do that, that’s not the right way to go”.  Peter, even though he had just identified Jesus as Messiah, had been listening to the wrong spiritual advice, He had not yet seen that God was doing a new thing through Jesus.

Jesus continues teaching

With no further comment Jesus focusses on the crowd.  I wonder how much of the exchange was overheard by the crowd?  Judging by what Jesus says next I can only imagine that most, if not all of the conversation (spat) with Peter was heard.  As usual, Jesus uses it as a teaching point.

Take up your cross

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Unless you have studied the Bible a bit that phrase is probably meaningless.  It leads directly to the phrase “We all have our crosses to bear” - which simply means we all have our little difficulties, that we use as an excuse for poor behaviour, or as a means of not listening to someone when they’re having a bit of a moan.  What Jesus said has a much more radical meaning. 

Crucifixion

Jesus was no doubt thinking about what was coming for him.  He and everyone that He was talking to would know what taking up a cross meant – it meant that you were on your way to crucifixion.  That was how the Romans did it.  Each of the criminals to be crucified was forced to carry (probably drag) the cross that they would be nailed to, to the point of their execution.  It was not an easy thing to do, by the time you got to the place where the execution would occur you would already be exhausted, as probably scared witless of the punishment that had barely started.

Expected of followers

This, Jesus is saying is what He expects of His followers – they must be prepared to loose their lives in the following.  He goes on to make it even clearer “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
Jesus is not necessarily referring to physical life here, although that may be included, but mainly He is referring to the inner life, as we see from his next words.
“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
If we think of this as referring to the inner life these words could equally be translated “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit himself? Or what can a man give in exchange for himself?”

Being a Follower

Jesus is saying that you cannot choose to follow Him and continue to pursue your own life, with all it’s wants and desires.  The phrases ‘I want ...’, ‘I’m going to ...’, ‘I will ...’ and perhaps even ‘I need ...’  are simply no longer part of our vocabulary, or even the thought process.  It is always ‘Jesus wants …’, ‘Jesus is going to …’ and ‘Jesus will ...’.

Ashamed

And this cannot just be how we think in private, we have to be open with the world about it, so Jesus ends his teaching with “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
If we’re not prepared to say openly that we are followers, then we will not be considered followers by Jesus.

Put your own life to death?

Of course, we can’t just decide to give ourselves to Jesus, to somehow make ourselves go away – we need God’s help to achieve that.  So Jesus’ teaching would have been very hard for those who initially heard it, but we know that the Holy Spirit was given to make that close connection to God, so that we can always hear His voice.  In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells His disciples “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Truthful Witness

As His witnesses, we must not be afraid – or ashamed of speaking the truth we see.  As His witnesses we must tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – the gospel, the whole gospel and nothing but the gospel.  The same should be true whether we are speaking to believers, non-believers, or potential converts.  So often parts of the gospel are left unsaid.
I found this story in one of the sermons I read which illustrates telling the whole gospel to a potential convert.  The preacher is called Pat Cook, here is the link if you want to read his whole, sermon.

“I read a story about a man named Mark Stiles, who led a young man from Sweden named Andreas to the Lord. Andreas asked Mark, “I’ve been told if I follow Jesus, He will meet my needs and my life will get very good.”

Mark replied, “No, Andreas, no.”

Andreas blinked in surprise, and Mark continued: “Actually, you may accept Jesus and find that life goes very badly for you.”

Andreas asked, “What do you mean?”

Mark said, “Well, you may find that your friends reject you, you could lose your job, your family might oppose your decision – there are a lot of bad things that may happen to you if you decide to follow Jesus. Andreas, when Jesus calls you, He calls you to go the way of the cross.”

Now, Andreas had been thinking that an easier life was a selling point for the faith, but Mark had resisted the temptation to make Christianity sound better than it is. But then Andreas asked the question that stumps a lot of believers today: “Then why would I want to follow Jesus? If my life doesn’t get easier, then why would I want to be a Christian?”

Mark looked at him and said, “Andreas, because Jesus is true.”
Truth
– Truth in a post-truth world.
Baptism Couples
When I’m out visiting couples who have requested Baptism, I’m always aware that I mustn’t give them a false impression of the Christian life, that I must be honest with them, without scaring them away.  That I must not be ashamed of Jesus, or the life He calls us to lead, and so present Christianity as some sort of easy ride.  Start talking to them about God’s love for them, for sure, but be sure it doesn’t end there.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer – The Cost of Discipleship
I’m going to close by reading a short passage from “The cost of Discipleship” by Deitrich Bonhoeffer.  In the book he says
"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."
and goes on to describe the feel-good version of the gospel as cheap grace.
"CHEAP GRACE is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace "Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like chapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices.... Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and Incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out his eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.... Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life...."

Amen


References
https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-less-traveled-road-tim-zingale-sermon-on-discipleship-55897
https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/god-save-me-from-your-followers-pat-cook-sermon-on-unity-89112
https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/ashamed-craig-smee-sermon-on-church-body-of-christ-81360
https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/not-ashamed-of-the-gospel-alan-balatbat-sermon-on-evangelism-how-to-68767
http://javacasa.com/resources/dps_form_results/mk8_31.htm

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Darkest Hour

Whenever anything to do with WWII comes up, I am always taken back to my childhood.  Both my parents were in the war, and Mum especially like to let her thoughts about what happened be known.  As a result I know Churchill almost as well as Wilson and Heath, the prime ministers I grew up with.  It will be interesting to see how he is portrayed, I thought, and that was really the primary reason to see the film.  So I'll start with those comments.
Firstly, the make-up department need to be congratulated - Gary Oldman looks like Winston Churchill throughout the film.  There was only one scene, about mid-way through, a sideways shot from behind - just for that instance I doubted.  He acts like Churchill too, and if he gets any awards for this role he deserves them.
How 'true' the story is, I have too little knowledge to judge, but it seemed pretty realistic.  So from that point of view it is an impressive film.  I'm hoping it is accurate, if so I have learnt some things I didn't know:
  • How much Atlee was supported by his party
  • How keen the Labour party were to fight
  • How much the pressure on Churchill, and the desire to get rid of him nearly bought the war to the wrong end.
Having recently seen Dunkirk, the peril of the entire British army was very apparent, and the understanding of the need to rescue them very clear.  That was well portrayed here too, so was the loss of the garrison at Calais.  Those scenes showed the relationship between his secretary - Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) and the prime minister.
Much has been made in the media of Kristen Scott-Thomas and Clementine Churchill, however, I thought that Lily James did a better job and had more real acting to do, portraying a woman, initially scared of Churchill, to one of his greatest supporters - miming parts of his speeches.

Of course, we know the end, so I don't really have to say more.  The film simply illustrates the power of words well spoken - Churchill was a master of that skill.

Recently there have been some excellent films, and this is one of the most excellent.  Well worth a view.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Paddington 2

It seems like almost everyone likes Paddington 2.  It has the longest sequence of positive comments ever on Rotten Tomatoes.  Although I haven't put a review there, I could have and it would have been positive. In many ways the film is a throw-back to my childhood.  Someone in the film said something like "Paddington looks for the best in everyone - and finds it".  That is the flavour of the film, and it is a fitting tribute to Michael Bond's originals.  It is, what is now known as, a feel-good film, so not usually my first choice.
Paddington is rescued from a river by the bear he later calls Aunt Lucy, who gives up her planned trip to London to look after him.  So, as her 100th Birthday arrives, Paddington is looking for that special present.  When he finds it the trouble starts.  He ends up in prison and has a remarkable effect on the prisoners.  Enough of the plot, but just remember its not a who-dun-it.
The film contains plenty of action sequences, mainly involving the bear, who looks incredibly real.  This is some of the best mixed human and animation that I have ever seen.  It is seemless except for one scene where a crowd are watching the bear walk down a corridor - and some of their heads do not turn at the right time.  That's a shame because it momentarily took me out of the story.
The family and the regulars from the last film are back, and the acting is excellent, if not particularly challenging.  I especially like Sally Hawkins as the ultra-innocent credulous wife - getting it right all the time and never really seeking the credit.

I didn't particularly want to see this film, but it was definitely worth a watch and I would recommend it to all.

We saw this film near the end of its run at CineWorld in Basildon - there were just the two of us in the theatre, so no noisy children, or adults.  A very positive experience all round.

New Beginnings

Preached at Christ Church, Billericay 7 Jan 2018

New Year – New Start

Happy New year!  I hope you all have a very blessed 2018.  New year is a time when we take stock, reflect on how we’d like our lives to be and potentially decide to make some changes.  It’s an opportunity for a new start, a new beginning in a small part of our lives.
This year I’m going to:
-    get fit
-    get thin
-    get a new job
-    read my bible more
-    pray more
The bad news is that most of us will fail.
I’m happy to report that I made a new year’s resolution many years ago that I have kept ever since the day I made it.  I decided that year that I would not make any more new years resolutions ever!  … and I never have.

Readings - Beginnings

Our readings this morning are both about beginnings.  Genesis is about the very beginning of the Universe, and Mark is about the beginning of the second phase of the Universe.  This morning I am going to look at the Mark reading and see what it has to say about new beginnings.

Heralded

Sometimes new beginnings are heralded, so that we know that something is coming in advance.  John was the man who had the news about Jesus starting his ministry.  So before we get on to the new beginning lets take a closer look at the start of it.

John the Baptiser

John’s ministry is prophesied in Malachi 3:1 ‘“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.’
John in the dessert dressed in camel hair and eating locusts sounds a bit odd to us, but his dress was quite intentional. It was a signal, to those who knew their scriptures, of who he was.  Camels hair and a leather belt signified that John was the promised “Return of Elijah”.  2 Kings 1:8
They replied, “He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”

Elijah will return

Elijah’s return is also prophesied in Malachi, in chapter 4 verse 5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.”  John, is the man who is Elijah, as Jesus says in Matthew 11:14 “And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.”

To see John and repent.

To go to see John was not a simple journey, it was likely that he was based in the wilderness in the valley outside Jerusalem.  If he was always based near the Jordan river, as he must have been if he was always baptising people – it is the only water in the area, - then it is at least a 21 kilometres walk.  The road out of the city takes a steep descent, and if you have to go off the road through the wilderness the climb is even more difficult.  That is to say nothing about the climb back up to Jerusalem.  A visit to John is at least a day trip – and quite a long day’s trip.
Despite this, John was getting a lot of visitors and what he was doing was similar to the prophets – calling for repentance and a new turning to God and offering forgiveness of sins.  But John included baptism in water – something that had previously been a requirement only for Gentile converts to Judaism.
John, we are told would not baptize anyone without a clear statement of repentance.

John’s Message.

His message is clear “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Along comes Jesus

And one day, Jesus is there waiting to be baptised.  If we look at Matthew’s account we will see that John had a problem with the idea that Jesus should seek his baptism.  After all, why be baptised for the forgiveness of sins when you are not a sinner.  Jesus tells him “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15).  John consents and Jesus is baptised.

Public Declaration

The baptism will have taken place in front of the crowd that was already there listening to John, and others who were there to receive baptism, or who had just been baptised themselves.  It is Jesus’ public declaration of His ministry.  He has gone from being someone who is preparing to someone who is ready.  It is a new beginning, a change of lifestyle, time to get started.  He has accepted the plan – that he has come to die for the sins of those who trust in Him.

What did it do? - align with Humanity

By going through with His unnecessary baptism He has aligned himself with all of us – those who DO need to be baptised and forgiven.  He now has that experience that His followers will later share – something in common with our humanity.

What did it do? - Holy Spirit

As Jesus comes up out of the water he sees heaven being torn open.  I doubt that this means something like a strip of wall paper being torn of a wall, it is more like the whole wall being removed so that Jesus can now see things clearly from His fathers point of view.  This reminds me of Elisha and his servant in 2 Kings 6.  Elisha is being chased by the King of Aram. From verse 14: Then the king sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city. When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked.  “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
Truth was that Elisha was not outnumbered at all.
Jesus’ vision after His baptism has shown him the truth – the spiritual truth of how things are.  He can now see clearly and understand His fathers perspective.

What did it do? - Holy Spirit

After the vision, a voice is heard from heaven “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  Matthew reports it slightly differently, and leaves us in no doubt that the voice was heard by all those present.  Matthew reports the voice saying “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  Hearing this must have been very encouraging for Jesus.

The temptation – a new beginning.

And encouragement was exactly what he needed.  If we read the next verse (12), we see that immediately the Holy Spirit sends him out into the desert to be tempted for forty days.
That story is for another day.  For today we must remember that Jesus a long time ago made a decision to follow His father, and now he has made a public declaration by His baptism that he is going to follow through.  The next phase of His life has started, it is a new beginning for Him.

Tom Wright

In his commentary “Mark for Everyone”, Tom Wright says: “Any early Christian reading this passage would also, of course, believe that their own baptism into Jesus the Messiah was the moment when, for them, the curtain had been drawn back and these words had been spoken to them.”
[Repeat quote]
Why any early Christian? Surely he means any Christian?

Not any Christian

Well perhaps not any Christian.  For me baptism occurred at a very early age – I was far too young to remember it.  I expect that there are a number here who share the same experience, perhaps even most of us.  The C of E and the Roman Catholic church provide confirmation - a special service where someone who has been baptised as an infant can claim the faith they have been bought up in as their own.  For me that was a flat service where I sensed nothing – it did however serve very well as a public declaration of my faith – and that is one of its roles.

What baptism provides

Our baptism provides us with a link into Jesus.  It gives us the Holy Spirit, a sign and seal of His love for us.  The Holy Spirit also provides us with power, and helps us to see things as they really are – to lift the veil that evil puts over the world, so we can see things with the heavens opened.  Our faith, which we declare in our baptism, or confirmation, means that God looks on us in the same way that He looks on Jesus.  So God, the father, can say to us “You are my Son or Daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Adore Jesus

Last week, Dan was asking us to adore Jesus, and we sang “O come let us adore Him” multiple times.  We can only adore Jesus, if we first know that He love us.
That is what these final words of the reading allow us to do – to know that God loves us, so that we can respond with adoration.

You are my …

There doesn’t always have to be a resolution (new year’s or otherwise) to have a new beginning.  Sometimes a new appreciation of what we already know can change our approach and herald its own new beginning.
So as I finish lets take a minute to repeat these words slowly, but lets put our name at the start, so we can be sure we know who God is talking to.
This is what God says to me: “Peter, you are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
So now lets echo those words of God for each of us, don’t just say it in your head, say it under your breath, whisper it, say it out loud, I don’t mind, but as you say it remember whose voice said it first.
[Practice – leave them to it]