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

Monday, December 11, 2006

Flushed Away

A google preview.
Have a look at the preview and see if its your sort of file. By the makers of Wallace and Grommit, I was probably going to enjoy this film. I was not disappointed. A reasonable plot, some decent characters, and more jokes at other films expense than I can poke a stick at. It scores only 3.5/5 on the google page overall. I thought that was slightly disappointing, but I suppose across that many reviewers its not bad.
Our pet rat - Rodney is left alone, the house to himself. A sewer rat is left in the house by a freak event in the sewer and flushes Rodney down the toilet. He finds himself in Rat London, and meets Rita, and her enormous family. He's helpless, clueless and a danger to himself and others as Rita battles the baddies for a fake gem. Then there's the quest to get home, and some interesting chase scenes, but this part of the film if any lacked cartoon invention, if not cartoon jokes (they are there a plenty). Finally rat London is saved from the frog baddies, some of whom are french - definitely an intended pun I think.

As the animation gets more realistic, and the animation is VERY realistic, so the whole feel of the product moves away from the cartoon genre that it came from. That's a pity. I think back to Roger Rabbit and the handcuffs. Those type of jokes are completely absent here. This type of animation has the potential to switch between the two, and make something truly unique.

My recommendation, if your a Wallace & Grommit fan, don't miss it.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Luke 1:1-25 - The lot fell on Zechariah - first assessed sermon.

It was just another day at work for Zechariah. He's probably about 60, and very familiar with preparing for his day. His division were on duty today, so the preparations and prayers are more meticulous than other days. Perhaps he's wondered what will happen. More likely he had got used to the idea that someone would be chosen, they would go into the presence of God, and say their prayers, He was probably expecting a normal day. There are so many priests that they don't all get the chance, and when they do its their one and only chance. They will never be chosen again. When the lots were cast it was HIS turn. His mouth was dry – he was nervous and excited at the same time. I expect he checked to make sure that he knew the prayer – the prayer for the redemption of Israel. You couldn't go into God's presence and bother Him with little things – inconsequential things like wanting a son, and anyway Elizabeth was far too old for that now. So in he goes to perform his duties. And His world changes completely. We've heard the story, his prayers are answered – both his prayer for the redemption of Israel, and his private prayer – the one he'd just about given up on. Now an angel appearing is quite unusual today – when was the last time you saw one? It was even more unlikely then, but asking for proof – for a sign, was not the best possible response. So the sign he got was one that was obvious to everyone.

I am going to look more closely at the event that started it all. The lot fell on Zechariah. Was that just chance? Zechariah and his fellow priests would have believed that the lot was cast as a way of letting God have a say in the matter. We do not know the mechanism that was used - what exactly they did, but they did it because they believed that it was God who should choose, not one of the human beings. Today we would probably say that casting lots for something was a fair way of allocating a scares resource, or a rare opportunity. We would put the result down to 'chance' to a 'random' event. The Israelites did not see it like that. In the same way that some Christians don't believe in coincidences, but in God-incidences, the Israelites believed that God was there, involved in His world, in the tiniest detail, such as the casting of lots.

I should make a distinction here between the casting of lots to make a decision, and the casting of lots when each share of the lot is contributed by those who take part. That is called gambling, or gaming in the modern politically correct speech. Is it right for us to pay our pound, in the hope of winning millions back? Somebody will win it eventually, but by buying a share and hoping to get millions back we are chasing after money, not after God. Our purpose should always be to seek after God – to get nearer to Him. Riches will not do that, they are more likely to take your attention away from God.

Taking part in the lottery may not be such a good idea, but is there ever a time when a Christian would consider casting lots, in the same way as the Jews did? There appears to be only one occurrence in the new Testament where lots are cast. As the disciples re-grouped after the resurrection, and the enormity of what had happened began to sink in, they were concerned to replace Judas so that there would continue to be 12 apostles. Two people were suggested, and being unable to decide for themselves between the two, they prayed and cast lots. That is reported in Acts chapter 1, immediately following this in Acts chapter 2 they receive the promised Holy Spirit, and there is never another report of lots being used to understand Gods will. It is not required any more.

When Zechariah went into the presence of God, in the inner sanctum of the temple, he was closer to God there than he had ever been in his life. He went there to deliver the prayers of Israel to God. He went into the presence of the King. Now God has another temple in which to live – His people.

Do you remember the adverts for the National Lottery. The ones with a big hand coming out of the heavens and a voice saying “It could be you”, as the index finger pointed at someone? They want you to believe that a benevolent god will make you rich. What happens in reality is that when you become a Christian, God gathers you up in His hand, and says “It IS you”. You remain in God's hands for the rest of eternity. God brings you closer to Himself than Zechariah ever got in the temple. Your prayers are heard directly by God. Your big formal prayers that Jesus would return and finalise the establishment of His kingdom and bring an end to pain and suffering. Your small prayers for the well being of your friends and family, for those around you. You don't have to go to a particular place where God is – you have become the particular place where God is. God through His Holy Spirit is with you all the time where ever you are.

If God is with you all the time he will expect you to be doing His work as well. We have seen God at work through the tiniest things in His creation. When the lot fell for Zechariah, a whole stream of events was started that ultimately lead to the arrival of Jesus, to His death and resurrection, and to you and I being able to live with God.

As an Israelite priest Zechariah was committed to working for God. When his big chance arrived he didn't realise what was going to happen. He wasn't expecting to meet heavenly beings, or that His prayers would be answered in such a dramatic fashion. We too as committed Christians are intent on working for God. How do we respond to the little chances that come our way to do His work? Each of us will have been given specific tasks by God. I know what mine are. While I'm in training it's easy for me to understand, later it may not be so straight forward. I'm assuming you know what yours are too, but how do you respond to the small chances that you have?

We all remember Billy Graham, I expect. Possibly the 20th century's greatest evangelist. There's a long chain of conversions that leads to Billy Graham:

  • Sunday School teacher Edward Kimball helped lead Dwight L. Moody to Christ;

  • J. Wilbur Chapman was converted at a Dwight L. Moody evangelistic meeting;

  • Billy Sunday was converted at a Chapman meeting;

  • Mordecai Ham was converted at Billy Sunday meeting;

  • and Billy Graham was converted at a Ham meeting.

The first person in the list was Edward Kimball. I know nothing else about him, but I want to ask the question, not “who lead him to Christ?”, but who encouraged him to become a Sunday school teacher? What about the others, who invited them to their first Christian meeting, or the meeting they were converted at, or the meeting where they decided to become an evangelist?

Its in these tiny decisions that God ultimately makes a difference in his world.

Many years ago we had a mission in Billericay, a large tent was erected on the green, and posters put up around town. I prayed for an opportunity to speak with one of my neighbours about it, and the chance was given. Normally I rarely got the chance to speak to him, but that week I spoke to him three times. Was that just chance? He didn't want to go to one of the meetings, but he was interested in what was happening and why. A seed was planted – I hope it will eventually grow. But the point of the story is that for once I grasped the opportunity that was staring me in the face, checked with God that is was the right thing to do and followed up. It would have been easy for me at any time to ignore the situation, and miss the chance.

It doesn't have to be an evangelistic opportunity, it could be a chance to encourage a friend, or just enquire how they are and offer to pray for them. Zechariah, prepared carefully, I'm sure, for his day in the temple, but he didn't respond particularly well to his chance, that's probably because he didn't really expect God to do anything, but Zechariah didn't have the Holy Spirit 'whispering in his ear'. We do!

What do you expect of God this Christmas ? More than Zechariah? Something immediate and incredible? Like a visit from an angel? Or would you prefer a chance to be involved in his work, and a chance to set off a chain of events that leads to something even more incredible?


Saturday, December 09, 2006


Terry Pratchett

ISBN 978-0-385-60984-5

Tiffany Aching is almost thirteen, she live on Disc World, and is a trainee witch. Tiffany has voices in her head that help her, and us, see what is really going on. She is also frequently surrounded by very small blue men, they are called the Nac Mac Feegles. They have a duty of care over Tiffany, although they would not necessarily express it like that, so when ever she's in trouble they are watching over her and do their best to help. The Nac Mac Feegles have no fear, except of women, especially angry women, and of course witches. Otherwise they are always up for a fight. They provide the lighter moments in the book, and prevent us from taking the story too seriously. Tiffany is the typical precocious child, and will not do as she's told. She's not bad, quite the reverse, but her sense of independence gets her into trouble. She's looked after by an older witch, who is supposed to be training her. She's taken to see the dance where summer and winter swap as the dominant elemental for the new season. The dance is the Black Morris. -She joins in – always a bad idea, and gets mistaken for the Summer Lady. That's when the trouble starts, the wintersmith falls in love with her, and all sorts of dangerous things begin to happen.

Its Mistress Weatherwax (the hag 'o' hags as the Nac Mac Feegles call her) who's really looking after Tiffany and training her and testing her. She is one of the original characters in Disc World, and appears in many of the books. Here we see a softer side of her, but only just.

Using elements from various mythological stories, new ideas and twists, and of course the setting of disc world itself we have another brilliant story from Terry Pratchett. If you've read any of the Disc World stories, you'll already know what a good story teller Pratchett is. The characters are developed nicely from the previous book in the series, and you have a feeling there is more to come. Which we certainly hope there is.