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, September 29, 2008

Gibraltar 25-28 September 2008

Travel Outward
At 8:45 on the morning of the 25th the coach arrived in good time to create the maximum possible havoc with the school run. We sat in the rather too small seats of the Gatwick Flyer, on our way to Lakeside Shopping centre, a round about route across southern Essex, the countryside was beautiful on a sunny Autumn morning, it was not matched by the driver demeanor, but that was not directed at us. We picked up a few others, and changed to the airport shuttle at Lakeside. Without a care in the world we arrived at Gatwick, eagerly anticipating our two hour wait for the flight. The woman at the Easyjet check-in was friendly and cheerful, as we discussed the weather and the general lack of sunshine that we were belatedly escaping. The trip from the South Terminal to the North Terminal by automated train was uneventful, and not very crowded. The flight boarded and departed pretty much on-time. We managed to get seats in front of the wings - its more comfortable there. It also landed pretty much on time, and we cleared customs and retrieved our bags. Now to find a taxi. One indeterminate sign and one question at the information desk, and a quite long wait. We let the guy in front take the cab, and waited for the next. Then to the 'Rock Hotel'. Gibraltar is like England with a bit of a 60 & 70's feel, except that they drive on the right. We checked in and were directed to our room. The bags were already there. Probably the smoothest journey we ever has anywhere.

At 'The Rock'
The hotel is old, but has been updated well. There is the traditional fan in the room, but also air conditioning. We sat on our veranda listening to the traffic below for a good few minutes, and took a few pictures of the view. Then we went down stairs to the bar. The Rock ... "an oasis in a busy world". If you want to hurry, don't bother, might be another way of putting it, but we didn't want to hurry. The bar service was sluggish, even so, and the language difficult to understand. They speak English, or something spanishly close to it, and with heavy accents too. The food however was very good, even though the portions were a little small.
We watched the other guests - two wedding parties as it turned out, and relaxed.

Barbary Apes
More accurately Barbary Macaques. They are tail-less monkeys, not apes. The legend has it that Gibraltar will remain English until the Apes leave. We decided to go take a look. You can book a taxi that will take you to the 8 greatest tourist attractions on Gibraltar in 2.75 hours. Much too fast - you may get the unique insight of the driver, but you will miss so mush more. We bought a ticket for the cable car and went to the top. There are some picture of the 'apes' and the spectacular view from the top in the web album. The apes are not to be fed, and there are some excellent stories of people loosing ice creams, and getting bitten defending their property. The government feeds the apes, so the tourists don't have to. There are for or five family groups, depending on who you talk to. The one we saw were more interesting in getting their best side pictured than anything else. They were such posers! We wandered around the top station taking pictures and sitting in the restaurant, then decided to walk down to St Michael's cave.
After a slight diversion up to the ridge to an old battery (open by request, 24 hours notice required), and looked in at the decaying guns. Then back down. The cave is an amazing place, and too vast for my puny flash, so I have some black pictures. Its so large they hold concerts inside it. Entrance to the cave is £8 per person per day. This includes the other main attractions, which you can't possibly visit without being on the taxi tour. (Tourist rip off - just like England in the 60 & 70's and ...). We had lunch at the cafe next to the cave. Simple food and not badly priced.
After lunch we wandered the 2.4km to the down the side of the rock to the Siege Tunnels. The tunnel was carved through the chalk hill at the time of the siege of Gibraltar, one or two cannon still in place. There is also an excellent view of the airport runway from here. It starts in the Mediterranean, and ends in the bay of Gibraltar, no wonder the pilots brake sharply on landing!
Next stop the siege exhibition (where the taxis don't stop), which is out in the open air, but quite helpful in setting the scene.
After that on to the Moorish castle, and up to the top of its tower. Not very much information available on either of these things, no doubt relying on the tour guides. Then into the town, through the centre, and back to the hotel. Just time to wash the feet, and wander down to the bar, to sit on the veranda have a pint or two (only John Smiths) and a nice meal.

Thunder Storm
Awake for much of the night with an incredible thunderstorm, almost right overhead. Such a shame it was foggy and we couldn't see the lightening. In the morning there was only emergency power in the hotel. Breakfast in the almost dark. Hot food was still provided, and the shower had still worked, so not all bad.

The other 'thing to do' is visit the dolphins (not swim with them). On Saturday we set off into town and followed the map to a building site. We walked backward and forward, and backward and forward. Finally asked a waiter in a cafe who said they are now over the other side of town, and have been for 4 or 5 years!!! Not too much walking today, as we are quite stiff from all the down hill stuff yesterday, so it was on the bus. We booked our place on the boat. £20. Then you don't go to look at dolphins everyday. Now for some lunch, and somewhere to hide from the rain. After lunch we browsed the shops in the new marina, then boarded the boat. We went out along the Spanish coast, then turned and went back past Gibraltar. The Mediterranean evaporates and does not get enough water from the rivers to keep the water level up, so the Atlantic is constantly pouring in. The sea level in the med is 13 feet lower than in the Atlantic. so the boat owner says. We passed Gibraltar and travelled further east. Turning again, getting further south as we did so, and there were their fins. The dolphins come to see the boat. They swim along side, just ahead, and around the boat. They swim up-side-down, to watch the people on the boat. They jump out of the water and try to splash you. If you remember 'flipper'- these are better, and apparently more intelligent. They are so clearly enjoying themselves, and are most definitely showing off. They get in the boats wake and surf. Although we were only in their presence for a few minutes, I had a sense of something special, much more so that looking an ape in the eye.
After that some tea, and a bus (No. 3) to the other end of the Rock to Europa Point. The only lighthouse that Trinity House have outside of the British Isles. (Closed to the public) It's a desolate place, just the lighthouse, the mosque, and the bus stop. Then back to the hotel for another meal in the bar on the veranda.

Homeward bound
Something must be wrong! Another uneventful journey that ran pretty much to time.

A great few days, both relaxing and tiring at the same time.

Minor Annoyances
Having to ask for Tea and Coffee at breakfast two mornings, after having already ordered it, and being told by one of the staff "I don't do Tea"
The cobweb in the corner of the Hotel room
The tourist 'rip-off'
The 4 year old map provided only on request
The general lack of sign posts and directions
... and that's as bad as it got!

Gibraltar is going to become another Monaco! There is loads of development, and its all aimed at the yatch owner, and those who can afford houses by the waterfront.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Matt 18:15-20: Dealing with Conflict in the Kingdom of Heaven

In preparing this sermon I took considerable inspiration (and perhaps a little more) from these sermons @
How To Resolve Conflict - Tom Fuller
Dealing with Conflict while Walking in Love - Chad Payne
Dealing With Conflict - Ben Emmons
This is the longer version for the evening service.


Has anyone ever approached you and started by saying “In all Christian love ...”? It is usually bad news and means that someone has taken offence at what you've said or done. It is probably their way of trying to resolve the conflict. As we look at these verses today you will see that there are ways to do this and ways not to, but we should remember that pointing out to someone that they have sinned is never easy.

Setting in Matthew

Matthew “The teacher of Israel - “Richard Burridge – Four Gospels, One Jesus”

18:1-19:2 is called the Fourth discourse -”Life under Kingdom Authority”.

First Discourse: The Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29)

Jesus' words in today's passage were triggered by Jesus talking of his suffering and death in 17:23. Perhaps the disciples found this too much to bear, or perhaps their minds were just on other things. Either way they started by asking the question “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”

The question was no doubt partly prompted by the teaching that Jesus has already provided.

Mt 5:19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Peter, James and John have been singled out for special treatment from the other disciples:

Mt 17:1. After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John v the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.

When Peter recognised Jesus as 'The Christ' in Matthew 16, Jesus response was:

Mt 16:17. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, f and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

So the idea had been brewing in the disciples minds for a while. We cannot tell just what they thought being great in the kingdom of heaven would provide, but we must assume that it was the same sort of greatness that that they would have expected on earth – palaces, riches, and servants.

James and John have a mother who is not prepared to see her son's settle for second best, and will keep pushing the issue throughout Jesus ministry.

Jesus knows that questions like these can be very divisive, and lead to jealousy that results in arguments and fights, as one person tries to get ahead of another. The church is supposed to be based on purity – personal holiness, and unity – a sense that we are all here with the same aim, of reaching out to the surrounding community, and supporting each other as we do so. It was this that prompted the comment “See how these Christians love each other”.

So Jesus responds to the question, as he often does, by apparently talking about something different. He calls a child and tells them to be like a child. He talks to them about those who cause the child to sin being the least in the Kingdom of heaven. Well that's part of the answer. Then he goes on to underline how serious sin is. Cut off your hand, your foot, and pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin. It is better to enter the Kingdom of heaven maimed than to miss entering the Kingdom of heaven all together because of sin. This is in a style of speech that is using hyperbole to make a point, it is not meant to be taken literally.

In the same way the parable of the lost sheep that follows is there to illustrate a point. No one would expect a shepherd to leave his flock on the hill, open to the wolves, and the possibility that 20 or 30 may wander off and get lost, just to go and find one. The story is there to underline the seriousness of allowing one of the children already in the Kingdom to become lost. “God,” Jesus says “will go to extremes to prevent it happening”, and by extension so should we.

The focus then moves from causing sin to being on the receiving end of sin. The tone of the passage moves from hyperbole to practical instruction. This teaching is for those who have been sinned against.

Matt 18:15-20

Before we look at this in more detail it is worth pointing out the footnote in the Bible. Verse 15 starts “If your brother sins against you”, but our bible tells us that the earliest copies do not have the words 'against you'. We may therefore take the instruction to read “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault ...” There are some implications for this difference that we need to bear in mind later.

Remember that the background to this is all about getting into the Kingdom of Heaven and staying there.

Lets take a look at how these instructions might work through a fictional story.

Mr Smith and Mr Jones

Mr Smith and Mr Jones have been at St. Someone's for over 80 years between them. It is a growing church, since the new vicar arrived 4 years ago the church has grown from around 300 to almost 400. Many changes have happened and there is a lot of development going on. Mr Smith and Mr Jones have been close friends since childhood, and have worked on many successful church projects together.

Mr Smith is a member of the PCC, and is in charge of the project to build a new youth centre on the edge of Church grounds. He has arranged funding from all sorts of sources and is just about ready to sign the contracts. This has taken longer than he would have liked, and some of the deadlines for the funding are approaching. The project needs to start to guarantee that the funds will still be available. Mr Smith works full-time in Investment Banking.

Mr Jones is also a member of the PCC, he is in charge of the outreach team, which employs two full-time evangelists, to reach out to the people of the town. This project is seen as one of the primary reasons that the church has grown so dramatically. Mr Jones is a consultant, and works at the city hospital.

Mr Jones is often away from home, so was not at the last PCC meeting. It was there that Mr Smith persuaded the treasurer and the members of council that it would be OK to make payments to get the building started, even if these funds had to be temporarily borrowed from other funds that the church holds, one of these was the fund used to pay the evangelists. The result of this was that one of the pay cheques was bounced, and one of the evangelists not paid. Mr Jones was understandable very unhappy about this.

What can Mr Jones do?

3 step process

Jesus provides us with three steps that will help us resolve the issue.

He instructs the victim to take action, that may not seem radical now, but it was in Jesus' time ...???

Step 1 – The One-to-One

We earn the right to correct. This is where we came in! There must be a relationship of trust so that you can take someone aside and tell them “I don't think you should have done that”.

A quiet correction is better than a public rebuke. We mustn't discuss this problem with others yet, we don't want to create gossip.

We are not there as an accuser – that's the devil's role, but as counsellor. Verse 15 says "to show." This word is more than just providing evidence of something – it suggests showing to the point of conviction. We need to work with people, showing them the Word, walking them through the situation so that they understand. It is our responsibility to do this in a way that the person themselves can see what’s happened.

The rewards are great but so are the risks.
We need to be very careful before we take our concerns to another – even one on one. This whole system fits nicely with what Paul told the Galatian church – but listen to his words in chapter 6 closely:

Gal 6:1-2 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.

Sometimes the reason we see things in others is that these same things reside in us. Make sure you have dealt with your own life first (remember the log and the speck?) and are ready to help others without yourself being tempted.

Mr Smith and Mr Jones

Mr Jones arranged to see Mr Smith one evening. Went to his home and explained that the actions he had taken were wrong, and had caused problems for people who could not afford to be without their pay packet when it was due. Mr Smith did not mention how angry he was at the actions of his friend, nor did he show his temper at the meeting. His only purpose was to show Mr Smith his sinful act. He listened patiently to all Mr Smith had to say.

Mr Smith rejected Mr Jones statement, saying that his actions were not the cause of the problem, and that the treasurer, who knew the situation, could easily have arranged an overdraft to ensure that everyone was paid.

Mr Jones did not accept the excuses of his friend, and decided to proceed to step two.

Step 2 – "I’m not just making this up."

If you are rejected by the person you have approached, alone – it’s time to bring in a few others. It’s not clear whether the others are meant to bring additional evidence or just be there to witness the one on one encounter – so that later one the person who has sinned can’t do a "my word against yours" kind of thing. Jesus uses Deuteronomy 19:15 as his Scriptural basis.

Deuteronomy 19:15 One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offence he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

You know, it’s important. If we aren’t willing to make our assertions when other objective people are listening, then maybe we need to rethink our accusation. It’s one thing to accuse someone privately but when there are others around the accusations can be challenged.

Mr Smith and Mr Jones

Mr Jones found two fellow PCC members, both of whom had abstained from the vote, and set up a meeting with them and Mr Smith in the church. Mr Jones stated his issues clearly in front of all three of them.

Mr Smith also re-stated his belief that what he did was the best option in the circumstances

The witnesses were split one clearly believed that Mr Smith was wrong, the other was not so sure.

Mr Smith remained unrepentant.

Mr Jones decided to take it to the church, as the only way forward, he did not want to have to break his friendship with Mr Jones.

Step 3 – The Big Guns

At this stage more members of the church are required. The sin is serious enough for the whole church to be involved. In our terms this may be a special meeting of the PCC or a meeting of all of the congregation.

If this doesn't work the church may make the decision to sever the relationship with the individual concerned – this is called excommunication, and would mean that the person concerned was no longer a communicant of the church and therefore not welcome at services.

When Jesus says “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector”, the you is singular, so Jesus is recognising that the personal relationship is broken, but is not extending that to the entire church.

There are times when it is right for the church to excommunicate someone. That story is in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 – take a look at it later.

Here’s Paul’s take on it: 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

Mr Smith and Mr Jones

Mr Jones arranged for a special PCC meeting, and invited some of the members of each of the projects, including the two witnesses he had before. The meeting was long and difficult, but an independent conflict resolution specialist had been appointed to run the meeting. He was a Christian from another church, in another diocese, experienced in resolving conflict issues in the church.

The decision of the meeting that Mr Smith had, in his eagerness to server the church, overstepped the mark and fallen into sin, by effectively robbing some of the church members to further the work of the church.

Had Mr Smith not accepted this decision the meeting would have had to decide what it would do about him. Mr Jones would have to break his long friendship, and not associate himself with Mr Smith again.

As it is Mr Smith is still a part of the church, still running his building project and is still good friends with Mr Jones (because all my stories have happy endings!), because he accepted that what he had done was wrong and he compensated the evangelist for the the loss of his wages. So his repentance was complete.

Conflict resolution summary

Remember that the objective here is to bring the offending person to repentance, and retain them in the Kingdom. We are not looking for punishment, or for some sort of retribution.

We looked at the extreme lengths that Jesus suggested you should got to to retain your place in the Kingdom – by chopping off your leg, or plucking out your eye. While those seem extreme the measures that God took to get you there in the first place sound even more extreme. God sent his son to become a man and to die for us all, so that each of us may find our place in the Kingdom of heaven.

All this is in the context of the rules for living together as brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of heaven.

Eternal value

That make these next two verses extraordinarily powerful.

Peter has already been given the keys to the Kingdom in Mt 16:19. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”

The keys are symbolic of course, but the symbolism is pretty obvious. On Peter's say so you either get into heaven, or you are thrown out of heaven.

Here Jesus extends the right to loose and bind to those who meet in his name to resolve disputes. Once the issue, whatever it is, is agreed by those meeting to make the agreement, then that agreement is made in heaven.

The actual translation of “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you i by my Father in heaven.“

is closer to “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will have been done for you by my Father in heaven.”

Imagine for a moment a scene in a theatre, a comedy, where one person is trying to be a mirror image of the other. Everything that one person does is immediately and accurately, if they're doing it well, copied by the other. If they're really good you wouldn't know who was leading and who was following.

The is how it is with the loosing and binding. By our actions we are having a direct effect on what happens in the kingdom.

Mr Smith and Mr Jones

Mr Smith and Mr Jones have come to an agreement on the way their church will move forward. The purity of the people has been restored, and the unity of purpose has also been restored. Because this was done with others present Jesus was with them, and their decisions are supported in the Kingdom of heaven.