About Jesus…

Having just read G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, so much stood out as, frankly, pure genius.  However, these few lines were among many that were just stunning, and I hope they inspire you to read this incredible journalistic and dare I say, playful, account of history, religion and the fact of Jesus of Nazareth….

IMG-4218“‘The first rational explanation of his life was that he never lived…

Then the idea that he was a divine being who did not exist gave place to the idea that he was a human being who did exist.

In my youth it was the fashion to say that he was merely an ethical teacher in the manner of the Essenes, who had apparently nothing much to say that Hillel or a hundred other Jews might not have said…

Then someone said that he was a madman with a Messianic delusion. Then others said that he was indeed an original teacher because he cared about nothing but Socialism; or (as others said) about nothing but Pacifism.

Then a more grimly scientific character appeared who said that Jesus would never have been heard of at all except for his prophecies of the end of the world… Among other variants on the same theme was the theory that he was a spiritual healer and nothing else…

There is another theory that concentrates entirely on the business of diabolism… as if Christ, like a young deacon taking his first orders, had got as far as exorcism and never got any further.

Now each of these explanations in itself seems to me singularly inadequate; but taken together they do suggest something of the very mystery which they miss.

There must surely have been something not only mysterious but many-sided about Christ if so many smaller Christs can be carved out of him…

It were better to rend our robes with a great cry against blasphemy… rather than to stand stupidly debating fine shades of pantheism in the presence of so catastrophic a claim… when a strolling carpenter’s apprentice said calmly and almost carelessly, like one looking over his shoulder: ‘Before Abraham was, I am.'”

Love Never Fails

Many people will be in despair and hopelessness. 

Asking:  Where is the hope in the midst of such unusual events worldwide?

 

The Apostle Paul said that ‘Love never fails’ (1 Cor 13:8).

He went on to say, “these three remain: faith, hope and love.  And the greatest of these is love” (v.13).

 

I’ll say something about this love in a minute.

But as for hope?  It is seen and acted out in and through the Church of Jesus Christ.

Just as Jesus was incarnated, 

God becoming a man;

So the Church is incarnational.  

It is the people.

The bodies are the Body of Jesus Christ in the world.  

That’s where hope lies.

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The Wall

It occurred to me in the last few days that there is a comparable situation between two unlikely events, that can end up producing similar outcomes.

At the turn of the millennium, I was a YWAM missionary, first training in the UK then in the Middle East.  Part of my own research and study involved coming to factual terms with what is termed “culture shock,” which is a very real, dynamic and potentially dangerous event.

IMG-4112

Different cultures operate in different ways.  Hot climate cultures differ from cold climate cultures.  Even one hot climate culture may differ quite dramatically from another hot climate culture, to lesser or greater degrees.  Most people who go abroad will know in tiny part what I mean.  We go for a week or two, enjoy the experience, soak up the atmosphere, enjoy ourselves.  Laugh or frown at the driving, customs, language or principle mood of the place, but in the end, the return ticket is in our pocket.  We’re going home, and we know it.  Imagine going to a place so alien in language and custom, not to mention temperature and (from a Western perspective), hygiene – with a single ticket.  You’re there for the long-haul and you’ve got to deal with what comes your way.  And anyone who thinks or assumes this is easy has not experienced what I am attempting to articulate. 

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A Saint, A Wolf & Covid-19

What follows is my extended script for a BBC Radio Devon Pause for Thought planned for Sunday 19th April 2020.  It is a fascinating truth-containing fable of the 13th century involving a famous Saint and an infamous Wolf:

St Francis of Assisi and the Wolf

During the early 13th century, we meet an extraordinary figure:  

A determined pleasure seeker in his youth, loving the good and fast life of high society.  

 

But he had an experience of Jesus Christ 

that transformed this classic sinner into a most radical saint.

 

His name is Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, but we know him as St. Francis of Assisi. 

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Transfigured Love

“I must learn in this life to accept the fact that hunger and restlessness are part of what I am made for.  To love God is not to acquire the biggest and best gratification of all but to have my whole experience of love transfigured.

Instead of the manic struggle to fill the gap in my heart, which leads to the exploitation and domination others and of my whole world, I acknowledge that I am never going to feel cosily at one with myself, all desires gratified; my longing opens out on to the horizon of the infinite God….

….[I can] however, walk with Jesus Christ in the risky territory of this world, trusting his gift and not my effort, to keep me faithful.  And instead of the urge to fill the gap in my heart, that gap becomes the way in which God’s love comes alive in me:  I start wanting what God wants, I come to share his will to give himself.

And so I begin to see other human beings in the light of God, to love them a bit more as he does, to long for their good as if it were mine.  This, says Augustine, is how the passion for justice grows out of love for God:  I stop taking it for granted that how I define what’s good for me sets the agenda for everyone else, and I learn to see that there is no good for me that doesn’t involve good for others.”

[italics mine]

Rowan William, on St. Augustine of Hippo, in ‘Luminaries: Twenty Lives that illuminate the Christian way’ pg. 17-18

Luminaries

One Step Enough for Me

I am reading John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which is to say, as intellectually stimulating as it is and as he is, this Anglican turned Catholic turned recently canonized Saint, is very demanding (thanks Tony)!!!

Newman

Anyway, I came across a poem he had read after following up on another thing, and came across a poem he wrote whilst sick and away from home.  In the current Covid-19 pandemic that has swept the globe, we can easily feel overwhelmed and disorientated.  But the language of the poem, though old fashioned does convey a truth about God’s providential care that we will do well to remember; namely that while we can never know the fullness of the How’s and the Why’s, we are nevertheless called to trust God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if not for the first time, then for the umpteenth time and in deeper, personal ways, daily.

Notice the lines in the first stanza: Keep Thou my feet; I do not see, The distant scene; one step enough for me!

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“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

One of my great joys is reading Blaise Pascal’s writings (1623-1662). He made huge contributions to the sciences of the 17th c., as a pioneer, especially in what we now call computers – he was a very smart young man.

After his premature death aged just 39, a collection of his thoughts and writings were printed in what is called Pensees, and they amount to a brilliant apologetic defense of Christianity.

He is most famous I guess for what we call ‘Pascal’s Wager’ – the argument that on the balance of probability, it is better and wiser to choose Christian faith in God than not.

He has many brilliant insights into human nature, and one of his most famous thoughts perfectly sums up the core of his argument, especially apt during this enforced slowing down of our way of life:

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Pascal

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The Spirituality of Preaching

At a 2009 Baptist World Alliance Conference in Holland, David Coffey delivered a paper called ‘Truth on Fire’ and offered 7 dimensions that any budding preacher must integrate; serving also as a reminder to experienced preachers of what is important.

The warning he offers, serves as the rubric for seeing what the 7 dimensions are trying to accomplish, and it comes from Bishop Quayle, who said, “It is no trouble to preach, but a vast trouble to construct a preacher.”  Indeed.

I was inspired to write this partly in response to the oft repeated calls that preaching has had its day.  I disagree.  Bad, shallow, weak, irrelevant preaching has had its day!  But preaching proper is Gospel food for the starving soul.  Even those who didn’t know they were hungry realise they were starving when they hear good preaching!  Or to change the metaphor, you may be able to take the horse to water, but apparently, according to the proverb, you can’t make it drink!  I disagree.  Good preaching is not only the food we need, but the salt.  If you put salt into the horses food, it will drink!

Preaching should feed the willing hungry, and drive the hesitant or unwilling to the water of life – which is Jesus himself.

Dimension 1:  The preacher must be secure in their identity in Christ.  Everyone has a worth before God even before the do anything for God.  Coffey offers the ABCD of church life:  A for Attendance figures; B for Building and Maintenance; C for Cash flow which sustains ministry; D for Discipleship.  It is the preacher/minister who must, first and foremost, who is the prime practitioner in the congregation for what it means to be a life-long learner in the school of discipleship.  In this sense, D comes way before ABC.  Thus the main task of the preaching is to conform to God’s purposes in producing Christ-like disciples in the congregation, which he describes as painstaking and agonising.  

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Storm Centres of History: Cairo

BBC Radio Devon – Pause for Thought:  Storm Centres

During the Pause for Thought recently, I’ve been talking about 7 places I have been to:  Storm-centres of history.

Today, we will go to Cairo, Egypt.

Each place I’ve chosen will be a place I have been to, either as a tourist or a missionary.

Each place is self-evidently interesting for the paradigm-shifting upheaval, the change and new course for humanity that they set.

All of them speak about the great themes of our existence:  justice, truth, freedom, good and evil, etc. and the enduring ability of human beings, bearing the image of God, to experience and endure great trials.

I was a missionary living in Cairo between 2005-07.  I learnt a little Arabic, and slowly grew into the strange new world of Egyptian culture.

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Storm Centres of History: Geneva & Reformation

BBC Radio Devon – Pause for Thought:  Storm Centres

During the Pause for Thought recently, I’ve been talking about 7 places I have been to:  Storm-centres of history.

Today, we will go to Geneva.

Geneva is a beautiful city.  I don’t know if that was the case half a millennia ago, but back in the mid-16th century, it was a religious storm-centre that changed Europe and the world forever.

John Calvin (1509-64) was a shy, French intellectual; a 2nd generation Protestant Reformer. He was a lamb who would become a lion. 

This was about reforming what was deformed in Church and cultural life.

Calvin (the lamb) himself wanted to retire to a life of private study and theological writing.  He set out for Strasbourg but a French War diverted him to Geneva.

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