Advent ‘Greetings’ or “Hey, Boo!”

“Greetings” is the first word of the Christmas story. Today, it has come to mean a pleasant way to say hello to someone, but often, no more than this. Yet, in the Christmas story, the word “greetings” (Gk. χαίρω) is remarkably rich in meaning.

Mary’s role in the coming of Jesus Christ into the world is utterly unique (Luke 1). So the words had to carry deep meaning. ‘Greetings’ was a word related to rejoicing and a free gift of grace. Over the past 20 months, there has not been much reason to rejoice, and we’ve all needed extra grace to get through.

And yet, the simple word “greetings” carries deeper meaning. Linked to rejoicing and grace, but also the idea of being favourably disposed. We love it when people like us, when they are favourably disposed towards us. It might make us rejoice; or make us aware that this kindness is indeed a grace.

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What’s in a Nain?

‘What’s in a Nain? –  Raising the Widow’s Son  (Luke 7:11-17)

Every detail in the Gospel stories carries various degrees of meaning and clues.

What’s in a Nain? Nain is a very small town just about 14/5 miles south of Nazareth.

Both towns overlook the notorious Valley of Jezreel.

‘Jezreel’ a combination of two words:  ‘Almighty’ and ‘Sow’.  i.e. ‘God Sows’.

Which sounds rather lovely.

But in the Old Testament, terrible events happened here:

  • Jezebel was thrown out of the tower and eaten by dogs.
  • Ahab murdered Naboth and stole his vineyard.
  • Ahab’s sons were beheaded.
  • Deborah defeated Sisera.
  • Saul defeats the Philistines.
  • Egypt defeated King Josiah.
  • It is also next to Endor where Saul consulted a Medium before battle.

It’s looking pretty grim.

Continue reading “What’s in a Nain?”

Touching the Hem

A short devotional reading of Mark 6:53-56

They landed in Gennesaret – on the NW side of Sea of Galilee, just south of Capernaum.

This is the historic land allocation of the Tribe of Naphtali.

In Deuteronomy (33:23), the blessing of Moses to this tribe reads:

“And of Naphtali he said, ‘O Naphtali, sated/abounding with favour, and full of the blessing of the Lord, possess the lake/west and the south.

With this immense blessing, it is no wonder Gennesaret means:  Garden of the Prince.

The Garden recalls the fullness of Eden, sated with favour, full of blessing.

The Prince calls for the Messiah, the Saviour, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

This is a place where the King rules in fullness of majesty, possessing the earth in fullness of blessing.

So Jesus goes to Gennesaret.

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Palm Sunday Symbolism

Palm Sunday Pause for Thought on BBC RADIO DEVON 28 March 2021 (begins at 1:54:05)

Palm Sunday is about Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem.

The Donkey is representative of a peaceable kingly power.

The whole act is a deeply symbolic action.

And as the hooves clickety-clacked on the ground – ancient prophesy was being fulfilled.

Most of us have looked at an optical illusion.

We see one thing for a long time;

And as we stare, we see another thing altogether.

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Jesus Christ is Still King and His Gospel is Still True

Sermon preached at a Taunton Churches Together Sunday Service on 15/11/2020.

On the evening of November 5th, my wife, pregnant daughter and her husband, and our 4 year old daughter, were in the garden having a fire-pit bonfire.

We had German sausages cooking; marshmallows warming. Sparklers, and one or two thimbles of beer. We were having a great time.

When suddenly:  my daughter’s waters broke (nearly extinguishing the bonfire)! Our younger daughter Laura, said to our older daughter:  “I sometimes have accidents too Abi!”

Five hours later, she gave birth to twins.  

And their names gave rise to what I want to share today:  Alfred & Evangelina

Continue reading “Jesus Christ is Still King and His Gospel is Still True”

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.'”

He Gave Them…..

A brief quote from a brilliant piece by Stanley Hauerwas a few years ago here:

Jesus was crucified because he embodied a politics that threatened all worldly regimes based on the fear of death. And so Easter has profound political consequences.

“Jesus was crucified because he embodied a politics that threatened all worldly regimes based on the fear of death. And so Easter has profound political consequences…

…He gave them a new way to deal with offenders – by forgiving them.

He gave them a new way to deal with violence – by suffering.

He gave them a new way to deal with money – by sharing it.

He gave them a new way to deal with problems of leadership – by drawing on the gift of every member, even the most humble.

He gave them a new way to deal with a corrupt society – by building a new order, not making the old.

He gave them a new pattern of relationships between man and woman, between parent and child, between master and slave, in which was made concrete a radical new vision of what it means to be a human person.

He gave them a new attitude toward the state and toward the “enemy nation.”

Stanley Hauerwas is among the several great speakers at the 2018 BMS Catalyst Live day events in Bristol and Birmingham:

 

2018 CONTRIBUTORS

David Bebbington – Professor of History at Stirling University and Visiting Professor at Baylor University; creator of the ‘Bebbington quadrilateral’, his definition of evangelicalism

Baroness Elizabeth Berridge – Member of the House of Lords, with a wide range of interests including international freedom of religion and belief

Ron Choong – Theologian of science and biblical archaeologist; Founder and Executive Director of the Academy for Christian Thought in New York

Ruth Gledhill – Editor of ‘Christian Today’, author and commentator; previously religious affairs correspondent for The Times

Paula Gooder – Director for Mission Learning and Development in the Diocese of Birmingham; previously Theologian in Residence at the Bible Society

Rosie Harper – Vicar, Chair of the Oxford Nandyal Education Foundation, writer and activist on issues of justice and equality within and beyond the church.

Stanley Hauerwas – Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke Divinity School

Harry & Chris – Harry Baker is a world poetry slam champion, and his childhood friend Chris Read is a jazz musician; together, they are the wonderful Harry & Chris

Rula Khoury Mansour – Lecturer at Nazareth Evangelical College; specialist in conflict resolution

Amy Orr-Ewing – Director of Programmes for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics; Amy will be speaking on her doctoral research on the work of Dorothy L Sayers

Adrian Snell –  Musician; Adrian’s music is renowned worldwide, with albums including ‘Alpha and Omega’ and ‘Song of an Exile’. Adrian will be speaking on his amazing work as a music therapist, as well as playing live

Anne Wafula Strike MBE – Anne was the first wheelchair racer to represent Kenya, where she was born; she has since become a Paralympian with Team GB, has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday honours and is an author and sporting ambassador

And finally, Catalyst Live 2018 is hosted by Mark Woods – consulting editor of the Methodist recorder, author, commentator and very good friend of BMS!

 

What Easter is and isn’t

Three years ago (2015), the then Prime Minister wrote an article for Premier Christianity magazine, giving, as it were, his Easter message to the Christians of the UK.  This is definitely a step up from the “We don’t do God” politics of the Blair/Campbell era of the late 1990’s, and this in spite of the viscous rhetoric of the so-called “New Atheists,” particularly since the 9-11 attacks, Cameron’s willingness to advance a smarter politics by engaging the UK’s Christians.  That is to be commended, but.

I’m just suspicious of it all never-the-less.  At least the UK lad and ladette culture of rampantly secular and materialistic 1990’s meant that senior politicians would never get away with a nod to the UK’s diminishing religious groups.  It was open season on those silly people of faith.

However, what Cameron said was of a generally sufficient vagueness that might fool some of the people some of the time, but not me . . . three years after the event!

Continue reading “What Easter is and isn’t”

The Crib and the Cry

The Crib and the Cry;

The animals in wonder.

*

The Cross and the Why;

The people in blunder.

*

Was this Jesus the Son of God?

As a baby surely not!

As a man, upon a cross, surely, no.

What would it look like if God came to earth;

*

In disguise, as one of us?

Would we see it?

Would we know?

Of course we wouldn’t, so off we go.

*

Doing our thing, without a thought;

Of the One who made us,

And saved us, our salvation bought.

*

Continue reading “The Crib and the Cry”

An eternal tormentist, annihilationist and universalist walk into a pub…

What follows is part of a wider response to various questions that theologian Rob Knowles has responded to.  Here, after writing a thorough response and critique of C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, to which the opening of the article below refers, Rob proceeds to outline the actual biblical view(s) of what is associated with biblical notions of judgment and hell.

This debate suffers from the worst kinds of crappy-Christian polemics, historical amnesia and hermeneutical foreclosure, and dare I say, the real possibility that many Christians are going to be really cheesed off if God does indeed save everyone! Similarly, if God does or will save everyone, would that constitute what my brother refers to as ‘a pleasant hostage situation’?

If someone of the scholarly stature of A. C. Thiselton can confidently and unashamedly assert that within the Bible there exists three contradictory traditions, the interpreting community that is the Church had best sit up and pay proper theological attention!  At the very least, this would make an interesting discussion actually worth listening too, if our three traditions named in my title ever got into that pub!

Anyway, enjoy.  Cheers….

gbbf-glass

How could hell be just?
I have already said a lot on this question in my earlier theodicy on “the problem of evil”. There I offered a highly modified version of C.S. Lewis’s theodicy in his book, The Problem of Pain (see above). The theodicy went into some detail on the question of hell, and broadly rejected C.S. Lewis’ thinking on the matter in favour of A.C. Thiselton’s view, which we might call the “deliberate ambiguity” approach to hell. Lewis’s theodicy, in my view, was at its strongest in describing how, given that God had decided to create “persons” with (at least some measure of free will), then this was impossible without (a) some kind of neutral background – creation or “nature”, and (b) the possibility of us deciding to do wrong. These two factors explained 80% of the suffering in the world: that is, when it comes to the question: “why is there so much suffering in the world?” our answer is – roughly speaking – about 80% in agreement with the atheists. They say: there is no God; there is suffering; so humankind must have caused the suffering. We 80% agree that humankind must have caused the suffering – with the qualification that demonic influence on humanity also has to be accounted for.


The main exception to this was (c) what Lewis referred to as remedial suffering – suffering associated with God’s disciplining intervention into our lives, and with our going “cold turkey” on sins once we had decided to follow God – a “cold turkey” experience that Lewis, rightly, likened to crucifixion, since Paul speaks of the crucifixion of the sinful nature in the Christian.


In my view, though, Lewis’s theodicy was at its weakest in its depiction of God as being less than able to fully resolve the problem of human sin – as though the Almighty God was threatened by sin, and could only partially guarantee a partial salvation that heavily depended on our co-operation and works. The effect was to leave the reader exhausted, thinking that his or her works could be the deciding factor in his or her salvation.
To my mind, this view, whilst rightly stressing human responsibility, fails to present the biblical picture of God’s sovereignty. Yes, God is the crucified God, who suffers with us in weakness. And, for God as a man in Jesus Christ, nobody can under-estimate the suffering of the cross, and the difficulty God faced at that point, given the parameters that he had placed upon himself.

Continue reading “An eternal tormentist, annihilationist and universalist walk into a pub…”

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