Friday, 23 April 2010

Reclaiming St George

It is common nowadays to read reports about how we should reclaim the English Flag from the BNP, who have started using it as a symbol of their political stance on the issue of immigrants, and their desire to see a 'white' Britain. Every year, people are encouraged to display the English flag on St George's Day, to reclaim it as a patriotic symbol. One of my friends has changed her Facebook picture to the picture of the flag, and I think this is an act of patriotism, and not a political declaration. But there is an election soon......

However, for all this talk about reclamation, maybe it is time for Christians to reclaim St George - he is a Saint, after all.

As with many stories, we tend to remember only certain bits, and a lot of the details get ignored, or forgotten. So, we know about the dragon (or camel, as one article I read recently speculated), but we don't know about what the dragon was doing, and why it needed to be killed.

There are many parallels between the story of St George, and that of the story of Perseus, from the Greek myth, which is retold in the recent 'Clash of the Titans' film. St George comes across a kingdom which is being terrorised by a dragon (or camel; this is where I think the camel theory falls down somewhat) and a beautiful maiden has been tied to a rock at the water edge as a sacrifice, in order to try and appease the dragon and stop it attacking them any more. The dragon approaches the maiden, George approaches the dragon, and there is a battle, and George slays the dragon. Thus far, the two stories are similar, but they start to diverge here. 

Unfortunately, George was not allowed to marry the girl he had saved as Perseus did. The reward he had was very different. He started to preach to the people in that kingdom, and he saw many people converted to Christianity, and they were baptised, and George did great works for the sake of the Kingdom of God. 

St George's day has become, for me, at least, not a story about a man defeating a dragon. It is a reminder of a man who had a message and he preached that message to great effect. It is a reminder for me, and hopefully for every Christian, that God has given us a great message of salvation which needs to be told in order that others would believe. 

Thursday, 8 April 2010


I have just submitted a reference form for a position serving as a missionary in Africa. I have done all I can do for now, and I have to wait. I am not always very good at this, so there is going to be a good lesson for me here, no doubt!!

Isaiah, the prophet, writes

 1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains might quake at your presence—
2 as when fire kindles brushwood
   and the fire causes water to boil—
 to make your name known to your adversaries,
   and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
   you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 From of old no one has heard
   or perceived by the ear,
 no eye has seen a God besides you,
   who acts for those who wait for him. Isaiah 64v1-4

I wait. God acts. 

Friday, 2 April 2010

The Gospel according to Agatha Christie

 This is the first of an occasional series of writings that will appear in this blog looking at how we find hints or reflections of the gospel message in a wide range of contemporary media. And if you were wondering how this fits into the general theme of God’s provision, which is the main purpose of this blog, well the death and resurrection of Jesus is the greatest act that God has done, and he did it for me. It was through the death and resurrection of Jesus that God was able to provide me with salvation, and many, many other things.

On the top shelf of one of the bookcases in my study, I have the complete works of Agatha Christie. Some of her stories have enthralled and excited me. Others have bored me to tears. But there is one book which carried echoes of the death of Jesus, albeit probably totally unwittingly. Murder on the Orient Express.

Let me just get you up to speed, in case you haven’t read the book. And if you are reading it now, then go finish it before you read on. Here there be spoilers!! You have been warned!!

Hercule Poirot is taking a trip on the Orient Express, which get stuck in a snow drift. No-one can get on the train, and no-one can get off. Very Christie-esque, and, unsurprisingly, there is a murder. A guy called Ratchett is found with a large number of different stab wounds – some deep, some shallow. As the story progresses, we find that more and more people appear to have a motive to kill this man, and the denouement is that they all attacked him, stabbing him with a view to killing him. Towards the end, Poirot declares that they all killed the victim.

Now what does this have to do with the Easter story? Well, the answer to the question ‘Why killed Jesus?’ is a very interesting thing. Was it the Jews? Pontius Pilate? Satan? God?  Us?

Well, historically, the Jews and Pilate played a very significant role. But it was just that – it was a role. God used them to get the result he wanted, which was the crucifixion of Jesus. This wasn’t a cruel act, it was an act of great love.  And God allowed this to happen so that we would have a way to come back to him. The death of Jesus was a sacrificial death, and it was done in order that our sins would be taken away.

Stuart Townend wrote a hymn called ‘How deep that Father’s love’, and it contains this line, ‘It was our sin that held him there’. Our sins, the things we do that let God down, are the things that held Jesus to the cross, and, in a very real sense, we are responsible for the death of Jesus. Just as Poirot declared that everyone was guilty, so does God! Paul writes, in Romans, that ‘all have sinned’, and if we all have sinned, then we all have a part in the method that God uses to deal with this sin. We should be punished, but God laid all the sins that we have committed on Jesus shoulders, and when he died, so did all our sins. We just need to declare that we believe that Jesus truly was the Son of God, and is capable to take away our sins through his death on the cross.

But there is another aspect of the story that it is worth considering. Early in the story, chapter 3, if you want to look it up, Ratchett goes to Poirot, obviously in the belief that Poirot could save him – Ratchett is under the belief that he is going to die.. Poirot would have nothing to do with him, and only gets interested in the case once there is a murder to solve. There are some very close parallels here between this fictional story, and what happened in the hours before Jesus died on the cross.  

Jesus knew that he was going to die. In the hours leading up to his arrest and crucifixion, he prays to God, asking that God would find some other way to achieve what needed to be done. Jesus asks that this ‘cup’ would be taken away, but no matter what happened, Jesus would do God’s will. Jesus knew what this prayer would mean; he knew what his mission was, and he knew what was needed in order to complete this mission. It was this – that he would die so that we could be restored to God. For Jesus, just as for God, it was an act of great love. Jesus could have stopped what happened at any point. He could have called for a legion of angels. He could have just spoken, as the words of Jesus carry great power, but Jesus did nothing.  He went to God, pleaded with God for protection, so that, like Ratchett, he wouldn’t have to die. Poirot didn’t act to stop Ratchett dying, because he knew who Ratchett was, and what he had done. God didn’t act to stop Jesus dying, because he knew who Jesus was, and what had to be done, so that the terrible problem of sin could be dealt with.

And that is the point of the cross, and the point of Easter. God dealt with sin. Everyone’s sin. Your sin. And the question I want to pose to you is ‘What will you do in response?’

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Good Friday?

It is quite common to hear preachers build sermons or talks around why we call Good Friday good, when something indescribably bad happens. And the main thrust is that, even though the events that we remember are terrible, the results are amazing.  Because Jesus died, we can, if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10v9), then we can experience a renewed and restored relationship with God, our Creator and Sustainer. Or to put it as Paul puts it, we are saved.

That would be a ‘Good Friday?’ talk. This blog is a ‘Good Friday?’ blog        .

Now, the traditional view of the Easter weekend is that Jesus was crucified in the afternoon of the Friday, buried in the evening, stayed in the tomb on the Saturday, and was raised back to life on the Sunday morning.  As the Jews measured their days from sunset to sunset, then this is only really 1½ days in the tomb. But this isn’t what Jesus was expecting himself.  Listen to some of the things he himself said about his death.

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12v40 ESV)

Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple [meaning his body], and in three days I will raise it up." (John 2v19 ESV)

Now, you might be able to stretch an argument, however shaky, to say that Jesus was in the tomb for parts of three days – but you can’t say that he was there for three nights. So, is Jesus lying, or mistaken? Of course not!! So we must be missing something!!

Consider, then the following verses.

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. (Mark 16v 1 ESV)
Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23v56 ESV)

If you try and put those two verses together, it is quite hard. The women prepared spices before the Sabbath, but bought them after the Sabbath…?

This only really makes sense if Mark and Luke are referring to different Sabbaths. I am not going to go into the full technical explanation, but the Passover festival which the Jews remembered every year was classed as a Sabbath, but it did not have to fall on the same day as the weekly Sabbath. Passover was the festival that marked the beginning of the Exodus, when the Jews left slavery in Egypt, headed for the Promised Land. There was to be a special feast, when the Israelites would kill a lamb, and this was completed before sunset on the day before the Passover. If you want to read more, this is to be found in Exodus 12.

So, Jesus was killed on the day before the Passover Sabbath, which would have been a Thursday. After this Sabbath, the women went to buy the spices, and prepared them the same day, but finished the task before sunset, when the weekly Sabbath started. After the Sabbath, in the morning, which would be Sunday, they took the spices to anoint the body; but they didn’t find a body.

Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday, and placed in the tomb before sunset, which marked the beginning of the Passover Sabbath. This was entirely fitting with the way the Israelites had to prepare the Passover Lamb, and Jesus is elsewhere in Scripture called ‘the Lamb of God’. So the three days and nights that Jesus was in the tomb were Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Don’t forget though that the Jewish day runs from sunset to sunset. This means that Jesus would actually have been raised sometime after the sunset of the third day – it wasn’t noted that his body had gone until the morning, but this doesn’t mean that this was when he actually was raised.

But why is this important? Well, of course, the most important thing is that we remember why Jesus died, and what this means – and I will return to this in my next post.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Christmas in July.....??

Some good friends of ours spent several years in Lesotho in Southern Africa, and we had the privilege of visiting them for a couple of weeks. 

When they came back, we had a special service to give them the opportunity to feedback to the church some of the work they had been involved in, and tell some of the stories. In the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas comes in December, and most missionaries from the Northern Hemisphere can't get used to this, and so will have a special Christmas in July, which is the wintertime there. Bearing this in mind, we decided to have a 'Christmas' service here last July - complete with a fellowship lunch, where members of the church ate a Christmas lunch in the church after the service. My friend, Sam, led the service, and I was invited to preach.

In preparing the sermon, I wanted to try and select a passage from the stories that we generally hear at Christmas time, the Nativity Narratives, but I also wanted to preach on a verse that taught us how we should respond to mission work as Christians.

I decided on a passage in Luke chapter 1, which contains the following verse. 

Blessed by the LORD God of Israel.....[He] has raised up a horn of salvation for us. Luke 1vv68, 69

I looked at the image of the horn, and how it relates to a demonstration of God's power, among other things. One way in which this power of God is beneficial to Christians is in mission work. One of my points was that mission exists solely because people don't worship, and as Christians are supposed to make disciples of all nations, then there are just three types of Christian when it comes to mission work - Christians who go to different cultures, Christians who send missionaries out, and disobedient Christians. 

I had written this sermon, and had read through it several times, as I usually do, but it wasn't until I was standing in front of the congregation that I was particularly challenged by the words I was saying. I felt that through the sermon I was preaching, God was speaking directly to me, challenging me about what was stopping me going overseas. And the only answer I could give was 'Nothing!'

And so started the period of enquiry that we are still going through. We are exploring a couple of options, and speaking to organisations who may be able to support us, but we are particularly sure that God has given us a very clear conviction that we should serve Him in this way. We just need to work on the finer details.......

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The beginning..........

This blog is being written to record a journey. My wife and I, along with our two girls are embarking on a trip, and although we don't yet know where we are going, or, indeed, exactly when, we do know that we are going. This blog will chart this journey of discovery. I will soon write a record of how we came to know we were going on this journey. 

The reason for this journey is straightforward - we believe we are being called to serve God overseas. In writing this blog, I want to produce a record of the wondrous provision of God to my family, as we seek to do his will. The title of the blog is taken from a book in the Old Testament which is concerned with how early Jews coped in the face of a locust swarm which devoured crops and left the nation literally with nothing. God declares that to the people who call on His name in spite of the disaster that has faced them that he will provide grain, wine and oil and they will be satisfied. Now we haven't faced a locust swarm (not yet, anyway......!!), but we all believe that God will give us everything we need as we embark on this journey, and that we will be thoroughly satisfied by his provision.

God provides in many ways, and we, as a family, can already testify in many different ways to this provision. In Ephesians, Paul writes that 'in the coming ages, [God] might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness to us in Christ Jesus' (Ephesians 2v7, ESV). Well, we are in 'the coming ages', and we worship a God who loves to give, and we worship a God who is creative in his giving, and we worship a God whose giving is inexhaustible. And when he gives, his children are satisfied - that is our experience so far, and this blog will record how this continues to be true!