Monthly Archives: July 2011

Hagar and Sarah

 

They come back the next week,

And the minister announces at the start of this sermon

This week I would like to speak to you about a subject very dear to my heart

The oil that never ran out in the story of the prophet Elijah

And this time people definitely know this is the same sermon

But out of politeness they don’t say anything

Not wanting to upset this minister who so deeply loves this story.

 

The next week everybody files in

And the minister stands up after the fourth hymn

And he solemn declares brothers and sisters, the sermon this week is on the topic of the oil that never ran out with the prophet Elijah

Now people have run out of patience

So a delegation is formed, and they prevail upon the session clerk

Who then plucks up the courage to go to the minister (clearly this is not representative of this Church) and says

“Minister, we’ve notice that for the four last weeks you have preached exactly the same sermon

“I know says the minister,

And I’ll keep preaching it until everybody puts it into practice.

 

And I feel like that minister this week.

 

I feel that every since I have picked up the book of Galatians

I have been preaching virtually the same sermon every single week.

That Paul has been relentless in his theme

Time and again, with different images, bringing us back to the same fundamental truth about ourselves and God

And like that minister

I sense the battle we have is not for novelty, not for a new sermon, but

To somehow keep pondering this message

Until we leave this Church as different people.

A New Reality

Put another way, our transformation is not instant

But like all the truly important things

And the finest quality malt

Is going to take a little bit of time.

 

This is about the struggle we have to reground our reality

To fundamentally point our lives in a different direction

To actually get at the root of why life does not work properly for us

And to live in the truth of this great gospel, this great message, this great transformation in human existence which Jesus Christ brought about

This stuff is potent, because it can change you

It is lethal because it will kill your old self

And it is the very breath of life itself, because it will guide you away from feckless, anxiety ridden hatred of self, of others

And into life which is full of the spirit, and of truth, and of newness, a life of the most extraordinary power.

Opposites

Paul’s letter has been constructed on a number of opposites.

 

Man (Humanity)

God

Galatians 1:1

Slavery

Freedom

Galatians 5:1

Works

Faith

Galatians 2:16

Condemned

Justified

Galatians 2:16

Cursed

Blessed

Galatians 3:9

Flesh

Spirit

Galatians 5:22

Law

Promise

Galatians 3:5

Slave

Son

Galatians 4:7

Hagar

Sarah

Galatians 4:24-26

Jerusalem – now

Jerusalem – above

Galatians 4:24-26

 

And God has moved you from this place of death,

To this new place of life

 

We have been moved into this new column, but there is something in us

Something addicted to failure

Something in us wants the same tired narrative, rather than newness

Bizarrely a preference for that which is death to us

 

And and now you want to go back there.

 

Paul makes his point this morning, by bringing a new story, once again to do with Abraham.

The Story Of Abraham

Now I am going to tell you this story,

And in the end I am going to ask you who you feel sorry for:

 

Abraham as you recall is God’s pensioner

The proof that God does not give up on those who sometimes feel that they are past their sell-by date

In a sense he is a reminder that we who measure our life as harking back to youth

Are actually getting closer to eternity.

 

Abraham is dogged by two big failures, the failure of his family to move to a new land which he had set out to go for

And the failure, in his eyes to have children.

 

And when Abraham is 75 years old, God gives him a promise

He promises him the land

And he promises him children

The promise of God is bigger than Abraham’s failure.

 

But God takes more time to bring this about than Abraham would like

God likes to move slower than us

And in Genesis 15 Abraham complains that he still has no heir

And God rather than give him the heir at that point

Gives him the promise again

And Abraham believes – and this is a big moment, Abraham believes and it is credited to him as righteousness

 

By Genesis 16 it is not Abram but Sarai, his wife, who has lost patience

And she says to Abram, who is now 85

“Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children.  Go in to my servant, it may be that I shall obtain children by her.”

And Abram is quite up for this idea

And he goes into Hagar

And she conceives

And this altars the relationship in the house

And Hagar looks with contempt upon her mistress Sarai

And Sarai goes to Abram, saying “What will I do?”
And Abram says “Do as you like”

So Sarai deals harshly with Hagar.

 

In a very poignant scene Hagar flees into the desert

Where she meets an angel

Who promises that her children will be a great number

And his name will be Ishmael (which means God hears)

Because God has heard her affliction

And Hagar returns to the home

And has a boy when Abram is 86 years old

And Abram calls the boy Ishmael.

 

Responding To The Story

How do you respond to this story?

 

My response is always one of sympathy for Hagar

Who is a slave woman caught up in a web of relationships

Which have a great power over her

They can dictate where she lives, how she is treated

And what she can do with her body.

 

Sure, she mocks Sarai, but this after much that has been done to her.

 

What happens to Hagar is the result of impatience,

It is the result of abuse of power

And the child who is born to her will be a slave also like her

Forever forced to play second to Isaac who is born later.

 

There are two things here

 

The story of Hagar represents a response to the story of God which is one of impatience, of having had enough, of God not being able to make good on his promises.

Notice that the Bible, when faced with the possibility of God’s promises being less, never tones down the promise, sets the expectation lower, but counsels patience, faith, hope, and trust.

 

Which is what Abraham had to learn to do, to wait, to allow the promise to come to fruit.

 

Paul Takes This Story In Two Directions

Paul takes this story in two directions.

 

The first is to say that those in the Jerusalem Church

Are in a line with Hagar, (v25 – “she stands for”)

She is a way of thinking which is about panic, which is about a desperation in the face of our own failure and the slow response of God

She represents the attempt to fix ourselves

By not waiting but by working harder, doing more

Coming up with ways to get round the slowness of God.

 

In doing this, power is abused, people are hurt

Slavery is extended, freedom is curtailed.

 

This approach is somehow in line with a few other things

Bit nails

Our desire for success

Our need to be important

Our running away from our failures.

 

The Spirit of Hagar has long been in the Church

It is often identified with a man called Pelagius

Who was a Celtic monk who lived from AD 354, to AD 420

It is difficult to get to the real Pelagius,

The historical record is sketchy,

But his name is attached to a view that we as humans ourselves were not crippled by sin,

We are essentially good

And therefore capable of obedience to God with out God’s help

 

And this view, has crept into our thinking ever since.

It cripples us

 

It is the view that says I can sort this lack of promise from God problem myself

And so pre-empts God.

 

 

His opponent was a man called Augustine, who said that we are born sinful

And that we cannot fix ourselves but are utterly reliant on the grace of God.

Eugene Peterson and Pelagius

Rewrite this section

“We are, most of us, Augustinians in our pulpits. We preach the sovereignty of our Lord, the primacy of grace, the glory of God “By grace are ye saved… Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8-9, KJV).  But the minute we leave our pulpits we are Pelagians. In our committee meetings and our planning sessions, in our obsessive attempts to meet the expectations of people, in our anxiety to please, in our hurry to cover all the bases, we practice a theology that puts our good will at the foundation of life and urges moral effort as the primary element in pleasing God

The dogma produces the behaviour characteristic of the North American pastor:  if things aren’t good enough, they will improve if I work a little harder and get others to work harder.  Add a committee here, recruit some volunteers there, squeeze a couple of hours more into the workday.

 

Pelagius was an unlikely heretic; Augustine an unlikely saint. By all accounts Pelagius was urbane, courteous, convincing. Everyone seems to have liked him immensely. Augustine squandered away his youth in immorality, had some kind of Freudian thing with his mother, and made a lot of enemies. But all our theological and pastoral masters agree that Augustine started from God’s grace and therefore had it right, and Pelagius started from human effort and therefore got it wrong. If we were as Augustinian out of the pulpit as we are in it, we would have no difficulty keeping sabbath. How did it happen that Pelagius became our master?

Our closet Pelagianism will not get us excommunicated or burned at the stake, but it cripples our pastoral work severely, and while that is not peronally painful, it is catastrophic to the church’s wholeness and health.”  (Working the Angles, pages 73-74)

Panicking Children

Last night when we were out we were talking about loss of children,

And the story nearly always was one of the child panicking

 

Paul almost asks a miracle of us,

It is to be like a child,

Which is calmly waiting and says “I knew you would come”

Human Identity

There is also something curious going on here as well.

 

In one reading the story of Hagar and Sarah is a story of ethnic superiority.

The children of Isaac become the children of promise, the children of Israel

And the children of Hagar represent everyone else

Actually they represent Islam, who trace their heritage back to Ishmael.

 

What Paul does is radically detach any reading of this story to your actual birth

And attaches it to how we have responded to the promise of God.

 

So to some of the congregation, who might be Jewish by birth, Paul is saying

Actually, because you haven’t trusted in Christ, the promise of God, you are actually children of slavery, of Hagar

 

And those of you are actually descended from Hagar, who are not Jews

Actually because God has brought you into the place of promise

If you respond to that promise – no matter what, I am with you

You are children of Isaac.

 

The place you were born, the genes you were born with matters less now

Because God is adopting people from all over the world

And if you are adopted by God, if you trust in him, then you are free

And if the promise is to be ignored, if it is stingy in its offer,

If it is unreliable

If it is empty

And if you are dismissive of the generosity of God, then you are a slave.

 

I find this a real reassurance

Chipping Norton Set

I have worried this past week about the so called Chipping Norton set

A privileged group of folk who have a privileged upbringing

David Cameron, George Osborne, Rebekah Brooks, James Murdoch and Jeremy Clarkson

We could add people like Simon Cowell into the mix

And all the power belongs to them.

 

And if we don’t have the money, if we don’ get the breaks, if we don’t have the talent

Then we don’t stand a chance.

 

But it is the other way around,

Those who ignore the promise, they are slaves

And the ones who trust the promise, no matter their circumstances,

They are the children of the free woman

 

But the desire of God is to break into the lives of those who are spent.

The underdog and the failures and the broken and those who have not succeeded.

This is about the capacity of God to give to those who have nothing

To heal those who are broken

To astound those whose lives have been a story of pain

So he quotes Isaiah 54:1

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear

Break forth and cry aloud – notice the double sense here, because labour is difficult

You who are not in labour

For the children of the desolate one will be more

Than those of the one who has a husband.”

 

Our battle to believe

Our battle instead is to discern that every moment is actually gifted to us by God

And that our sins are taken away

And somehow to silence the voice of Pelagius that haunts us

 

There is a phrase here

“Cast out the slave woman and her son”

Which is nothing to do with casting out actual slaves

But getting rid of this voice that says

“You have to earn this”

“You have to be worth it”

“You’re failures will always haunt you”

 

This takes effort to drive out this slavewoman,

And to remember our identity as those who are free.

Stand firm says 5:1 and do submit again to the yoke of slavery.

Isidore The Farmer

The faith of the Church

The witness of the Church

The gospel of Jesus Christ depends not on preachers or on paid workers of the Church

It depends on all the saints,

Being able to learn this lesson,

Reliving it week in week out

The promise of God is to be trusted

That Christ died to take away the curse that is ours on the cross

So that we might live.

 

And our task is daily to drive a away the slavewoman

And instead to remember that Christ has brought us for freedom.

 

I liked the story of ordinary discipleship:

In March 1622, Rome surprised many people by recognising Isidore as a saint.  He founded no order, nor did he write a single book.  He was a simple farmworker who spent his life tilling the land, mostly for the same wealthy landowner.  With his wife, Maria, he bore a son who died in childhood.  Isidore knew the hardship, toil and sorrow that are very familiar to many.  He went to worship daily and prayed continuously in the fields, displaying the simple and profound faith shared by campesinos around the globe.  It was said that angels could be seen assisting Isidore in the fields as he ploughed.  Though he had very little wealth, he became known for generosity and hospitality, especially to the stranger or the lonely.  He died on May 15, 1130.

 

And they made him a saint,

Because he trusted the promise of God.

Lilly Ramirez

For Lilly, the beginning of the story that August night comes straight from the nightmares of miners’ families the world over. She was preparing dinner as usual for Mario, one of their four daughters, Romina, and their one-year-old granddaughter Camila when there was the proverbial “knock on the door”. A manager from the mine was standing there. Lilly remembers the man saying there had been an accident at the pit but that they were bringing in the required machinery and the men should be free by morning. “I told him that he could not fool me. I told him that I knew the terrible state of that mine and that if there had been a collapse there was no way the men would be out by morning.”

She dropped everything and forced the manager to drive her for an hour to the pithead – little more than a big hole in the rocky hillside and a couple of cabins. She was to stay there in the middle of the Atacama desert, among the driest places on earth, for the next 69 days, only returning home when Mario had been rescued. By then he had been through a traumatic near-death experience but had also become among the most famous people on the planet. Today, Lilly and Mario are still struggling to understand what happened to him and to them.

When Lilly arrived at the mine that first evening, she found the first rescue teams emerging, having found no way through to the trapped men. “It was chaos. No one knew what was going on.” The mine administrators on the surface were not even sure quite how many people had been trapped. Lilly knew from Mario’s stories of the day-to-day inefficiencies of the mine that it was badly run: “I trusted no one.” As soon as she arrived, she sensed that rescue teams might pull out, insisting that no more could be done.

She felt that if the managers were constantly cutting corners on safety, they would hardly commit easily to the possible costs of a full-scale rescue and all that might involve. Apocryphal stories of how miners are simply left to die after an accident are commonplace across Latin America. So Lilly and the other relatives who had made it to the mine “picked up sticks and bars”, confronted the police and blocked the road. “We knew that if they [the rescuers] left, then it would all be over. So we begged the rescue teams not to abandon us, but to help us put pressure on the managers who were there.”

The regional police chief, who was at the mine that first night, confirms this was the critical moment. Without the families’ intervention he believes the miners might well have been left entombed after the failure of the first attempt to find a way through the main tunnel.

In all the backslapping triumph of the final rescue, the story of those first uncertain days tends to be forgotten. Few remember how Lilly and the other women managed to transform a local tragedy into a national event and so save their men. There was little good news in those first days. The next day rescue teams emerged saying a boulder the size of the Empire State Building had collapsed inside the mountain, taking down eight levels of the mine. And the mountain was still moving. They also said there was no way down the main tunnel and that the specially designed escape shafts, supposed to work in such an eventuality, were either blocked or had collapsed.

Lilly was having none of such defeatism. She remembers: “The authorities up there tried to kick us out. They told us that the children would get sick, that they should be at school… That we had no business up at the mine… That we were getting in the way.” By now, most of the Gómez family had turned up – as had many of the other relatives, camped out beside the mine, setting up what would later be known all over the world as Camp Hope.

 

This is our challenge, in day to day living, to trust and believe the goodness of God,

Like Isidore the farmer

And in our panic and in our crisis, even though fraught with worry

To move in the direction of Hope.

Feeding the 5000

From Morven in New Destiny from the blog here:

What would Jesus do?

Filed under: English — newdestiny @ 6:28 pm

I had a ‘what would Jesus do?’ moment – BIG TIME on Friday night! It was about 7.30pm and I was wandering up to the main house on the farm, to see the volunteers. Suddenly I could make out a mans figure coming towards me – as he got closer I realized it was a friend of ours called Deivison, who is a staff worker at a Project in a favela in the city. He has already brought out two groups of kids this year and we are due to receive the last group at the end of August.

After the surprise of seeing him suddenly and the friendly exchanges, a very confused and nervous look appeared on D’s face … it was then that I became aware of the delighted shrieks and screams, not to mention the low rumble of a van engine, coming from the direction of the main house … ‘Morven, I am here with 20 girls for the weekend …. are you not expecting us?’
I gave a trembling “no” already thinking of how to break the news to these excited little girls, that after weeks of great anticipation, there was in fact to be no camp and they would be going straight back home.

Romeu came out and we talked together with the van driver for about ten minutes about possible solutions, but with 30 kids due for a day camp on Saturday and 30 more on the Sunday, we really had no option but to turn them away. I walked back to the big house with our friend, trying to encourage him as he was feeling terrible at having got the weekends muddled up and just didn’t know how he was going to tell the girls.

As we got nearer the house I could see the girls … all of a sudden, as clear as a bell in my head came that unmistakable voice of Jesus. He said something like the following – “Remember when I fed the five thousand … I was tired and it was impossible, but I didn’t turn them away and the Father made provision.” We had already entered the big house by this time and Deivison was sitting the girls down to break the news to them, when I pulled quite strongly at his arm and led him back outside again, “Deivison – we can’t turn them away. Jesus wouldn’t do that. We can do this.”

There were sighs of relief and even a few tears as D told them that there had been a mistake but that the camp would still be happening, the activities would be different but they were still going to have a great time!
Then followed much hurrrying around – Michele and Charlotte making up beds, D’s team preparing an off the cuff supper for the kids, Rafa and Daniel taking the girls out to play volleyball outside (thank the Lord for floodlights!), D and I sitting planning out how we would look after his girls at the same time as running two big day camps … and of course, it all just came together.

As I ambled up the road to pick up my three little ones from my parents house (visiting missionary friends from the city were staying there for the weekend, and had kindly stepped in to look after Angus, Arran and Iona while I had been with the group), a wave of joy and peace just literally flooded over me and I felt like I could hear God saying “well done my girl.” I am sure He whispered something similar to each one of our team that evening!

I know that I learned a very big lesson on Friday night – and I pray I never forget it! We must not act based on our own resources, capacity or limited understanding .. but rather live every moment compassionately and passionately, asking the Saviour “What would you have me do?” and trusting that when we do so, it will all just come together!

Mark 6: 34 ‘Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them’

Ps. Will put up photos of our three weekend camps by the end of the week!

Murdochgate – some quotes

 

“He’s a big bad b****** and the only way you can deal with him is to make sure he thinks you can be a big bad b****** too… You can do deals with him, without ever saying a deal is done. But the only thing he cares about is his business and the only language he respects is strength. – Australian Premier Paul Keating

Journalistic apathy towards the marginalised:

Most national journalists are embedded, immersed in the society, beliefs and culture of the people they are meant to hold to account. They are fascinated by power struggles among the elite but have little interest in the conflict between the elite and those they dominate. They celebrate those with agency and ignore those without. – George Monbiot, 11 July

The Arab Spring

It was a lightning revolt with a whiff of the Arab Spring about it, in that the anger was directed at the power of an elderly dynast and his closest associates. There is a feeling of liberation at the end of this highly charged week and we can say that our society seems better off: our political system is freer and, I would suggest, a little bit cleaner; relations between the media, politicians and the public have changed for the good. – Henry Porter, 10th July

The tabloids have emptied political discourse of radical and nuanced thinking:

Blair turned what he saw as electoral necessity into burning rhetoric. He assumed from early on that he would achieve little if he did not acquiesce to the tastes of the majority view as represented to him by pollsters and selected newspaper magnates and editors. – 13th July, John Kampfner.

On the atmosphere at Westminster

a little like an end to the dictatorship when everyone suddenly discovers they were against the dictator – Vince Cable

Isidore The Farmer

From May 10th –

In March 1622, Rome surprised many people by recognising Isidore as a saint.  He founded no order, nor did he write a single book.  He was a simple farmworker who spent his life tilling the land, mostly for the same wealthy landowner.  With his wife, Maria, he bore a son who died in childhood.  Isidore knew the hardship, toil and sorrow that are very familiar to many.  He went to worship daily and prayed continuously in the fields, displaying the simple and profound faith shared by campesinos around the globe.  It was said that angels could be seen assisting Isidore in the fields as he ploughed.  Though he had very little wealth, he became known for generosity and hospitality, especially to the stranger or the lonely.  He died on May 15, 1130.

What Is Up And What Is Down

 

 

Some things are going up:

The opportunity to serve people in need – that’s going up

The opportunity to trust God when trusting God isn’t easy – that’s going up

The opportunity to build a faith that will stand firm when the storms of life are battering it – that’s gone up

The opportunity to create a community where we can actually be real and open and honest with each other and love each other and pray for each other that’s going up

We know it’s going up because the power of God still sustains the universe

Because the death of Jesus is still sufficient to forgive human sin

Because the presence of the Holy Spirit stills guides and comforts people who need wisdom

Because the Bible is still the Word of God

Because prayer still gets answered

Because the Gospel still changes lives

Love still overcomes bigotry

Because faith still overcomes despair

Because the tomb is still empty

Because the Church is still marching

Because Jesus is still Lord

Because the promise of heaven is still the only ultimate hope

And it is closer today than it was yesterday

Because the Kingdom of God is doing very well

And does not need a stimulus package to bail it out

We live in a world where crises come and crises go and so it has always been in this world

 

Opening Conversation

This notion of “up” and “down” is very much at work in Genesis, particularly this opening between Jacob and God here.

 

Notice the intimacy here.  This is the last time that God speaks in the book of Genesis, and it is significant that it is to Jacob, who in his roughness and his poor decisions still has the courage of faith and of intimacy.

 

Even Joseph who is blessed with stardust never seems to talk to God like this

 

But Jacob talks,

And the talk is of up and down

 

Look at verse 3 and 4.

 

 

Hebrew Notions Of Up And Down

The first is this notion of “up” and “down”.

 

The Hebrew notion of “up” and “Down” had Mount Zion as the highest point of the universe (not that Jacob knew much about Mount Zion, in a sense it was up to David and Solomon to spot this), but anyway, Zion was up.  To go the temple, as in Psalm 120-134 was an ascent.

 

Or this scene here in Psalm 68:15-19

15O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan;
O many-peaked[a] mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God desired for his abode,
yes, where the LORD will dwell forever?
17 The chariots of God are twice ten thousand,
thousands upon thousands;
the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary.
18 You ascended on high,
leading a host of captives in your train
and receiving gifts among men,
even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there.

19Blessed be the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation. 
Selah

 

 

To go away from the temple was to go down.

 

There were three places that were perennially down.

 

There was the underworld, Sheol, so you read in Genesis 37:35 from Joseph.

All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.”

 

Or the first chapter of Jonah which is the great abseiling chapter of the Bible, one of continuous descent,

 

Jonah 1:3

But Jonah rose to feel to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord

And he went down to Joppa

And he went down into the boat

And whilst in the boat he went down into the belly of the boat

And he lay down and he went down

 

 

1.  All Human Ups Are Temporary

What is happening in Genesis is that there is sense that up and down are kind of happening at the same time.

 

You have the “up” of some sense of sanctuary

All the persons of Jacob, came into Egypt were 70

And there is in this 70 a sense of completeness, that somehow God is with the people in this rescue,

The 70 being a sign of presence.

And 70 being very resonant of the 70 years that the Israelites would later spend in exile

 

So there is up, because the people are being rescued,

You have the emotional reunion of Joseph and Jacob in verse 29,

 

A moment that Jacob never though would happen

“Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”

 

But there are a few downs

There is sense of precariousness here, that the Israelites don’t want to make themselves too reliant on the Egyptians

 

Note what Pharaoh said back in chapter 45:20, that the Israelites didn’t need to bring any goods with them, but they still bring goods

Did you notice also that Pharaoh said that the people could settle in any part of the land of Egypt,

Whereas Joseph engineers their residence in Goshen which seems to be a bit of leftover land that nobody is particularly keen on settling.

 

And there is an ominous to the last sentence, that the Egyptians despise shepherds, so how long is it going to be until they start despising this new tribe of shepherds.

(v34)

 

All Human Ups are Temporary

Notice here the possible sense of triumph that the tribe of Joseph has found a new home

That they have acceptance amongst the most powerful ruler in the region

Who has put all his wealth at their disposal.

 

This feels like a note of triumph,

But the text will not let it stand.

 

It is the quality of the Christian to see with realistic eyes all the fadeability of the world’s glories.

 

Advertising always tries to convince that perfect happiness is only a product away – whether that be the glamour of an iPad (until an iPad 2 comes along)

The masculine finesse of the Sensor razor until the Mach 3 comes along until the fusion proglide power razor came along.

 

The Christian will always sense the temporariness of joy

Augustine believed that there always could be true happiness in this life,

But as he grew older he believed that much much more of this was pushed back until eternity.

 

We so often have things in front of us that will guarantee us happiness

When I get my degree

When I get my job

When I get married

When we get children

When I get a motorbike

 

For me it would be moments like

When I learn to ski

When I become a minister

When I run a marathon

When I run a marathon under four hours

When Andy Murray wins Wimbledon

 

And all these things are temporary.

 

Churchill

I have been reading Billy Graham’s autobiography of late.  I am struck by a meeting he had with Winston Churchill in 1954 during his ground breaking crusade to London.

 

Graham had to turn down the initial offer of a visit due to his need to go to Scotland. Then another call came.. (page 235)

When I arrived at Number 10 Downing Street, I was reminded discreetly by Mr. Colville that the prime minister had precisely twenty minutes.  After I was announced, I was shown into a large, dimly lit cabinet room.  Mr. Churchill rose from his chair and shook my hand.  I had not realised what a short man he was; I towered over him.  He motioned with an unlit cigar for me to sit next to him.  It would be just the two of us, apparently.  I noticed that three London afternoon dailies were spread out on a table next to him.

 

“Well, first” he said, in the marvellous voice I had heard so many times on radio and in the newsreels, “I want to congratulate you for these huge crowds you’ve been drawing.”

 

“Oh well, it’s God’s doing, believe me,” I said.

 

“That may be,” he replied, squinting at me, “but I daresay that if I brought Marilyn Monroe over here, and she and I together went to Wembley, we couldn’t fill it.”

 

I laughed, trying to imagine the spectable.

 

“Tell me, Reverend Graham, what is that filled Harringay night after night?”

 

“I think it’s the gospel of Christ,” I told him without hesitation.  “People are hungry to hear a word straight from the Bible.  Almost all the clergy of this country used to preach it faithfully but I believe they have gotten away from it.” (I had heard that Mr. Churchill had written a book while he was a reporter in South Africa, in which he stated that he believed the Bible was inspired of God).

 

“Yes,” he said, sighing.  “Things have changed tremendously. Look at these newspapers – filled with nothing but murder and war and what the Communists are up to.  You know, the world may one day be taken over by the Communists.”

 

I agreed with him, but I did not feel free to comment on world politics.  I merely nodded, and he continued: “I’ll tell you, I have no hope.  I see no hope for the world.”

 

“Things do look dark,” I agreed.  I hesitated, not wanting to repeat the gaffe I had committed with President Truman just a few years before by being too direct about religion in our conversation.  We talked at length about the world situation, and then, as if on cue, the prime minister looked me in the eye.  “I am a man without hope,” he said sombrely.  “Do you have any real hope?”

 

I am struck by that story, because it is about the man who has tasted the greatest triumphs of the twentieth century.

 

He has been instrumental in the defeat of history

He has been vindicated in many of his judgements about world affairs

He has been made prime minister once through the collective consent of his colleagues, many of whom once regarded him as dangerous maverick

He has recovered his ministerial reputation after the defeat Gallipoli, ostracisation in the 1930s, his defeat by Attlee in the labour landslide of 1945,

His very word defiant hope, we will never surrender, he was the man who refused to give up, and who hated defeatism

 

And yet he it is who sits in chair and confesses that he is without hope.

 

We need to be realists about the possession we buy

The schemes we invest our imaginations in

The futures that we work towards

The dreams that we hope will one day be realised

 

In this life, none of these is ever complete.  All we ever have are temporary triumphs before moving on to the next challenge.

It is one of the aspects of our finitude that no aspect of this world is every truly complete.

 

 

But there is also a significant down

There is the down that Jacob spots,

And here it is Jacob that seems to be able to spot things on a spiritual level.

There is a thing about Joseph that thought God is with him, his a spirituality of talent and giftedness

It is the character of Jacob and ultimately Judah which will be the source of blessing in this story.

 

Jacob Spots The Down

Jacob spots the down because all human ups are temporary

 

And the third big down in the Bible is Egypt,

Genesis 46:3 using language that appears all through the Joseph story

“Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt for there I will make you into a great nation.  I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

 

Look at the moment when the whole offspring goes down in verse 7

This is a fraught precarious moment,

 

What kind of God is it who likes to make promises and then threaten them

This is God who loves to take risks

Who loves to come through

Who loves to walk the precipice

Who loves to walk across the waves

Who goes down to Egypt

Who goes down into the lower parts of the earth

 

God who makes promises

And then surrounds those promises with threat

 

Because God is with us in the “down”

 

 

God is with us in the down

Notice that Jacob it is who truly perceives that problems with going down to Egypt,

And it is to him also that God says

“I myself will go down with you to Egypt”

 

This down, what it looks like is the path of the Cross.

And this is not easy.

 

I am constantly struck by the great burdens that a great many Christians it seems have to bear

It makes me question my faith to be honest

But I am also struck by something going on at the same time.

 

Paul was able to do this.  In his letter to the Philippians he would talk about the command to be joyful always, and at the same time he would write to the Corinthians that he had an experience where he had despaired of life itself.

 

People sometimes talk of Christian assurance as if it is a kind of serenity in the face of external difficulties,

But my experience is that it is genuine torture,

But somehow holding that God is here also.

 

I love run, and the sense I have of this is when the last mile, and you are feeling dreadful, exhausted, “your sugar starved brain is telling you to stop”

And yet God is here.

 

Bonhoeffer

Listen to these words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written in

Wonderful poem from Bonhoeffer at the end, exploring the contradictions in our life, the apparent saintliness without, and the anxieties and worries that we wrestle with within.  As he left his cell to be hung on the gallows, a cellmate reported that he said “For me, this is not the end, this is the beginning”, and yet also within there were great turmoils in this great saint of the 20th century Church.

 

Who am I

They often tell me I will step from cell calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country house,

 

Who am I

They often tell me I would talk to my warden freely and friendlily as though it were mine to command

 

Who am I?

They often tell me I would bear the days of misfortune calmly, smilingly, proudly, as one accustomed to win

 

Am I then really all that which other men tell of

Or am I only what I know of myself?

 

Restless and longing and sick

Like a bird in a cave struggling for breath

As though hands were compressing my throat.

Yearning for colours, for flowers, for birds

Thirsting for words of neighbourliness

Trembling with anger at evils and petty humiliations

Tossing in expectation of great events

Powerless trembling for friends at an infinite distance

Weary, empty a praying, at thinking

Feint and ready to say farewell to it all

 

Who am I?

This or the other

Am I one person today and tomorrow another

Am I both at once

A hypocrite before others

And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling

There is something within me still like a beaten army fleeing in disorder

With victory already achieved

 

Who am I?

They mock me these lonely questions of mine

Whoever I am

Thou knowest Oh God

I am thine

 

Whoever I am?  I don’t even know me God, all I know is that I am yours.

 

Shabhaz Bhatti

Or these words from a newly discovered hero of mine, a man called Shabhaz Bhatti, Minister for Minority peoples in Pakistan, the only Christian member of the cabinet who was assassinated on

Your life is threatened by who, and what sort of threats are you receiving?

 

The forces of violence, militant banned organisations, the Taleban and pro-Al-Qaedi, they want to impose their radical philosophy in Pakistan.  And whoever stands against their radical philosophy they threaten them.


 

 

When I am leading this campaign against the Sharia Laws, for the abolishment of blasphemy law, and speaking for the oppressed, and marginalised, persecuted Christian and other minority, these Taleban threaten me.

 

But I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us.  I know what is the meaning of cross.  And I am following of the cross.  And I am ready to die for a cause, I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights.  So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles.  I will prefer to die for my principle and for the justice of my community rather to compromise on these threats.

 

Shabhaz displayed great courage.  And yet that did not mean that a few days before his death he phoned up Orla Guerin of the BBC, to talk about his fear, his anxiety, but yet his determination

 

“I have struggled a long time for justice and equality.  If I change my stand today, who will speak out?  I am mindful that I can be assassinated at any time, but I want to live in history as a courageous man.”

 

After the down there will be an up

This is the great Christian hope

 

That the up will not occur through great schemes, through socialism, through private enterprise, through the welfare state, through universal access to an Apple iPad, or the great day when Andy Murray at last wins Wimbledon.

 

But there will be a day when Christ will appear,

He will appear on clouds,

And we will rise to meet him,

Then like a city going out to meet an ancient king

We will will walk back with him into the new city, the New Earth and the New Heaven to reign with him.

 

And on the way we will encounter many up’s

 

The up that the Israelites would wait for would be their exodus across the Red Sea

This is what God means in verse 4 when he says to Jacob, “And I will bring you up again.”

 

It is that hope that characterised Billy Graham when he spoke with Churchill.

 

What perhaps characterised Churchill is that he believed in his own destiny and greatness, and even that, indomitable as it was gave out.

 

What characterised Billy Graham is that he never believed in himself, but always trusted in God.

 

  • Rick Warren Tweet Optimism is psychological; hope is theological. Optimism focuses on what you think you can do. Hope trusts in what God can do.

 

 

C.S. Lewis (page 34)

They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it’  not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.

 

Billy Graham in London and Glasgow

This is his account of what happened as he was getting ready to land in London for that first Harringay crusade in London was that an English newspaper journalist had got hold of a calendar from the Billy Graham organisation which said something like “What Hitler’s bombs failed to achieve, socialism has accomplished in a few years”.  What the calendar meant to say was secularism.

 

But Graham was lambasted

He was lambasted by Churchmen

Two Senators, one a democrat, the other a republican who had agreed to appear with him, withdrew their support on the advice of the Ambassador.

 

One newspaper wrote on the first Monday of the parade that Billy Graham had “all the tricks of the modern demagogue”

 

“Only the people seem to be for Billy”, referring to the fact that the government, the leaders and the clergy had deserted him.

 

When he took the phone call from Senator Symington he fell to his knees with a sinking feeling “Lord, I can only commit the entire matter to You.  I know what you want to happen will happen, it’s out of my hands.”

 

A few hours of turmoil later, I took a call from Jerry at Harringay Arena. He sounded down, and by now I myself was nearly despairing.  I saw sleet outside and asked if the weather was the same where he was.

 

“I’m afraid so,” he said “Only a few people have trickled in so far.  By now we should be half-filled.”

 

I sighed “How about the press?”

 

“Oh they’re here,” he said “Right now it seems there’s more of them than us.  They’re taking pictures of the empty seats.”

 

In my soul, I was willing to become a laughing stock if that was what was supposed to happen, but the prospect was terrifying.

 

Half and hour later, Jerry called back with the news that there were now about 2,000 people in the massive arena. That mean that 10,000 seats were still empty.

 

“What do you think?” I asked

“It looks like we’ve had it” he replied.

 

When it was time for us to leave the hotel, Ruth and I got on our knees and had a last prayer.  I could envision people all over the world praying for us.  For the first time, my gloom lifted and I had confidence that whatever happened that night, God would be glorified.

 

During the half-hour ride to the arena, Ruth and I holding hands.  I had often been caught in traffic heading to our meetings, but that night we arrived in good time and saw no lines of cars or people.

 

“Honey,” I said to her, “Let’s just go and face it and believe God had a purpose in it.”

 

As we reached the door, Willis Haymaker rushed out to meet us.

 

“The arena is jammed!” he said

 

“What do you mean, jammed?  We didn’t see anybody as we approached”

 

“The main entrance is on the other side.  Most of the traffic and people came from that direction.  The place is full and running over, and hundreds are outside”

 

What followed was one of the most significant events in 20th Century history of the English Church, a crusade that culminated in 100,000 in Wembley stadium and that meeting with Winston Churchill.

 

It led to be people like Richard Carr-Gomm making a recommitment and founding the Abbeyfield hospice movement.  It meant that when Billy Graham returned to England a few years later there were 52 clergy with him on the platform, all of whom had become Christians during that first crusade.

 

Crucially for us it led to the crusade in Glasgow, something that we like our English counterparts were sceptical of and debated in our General Assembly.

 

Billy had been advised when he gave his first address that the Scots would not come forward for the invitation.

 

I felt a strong closeness (page 249) with the audience that Could explain only as the power of the Holy Spirit.  But when I gave the Invitation at the end of the sermon, not a soul moved.  My advisers, I admitted had been right.  I bowed my head in prayer and moments later, when I looked up, people were streaming down the aisles, some with tears in their eyes.

 

In London, 2 million people had been reached in 12 weeks.

 

In Scotland 2.5 million had been reached in 6 weeks in Glasgow and in single rallies in Aberdeen and Inverness.  In London there had been 38,000, in Scotland it had been 52,000.

 

Behind that there were individual stories.  The woman who owed her new perm to Billy Graham.  Her husband after being converted at the Crusade brought home all of his paycheck instead of holding out much of it for drinking and gambling.

 

John R Rice, editory of the Sword of the Lord newspaper who described his time in Scotland has “7 miracle days”

 

Or the devout Churchgoing husband and wife in a small Irish town listening over the radio to the Crusade broadcast from the Kelvin Hall, who decided on the spot to trust the Man on the Cross, and who held to their faith in the face of strong local criticism and opposition.

 

Or the moment when Billy Graham, many years later live in a satellite link up with Scotland addressed our school of evangelism in 1993 and who was introduced by the Moderator that year, Hugh Wyllie, who said that in 1955 he had been unable to listen in person, but he had listened on an landline in Elgin and through this his parents had deepened in faith, and he in turn had come to make is own commitment to Christ.

 

This is the “up” that followed on from that moment in London when Billy Graham bowed his head and told got he was prepared to be a laughing stock for him.

 

When Jacob bowed his head as he prepared to go down to Egypt, he knew there were hard times ahead,

But he knew also there would be an up,

A sea to crossed

A mountain where the law would be given

A nation which would be God’s chosen people

And ultimately another man who would be lifted up

And all who trusted in him would be given life.

 

We might not always spot what is up and what is down

But with God the last of those is up

 

Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky put it perfectly when he wrote (page 33)

 

I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so previous will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed, that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.

Augustinian out of the pulpit

 

Pelagius was an unlikely heretic; Augustine an unlikely saint. By all accounts Pelagius was urbane, courteous, convincing. Everyone seems to have liked him immensely. Augustine squandered away his youth in immorality, had some kind of Freudian thing with his mother, and made a lot of enemies. But all our theological and pastoral masters agree that Augustine started from God’s grace and therefore had it right, and Pelagius started from human effort and therefore got it wrong. If we were as Augustinian out of the pulpit as we are in it, we would have no difficulty keeping sabbath. How did it happen that Pelagius became our master?

Our closet Pelagianism will not get us excommunicated or burned at the stake, but it cripples our pastoral work severely, and while that is not peronally painful, it is catastrophic to the church’s wholeness and health.”  (Working the Angles, pages 73-74)

Straight Talk To Men

The straight life

Key Words Men Role Husband Work Man Boredom Marriage Husband Family Tedium Gratification
Source Straight talk to men and their wives
Author Dobson, James
Page
Quote Taken from “Every Man’s battle”, men find it difficult to obey because
1. They are rebellious by nature
2. They resist the straight life
3. Men have a strong, regular sex drive
4. Men receive sexual gratification through the eyes

James Dobson elaborates point 2, the straight life
“The straight life for a working man … Is pulling your tired frame out of bed, five days a week, fifty weeks out of the year. It is earning a two-week vacation in August, and choosing a trip that will please the kids. The straight life is spending your money wisely when you’d rather indulge in a new whatever; it is taking your son bike riding on Saturday when you want so badly to watch the baseball game; it is cleaning out the garage on your day off after working sixty hours the prior week. The straight life is coping with head colds and engine tune-ups and crab grass and income-tax forms. It is taking your family to Church on Sunday when you’ve heard every idea the minister has to offer; it is giving a portion of your income to God’s work when you already wonder how ends will meet.”

Billy Graham – Part 8 – Scotland

 

A thruway line gives a reminder of the amount of time that Graham and his team spent in prayer, a reminder of the constancy of prayer that comes across in Paul’s letters.

“On the two hundred mile trip by car to London, somewhere between Plymouth and Bournemouth we had a coffee break at an inn on the coast; the town parson greeted us warmly there.  We spent a lot of our driving time in prayer, with a renewed burden for Great Britain.” (page 247)

 

The Crusade in Glasgow was part of the Tell Scotland campaign so strongly associated with Tom Allan.  Part of this was “Operation Andrew” where individuals “were encouraged to make a deliberate effort to pray for those they knew who were unchurched or uncommitted and to bring them personally to the meetings.” (page 251).  The process for training new counsellors was also refined.

 

D.P. Thomson help to organise rallies in thirty-seven locations, over 1,000 people later attended follow-up classes from these meetings.

 

One feature of this time was Graham’s desperation to be with his wife (who eventually came over for the last two weeks of the crusade) and the attacks he endured from some fundamentalists (page 251)

“I smarted under grievous criticisms from fundamentalists and I minced no words in telling her [Ruth] how I felt: ‘Some of the things they say are pure fabrications… I do not intend to get down to their mud-slinging and get into endless arguments and discussions with them… We are too busy winning souls to Christ and helping build the church to go down and argue with these … publicity seekers.  If a man accepts the deity of Christ and is living for Christ to the best of his knowledge, I intend to have fellowship with him in Christ.  If this extreme type of fundamentalism was of God, it would have brought revival long ago.  Instead it has brought dissension, division, strife and has produced dead and lifeless churches.”

 

Billy had been advised when he gave his first address that the Scots would not come forward for the invitation.

 

I felt a strong closeness (page 249) with the audience that Could explain only as the power of the Holy Spirit.  But when I gave the Invitation at the end of the sermon, not a soul moved.  My advisers, I admitted had been right.  I bowed my head in prayer and moments later, when I looked up, people were streaming down the aisles, some with tears in their eyes.

 

In London, 2 million people had been reached in 12 weeks.

 

In Scotland 2.5 million had been reached in 6 weeks in Glasgow and in single rallies in Aberdeen and Inverness.  In London there had been 38,000, in Scotland it had been 52,000.

 

Behind that there were individual stories.  The woman who owed her new perm to Billy Graham.  Her husband after being converted at the Crusade brought home all of his paycheque instead of holding out much of it for drinking and gambling.

 

John R Rice, editor of the Sword of the Lord newspaper who described his time in Scotland has “7 miracle days”

 

Or the devout Churchgoing husband and wife in a small Irish town listening over the radio to the Crusade broadcast from the Kelving Hall, who decided on the spot to trust the Man on the Cross, and who held to their faith in the face of strong local criticism and opposition.

 

Or the moment when Billy Graham, many years later live in a satellite link up with Scotland addressed our school of evangelism in 1993 and who was introduced by the Moderator that year, Hugh Wyllie, who said that in 1955 he had been unable to listen in person, but he had listened on an landline in Elgin and through this his parents had deepened in faith, and he in turn had come to make is own commitment to Christ.

 

Billy Graham – Part 7 – Winston Churchill

 

 

“I think it’s the gospel of Christ,” I told him without hesitation.  “People are hungry to hear a word straight from the Bible.  Almost all the clergy of this country used to preach it faithfully but I believe they have gotten away from it.” (I had heard that Mr. Churchill had written a book while he was a reporter in South Africa, in which he stated that he believed the Bible was inspired of God).

 

“Yes,” he said, sighing.  “Things have changed tremendously. Look at these newspapers – filled with nothing but murder and war and what the Communists are up to.  You know, the world may one day be taken over by the Communists.”

 

I agreed with him, but I did not feel free to comment on world politics.  I merely nodded, and he continued: “I’ll tell you, I have no hope.  I see no hope for the world.”

 

“Things do look dark,” I agreed.  I hesitated, not wanting to repeat the gaffe I had committed with President Truman just a few years before by being too direct about religion in our conversation.  We talked at length about the world situation, and then, as if on cue, the prime minister looked me in the eye.  “I am a man without hope,” he said sombrely.  “Do you have any real hope?”

I know what is the meaning of cross

 

 

When I am leading this campaign against the Sharia Laws, for the abolishment of blasphemy law, and speaking for the oppressed, and marginalised, persecuted Christian and other minority, these Taleban threaten me.

 

But I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us.  I know what is the meaning of cross.  And I am following of the cross.  And I am ready to die for a cause, I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights.  So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles.  I will prefer to die for my principle and for the justice of my community rather to compromise on these threats.