A World at War

Fierce

What General Weygand called the battle of France is over. I expect that the battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can spitfirestand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

So said Winston Churchill on 18th June 1940 as Hitler prepared to try to destroy England.

“Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation.”

Almost 80 years later and the battle is somewhat different. England, Europe and most of the West is now a “post-Christian” society. The strange rattle in assorted London cemeteries and mausoleums is likely the interred who fought, led and died in that Battle of Britain turning in their graves.

The battle in 2016 is no less fierce than the one in 1940. It is more insidious. The tide of other faiths streaming into the West led to a need for “tolerance” that the countries they were leaving did not and do not reciprocate. Calls for sharia courts to be established in England were even heard from Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, just a couple of years ago.

What’s happened? Where are the people seeking to preserve Christian civilisation now?

Churchill lived at a time where Faith was an integral part of what it meant to be British. Strong role models through his youth and service, he called the nation to prayer during the war. Somehow I can’t imagine May doing that. Or Trump. Or Corbyn. Or any of the “leaders” dumped on an unsuspecting public today.

96953-calvaryencausticFaith is not considered important today. People who lived lives of honour and Faith in the past were respected and revered as leaders. Today they are considered weak at best, and the accomplishments men and women of Faith achieved in history are often sidelined, at least the part their Faith played in their resolve. Wilberforce is remembered as the man who abolished the Slave Trade in the British Empire, but outside a few who saw “Amazing Grace” with Ioan Gryffod, most people have no idea Christ played such an important part in that fight. “Chariots of Fire” is remembered for the soundtrack – awesome though it is – and Harold Abrahams’ achievement, but the sacrifice of Eric Liddell and the battle he fought for the principle of his Faith to not race on Sunday because it was a day for God is barely remembered. This for a man who ended up dying overseas as a Missionary.

The battle is fiercest where it seems quiet. Like a river seems tranquil where it is deepest, it often hides dangerous and powerful currents underneath. The devil has done an amazing propaganda job. He has convinced most of the West he doesn’t exist. Those of us who still believe in a literal Hell and Heaven seem to be in the minority, and are usually lampooned for saying so. For the record:

Yes, I believe in a literal Heaven and Hell.

No, I don’t believe “everyone goes to heaven” (see Luke 13)

No, I don’t care if that makes people think me a fool. Rather men think that than God.

Jesus was a fierce man. We lose sight today in the Reformation and Renaissance paintings, cherubic Jesus as a baby, spotless and freshly pressed white robes as an adult. Where is the force that started a stampede in the Temple? The warrior who set His eyes on Jerusalem?

Where is the army of the Church?

Sleeping.

Wake up. One word used to describe Jesus is “δύναμις” “dunamis”. The root of the word Dynamite. Explosive, forceful and unstoppable power. Hardly “meek and mild”. Meekness and weakness are not synonyms, in fact to be truly meek requires great strength of character. Humility is portrayed as self flagellation, which is actually a form of inverted pride and drives us away from God. Declare yourself to be what God says you are: no more and no less. Be exactly who He says you are, and don’t doubt it.

No matter the colour of skin or cast of features. No matter the gender. Remember the first to declare the Gospel of the Resurrection were women – Jesus chose a reformed hooker to tell Peter. Women had no legal standing in law then. Their testimony was ignored as unreliable. So Jesus turned things on their head and had His Resurrection declared by Mary first.

Fierce intention.

Planned aggression.

War engaged.

Jesus the Hedonist

Pleasure

I know, I can hear the cries of “Heretic” floating towards me as I write.

But think for a moment. What motivated Jesus?

Love. The Joy set before Him.

Hang on – “Joy”?

 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2

Yep. Joy.

There’s a pseudo-puritanical mindset in so much of the church (note the small “c”) these days. Much is criticized about what has become known as the “Prosperity Gospel”. There is something wrong when a large section of an organisation thinks that health and wealth are ungodly.

Jesus never said money was evil, and He never said poverty was Godly.

The concept of Jesus as a Hedonist, a pleasure-seeker, sounds crazy at first. But consider what Hebrews 12 is saying. His motivation for going to the Cross was the Joy set before Him.

Personally I find an onerous task more palatable if I can see what the outcome will be clearly, and that outcome is one I want. I started my degree with the idea that it would help me find employment in South Africa. I met some great people while I was studying, but as the time passed it became apparent that I would need more than a degree and experience to ever be employable in this country. As a result, the work toward the goal became ever more a battle than it had been when I began.

Jesus didn’t have that issue. He saw the Church and Salvation of Mankind beyond anything He had to endure, and it gave Him pleasure.

It’s hard to find a sense of humour in some of the stories about Jesus in the Gospels. He tells one woman He won’t give the children’s bread to the dogs – meaning her. Taken as words on a page it sounds hostile, even xenophobic in its tenor. But her reaction suggests it was something else. Did she see a twinkle in Jesus’ eye? What was His tone of voice and His body language conveying? If you look and see an “in” joke in their exchange it makes more sense. Christ came to save the World, not just the Jews of the First Century. That meant the Samaritans, the Romans, the Greeks and even the “Brexit” and “Bremain” campaigners. It even meant Trump and Hillary supporters.

And He found pleasure in the thought of saving mankind from death.

We have this image of puritanical Jesus walking serenely (but never smiling) with His hands folded around the peaceful pastures of Nazareth. It’s in classical art. The child Jesus clearly came out able to walk, talk and not soil a nappy.

Nope. He came out human. And one of the greatest gifts God gave humans when He designed us was a sense of humour and a desire for pleasure.

Consider sex for a second. God designed the human form as a sexual being. When I caught my dogs in flagrante delicto ten years ago it was clear that it was nothing more than a biological imperative for them. But for humans, God designed sex to be pleasurable.

Now we live in a world that has fallen far from God’s design. Consequently there are perversions of everything God created. Remember when God made humankind He described us as “Good”. And I’m reasonably certain that we weren’t re-designed after the Fall with sex organs that we could derive pleasure from.

God designed sex to be the ultimate act of intimacy between a man and wife. A way of expressing pure love and desire for one another. But that purity has been twisted beyond recognition by the World.

Look at the creation story in Genesis for a moment. Whether you believe it to be literal or a parable is immaterial for the purposes of this line of thought. God lays out creation, builds Eden and tells mankind where to find the gold.

Huh? What?

Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there.

Genesis 2:10-12

So God creates everything, makes a garden and places man in it, then tells him where the gold is.

Heaven is described as being paved with gold and giant pearls forming the gates. This is hardly austerity measures. God, it seems, like gold. And He has no problem with us having it.

Money is not the root of all evil. If it were then any amount would corrupt us. Love of money, however, is a root to many kinds of evil behaviours. When Jesus was saying about it being easer for a camel to get through the eye of a needle He wasn’t referring to some gate, but rather He was aiming a laser-sight at the Pharisees in the audience. Their greed and desire for public recognition is well documented in the Bible. Jesus was saying that these men who place so much emphasis on making money and gathering riches would not enter the Kingdom, not because of the wealth per se, but because gathering more wealth was their idol. Money was their god. When Nicodemus came to Jesus and asked what the price of a ticket to Heaven was, Jesus told him he needed to be re-born. Nicodemus later spoke up for the Apostles to the Sanhedrin. He was convinced by Jesus and his focus became Jesus – but it doesn’t say he gave up all his money. The rich sold their things to share with the poor so everyone had enough after the Church began to grow, but not because having things was evil. Rather it was because holding onto things that could feed their friends was.

The love of money, making it the centre of your life and finding it necessary to display how much you have is what Jesus meant when He spoke of the rich not getting into heaven. He never cared how much currency someone gave, all that mattered was the heart behind the gift, and perhaps the percentage it represented. The rich man dropping gold into the offering gave less to him than the value of the copper coins dropped by the widow meant to her.

But I bet Jesus felt like dancing when He saw the widow’s faithfulness.

He searched out pleasure. He opened avenues for us to have a share in that same pleasure. We’ve kind of lost the plot in the West when it comes to that. Pleasure has become associated with excess. Not what Jesus was about. But I don’t think God cares if we drive a Reliant Robin or a Ferrari. I had a Harley-Davidson a few years ago, and the look on the salesman’s face when I told him it was in fact just a well carved lump of metal with a wheel at each end was priceless! I’ll buy another one day I’m sure, but right now I have a chinese 250cc bike that does the same job. And when I sell that on it’s still just a motorized lump of metal with a wheel at each end. For me, the pleasure is in riding it – because I can relax and it gives me time to sit with God. I’ve ridden motorbikes on and off for over 20 years, and it’s always been the same for me. I loved commuting to my last job on my 250cc bike because at the end of the day I could spend half an hour riding home with my thoughts on nothing but the creation around me and marvelling at the majesty of the sunset, the sheer size of Table Mountain and that no matter how bad the day had been the majesty of God’s creation, cool air on my face would give me pleasure and I could arrive home less grumpy than I’d left work.

God gave me that pleasure.

Jesus had the Joy set before Him as His pleasure.

What’s yours?

The Sacrifice

Amazing love, O what sacrifice
The Son of God given for me
My debt he pays, and my death he dies
That I might live, that I might live

Amazing Love: Graham Kendrick

I’d be the first to admit I’m not a huge Graham Kendrick fan. I find his songs too simplistic often. It feels like the magnitude of Christianity is minimised to me in some of them.

But then there’s “Amazing Love”.

From the first time I heard it around 1991 it gripped me. For once the simplicity magnified the message.

John and Charles Wesley wrote of the magnitude of God, His Majesty is ever present in their hymns. I grew up singing traditional hymns in a traditional church in England. The words meant less to me then than the music did. I was singing “Ave Verum Corpus” by Mozart at the age of 10 as a soloist, and I revelled in it. There was something majestic in the sound.

After my brother died, about 9 months later, I committed my life to Christ in the quiet of my bedroom in November 1985. Maybe I’ll write the whole story here some day, but not today. Suffice to say nothing changed in my circumstances, but how I listened to things changed.

Suddenly the words were more important than the melody. The heart behind the music rather than the music itself. At school we sang Durufle’s Requiem, Mozart’s Requiem and other pieces that my classmates sang for the music, I found myself singing for what was behind it.

“Amazing Love” came into my life as a song a couple of years after it was written, and a couple of years after I’d left school and moved away from home. It was a time of upheaval for me. My first serious relationship had ended and I was back in church regularly as a member of the choir. And annoying other modern marvels were being forced on us by a group determined to be “relevant”, who lacked the social connection with the “youth” required. The attempts were laudable, but doomed.96953-calvaryencaustic

Then there was this simple chorus. The words and music captured my heart for Worship and it reached a place of relevance for me.

“The Son of God, Given for Me”

The concept was one that had been on the back burner for me for a couple of years. A well meaning member of the clergy had inadvertently stopped me going to seminary, in fact put me off going to church completely, by giving me advice in a way I couldn’t respond to. Consequently I left home and moved in with my girlfriend instead of going to Bible College.

Now this song poured fuel on the embers that had been stoked and my Faith was growing again.

“My Debt He pays, and my death He dies, That I Might Live”

The whole Gospel summed up in once sentence. I didn’t weep because I was too broken emotionally to be able to – another VERY long story – but something inside me snapped home.

My debt, His Sacrifice. He went to the Cross for me. If I were the only one who would ever respond to the event on that hill, Jesus would still walk up and let them execute Him, just for me.

Just for you.

It blew my mind. Even now over 20 years later that chorus strikes my heart like very few others have done.

Jesus died for me personally. Now I’m a huge believer in the importance of being part of the Body, but the thought that it was so personal was brought back to the front of my mind by this one little chorus.

I love the old hymn “Amazing Grace” because it does much the same, but this was fresher for me. I needed the refreshing splash of the reminder against my weary face.

933ba-dali2b-2bchrist2bof2bst2bjohn2bon2bthe2bcrossThe modern church has done much to make God accessible again, the way Jesus and the disciples did 2000 years ago. Sometimes it tries too hard and misses so badly I want to distance myself from it. But then there’s songs like this one. Priceless gems hidden, even forgotten now because it was 25 years ago when it was written, that can rekindle a flame.

We get reminded every so often that Jesus came on a very personal and intensely focussed mission by books. Authors like Max Lucado, CS Lewis and John Eldredge remind us just how Jesus was a soldier battling the forces of the enemy from inside enemy-held ground.

I loved the movie “The Dirty Dozen” growing up, and “Where Eagles Dare” and “Guns of Navarone” were favourites too. More recently the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy struck the same chord. The heroes had to go into territory held by a ferocious enemy that would not hesitate to kill them if they were caught. If we read the Gospels, particularly John’s, we see the same threads. Here is an individual set down in occupied land, surrounded by people who want to kill Him. When we teach Sunday School, how often do we remind the children that Herod ordered the slaughter of all boys under the age of 2 years as part of the Christmas Story? I don’t remember that being part of the local pageant.

But it sets the scene. Eldredge described Jesus as “hunted” in “Beautiful Outlaw”. If I listen to Andrew Wommack’s teaching I can’t help hearing the way the enemy was hounding Him, and as a result us.

He gave up Heaven. Streets of Gold with gates made of a single pearl were exchanged for a cave, surrounded by livestock and a food trough lined with hay for a crib. This is the ultimate “black ops” mission. The fate of the entire human race is at stake. Jesus undertakes it willingly and humbly.

How dare we not be in awe of that?

Awe