Wholeness

July 19th, 2014

In the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ miracles of healing, the word “save” is most frequently used. The healing in these stories is always of the whole person. God’s salvation concerns the whole person. Jesus’ healing ministry is summarized: “all who touched him were ‘saved’ healed.” (Mark 6:56). Jesus showed concern for the whole person. His compassion resulted in the alleviation of human need whether it was hunger or disease. He was seeking and saving all those who were subject to the forces of evil. He was concerned for the wholeness of the human personality. He is concerned for every part of us.

The Greek word sõzein can mean both ‘to heal’ and ‘to save’. The woman with the hemorrhage, a disease that made her ceremonially impure and increasingly weak physically has tried all the remedies she knows without success. She hears of Jesus; she comes to Jesus; she touches Jesus in simple faith that he can cure her, or that she could be ‘saved’ (Mark 5:28). She was assured by Jesus that her faith had ‘saved’ her. She went out into a new life of peace and wholeness. There was a complete and instantaneous righting of her relationship with God which comes about when she recognizes her need, hears of Jesus, and comes to him in simple trust.

Salvation is wholeness. God wants to save us, meet us at our point of need whatever it might be. Jesus comes to save us but we must exercise the gift of faith to claim that salvation. Just as the people who touched him were healed, we must reach out in simple trust if we want to be saved.

What is your point of need and how should you reach out to Jesus in faith to be saved?

Is it a physical need from which we are suffering? Are you battling some crippling disease or condition that is weakening you? Are you receiving treatment for it, taking medication, facing surgery or a long, slow rehabilitation. Do you reach out to Jesus through his church for healing? Or are you reluctant to draw attention to your need, and prefer to pray for yourself? It takes courage to come to Jesus and touch him to be saved. If you claim to be saved why do you not reach out to him for healing?

Is it an emotional need from which you are suffering? Are you troubled by memories of the past, hurts that have not healed, resentments that fester, emotional pain that depresses you, disappointments that afflict you? Do you reach out to Jesus through his church for healing? Do you allow others to help you with those secret sorrows? If you claim to be saved then you will reach out to him for healing.

Is it a relational need from which you are suffering? Do you worry about your loved ones, your children and grandchildren, your spouse or your friends or your enemies? Is there a need for forgiveness or reconciliation? Do you suffer from loneliness? Do you need God’s salvation in your relationships? Do you need the help of your fellow believers to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love which surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God? If you claim to be saved then you will reach out to the Savior for the healing power of his love.

Is it an intellectual need from which you are suffering? Do you struggle with doubt and fear that your life is worth little, and will soon be extinguished in death? Do you want to believe but struggle with skepticism? Are you pessimistic about the future and have little hope that there is anything worthwhile to look forward to? Do you need God’s salvation in your mind and your reason? Do you want to be healed of this affliction? If you want to be saved you will have to reach out to Jesus and cry, “I believe, help my unbelief, Reveal yourself to me so that I might have faith and hope.”

What is it that is crippling you, paralyzing you, bleeding you dry, obsessing you, that prevents you from being whole? From what do you need to be saved? What robs you of peace? From what do you need to be forgiven? What demon needs to be driven from you so that you can be free? Is it pride? Is it the need to be in control? You can claim to be saved and yet continue to be afflicted by many problems. Reach out to Jesus in faith for healing.

At even, when the sun did set,
The sick, O Lord, around Thee lay
Oh, in what divers pain they met!
Oh, with what joy they went away!

O Savior Christ, our woes dispel;
For some are sick, and some are sad,
And some have never loved Thee well,
And some have lost the love they had;

And some are pressed with worldly care,
And some are tried with sinful doubt;
And some such grievous passions tear
That only Thou canst cast them out;

And some have found the world is vain,
Yet from the world they break not free;
And some have friends who give them pain,
Yet have not sought a friend in Thee;

And none, O Lord, have perfect rest,
For none are wholly free from sin;
And they who fain would serve Thee best
Are conscious most of wrong within.

O Savior Christ, Thou too, art man;
Thou hast been troubled, tempted, tried.
Thy kind but searching glance can scan
The very wounds that shame would hide.

Thy touch has still its ancient power,
No word from Thee can fruitless fall;
Hear in this solemn evening hour
And in Thy mercy heal us all.

Amen. (Henry Twells 1823-1900)

FIFTEEN AND FIFTY

July 17th, 2014

As I head in to my fifteenth year as Pastor of Amelia Plantation Chapel, and the fiftieth year of my pulpit ministry I am excited about the privilege of communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ through preaching, teaching, writing and blogging. The opportunities to share the Gospel are greater than ever with new technology. The needs of the world are great as people are challenged by the stresses of living. This is an age of anxiety and depression, of fear and addiction. It is also an age of great expectations as there appear to be more possibilities available to those who are motivated to try them.

My focus this Fall will be on preaching through the First Letter of John and his message for our day. I will be completing the fourth volume of SOUL FOOD, my daily devotional for the last quarter of the year. All four volumes for the year will become available for Christmas gifts. I am also producing a small booklet entitled, PEACE OF MIND, for you to give to your friends as a simple way to witness to Jesus.

Because there is so much going on in the media and the marketplace that is opposed to the Gospel and downright destructive to human flourishing and God’s will it is imperative that we Christians are assertive in taking the initiative in sharing our faith. Find ways to take an interest in others. Be appreciative of them. Pray for them. Be gracious in your interaction with all people. I love the words of St. Paul in Colossians 4:1-6

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ….Pray, that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, making the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Invite people to join you in worship and Bible study. If they don’t respond the first time you ask them persist. Some people need to know you care enough for them to keep on inviting them.

How Freud was Unhappy and How you can be Happy

July 12th, 2014

In preparing a recent message on Happiness I came across a book I have read many years ago and have profitably reread. It is, In Pursuit of Happiness: Finding Genuine Fulfillment in Life, by James Houston. Let me share with you some of his thoughts about Happiness and Freud.

When God is dismissed, reality begins to collapse in on itself. There are no absolutes, there is no moral accountability, there are no universal truths, there are only appearances and masks. This is the “weightlessness” of humanity that Nietzsche envisaged for a godless world. Freud concluded that the fate of the human race was to be Unhappiness in Civilization, the title he proposed for his last great book. Freud’s publisher persuaded him that he should change the title instead to Civilization and its Discontents. His own first title was more honest.

The profound unhappiness of Freud gives us clues to the unhappiness of the modern world. Freud, like many today, was unhappy because of his addiction to controlling people and situations. Although he lived in Vienna, the great musical capital of the world, he explicitly tells us: “With music I am almost incapable of obtaining any pleasure. Some rationalistic, or perhaps analytic, turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me.”

Where rational understanding was not possible, Freud wanted no part of it. Music triggered deeply painful memories of his religious nanny, who loved him more profoundly that any love his parents gave him, so it reminded the child within him of her loss and his profound sense of helplessness. Religion reminded him too painfully of the helplessness of his own childhood. Whether it was music or religion, Freud hated being swept off his own rational pedestal into the ocean of his own emotions.

Our acceptance of God in Christ is not the terrifying helplessness experienced by Freud, but a renewed awareness of coming to life in the love of God…. Blaise Pascal was surely right when he observed:
There is no good without the knowledge of God; that the closer one comes, the happier one is, and the further away one goes, the more unhappy one is, and that ultimate unhappiness would be certain of the opposite (to him). (p.156f.)

Blog Survey

July 9th, 2014

I posted my first blog in June 2009. Since then I have been averaging about a blog post every week. After five years and approximately 260 blogs I would like to get some input from those of you who receive the blogs in order to improve them. Would you be willing to take a short survey and respond to this blog?

1. Of all my blogs you have read which ones have been the most interesting and helpful to you?
2. What would you like for me to write about more?
3. What improvements would you recommend in order for you to participate through responding and commenting by sharing your own experiences and thoughts?

Blog

July 8th, 2014

It might interest you to know that you are among 278 others who visited my blog site last week. I asked our webmaster to give me a count of who is entering my blogsite. Apparently last July we had 1,278 visitors for the month. The site overall continues the trend of past years – growing slowly and steadily. The blog is very stable and represents about 16-17% of the users of our Chapel website.
One of my hopes is that more people will sign up to receive the blog as time passes. At the moment those of you who read my blog regularly are my blog congregation. Last Sunday we had 291 at our worship services. Some of you were there. Others of you were not and may not be able to get there because you are somewhere else in the world. Some of you may access our Sunday worship through the web-streaming and therefore can hear and see me on video. Nevertheless the blog is reaching a group of people who may be members of other congregations or none. I welcome you all and pray that the blog-posts are a blessing to you.
Let me encourage you to share my blogs with your friends.

Astrology, Psychics and the Paranormal

July 1st, 2014

A social club of which I am a member is promoting The Everglow Series: Awaken the power within. Explore beyond the everyday. It features three speakers in July, November and December. The first is the author of four books about angels who is going to speak on how to receive messages from angels, guides, master teachers and more! The second is a celebrated astrologer who gives live astrological forecasts and has done readings for famous people. She will discuss why 6,000 years of Astrology still lives on today. The third is a psychic detective who will discuss how she applies psychic abilities to everything. She has established a religious organization dedicated to holistic practices. Some members of my congregation have asked me what I thought of these speakers and their topics.

The paranormal is the topic of so many television shows and movies as well as numerous novels that it is inevitable that we will encounter it in the marketplace of our culture. You encounter it in the Bible also, but it is not advocated. The incident with the slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future in Acts 16:16-18 is indicative of how a follower of Jesus would regard those who claim such powers. Ajith Fernando in his commentary on this passage writes,

Paul’s attitude of opposition to demonic power that told the truth about his ministry is relevant today. We live in an age that is both pluralistic and is experiencing a rediscovery of spirituality. Pluralism causes many people to assign roughly equal status to all religious approaches, spirituality causes them to welcome different expressions of the spiritual and the supernatural. This combination has brought about a supermarket approach to religion, where people are encouraged to shop for the gods that best suit them.
Jesus warned that in the last days people will say, “Look, here is the Christ!” and “Look, there he is!” But he said, “Do not believe it” (Mark 13:21). Our Lord went on to explain, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect – if that were possible” (13:22). We must be alert to this and seek to rescue people from their influence, just as Paul did with the Philippian girl. (The NIV Application Commentary on Acts, p.453)

Any spirituality that draws attention to itself rather than point to Jesus is not Christian. The angels pointed to Jesus at his birth, at the empty tomb and at his Ascension. When St. John fell at the feet of the angel to worship him the angel said to him, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). We are warned not to add anything to the words of prophecy as found in the Bible (Revelation 22:18).

Astrology and its horoscopes is as old as time. The early Christian leaders reacted strongly against the fatalistic implications of astrology within the prevailing culture where the publication of popular almanacs was a major industry. In biblical terms, the heavenly bodies record rather than implement the purposes of God, and in contrast to many other ancient literatures the Hebrew scriptures take little interest in heavenly portents. In the New Testament, references to the moon, sun and stars are metaphorical rather than literal. In Ephesus, a number who practiced such astrological arts brought their valuable charts and horoscopes together and burned them publicly as evidence of their conversion to Christ (Acts 19:19).

I have read widely on the subject of the paranormal and have conducted prayers of exorcism on request. I believe in the demonic as well as the angelic. St. Paul warns us of the prevalence of false teachers.

They’re a sorry bunch – pseudo-apostles, lying preachers, crooked workers – posing as Christ’s agents but sham to the core. And no wonder! Satan does it all the time, dressing up as a beautiful angel of light. So it shouldn’t surprise us when his servants masquerade as servants of God. But they’re not getting by with anything. They’ll pay for it in the end. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, The Message)

What do you think of psychic phenomena? How should it be interpreted? What do you think of the Biblical criteria for evaluating its truth claims?

Skepticism

June 28th, 2014

Thomas Gardner, Professor of English at Virginia Tech, wrote a review of Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory, an autobiography of Stanley Cavell, the philosopher, in Books and Culture, March/April 2014. Something in it intrigued me and I ordered a copy. I did not realize that it was 550 pages of an autobiography in the form of a philosophical diary of a man I had never heard of before. Nevertheless I persevered and was drawn into the story of a life that begins and ends with being in hospital facing heart surgery.
He begins with his own need for heart catheterization and found that the way he could control or harness his anxiety was by telling the story of his life. Or, he was using the mortal threat of the procedure, and of what it may reveal, to justify his right to tell his story in the way he wished to tell it. The result is his intersecting the autobiographical with his vocation of philosophy.
It is a fascinating account that I cannot claim to completely understand when he discusses language games. However, Gardner explains that Cavell argues that skepticism in philosophy that questions everything (I can remember taking religious philosophy in my undergraduate days and giving to read A.J. Ayers, Language, Truth and Logic), and turns reality into intellectual problems is a refusal to participate in human existence.
The tendency of academics to talk in terms of abstract theory is a denial of our finitude – the deep down truth about our humanity, that we are limited, that we die, that we are needy, that we misunderstand, that we are vulnerable, and flawed. Life is not an intellectual problem to be solved. We tend to fall back on intellectual statements to excuse or justify our fragility, our ignorance, our weaknesses. Skepticism, cynicism, expressed in intellectualizing issues is a defense against dealing with the challenges of life. The same can be said of those who spiritualize everything and utter platitudes in the face of suffering, e.g. Job’s comforters. Gardner writes,

“Philosophy, as Cavell would practice it, seems more a matter of listening to the everyday than of moving abstractly beyond it. It is a way of enacting and responding to a witness already there.”

Instead of analyzing one’s situation and trying to frame words to explain it, to distance ourselves from it and so relieve the pain of experience, so that we can control our anxiety, and to defer having to make a decision about it, we need to listen to our words, and to accept the reality of our human condition, our fears, that we are dependent upon others and ultimately God.
Cavell ends his book with a conversation he had with his father who was having a pacemaker installed. His relationship with his father is a difficult one. He writes,

“I believe I can date the moment at which I realized that my father hated me, or perhaps I can more accurately say, wished I did not exist… This is the moment I described as dating my knowledge that my father wanted me dead….I feared and hated my father.”( p.14)

One might say that Cavell’s life is a working out of his relationship with his father, who intellectualized his feelings because he felt that he was a failure compared with others in his family and his son. He argued with his wife, was a skeptic in his Jewish religious background, and was now feeling that he did not have a choice in his medical treatment. He asked his son to stop the procedure. Cavell (who changed his name from his father’s Goldstein) told him that it was not his job to stop the procedure and concluded his autobiography with these enigmatic words.

“Wondering whether my father would question the philosopher about what a son’s responsibility is, or what a wife’s is, or what a doctor’s is, I was about to say that I would tell the doctor about our talk, but my father has fallen asleep. His position appeared awkward to me. I walked out to find my mother.”

How would you respond to a skeptic who questions everything? Do you think that intellectualizing or spiritualizing problems is a way of avoiding dealing with them or seeking the help of God to handle them?

How Can God Turn Mourning Into Thanksgiving?

June 21st, 2014

I am reading Glenn Pemberton’s, HURTING WITH GOD: Learning to Lament with the Psalms. In a study of Psalm 30 he claims that thanksgiving is not possible without the prior practice of lament. He writes that loss of lament threatens authentic thanksgiving. Lament is the backbone of thanksgiving, without which our songs of gratitude are hollow and limp – sentimental platitudes without a faith spine.

He quotes Nicholas Wolterstorff, reflecting on the death of his son:

And I know now about helplessness – of what to do when there is nothing to do. I have learned coping. We live in a time and place where, over and over, when confronted with something unpleasant we pursue not coping but overcoming. Often we succeed. Most of humanity has not enjoyed and does not enjoy such luxury. Death shatters our illusion that we can make do without coping. When we have overcome absence with phone calls, winglessness with airplanes, summer heat with are-conditioning – when we have overcome all these and much more besides, then there will abide two things with which we must cope: the evil in our hearts and death. (Lament for a Son, 72-73)

Dr. Pemberton suffers from incurable pain in his feet, and the loss of a wife through divorce. His book arises out of his own pain and his teaching Old Testament at Abilene Christian University. He gives witness to the authenticity of the Psalms for Christian prayer.

God answers our prayers for help, sometimes as we hoped, other times not. But even when we get what we prayed for, we often emerge from the storm soaked to the bone and shivering for weeks from the experience. Doctors are not able to fix every birth defect or the damage caused by all those seizures in the first months of life. Some children are not going to get well or get better. Severed nerve cells, as of yet, do not grow back together. God may grant remission from cancer or complete healing, but the scars do not go away – nor does the fear of relapse. Some grandparents face the challenges (and blessings) of parenting their grandchildren. For many at sea, their circumstances, their lives, are not going to get better – just more and more complicated and difficult.
My experience with chronic pain, learning to live well but not “getting better” (by the normal definition) has made me especially sensitive to the stories of people whose lives are defined by continuous storms on the sea. For these believers, the greatest act of faith may never come in a thanksgiving song for a God who finally did what I wanted, but in gratitude for a God and faith community who supply the grace to live well in storms that never let up. As long as our thanksgiving, however, only acknowledges instances when we get what we wanted, our gratitude is stunted and incredibly painful to those to whom God days no. Our vision of gratitude needs to recognize the faith stories of those to whom God has said, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor.12:9). And, as a community of faith, we need to learn how to come alongside these believers with understanding, acceptance of God’s answer and God’s grace, and hospitality for thorns that keep growing and storms that cycle back over and over. We need gratitude for grace in all its forms. (188-189)

What do you think? How can you echo Psalm 30:11,12?
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks forever
.”

Reflections on a week in Yorkshire, England

June 12th, 2014

The Black Swan, Helmsley, North Yorkshire
Tuesday, June 3, 2014

After an uneventful flight, Antoinette and I arrived in Manchester, UK at 8.00 a.m., picked up our rental car and drove north on M62 to Harrogate, where we lunched at our favorite cafe and tea room, Bettys. Spinach and nutmeg soup, Yorkshire sausage with potato frittata and cabbage and bacon salad, followed by a double espresso to keep me awake after only four hours disturbed sleep. I drove to Ripon, keeping on the left of a narrow road to avoid being swiped by cars and trucks hurtling past. Suddenly there was a bang, wham, as I hit the curb and the car started to drag. When I slowed to stop I found two punctured tires on the left, passenger side!!!!!! Oh me. A curbstone must have been sticking out and gouged a hole in both hubcaps and tires. Stuart Antony Chapman, whom I later discovered was a local pig farmer (10,000 pigs!) stopped and I asked him for assistance. He drove to a local auto and tire repair place and returned with Sam Whitelaw who proceeded to replace my two ruined tires with nary a hesitation. Thank God for auto mechanics. While I was waiting for him to finish I looked around the scene. I had pulled off A61 to Thirsk at a local road called Smith Lane. On one side of the road were extensive barley fields swaying in the wind. They provided fodder for the local brewery! On the other side of the road were fields of wheat undulating in the breeze. It was a sunny country day in North Yorkshire where there was horse racing at Ripon and the locals were going about their work. I followed Sam back to his garage where he charged me half of what I expected.

When the tires blew out on me I thought that we might be marooned all afternoon trying to get help. As weary as we both were we could not think straight. I called the rental car accident line and was referred to the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) who would have sent someone to tow us to a nearby garage where we might have been helped. Instead I went with the friendly locals and was on my way before I knew it. This was my third tire incident since I had to go to Tire Kingdom to check out a flat tire on the previous Sunday. I was spooked to say the least. It is not fun to have car problems at home where AAA is always at hand to help, but overseas, despite having the insurance, it is nerve-wracking.

The Black Swan is an old hotel where we have stayed before. In fact we led a group from our church in San Antonio who stayed here some twenty years ago. Helmsley is small town on the edge of the NorthYorkshire moors and the Hambleton Hills and the hotel is an old coaching inn on the market square next to the churchyard. Our room looked out on one side to the market square and on the other side to the churchyard. I wandered into a local bookstore and stationers (a typical British combination of books, cards, gifts, toys etc.) and discovered a number of novels by a Roman Catholic author, Lucy Beckett, who taught at Ampleforth Abbey. She is a new author to me, a writer of historical fiction and a teacher of writers in the Christian tradition whose text book, In the Light of Christ: Writers in the Western Tradition, I am going to order. Also she has written books on the First World War whose centenary it is this year. The owner of the store told me that his father fought in both world wars: the Somme in the first and Burma in the second, and survived, but like so many, never talked about it. Where was PTSD in those days?

A vacation is a chance to do something different, to have a change of pace and focus, to recharge your batteries, to be open to new experiences, to discover new writers and perspectives, to take time to look around and see the world, to rest and relax. If this day is any indication I must be ready for the unexpected, to be surprised, to see how I respond to emergencies, to be inconvenienced. So far, I have been blessed with the help of others, of entertaining strangers, angels unawares!!!! When I arrived at the hotel, Zoltan from Hungary helped me with my luggage. Sam helped me with the tires. Stuart took down the tire size and helped me to find Sam. How we are dependent on others in times of need? We took the names and addresses of our Good Samaritans and intend to let them know how much their kindnesses meant to us. We are thankful to God for their availability at our time of need.

Thursday, June 5, 2014
Yesterday it was raining but warm. I reflected on my daily reading in Encounter with God from John 5:18-29, the relationship of the Father and the Son – the raising of the dead, the giver of life, honoring the Son, passing from death to life. It is a profound expression of the divinity of Christ. I began reading Cornelius Plantinga, READING FOR PREACHING, the need for a program of general reading. An excellent book which I recommend to all preachers to widen and deepen their perspective.

We drove to Bolton Abbey through sheep farms and moors to Grove Rare Books where Andrew Sharpe and Adam Yates found us many items. I found a fine illustrated 3 volume set of Boswell‘s, Life of Johnson (1857) that I had been looking for. Bolton Abbey is in the backyard of the Duke of Devonshire’s lovely country home and his hotel, the Devonshire Arms. It is immaculately kept with manicured grounds.

We set out for Haworth, where Antoinette spent time in the Bronte Parsonage Museum and bookstore. I wandered into St. Michael’s and All Angels Church where Patrick Bronte was Rector for 40 years and his family is buried. The church needs repairs and shows signs of its age. The Church of England is encumbered by ancient buildings that need much maintenance when it should be engaged in mission through sites that are contemporary and attractive rather than dark and dismal. An item in The Telegraph cites a recent church census where the only churches to thrive and grow in England are black Pentecostal churches and Catholic churches. Perhaps the Church of England would be better off selling or leasing their present churches and spending the income on new premises. That would require risk-taking leadership. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York in their Pentecost letter urged prayer for the growth of the church while acknowledging that most people would run in the other direction if Christians tried to share their faith with them, and many Christians would be terrified of witnessing. How do we share the Gospel today in an authentic, non-threatening and winsome way? Getting to know people and their needs and praying for them is one way. How do I share my faith? To my chagrin I must admit that I tend to want my privacy when I travel and rarely engage others in personal chitchat. Is that being self-absorbed and unfriendly. Antoinette is more outgoing and by asking questions gets to know people more easily. Should I carry with me some brief Gospel material that I can give away? I notice that the churches here have no Christian materials available in their entrance for those who might be seeking. Should we not provide free material for visitors?

Friday, June 6, 2014
We drove to York over the Howardian Hills through Hovingham – beautiful English countryside – this green and pleasant land – and found a parking place outside the city walls at Monkgate opposity St. John’s University where I played rugby in the snow some forty five years ago. Visited the Minster Shop and purchased a book on Intercessory Prayer by John Pritchard whom I knew as Warden of Cranmer Hall, Durham and is now Bishop of Oxford. We dived into Ken Spelman Books at Mickelgate, whose catalogs I have received for years having patronised it many times. I found a great copy of the prayers of Lancelot Andrewes, a seventeenth century English Divine. I had a copy when I was young and mislaid it. This is a fine replacement. Also a good copy of Camus‘s The Myth of Sysiphus, a recent book on evangelical Christianity in Victorian times, and a fine copy of William Paley’s classic, Natural Theology: Evidences of Christianity, which I have never read.

The Telegraph front page has a photo of Cyril Ager, a 89 year old veteran who took part in the D-Day landings in Normandy, 70 years ago, visiting Gold Beach, with thousands of Union Jacks containing thank you messages in front of him and the English Channel behind him. The Queen, Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama and other Allied leaders (including Vladimir Putin) are commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day. What message does that operation have for us today? The Allies had to mount a rescue effort to liberate Europe from a Nazi tyranny. They had to take action at the loss of many lives to save Europe from highly cultured barbarians who had reverted from their national Christian faith and instead had embraced paganism. Is there a parallel here for today? Is a D-Day necessary today in order to rescue our culture from highly educated secular pagans who are reducing human beings to that status of animals. Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and other anti-Christian, pseudo-scientific books is reported to be complaining about parents teaching their children lies in the form of Santa Claus or anything supernatural. Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, the evolutionary biologist said that parents should be wary of filling young minds with pernicious fantasies about wizards, princesses and Father Christmas. Instead we should be “fostering a spirit of scepticism. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog; it’s statistically improbable.” Jemima Lewis in her column in The Telegraph entitled, Fiction Can Be a Great Way to Tell the Truth, Mr Dawkins, takes him on. She compares him with fundamentalists who cannot understand the value of metaphor in the Bible.

“And like all fundamentalists, he misses the point about fiction: it is a brilliantly effective vehicle for the truth. The line between truth and fiction is especially porous in children, who have an instinctive understanding of metaphor. They know that the Frog Prince is not really a story about shape-shifting amphibians, but about the importance of keeping your promises.” She goes on to relate how her father kept her entertained as child with a “constant stream of fibs [lies]…. He spun elaborate fantasies about our suburban friends and neighbours… Gradually, I came to realise that there was not a grain of truth in these stories. But I demanded to hear them again and again, wrapping myself up in a cosy tapestry of family jokes and fables.”

She goes on to acknowledge that her belief in Santa Claus was not the result of a lie, but that it was an act of love from her parents. Secular humanists like Dawkins are so infected by the virus of scepticism that they cannot appreciate truths that are conveyed through analogy, metaphor, miracles, the imagination, the supernatural and acts of love.

Another form of fundamentalism that threatens Europe is to be found in Muslim extremists. As we drove through Bradford today, on the way to Thornton, the birthplace of the Bronte sisters, we passed many Muslims on their way to Friday prayers in the mosques that have sprung up to serve the Pakistani community. This part of England was strongly Methodist in the 19th century. Today it is strongly Muslim. We visited the school in Bradford where Patrick Bronte taught and met his future wife and the mother of his children. It was founded in 1812 as a Methodist school and still has a Methodist chapel and chaplain, but we were told that religion is not emphasized even though the Holy Bible is on the school crest. When I enquired what the school was known for today in terms of its speciality, I was told it was rugby! The most cared for and attractive part of the campus were the sports fields.
Where Christianity has declined in its zeal and support it has been replaced by Islam. Women, clad in burquas and men in Pakistani dress, walk along the streets. The mosques are filled with Muslim men for Friday prayers and the churches are struggling to keep their doors open. The headlines in the national news concerns complaints that Muslim extremists were trying to take over some public schools in Birmingham by having Muslim speakers in assemblies, separating the sexes, and the refusal of Muslim governors to treat female teachers as equals. The Muslim community responded by asserting that they have a right to raise their children in their conservative version of Islam. The government replied that they have the responsibility to provide an education that respects British values. It is interesting to see a debate over values in school education. We have the same debate in the USA. The question becomes one of what constitutes American values? School boards are faced with this sort of issue from time to time and some minorities complain that they are being compelled to comply. Where there is dispute there needs to be the freedom to opt out. The Muslim message is that of law, legalism, and the subjugation of women. Where that is taught in the schools the result will be a Muslim culture. The secular message is that religion has no place in public education. No wonder we have a problem with moral values, sexual promiscuity, greed, materialism, anxiety, addiction and violence.

What has happened to the leadership of the churches in the United Kingdom? The clergy are probably overwhelmed with their parochial duties as chaplains to the community. They are at the beck and call of everybody and respond to the urgent needs rather than the important priorities of preaching the Gospel. They are custodians of buildings which are ancient and a turn off to the young. I saw a sign in front of a modern commercial building yesterday that advertised a Family Life Church meeting there. It looked attractive and appealing in contrast to the blackened stone churches in the urban areas with no place for parking and poor facilities. I wonder what sort of an impact a clergyman can have in this environment where the popular religion is football.

On all the roads we drove there are signs of the highly anticipated Tour de France which begins here next month. Thousands are expected to view it and storefronts are decorated with bicycles and bunting made to look like the yellow shirts the winner receives for each stage of the Tour. St. Paul writes much about running the race. If only Christians could engender such enthusiasm for the race of life, where all who finish can win the garland of victory that Christ awards on that great day.

Why is there such indifference to the faith of Christ, to spiritual realities? Why is the church such an object of historical importance alone and seen to be irrelevant to lives today? Is there no fear of God before their eyes? Is there no sense of a coming reckoning? Is there little desire for finding meaning and purpose in life, in eternal things? Is life only a matter of survival, of material advancement, of escape from the anxieties of the present and the terror of the future? We saw in the window of a dress shop a lovely green scarf designed by famous fashion brand Alexander McQueen. It was very expensive – about $500.00. I pointed out to Antoinette, who was admiring it, that the black border was decorated with skulls! Something beautiful was spoiled by the shock factor of death – unappealing to us but apparently attractive to those who want to dress to impress in a unique way. Perhaps that is a metaphor of the pagan culture that is prevalent. We are told that we are mere mortals, skeletons clothed in flesh and blood that have no enduring value. To the contrary, the Gospel tells us that we are designed by our Creator for the purpose of living to his glory. That raises our sights above the material and beyond the temporal. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, and hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:25-29)

Saturday, June 7, 2014
Sunrise at 5.00 a.m. was beautiful, but it clouded over and rained most of the day. We decided to walk around the marketplace, visit the local shops, and then have a substantial afternoon tea with soup, sandwiches, scones, and cakes. The English afternoon tea cannot be beaten. We indulged ourselves every afternoon in one tearoom or another. The problem is that you cannot face a substantial supper after it. We watched the television reports on the D-Day anniversary and the Women’s French Open final with Maria Sharapova winning.

Sunday, June 8, 2014
I attended 8.00 a.m. Holy Communion at All Saints Church, Helmsley which was next door to the hotel. There were no greeters at the door. There was a stack of Prayer Books on the table with an announcement sheet inserted in each one. I picked one up and chose a pew near the front. The sheet announced a walk to raise funds for a charity. The parish is a wealthy one, which had recently received a substantial bequest for building additions and repairs. However it was having difficulty in funding its annual budget and was some $8,000 behind for the year. The service had not changed since I attended in my childhood. It was straight from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, Caroline English and all. The celebrant was a woman who stuck to her script with nary a deviation. No greeting, no homily, nothing personal intruded. She did it all on her own, with no lay reader or anyone to assist her in serving communion. And it was Pentecost Sunday!!!!! She read the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 with as little emotion as was possible. How come that this theme of the Christian calendar, this festival of the birth of the Christian church could be reduced to such a recital? Having been raised in this tradition I was not surprised but am amazed that it still continues. The famous upper class English reserve does not do the Gospel message very well. There is plenty of emotion in England, but it is more likely to be found at football matches than in the church. No wonder the church is losing ground with the public. I received communion with the eleven other communicants, prayed for Christ to be real to me and others, and gave thanks for my salvation. I was one of the last to leave the church. No one spoke to me. What would Jesus say?

We drove into York where we intended to worship at historic York Minster, one of the largest Gothic edifices in Europe. But services had been cancelled (and this on the Feast of Pentecost – could you imagine cancelling services on Easter?) because they were preparing for a special service in the afternoon. The service, I found out, was the inauguration of a new diocese out of the merger of four older dioceses: Bradford, Ripon, Leeds and Wakefield. They cancelled Sunday worship for an organizational ceremony for a shrunken administration!!!!! We went next door to St. Michael-le-Belfry Church where there were about 150 present, mainly students, and the preacher was giving a Powerpoint presentation on Pentecost from his Apple computer – what a contrast from the earlier service I attended! He was quite good with illustrations and concluded with a prayer of commitment to Christ. Afterwards there was a testimony from a student who was to be baptized in an inflatable pool outside the front door of the church. The church building itself is ancient and in need of gutting and redecorating. The pews crowd it and need removing. Aesthetically it is a monstrosity with memorials to famous deceased worthies crowding the walls. Some churches have had the courage to completely redesign their sanctuaries with much profit. My church in St. Nicholas, Durham, St. Aldates, Oxford and at All Souls, Langham Place, London are good examples of what you can do. This church is reaching the students in the city but it probably doesn’t have the money to spend on renovations.

We passed St. Wilfrid’s Catholic Church, on the other side of York Minster and I peeked in. It was crowded with people standing at the back and in the aisles. What are they doing to attract such large numbers? Apparently they are staffed by priests from the Order of the Oratory, followers of St. Philip Neri, who are great evangelists. The interior of the church was bright and colorful (in contrast to the dreary interiors of many Anglican churches) with the priests colorfully robed. On enquiry of an Anglican minister I was told that their attraction was that they were traditional – they stood for the unpopular views of traditional orthodox Christianity. The Anglican church tries to be too polite and accommodating to the culture. It is not that they use traditional language, but that they see themselves as standing in the apostolic tradition and as called to communicate the apostolic Gospel with all the fervor they can muster. The Feast of Pentecost was being re-enacted in that liturgy as representatives of many ethnic groups were present, especially from Eastern Europe.

My final port of call was to Minster Gate Bookshop where I discovered a copy of the 2 volume, Pascal and Kierkegaard: A Study in the Strategy of Evangelism, by Denzil Patrick which was published in 1947. I am excited at the anticipation of reading it and learning how both these writers reached their contemporaries and were courageous at confronting the church authorities of their day with their dereliction of duty. It is so easy for churches to settle for the status quo because it is comfortable rather than risking all for Christ and the Gospel.

Monday, June 9, 2014

We drove to Manchester Airport to catch our return flight the next day. By the time we arrived home I had completed reading Trouble, by Gary D. Schmidt. Dr. Schmidt is Professor of English at Calvin College and has written a number of young adult novels including the Newberry Honor books The Wednesday Wars, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Trouble is an enthralling story of a boy who loses his older brother whom he idolized in an accident and its ramifications on his family. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of his work. We managed to cover a lot of ground in the week that we were away. But there is no place like home! Thanks be to God for his many blessings and a safe journey.

Ascension Day

May 29th, 2014

Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: “If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth.” For just as he remained with s even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.

Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” and when he said: “I was hungry and you gave me food.”

Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him? While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 430 AD