Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Yellow weather warnings and the fog of separation

Yesterday I exchanged tweets with the Met Office. Having been awoken by the radio news of a so called 'yellow' weather warning, I was concerned that I may not be able to safely leave the house with my wife and travel to the deepest outer reaches of Ikea on the Purley Way. I just wanted to check...and they kindly replied to say it was ok!

On Intro3 tonight we are looking at the day the sky went black in the middle of the day. Something more than a weather aberration which the forecasters missed. This was unprecedented before or since. Mark's gospel confirms 3 hours of darkness, a withdrawal of natural light which represented something hugely significant.

In the dark, on a hillside, a carpenter from Nazareth was dying on Roman cross. Jesus Christ, enduring awful physical pain, was slowly suffocating and crying out 'my God why have you forsaken me?'
This desperate cry of abandonment aimed at heaven should have had an answer, someone should have come running. Yet not only was heaven silent, but the darkening sky showed the angry judgement of God on His Son who had been perfect.

At the same time, in the heart of the city, at the Temple a curtain is torn. A heavy duty, thirty feet high divider between the parts of the temple we can walk in, and the holy parts that none of us can enter. Nothing can pass through, the curtain is a giant no entry sign to keep sinful people away from a perfect God.

Now as Jesus breathes his last, it is ripped from top to bottom. God has initiated something, even as it seems heaven will not respond to the heart breaking cry of the dying son. In a moment, history is changed, the curse is reversed, and God opens the door to us. The one who was inaccessible now stands behind an open door and welcomes us right in!
The no entry sign gone, the great separation between God and man which has stood since Adam ate the apple,is bridged. We are able to come once again into relationship with the perfect God who made us. Without guilt, without fear.

We’re following Jesus, into the darkness, and out into the light. Our sins have been forgiven. On the cross He took our punishment. He was put outside the city, so that we could come into the temple.
He took God’s judgement so that we would be free to come in. Jesus is rejected out there, so that I can be accepted in here. Jesus endures darkness and abandonment in order to lead us out of the fog of lostness and separation, back home to the Father who made us to live forever in His house.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

When Angela met David.......

Today David Cameron, British Prime Minister, flies out to meet Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. Angela has a sneaky friend from France who has put her up to this but he has left her to do the talking. Basically France and Germany intend to give Dave a bit of a talking to over his stance on the Euro bail out. It will not work. We may all be European cousins, but we just don't understand each other, and we never have. This is how it will go.....

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Real Jesus & the quest for a better vacuum cleaner

Mr Kipling spent his life trying to mass market exceedingly good cakes. Bernard Matthews gave himself up to the lifelong quest for the beautiful turkey roast. Steve Jobs pursued the most intuitive tech, Geoff Dyson tried to turn vacuum cleaners into sexy gadgets that even men might consider getting out of the under stairs cupboard and plugging in!
And it works both ways - In any marketing, customers are looking for a brand which carries authentic values, searching for something they can trust to do what it says, looking for a product to stay loyal to and identify with. That's why aspirational real life scripts work so well in John Lewis Christmas adverts. People are hunting down truth and authenticity, they want to belong to something with meaning and purpose - great advertising taps into this subliminal need.

On Intro tonight we are asking questions about the real Jesus. Could there be any truth in the claims he makes about himself? Is there anything authentic in his story? Is there any meaning in the narrative of his life which is capable of meeting the deep need in all of us to belong to something greater than ourselves, or simply our desire for a better vacuum cleaner?

It's hard to know who or what to believe in our sceptical, cynical society. We expect lies or failure to lurk behind the newspaper headlines. We anticipate breakdown and betrayal behind the glossy magazine celebrity wedding photoshoot. We struggle to believe our politicians when they accuse one another, knowing full well their own hypocrisy will soon be exposed in sensational revelations in the press. In the same way, we don't really believe the hype in advertising. Mr Kipling's cakes are in reality exceedingly disappointing, and Bernard Matthew's mass marketed turkeys were anything but beautiful!

Is it possible for us to literally believe the claims that Christians make about Jesus Christ, the carpenter from Nazareth who lived on planet earth 2000 years ago? Is there any truth in these stories that will draw us from the shallowness of consumer culture and into a more life defining quest? Could it really be that this historical Jesus is more than a footnote in history, but the authentic one - the real thing, the one this broken world has been waiting for, the Saviour, God’s own son?

CS Lewis puts it best: A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.
Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.
You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is the Son of God.'

Whether you think Lewis is right or not, take a look at the views of some ordinary people we interviewed in our town this week.

Intro Course 'Who is Jesus?' from New Life Church on Vimeo.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Steve Weiss & the US 36th

In the summer of 1944, Steve Weiss,aged just 18, was fighting his way into the South of France against intense German resistance. A part of the US 36th Infantry Division, these boys had been called up from Texas, trained in the outposts of Louisiana, before being dropped in North Africa to make their way by sea to the Bay of Salerno, Italy. By 1943,landing in the face of desperate opposition, they gradually advanced, pushing further north as winter approached.

By the following summer, boys had become men, growing up in a maelstrom, a storm of the most awful fighting. The liberation of France was now their goal, getting back home still a distant dream.
During a night attack near Valence Steve Weiss stumbled into an enemy position. 'Rather than the men behind me coming in on either side and flowing out to make a skirmish line which we'd learned in basic training back in the States, they ran away. I recognised at that moment that the American army was every man for himself.'

Incredibly, Weiss survived the night, but found himself behind enemy lines. Rather than withdrawing from the fight, he instead joined up with the French Resistance, battling alongside them for a number of months before he was able to rejoin his unit.

The fighting continued relentlessly. The boys of the 36th spent longer on the front line continuously than any other unit, 144 days in one particularly nightmarish stretch. Having seen friends die next to him and having endured the terror of his stint behind enemy lines, Weiss found the internal battle became the hardest. Twice in these late days of the war he deserted the front line, paralysed by what we would today call battle fatigue or high level post traumatic stress.

This boy who became a man far away from home, fighting for us and our freedoms, learned to cope and got on. His inner demons understandably continued long after he returned home in peace time, his heart remaining in turmoil. Part of the coping srategy for Weiss was to train as a Clinical Psychologist, no doubt in an attempt to understand his own mind, then to help others who had been through similar agonies of body and emotions.

With incredible brevity, this simple statement from Weiss says it all for us on Remembrance Day. In hearing it, we see ourselves in his shoes and wonder if our hearts would be so strong, so enduring in the face of naked fear as the young boy Weiss.'There is no easy way to prepare teens and young men for war when their desire to serve their country collides with their desire to stay alive.'

Dr Weiss - we salute you.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

More than fat talking dogs and meerkats!

I hate those annoying insurance adverts. The fat Churchill dog, the fatter Go Compare man, those talking Meerkats – they drive me up the wall, but even I have to admit that they are effective. Sadly, the product they are selling is lodged in our national consciousness.
Recent surveys show that more 11-16 year olds believe Churchill to be a fat talking dog who says ‘Oh Yes!’ than the leader of the wartime coalition who says ‘We will fight them on the beaches!’ Families have even been buying meerkats in specialist pet shops, but asking for refunds when they discover that they can’t actually be taught to speak like a parrot! Arrrrrrgh!

Tonight we are using another insurance slogan ‘Morethan’ to launch our Intro course. Morethan thankfully conjurs no images of operatic insurance salesmen or talking animals, but it does enable us to ask the honest question ‘Is there more than this to life?’
Thom Yorke, the influential singer songwriter of Radiohead featured in a recent Guardian interview. Asked about his ambitions, he said, ‘Ambitions for what? I thought that when I got to where I wanted to be everything would be different. I’d be somewhere else, it would all be white fluff with clouds. But then I got there and I’m still here…….I’m just filling the hole, that’s all anyone does…..the hole is still here’

We could dismiss Yorke’s comments as the angst of a successful man who should wake up and realise how good he’s got it. Perhaps your life has been the opposite, the things you’ve done not led to big breaks , but hardship? Whether we’re doing well and on top of life, or struggling with real issues, there is a nagging emptiness which shouts out the ‘morethan’ question.

Richard Dawkins and the new breed of strident atheists would have us ignore the ache. Cover it up, or fill it with some substitute. The recent bus advertising campaign from the British Humanist Society trumpeted, ‘There probably is no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life!’
Is that the solution, ignore it and hope the question goes away? Or is there a more honest approach in actually asking the morethan question? Was Philosopher Blaise Pascal right all those years ago when he asserted that there is a ‘God shaped hole in each of us’?

Rather than ignoring the inner ache, or keep on running through the stitch, would it not be better for us to slow down and examine for once what the problem really is? Rather than feeding the need, pouring money, success, achievement, sex, food, into the gaping wound – why don’t we look for a new way, search for some truth which may ultimately satisfy?
Is there morethan this? In the words of the fat talking dog, ‘Oh Yes!’

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Literally: Jamie Redknapp & the Resurrection Man

I'm writing the ‘Resurrection Man’ talk for our Intro course today and wondering if we can ‘literally’ believe this stuff? It depends of course on what we mean by the word. Certainly not the ‘literally’ of Sky Sports football pundit Jamie Redknapp. These great phrases were all uttered during recent televised football commentaries.

“He literally turns into a greyhound.”
“He’s literally left Ben Haim for dead there.”
“Centre forwards have the ability to make time stand still. And when Chopra got the ball, it literally did just that.”
“He had to cut back inside onto his left, because he literally hasn’t got a right foot”
Redknapp maybe literally murdering the English language, making it say things that just can’t possibly be true, but can the same be said for the gospel accounts? Is it possible that they really meant for us to accept and believe the remarkable things they said?

The gospels all show a bodily resurrection of Jesus the carpenter, just over 48 hours after He was certified dead on a Roman cross in front of watching crowds.
This is surely the most outrageous & fantastic of all the claims that Christians make.
Not a spiritual resurrection, nor a mystical one. Not just a resuscitation, there can be no other plain meaning but a bodily, historical, flesh & blood raising from the dead!

This idea of a literal resurrection remained true for Paul in the years that followed. He didn’t try & back away from it in the face of Greek learning. In true Redknapp style, he risked hyperbole by claiming, 'If Christ hasn’t been raised our preaching is useless, so is our faith.'This blog & your response to it are pure emotion, full of feeling, but ultimately empty, if Jesus is not literally alive today.

Paul goes on, ‘If we only have hope for this life we are to be pitied’.
You can feel sorry for me, shake your head in pity at a man who has wasted his life running after a fiction. You can believe Dawkins that I am deluded to follow a fairy tale – if Jesus didn’t literally rise from the dead.
The stakes for those of us who call ourselves Christians literally couldn’t be higher. The question for those who are not so sure, literally could not be more important.