Saturday, July 28, 2007

To Read or Not to Read?

I was in a bit of a quandry. The BBC had phoned and asked if I would respond to a taped interview with Christopher Hitchens the author of 'god is not Great' and review the book from a Christian point of view. Here was my dilemma - as a Christian pastor I am responsible for the people under my care and guidance and should not be afraid to speak out and warn folk about this spiritually dangerous and throroughly offensive book (Hitchens would be pleased to hear me say that as his stated aim in writing the book is to 'demoralise people of faith' and be offensive to them) - and yet I did not want to give the author any money or read a book that might harm me spiritually and perhaps even be the reason why one more person would buy it.

Following an evening service in which I had told the church that I intended to read the book and asked for their prayers, a spiritually mature and sensitive lady came up to me at the end said that she felt the Lord was saying that I should not read that book! A word from the Lord?

Here is what I did. I agreed to the interview but refused to read the book on the grounds that its stated goal is to demoralise people of faith. I have enough to demoralise my faith without that! I surely don't need to drink from a bottle labelled 'poison' in order to know that it will do me no good. When the book arrived at my house I sent it back unopened. I then read widely on the internet what much more clever people than me were saying about the book and the man. I found excellent material on the Christian site and several helpful reviews from the Washington Post, the Spectator and the Mail on Sunday. The interview was recorded this morning for transmission tomorrow, Sunday 29th July. I am praying that the outcome will glorify God and help people.

Hitchens is a tragic and arrogant figure, a journalist who mocks God and anyone who believes in Him. He calls Mother Teresa a 'fraud and a fool' and St Augustine as 'a self-centered fantasist and an earth-centered ignoramus'. He believes that people of faith should be 'removed from the stage' so that the real debate about philosophy and the meaning of life can begin. His attitude is very similar to that which leads to anti-Semitism and the persecution of believers. He reminds me of an ageing comic on British tv called Alf Garnet who sneered and mocked at people of different races and creeds. We laughed at him then, but we cringe now. Hitchens is the Alf Garnet of the atheistic philosophical world. His views are poison.

Right now there is a real deluge of printed material from atheistic sources which has the aims of making money and demoralising believers. We don't need to drink it to know it tastes pretty bad.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Is there any Word from the Lord?

Today I at home struggling with a very high fever and the pain of yet another attack of pancreatitis or some associated infection. It is a particular sorrow to me because I was due to preach at my church this morning, and tonight we are baptising some recent converts who are very wonderful people. So, I thought I would put onto my blog the main points of my sermon in case anyone out there is looking!

My text is found in Jeremiah 37:1-4, 16-17 and is vs 17 ‘Is there any word from the Lord?’
This was a remarkable question from the King (Zedekiah). His predecessor King Jehoichim had a very clear attitude towards God’s Word. See Jeremiah 36:20-24. In these verses we see King Jehoichim cutting up the scroll of God's Word into strips and burning it in the fire. The worst thing was that neither the king nor anyone with him who heard God's Word read before it was destroyed, were moved by it or affected by it in any way. They had become really hardened to what God was saying! King Zedekiah himself had shown a very low level of interest in God’s Word in verse 1 (neither he nor any of his attendants paid any attention to the words the Lord had spoken). The only sign of spiritual life in Zedekiah was seen in verse 3 – ‘please pray for me’. (Contrast these attitudes with that of King Josiah 15 years earlier, 2 Kings 22:8, 11-13.) What is our attitude towards the words of the Lord? Do we hunger for more, saying 'is there any word from the Lord?' Or are we indifferent, or even hostile? It is vital that we answer these questions.

God is a God Who Speaks.
God is not silent. He speaks through His Word, the Bible. The Bible sells 44 million copies per year, 1.25m in the UK. It is uniquely popular – (according to a book report in The Times newspaper recently). It is also powerful – people’s lives have been changed by opening the Bible and obeying what it says. (I have a friend who was a prisoner in Cardiff jail when I was a Pastor in the same city, and who liked his Gideon's Bible because the pages made good cigarrette papers. One day he tore out a sheet to smoke, and started reading the words instead. Richard was convinced that he was a sinner and that he needed a Saviour! He called on God to change his messed up life and was converted. Today, 10 years later, he is a Pastor in Birmingham). But God also speaks today through His people who bring us a word from the Lord. It may not be exactly a Bible verse but it will always agree with Bible teaching.

We Need to Hear from God.
So that we know what He wants us to do… like King Josiah.
So that we can ‘hang in there’ when the going gets tough.
So that we can have something to give away to others (like the disciples at the feeding of the 5000).

Why is it so Hard to Hear from God?
Because of interference from the world we live in. (When we were in France – trying to get BBC – interference from strong French stations prevented us). Jer 37:1 shows the attitude of most people who were around Zedekiah and who affected him - his peer group. Amos 8:11-12 speaks of the atmosphere in our postmodern Western world today. There is a famine here, not of food nor of water (that's for sure!) but a famine of the Word of our God.
Because of a lack of real passion in our hearts to hear what God is saying to us. Not so with Job in Job 23:12, I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.
Because of an unwillingness to obey what He has already said to us. Zedekiah did not like what Jeremiah was saying. Neither did those who lived around him. If we are holding out in disobedience to something that God has previously told us, it is not likely that He will speak to us again until we put that right.

How Can We Know When God is Speaking to us?
There is always the danger of it being our imagination or just the words of others.
It will arise from the Scriptures or will be confirmed by them.
It will cause a quickening of your spirit or conscience. (Like when the embryonic John the Baptist leapt in his mother's womb when he heard the voice of Mary nearby!)
It will be affirmed by others to be a word from the Lord.
It will bear fruit in your life if you respond to it.

Is There Any Word From the Lord?
There is a call to follow Jesus Christ as Lord. ‘Come follow Me’.
There is a challenge to hush our hearts enough to be able to hear God.
There is a crisis of obedience to the last thing you heard. If God has spoken to you before about a relationship or an attitude, or about baptism or being filled with the Holy Spirit, now is the time to respond.

So, God is speaking, but are we listening? And if we are, are we doing anything about it? If not, now is the time to put that right.

Friday, July 20, 2007

French Leave

Bonjour mes amis! We have just returned home (early) from a really interesting trip to France. We crossed the little bit of sea that separates Guernsey from the nearby continent and emerged from the car ferry ramp ready to tackle the traffic on the wrong side of the road. We were not disappointed, as we found that everybody had gone mad and decided to hurtle around roundabouts the wrong way and throw their vehicles into high speed chases on the right-hand side of the road, of all places. When we found that they were simply not willing to adapt to our normal pattern of driving we concluded that in the interests of international peace and goodwill we would put up with theirs. So, we moved over. It was a good thing we did, because we didn't see another normal driver for the whole ten days!

Then there was the fact that they spoke our language with great difficulty. How strange! We found that the best plan was to shout very loudly in English and point with our fingers. This usually brought about some understanding on their part. Perhaps their education system isn't quite up to scratch yet, but no doubt they are working to upgrade it. Their food was bearable, but in the absence of decent gravy we opted mainly for seafood which, despite their cullinary lack of expertise, the French seemed to manage quite well. The one exception was their terrible habit of ruining a good plate of fish'nchips by covering it in black shellfish which was barely cooked (moules frites I heard them saying). It was almost impossible to get throught the groaning mound of obviously inedible molluscs, so we gave up and looked for a decent burger.

It is a real shame that the EU has not been able to get more aid money into Brittany as most of the town centres date back as far as the 12th Century! In the UK they would all have been torn down and modernised by now, but they are obviously very slow in getting around to it. Probably one of these days they will catch up and move those poor people into concrete tower blocks where they would all be so much happier. We felt particularly sorry for the folk forced to live in this ancient dump, where things have got so bad that there are even flowers growing out of the walls! When we saw their living conditions we felt like contacting some of the agencies in the UK that handle housing, like some of the city councils for instance, who would have been happy to advise their planners. Still - we can pray...

Finally, when we had planned to stay a fortnight, our visit was cut short by my illness, which neceessitated us making a run for the boat about 4 days early. Still, as I said to Diane, you can only take so much of visiting the developping world before you become weary for the civilisation of home. Next year we thought we might go somewhere really up to date, like Birmingham for instance!

(Mes chers amis, nous avons fait un excellent sejour! Merci tres beaucoup!)