A church not far from here was blessed with a godly minister for over thirty-five years. He was loved by the church and the community. After he retired, he was succeeded by a younger pastor. It was his first pastorate and he wanted to do his very best. He had only been at the church a few weeks when he began to perceive that the people were upset with him about something. He was troubled. Eventually he spoke to one of the leaders, “I don’t know what I may have done wrong, but I have a feeling that the congregation are not happy with me.” The man said, “Well, I hate to say it, but it’s the way you do the Communion service.” “The way I do the Communion service? What do you mean?” “Well, it’s not so much what you do as what you leave out.” “I don’t think I leave out anything from the Communion service.” “Oh yes, you do. Just before our previous rector administered the chalice and wine to the people, he’d always go over and touch the radiator. And, then, he would–” “Touch the radiator? I never heard of that liturgical tradition.” So the younger man called the former pastor for advice. He said, “I haven’t even been here a month, and I’m in trouble.” “In trouble? Why?” “Well, it’s something to do with touching the radiator. Could that be possible? Did you do that?” “Oh yes, I did… Always before I administered the chalice to the people, I touched the radiator to discharge the static electricity from the carpet so I wouldn’t shock them.”
In the last year or so I’ve got to know several Jewish rabbi’s. Ironically it was a Muslim sheikh who introduced us. Last year he also defended a Christian pastor in court charged with incitement for statements he made about Islam. And earlier this year I supported him in a court hearing where he himself had been accused of harassment by a fellow Christian. By facing our differences honestly and constructively, a number of close friendships have been forged. The Lord is now using these friendships to strengthen the harmony between the faith communities in Ireland where relations are being threatened by Brexit and the rise of religious extremism. Peacemaker Mediators are needed more than ever.
If you have ever bought a hi-fi or digital TV, the chances are you bought it from Richer Sounds, the UK’s biggest hi-fi retailer. Ever wonder how the company achieved the No.1 slot?
“High fidelity: Julian Richer rewards staff loyalty with holiday homes and trips on the company jet. Next? He’s planning their inheritance…” That was the eye catching headline in the Independent recently. The article went on to ask, “Why can’t all bosses be like Julian Richer? I’m not going to beat about the bush here: I think Julian is great. If I had to hold up someone as a role model for other wannabe tycoons to follow, the founder of the Richer Sounds hi-fi chain would be that person… So what earns him this accolade? The way he treats his staff, the fact that in surveys 95 per cent of them say they love working for him. And then the way his approach translates into tangible results: 52 stores that produced profits of £6.9m from sales of £144.3m last year in an austerity-hit economy, and helped him to build a personal fortune estimated at £115m. Based in what property agents refer to as the “secondary” shopping streets – the tattier end – his shops, full of in-your-face Day-Glo posters, have won awards galore for their levels of service, and achieved sales unheard-of in the electronics industry. For years, his first store, opened at the age of 18, near London Bridge could claim to have the highest sales density per square foot of any store, anywhere in the world.
George Orwell’s book, 1984, a dark vision about a Britain taken over by a totalitarian regime that uses “doublethink” and “Newspeak” to mislead and control its citizens, was published in 1949, but has apparently returned to the best-seller list. And you probably know why.
In the 1990’s as the new Millennium approached, there was a similar spike in interest among Christians in Bible prophecy. Some commentators called it ‘PMT’ or ‘pre-millennial tension’. Revelation 13 is one of those passages of scripture that continues to arouse considerable speculation and a disproportionate amount of ink if not blood spilt. How are we to make sense of this passage and its enigmatic signs and symbols? How are we to decode them? Do they refer to history? To the present? Or to the future? We are not going to answer these questions today. And I am not going to give you a verse by verse analysis. Not because of a lack of time or because they passage is too difficult. The fact is godly men and women who hold a high view of scripture, disagree on the meaning and application of the passage before us today.
“Since then your sere Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” [i]
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saint’s Church, Wittenberg, 500 years ago in 1517, he sparked the Protestant Reformation right across Europe. Ahead of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a statement.
“The Reformation was a process of both renewal and division amongst Christians in Europe. In this Reformation Anniversary year, many Christians will want to give thanks for the great blessings they have received to which the Reformation directly contributed. Amongst much else these would include clear proclamation of the gospel of grace, the availability of the Bible to all in their own language and the recognition of the calling of lay people to serve God in the world and in the church. Many will also remember the lasting damage done five centuries ago to the unity of the Church, in defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love.”
Do you remember your very first Bible? Mine was a gift from my grandfather. I must have been six or seven years old. It was a hard back. It had a red cover. It was small. It had thin pages and tiny script. But that didn’t matter because it was unreadable anyway. On the occasions, I tried, I had absolutely no idea what I was reading. It was a closed book. King James could keep his Bible. Without the Holy Spirit illuminating the text, it was like reading a sundial by moonlight. It was dull and gave the wrong time. At senior school, I encountered the Revised Standard Version (RSV) in RE lessons. This was marginally better but I was more interested in the line drawings and maps than the text itself.
At University, when I became a Christian, the Bible came to life. And I wanted a copy just like the guy who led me to Christ. It didn’t do much for my spelling because it was the New American Standard Bible (NASB) but at least it had a readable font, the sentences went right across the page like a real book and it had cross references that kept me occupied for hours. The fashion was to cut off the hard cover of your Bible and glue on a piece of off-cut leather, or denim from a pair of old jeans. With long hair we walked around campus, bear foot, carrying the kind of Bible John the Baptist must have had. I thought it would be cool to underline passages that spoke to me and so I used a highlight pen. The only problem was it bled through to the other side and pretty soon I was underlining most of the text. Then I discovered my pastor had a wide margin, loose leaf Bible, so he could add his notes and make it look like he was preaching straight from the Bible. So I wanted one like him too. I bought a loose-leaf Bible and began adding his sermon notes in the margins and on extra pages. But I gave up because my writing wasn’t that good and there wasn’t enough room in some passages anyway. Eventually I upgraded to a black leather New International Version Study Bible (NIV) and I decided not to write anything in it. And that’s been my companion through three editions for the last 25 years. Continue reading
Next Friday, January 20th 2017, will be an auspicious day in the history of the world. The inauguration will take place of Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States. Mr Trump will become the leader of the most powerful country in the world. The schedule commences on Thursday with a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. A concert titled “Make America Great! Welcome Celebration” will then be held at the Lincoln Memorial. On Friday the inauguration ceremony will take place at the US Capitol, followed by a parade along Pennsylvania Avenue and an inaugural ball in the evening. Next Sunday, 22nd January, a National Prayer Service will be held at the Washington National Cathedral.[i] Opinion is, as you well know, deeply divided on whether the next four years will be marked by peace or war. The stakes are high.
What kind of week have you had? As you may know are renovating a small retirement property in Southampton. It needs a lot of work doing to it before we can move in and the deadline to complete before Easter is tight. The builders were due to begin tomorrow but we discovered last week the work will now start in February. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
I wonder whether you identify yourself as a Marmite Christian or Marmalade Christian? Let me elaborate. Earlier last year, OFSTED warned the government that hundreds and hundreds of children have gone missing from state registered schools in cities like Birmingham. The children are being taught in illegal religious schools and susceptible to radical extremism. What is the church doing about it? Birmingham Cathedral is celebrating its 300th anniversary by offering people the chance to turn their emotions into a referendum-style art project based on votes about feelings. They are invited to answer a different question each day about “how they are feeling” at this point in the year. Questions include: “Have you laughed today?” and “Are you looking forward to next year?” And the answers are displayed as eight-foot tall interactive boards.
David Virtue observes, “Niceness” with a capital ‘N’ is it seems the premier product the Church of England is selling to its non-customers. Sociologists have put a label on this product. It is called ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’. I call it ‘Marmalade’ for short.