I was recently invited to give a series of lectures in a dozen or so universities across Iran and dialogued with Islamic scholars in Qom. The Q&A session after each presentation was a lively affair – longer in fact than my presentations. The most frequently asked question concerned the reliability of the Bible. What did I think about Dan Brown’s book, TheDa Vinci Code? Apparently more than a billion people worldwide believe the views popularized in the Da Vinci Code.
They believe the message of the Bible has been corrupted and distorted, that Jesus is not the Son of God, but a prophet and that he did not die on the cross or rise from the dead.
They believe that in 325AD the Emperor Constantine commissioned the writing of the New Testament we now have which portrays Jesus as a divine figure. Dozens of other “gospels” were censored or destroyed. Constantine actually summoned the Council of Nicaea to end disunity caused by the Arian controversy. Arius taught that although Jesus was the Son of God, he was less than the Father. The Council was attended by around 300 bishops. The Arian Creed was soundly rejected. The Nicene Creed was accepted by 298 Bishops. 2 were against. (i.e., over 99% in favour). The Council of Nicaea recognized Jesus as “begotten not made, of the same substance (homousios) as the Father.”
The term Jihad tends to be associated with Islam – indeed for some, the two words are synonymous. But the fact is violent extremism is found in all religions. I could easily quote Islamic or Jewish leaders who justify the use of violence in the name of God, but I will give you one example from a well-known Christian. Following the tragedy of 9/11 and destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, multi-bestselling author and Christian journalist Anne Coulter, wrote,
“We don’t need long investigations of the forensic evidence to determine with scientific accuracy the person or persons who ordered this specific attack. We don’t need an “international coalition.” We don’t need a study on “terrorism.” … We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.”
In my opinion, too many evangelical leaders have also been quick to endorse Mr Donald Trump’s threat to “totally destroy North Korea.” Thankfully, many Christians in the USA as well as Europe and Asia repudiate views such as these as a gross distortion of Christianity and grave insult to the teachings of Jesus the Christ.
On my first visit to Palestine, about 25 years ago, our tour guide was a Messianic Jew called Zvi. One day, someone in the group asked him a question about the Palestinians. He was prepared. He gave each of us a piece of paper with a quote by Golda Meir,
“It was not as if there was a Palestinian people in Palestine and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”
We didn’t ask any more questions until we got to Nazareth and met one of the local pastors. He gave us a short talk about why he was an Arab, a Palestinian, an Israeli and a Christian. I learnt that day that it was wiser and safer to let people self-identify and not presume to tell them who they are or are not.
Who am I? The world out there has plenty of ideas. Some would say I am who I was – the quest to trace our family tree, to know who are ancestors were can define us. My ancestors were here before yours were. Others insist I am what I achieve. What university did you go to? For others, I am what I drive. For some it is all about where I live. In a Settlement or an unregistered village? For some I am what I eat. For many I am what I do. For some I am who I love. For some I am what I know. For others I am who I know. For lots of people I am what I possess. But many people just don’t know. They are searching for meaning and purpose. They are trapped not knowing who they really are. Who am I? The Bible says, we will never know who we are until we decide who Jesus is. Because Jesus says, “I am who I follow”.
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.”
How far back can you trace your family? Genealogy is undoubtedly very popular today. Amazingly, the BBC is currently running a 13th series of “Who do you think you are?” this autumn, helping well known personalities trace their roots. Given the popularity of websites such as Genes Reunited, Genealogy.com and ancestry.co.uk or software programmes like Family Tree Maker, most people believe genealogies are important – at least their own. If I were to read in the newspaper that a wealthy man named Sizer had died, with no known heir to his fortune, I could get very interested in genealogy. Apparently, “progonoplexia” describes those obsessed with ancestry. The earliest member of my family tree, I can find, is one Matthew Sizer born in 1750 in Orby, in Lincolnshire. But I know for certain that my roots actually go all the way back to Abraham. This evening we are going to answer the question “who do you think you are?” Please turn with me to Hebrews 11. We are going to discover that if Jesus is your Lord and Saviour, this chapter lists your family tree. This is one of the most familiar chapters of the Bible.
The Pilgrim Way is one of my favourite places to walk. It follows one of the ancient footpaths from Winchester to Canterbury across the North Downs. Now there are many public footpaths in England but this one is unique. As the name suggests, for hundreds of years it has been used by pilgrims. For some it was a way to do penance and earn merit with God. For others it was a special time to deepen their spiritual walk. The trail ends at Canterbury Cathedral where pilgrims kneel at the spot where Thomas Becket was killed by the knights of Henry II. There is a simple memorial which marks the place of Becket’s martyrdom. For nearly a thousand years, Christians have knelt there to ask God that they, like Becket, might live courageously for him in spite of the powers of the world. When the position of Archbishop of Canterbury fell vacant, Henry appointed his friend Thomas Becket in the position thinking he would do his bidding. But something happened to Becket after he was appointed as spiritual leader of England. He stopped being complacent about his faith. He put politics and luxury behind him. He gave up his former wealth and life style. And he began to challenge the king over differences between the church and government. He paid the ultimate sacrifice. But Becket’s martyrdom did not earn him a place in heaven. And neither does a pilgrimage to Canterbury. There is only one way to find forgiveness for the past and peace of mind for the future.
What will bring on the feeling of nausea most quickly for you? Is it the debris left on pavements by people who have drunk excessive amounts of alcohol the night before? Or maybe it’s those little presents left for you to step in by anti-social dog walkers who don’t clean up afterwards? Displays of wobbling body tissue resulting from a diet rich in carbohydrates is high on my list. But what is most likely to cause you to faint? For me it is the sight of blood in the wrong place, especially my own. What is it about blood that makes us queasy, nauseous or likely to faint? Perhaps it is because deep down in our subconscious we equate blood with life. There are seven essential biological functions of blood that keep us alive.
Red blood cells transport oxygen from the lungs to every cell in our body.
White blood cells defend the body against invading microorganisms.
Blood transports nutrients from the digestive system and when needed, from our storage reserves to every cell of the body. So fat is beautiful. Well some…
Blood transports hormones from our endocrine glands to target tissues in need.
Blood removes metabolic wastes from every cell to organs that excrete them.
Blood helps maintain fluid balance in the whole body.
Blood helps distribute metabolic heat within the body to maintain a healthy body temperature.
Water is pretty amazing stuff isn’t it? In its natural state we take it for granted. But when its cooled to 0 degrees centigrade it can bring an entire country to a stand still. When heated to boiling point water changes from a liquid to a gas. That is when water takes on a whole new dimension and becomes very, very powerful. Thomas Savery, the British military engineer, was the first to patent a steam engine in 1679. James Watt refined the engine and gave his name to the unit of power generated by the steam engine. A watt is apparently 1/746th of a horse power. For much of the 20th century, our entire rail transportation system was powered by steam. As a young boy I used to collect the names of the different steam trains that ran between Lowestoft and Liverpool Street, delivering fresh fish to Billingsgate Market and bringing Londoners to the sandy beaches of the Suffolk coast. Steam is still used to catapult jet aircraft from aircraft carriers. The steam catapult with pistons the length of a football pitch, can hurl a 45,000-pound plane from 0 to 165 miles per hour in two seconds.
Great power is realized when water is heated to high temperatures. But even greater power is released when Christians are on fire for Jesus. In our concluding study of the seven letters to the Churches of Revelation, the church in Laodicea has the unenviable distinction of being the only one about of which Jesus had nothing good to say. This is the sternest of the seven letters. Unlike the other churches, there is much censure and no praise.