Saturday, 8 November 2014

A Lesson in History (and the Future!)

 I got an un-graded mark in my GCE history when I was sixteen; it was my best subject and I was expected to get a high grade. I understand the examiner couldn't read my writing! What was the point of doing all that writing when it couldn't be understood?

As the years have gone by I've still got that deep love of history and important historical events. I remember standing by the Dakota building in New York City, feet from the place where John Lennon was murdered. In the same city we looked down from the South Tower of the World Trade Centre, two weeks before it was destroyed. In Paris I gazed down the tunnel that bore, on one of its columns, the still fresh scars of the place where Lady Diana's car had crashed. In Washington my wife Jenny and I stood at the graveside of President Kennedy, near to the simple cross that marked the grave of his murdered brother Bobby. Together we stood in the great rotunda of the Capitol building where President Kennedy's body had lain in state. In Cobh in southern Ireland we walked along the quayside that had been the departure point for small boats ferrying passengers out to the Titanic, anchored out in the deeper water of the estuary. In northern Germany I stood amongst the ice cold forests that surrounded the former death camp of Bergen-Belsen, flanked by a great number of mass graves, a testimony to the brutality of the Nazi regime. In Berlin, in the Olympic Stadium, I paused near the place where Hitler had encouraged the supremacy of the German race in the athletic field, only to see the great black athlete Jessie Owens win more than one gold medal. In Salem, U.S.A. we passed the place where the infamous witch trials had taken place; a town now hostage to those events, where even the police cars have witches on their doors.

Recently I travelled part of the coastline of southern Spain where one of my favourite authors, Laurie Lee, was rescued by a British warship and immortalised the event in the second part of his autobiography 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning'. In Barcelona we saw the still preserved bullet marks from that same Spanish civil war. In northern Belgium our train passed near to the great battlefields of the First World War. In Venice Jenny and I stood together in the great inner room of the Doge's Palace, the same room where Marco Polo had been given his commission to head East towards China. In Saltzburg, Austria, we sat and drank English tea below the plaque that marked the birthplace of Mozart.  Walking the ancient high street of the city of Ephesus in Turkey reminded me that the great apostle Paul had travelled this way. Visiting the remote island of Patmos, a tiny island in the Aegean Sea, we visited the cave where tradition says the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation. I remember clearly passing through the valley in central Israel where David slew Goliath and also standing at the well south of Beersheba, on the edge of the Negev desert, where Abraham had dug one of his wells.

And it's Israel that of all these places is the most exciting. I remember the first time looking out of the cabin window as the big bird began its slow descent to Tel Aviv and seeing for the first time a rather plain, featureless coastline appear out of the mist and realising for the first time that this place of history, Israel, really existed. No longer was it confined to the pages of a book, a very special Book, but here, like all the other places I had visited, reality checked in. It really existed! But this was a country that was unique. For not only had I had the pleasure and inspiration of studying its history, I knew its future - because its future is firmly linked to the final purposes of God!

I loved my history lessons at school. But now I know and even greater future. Not one bone has been found of Jesus Christ! He's alive! The great I Am, the same yesterday, today and forever. He transcends history. He has no monument, no place. Yet He lives and His Life extends into His true Body, His Church. There are ruins, and places of battles and associations with famous people and events. But, given time all will pass into dust. But Christ remains and so does His true Church. Hallelujah!

Friday, 25 July 2014

The River Is Rising

How the world is changing! Since the last blog, the Middle East has erupted, scandals have affected those in the entertainment industry and in politics and this Friday (July 18th) the Assisted Dying Bill will be debated in the House of Lords. To my horror I read that a much-respected evangelical former Archbishop of Canterbury has come out in support of this Bill. Like an exponential equation the world is rapidly changing, faster than it has ever done. Bible believing people are becoming a remnant, just as Scripture promised. This should not come as a surprise; Paul writing to Timothy, two thousand years ago, said:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God - having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

So Scripture again is proved true. What does it mean for us as Christians? It means we should “strengthen the things that remain”. Things are not going to get better and we should not been drawn in by false prophets who say there will be revival, when there’s no call to repentance. We are, and will remain, a Biblical remnant and we must strengthen one another in the faith. We must evangelise, yes, because that is the Great Commission, but we must also look out for one another. In Jesus' commission to Peter he told him to feed His lambs and sheep, those young in the faith and older ones too. The Bible is under attack in a way unknown in human history. We are dealing with a new heresy: “Did God say?” - the oldest, vilest lie, spoken first by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. This is the first generation that is seeking to undermine and reinterpret the Scriptures by using culture as a lever. Not for nothing did Jesus talk of those “who stand till the end”. He also says “in the last days the love of many will grow cold”. It is not being selfish to work out our own faith and seek to strengthen the faith of others. The time will come when some people within the church “will not put up with clear doctrine but will have itching ears to hear what they want to hear”. We are seeing this happen right before our eyes.

Yesterday Jenny and I took a boat trip up the Thames to Kew gardens. We were told of the difference in tide levels on the upriver and downriver journeys. As we returned in the beautiful light of the drowsing day we were amazed at just how much the tide had come up - some 15 feet! The river of godlessness is rising. In London, not far from Greenwich, is a place called Execution Dock. Here, pirates were executed by being tied to a post and having three tides pass over them. If you were that pirate you watched every inch of the creeping water; it was a matter of life and death. The Scriptures are like a tide gauge, predicting every inch as the water rises. We should not be surprised; indeed we should encourage ourselves that the Scripture is being proved true. We need to be vigilant, aware and Scripturally equipped. We should not just be able to quote the Scripture and know about it, but much more importantly we need to follow the Hebrew mindset, which is to know God and not be satisfied to know about Him. We need to cultivate, however imperfectly, a relationship with Him.

We must “guard the good deposit” that has been entrusted to us, the wonderful Gospel, uncorrupted by changing culture. We must encourage and build one another up, continually. It won't get better but we can be salt and we can be light, however insignificant we feel. The Master, our Saviour, our heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit are our constant companions. And with their strength, their guidance, their love, we will come through the darkness, to glory!

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Of Tides and Jewels and Presidents

Along the banks of the River Thames there is a place once known as 'Execution Dock'. Here unfortunate criminals, usually pirates, were killed. They were tied to stakes and three tides were allowed to pass over them. One would have thought that one would have been enough! I guess if you were one of those being executed you would watch every inch of that tide as it progressed. It would be a measure of just how long you had to live. When I was a boy I use to enjoy holidays at Prestatyn on the North Wales coast. We spent hours in the sea. But you had to watch the tide or it would creep up silently behind you in channels that would finally cut you off from the shore. What had been safe sand was now under several feet of water. Watching the tide, either inch by inch or going away and returning some hours later, can be a matter of life or death. We guard our safety and take necessary measures to ensure self survival.

In the Tower of London, in the Jewel House, are the Crown Jewels, an incredible collection not only of crowns and orbs and swords, but also of dazzling gold tableware. It is an amazing collection, a veritable feast for the eyes - and it's well guarded! Soldiers, metal doors feet thick and everything alarmed. The collection is precious to England. Also I remember watching with my daughter Naomi President Obama being driven past after a visit to Westminster Abbey. His car looked like a limousine, but was built like a tank. His convoy consisted of a dummy presidential car, 6 other cars, no doubt full of secret service men, an ambulance and, bringing up the rear, a Range Rover bristling with men armed to the teeth with all sorts of aggressive hardware. The President was in town and great lengths were taken to ensure his safety!

Paul writes to Timothy telling him to guard the Gospel. Paul is reaching the end of his life; he has "run the race". Now he hands over to Timothy the charge of guarding the good deposit (the Gospel) that was handed to him. So it is today. But modern secular culture, with its intricate and pressurising webs of influence, is seeking to impose a new gospel on the Church, a gospel which does not prioritise the power of the Cross, the necessity for repentance, or cleansing by the precious Blood of Jesus. It seeks to influence the Church in such a way that the Gospel becomes user friendly: Find out what the people want (and don't want), then give them only what they want. In essence it moves towards being ashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel is embarrassing they say: Don't talk about sin and repentance, talk about feeling good, being blessed. Don't speak of discipleship. It's a subtle tide, coming in slowly, almost imperceptibly. We are in danger of sacrificing truth on the altar of love. But, as it says in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. So today we to must guard the gospel, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and hand it on, just as Paul did with Timothy.

That's what we as a Company seek to do in the summer, when we produce our musical 'Guard the Gospel'. Hand it on: Unpolluted; undiluted. For it is the power of God unto salvation!