Displaced fragments: theology, ministry, interviews and reviews
Wednesday, May 10, 2023
‘King of kings’
Wednesday, April 05, 2023
‘The Son of Man must suffer’
Cross stands at the heart of the Christian faith. Yes, believers sit at the
feet of Jesus the Teacher, captivated by his compelling vision of the righteous
life in the Sermon on the Mount. They marvel at the miracles the Bible reports
he performed; making the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk. But the
Gospel accounts never let us forget for a moment that the Man who preached the
Sermon on the Mount and made broken human beings whole was heading for the
death of the Cross. Jesus knew it, which was why he repeatedly told his
followers, 'the Son of Man must suffer... and be killed'.
What lies behind that 'must'? Was Jesus' death by crucifixion the outworking of the unstoppable forces of history? When Boris Johnson resigned as Prime Minister he acknowledged he was powerless to resist calls in the Conservative Party that he should be removed from Number 10, ‘When the herd moves, it moves', he reflected. In Jesus' case, the Jewish religious establishment wanted him out of the way. They feared unless Jesus was stopped they would lose their power. They manipulated Pontius Pilate by forcing him choose between loyalty to Caesar and condemning Jesus to death. Inevitably, Pilate sent Jesus to the Cross rather than risk upsetting the Emperor. But there is more to Jesus' 'must' than that.
Perhaps the 'must' can be attributed to the blind forces of fate that are said to determine who wins the Lottery and who gets run over by a bus? But Jesus wasn't being fatalistic when he spoke of his impending death, going to the Cross resigned to 'whatever will be will be'. No, the 'must' that compelled Jesus towards Calvary was his sense that it was his God-given mission to suffer and be killed. Why? The Bible's answers that quite simply, 'Christ died for our sins'. In other words, the 'must' of which Jesus spoke was the fulfilment of God's rescue plan for the world, 'God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Now all who believe in Jesus are forgiven and put right with God.
Not only Jesus’ death, but also his resurrection was covered by the divine ‘must’, ‘the Son of Man must suffer... and be killed, and after three days rise again’. It was not possible for death to maintain its iron grip on the Prince of Life.
Easter services at Providence & Ebenezer:
Monday, April 03, 2023
The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care by David Powlison
In this little work, David Powlison underlines the uniqueness of pastoral counselling. All pastors are counsellors, but their counselling ministry is distinct from others who offer a ‘talking cure’ to distressed individuals. Pastoral counselling is about soul care, that ‘art of arts’ that aims at helping form people into mature and fruitful followers of Jesus. Pastors are not to maintain a professional distance from those they seek to counsel. Pastoral counselling is part and parcel of the minister’s close relationship with members of the flock he is called to serve.
Thursday, March 30, 2023
Natural Theology by Geerhardus Vos
*Reviewed for the Banner of Truth Magazine,
Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Pure Church: Recovering God's plan for local churches
Monday, March 27, 2023
Several years ago we spent our summer holidays in Carmarthen, West Wales. Disaster struck. I ran out of books to read. But ever the intrepid traveller I endeavoured to remedy the situation by popping into a local bookshop. Browsing the history section, a book with an orange and gold cover caught my eye. It was Rubicon by Tom Holland, who was originally from Salisbury. The book told the story of the rise of Julius Caesar. It was a bloodthirsty tale of ambitious men jostling to become top dog in Rome.
Caesar made a name for himself when leading the campaign to subdue Gaul. It is said that in pursuit of that goal he slaughtered a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. Today we would call him a war criminal and demand he be tried for his atrocities at the Hague. But the people of Rome hailed Caesar as a hero. The glittering prize of being appointed ‘dictator for life’ was bestowed upon him in 49 BC. Although his life was cut short when Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 BC. (This is discussed on The Rest is History podcast with Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook, 13 February 2023).
At first Holland admired the heroes of ancient Greece and Rome, but the more he immersed himself in that world, the more he was disturbed by their casual cruelty. The author realised that he was viewing the actions of the likes of Julius Caesar from the perspective of a culture that was deeply steeped in the Christian faith. Christianity teaches that all people are made in the image of God and are therefore worthy of dignity and respect (even Gauls!). That was the basis of modern day human rights. Jesus said, ‘blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’. Caesar wouldn’t have agreed with that. But today we champion the underdog and demand that the poor receive the help they need.
Tom Holland doesn’t claim to be a personal follower of the Lord Jesus, but he does recognise that some of our most cherished values derive from the Christian faith. His book Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind shows how the faith has shaped our culture. But it is one thing to admire ‘Christian values’ and another to actually be a Christian
The Christian believes that Jesus is the Son of God who died upon the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead. Jesus promises those who believe in him a place in his everlasting kingdom. Cultural Christianity may admire the faith for its benefits, often picking and choosing the bits it likes, while rejecting the rest. But the kingdom of heaven is not to be selectively admired from outside, but entered as a person is transformed on the inside. As Jesus said, "Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
* For the March edition of various local parish magazines
Monday, February 06, 2023
It comes to us all. The children have flown the roost. You go to the cinema to see a superhero blockbuster. Batman, Superman, or some other character in a cape does battle with a baddie who threatens to destroy the world . Skyscrapers crumble around them and taxis fly through the air. It’s loud and visually stunning. Yet without the teenagers in tow it dawns on you that you’re not really enjoying this stuff anymore. And anything in 3D just gives you a headache. Reached that stage yet? I have.
My favourite film of 2022 was probably Living, staring Bill Nighy as an ageing civil servant, Mr. Williams. The actor has received an Oscar nomination for the role. His character’s life is stuck on hold in a bureaucratic machine. County Hall where he works seems to operate with the sole purpose of stopping anything happening that would improve the lot of 1950’s Londoners. No capes are donned. No skyscrapers crumble, but the movie packs a powerful punch. Mr. Williams receives the devastating news that he is terminally ill. His first response is to try and live it up a bit with a trip to the seaside. But escapism fails to satisfy his desire to live out his days well, rather than just existing for the drudgery of the office.
Although what does it for Mr Williams is returning to work. He unites his team in a project that will actually do something for the ordinary people of London, a city that has not yet been rebuilt following the Blitz. The message of the film is that we find purpose in life by doing things that make a difference for others. The final scenes are almost unbearably poignant.
Jesus said, ‘I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly’. That’s why he died for his people on the cross and rose from the dead. But Jesus’ vision of abundant life isn’t an endless round of parties, glitz and glamour. He called upon his followers to love their neighbour as themselves, to care for the sick and feed the poor. Life to the full is for those who believe in the Lord Jesus, die to self and give their lives in the service of others. That’s living alright.
* For the February 2023 edition of various local magazines
Tuesday, December 13, 2022
Deity & Decree, by Samuel D. Renihan
Glory be to God the Father. Glory be to God the Son. Glory be to God the Holy Spirit.Glory be to the only, living, true, and triune God.
Monday, December 12, 2022
‘Glory to the New-born King'
So says the chorus of a favourite carol, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. But why should glory be ascribed to the new-born Jesus? After all, he would have looked much like every other baby. Cute, yes, but worthy of the angels’ praise? I know artists often portray the infant in the manger as if he glowed in the dark with heavenly splendour, but that has no basis in fact. If anything, the Bible stresses how ordinary looking was Jesus. He ‘took the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men’ wrote the apostle Paul. As with any other baby, Jesus was weak and totally helpless, ‘tears and smiles like us he knew’.
Yet Christians believe that he who as an infant was cradled in his mother Mary’s arms, was also the eternal Word of God who upheld the universe by his divine power. He is fully God, the Father’s only Son as well as fully human. That is why angels worshipped the new-born King. They recognised him as their Maker made flesh. Another reason for worship is what Jesus was sent into the world to do. As the angel of the Lord explained to startled shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.’
God became man in Jesus because we needed a Saviour. That tells us something about the human condition. The Bible tells us, ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’. We are incapable of saving ourselves from sin, otherwise God would have left us to get on with it. Jesus came to live a life of perfect obedience to God on our behalf. He then laid down his life as a sacrifice for sin. His death was sufficient to rescue the world from sin. That’s because it was the Son of God in human form who suffered in our place at the cross.
Jesus is the King of love. He was born in the royal city of David. He was crucified as ‘King of the Jews’ to win us a place in God’s eternal kingdom. He rose from the dead and was exalted to the right hand of the Father, where he reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords. He is able to save completely those who put their trust in him. Will you join the angels in singing, ‘glory to the new-born King!’?
Christmas Services at Providence & Ebenezer.
* For the Christmas/New Year editions of several parish magazines
Wednesday, November 02, 2022
History on Fast Forward
I’m old enough to remember life before music could be downloaded or streamed. I can even remember when CDs were a novelty, rather than old hat. Apart from a few cassettes most of my teenage music purchases were on vinyl and had to be played on a record player. Records had two sizes and speeds. Albums had to be played on 33rpm, singles on 45rpm. If you forgot to flip the switch from 45rpm when listening to an album it would play at high speed and at a higher pitch than was intended. You could produce the same effect by pressing the ‘play’ and ‘fast forward’ buttons at the same time on a cassette player. That was our idea of fun in the 1970’s and 80s. We didn’t have TikTok and stuff back then.
Right now it seems like the album of history is being played at 45rpm.
It’s a pain if you have to submit a monthly article like this one, which
sometimes includes comment on current affairs. As I write this just before the
deadline, Kwasi Kwarteng has been sacked as Chancellor and Jeremy Hunt has been
appointed in his place. Prime Minister Liz Truss has vowed to carry on, but who
knows who’ll be PM by the time you read this in November? In September Boris
Johnson stood down, Liz Truss took over and then the Queen died. Now we’re all
having to get used to singing, ‘God save our gracious King’. It’s all happening
It’s much better when history proceeds at a glacial pace and nothing much seems to be going on. But time is hurtling by at a dizzying speed. The key thing is to have the wisdom to know what do to with the brief span allotted to us. We live in a day of great gospel opportunity. God has sent his Son the Lord Jesus to die for our sins and rise again from the dead. Jesus now calls us to put our faith in him that we may be forgiven and have the hope of eternal life. History seems to be stuck on fast forward. In the words of the old hymn, ‘swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day’. So, hurry up and wait for what’s worth waiting for. Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.
*For November edition of various parish mags