“The Perpetual Battle” by Simon Vibert

Growing up in the lovely Channel Island of Jersey was a great privilege. The beautiful beaches and quiet seascape, proved a peaceful environment for a young boy, although, inevitably, one’s nostalgic reflections can be overinflated!

Image result for german bunker jersey

There was another daily reality, however, which again has only become clearer to me in my later years. As I walked the coastline I saw the German Bunkers.  I listened to my father’s boyhood occupation stories, I heard of 1940’s hardships.  And I remember my Grandparents recounting the occupation mantra “Don’t you know there’s a war on!?”  Within living memory, my parents’ generation knew the reality of World War 2, and the impact it had on life every day in the island.

I became a Christian in my late teens. Those who discipled me as a new Christian encouraged me to read some bracing books: C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters; John White, The Fight; John Owen, On Mortification; William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour; J.C. Ryle, Martyn Lloyd Jones and more.  Books quickly shaped my outlook on my life in Christ, and life as Christian in the world.

The unmistakable message to me was: “Knowing God through Jesus Christ is wonderful: you will now have purpose in this life, and hope for the future. But, you do realise, don’t you, that you are enlisted into God’s army, and having sided with him, you can expect to live in enemy occupied territory until Jesus’ return.”

The Perpetual Battle has arisen out of an anxiety that we are not putting our converts through a Christian Boot Camp.  Suffering and persecution is part of normal Christian experience, and we can expect the world, the flesh, and the Devil, to do their worse to knock us off course.

My hope is that The Perpetual Battle will reconnect you with a biblical theology of the world, the flesh and the Devil, and with the help of the authors which I have mentioned, make you “fit for the fight”.

Published April 2018, available from Christian Focus and other booksellers.

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Easter Hope

At this Easter time, my hope and prayer is that we may know the joy of the risen Lord Jesus, who has once-for-all conquered death, by his sin-bearing sacrifice. This term, we have rejoiced in the great Christian hope, which arises out of the events of Good Friday and Easter Day, a big theme in 1 Peter – “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

The Story of the Lampedusa CrossImage result for lampedusa cross
A simple wooden cross has been on display in the British Museum since 2015. It is known as the Lampedusa Cross, made from parts of a wooden boat, shipwrecked on 11 October 2013, off the coast of the Italian island, Lampedusa. The boat contained over 300 Somali and Eritrean refugees, seeking to escape conflict in Libya. The sacrificial efforts of the islanders managed to rescue half of them.
Inspired by the stories from some of the survivors, a local carpenter decided to use his skills to create a cross from the wreckage of the boat.  He made one for each of the survivors, as a reflection on their salvation from the sea, and hope for the future. He also made one for Pope Francis to wear at the memorial service for those who had lost their lives.
The cross serves as a great reminder of the tremendous sacrifice that was made by the residents of Lampedusa to save the lives of men and women seeking to escape the horrors and evil of war.
This “Good Friday” and Easter Sunday, we pause, and ponder, at the foot of the cross. Here, Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, sacrificed his life, so that we may escape the horrors of sin and death. How grateful we are!

 

How can I know?

How can I know, if you really love me? Maybe you too now have Whitney Houston echoing in your mind as you read these words? But, it is a good question isn’t it? Here’s another good question: “Is it possible that I can know God in such a way that I know that what I know is truly knowable?!” It is a two-part question:

Q1. How can I know anything?

Part of the answer to this question depends on what kind of knowing we are talking about.

Consider these propositions:

In a vacuum, an apple and a feather will fall to the ground at the same velocity. How do I know this is true? Through systematic observation of repeated actions, aided by a study of Newton’s Universal Laws of Gravity, I can reach a conclusion about the effect of gravitational pull on an object.

Jersey was liberated from German Occupation on 9th May 1945. How do I know this is true? There were eyewitnesses who were there (my father was one of them), many of them are still alive, and others have written eyewitness accounts of what they saw and heard. Events in history are deemed to be true, if we can trust the accounts of those who witnessed them.

I love my wife. How do I know this is true? Here things become more personal. I know this is true, because I feel love for her, and want to spend my life with her. You may observe our relationship, and deduce that I love my wife, but ultimately the truth is known only to me (well, and, hopefully, my wife!)

Q2. How can I know God?

It depends on what kind of “knowing” you mean.

Scientific knowledge? Is it possible, scientifically, to prove that God exists? No, clearly not. However, science is not opposed to religion, despite the protestations of certain new atheists. Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, John Lennox, robustly defends the credibility of belief, not least among those in the scientific community. In God’s Undertaker, he recounts a 1996 experiment which asked 1,000 scientists whether they believed in a God who answered prayer, and, in personal immortality. 42% said “yes”; 41%, “no”; and 17% were “agnostic”. Of course, this survey does not prove God either way, but it does debunk the common perception that scientific minds will disbelieve God’s existence. For many scientists, as Johannes Kepler observed, the process of scientific observation, is merely “thinking God’s thoughts after him”. Scientific enquiry might suggest God’s existence, but it cannot prove it.

Historic knowledge? Can I know that God exists from an historical point of view? Well, for Christians the answer is found in the events we recently celebrated at Christmas: “The Word (John’s description of Jesus Christ) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son” (John 1:14). John goes on to assert that no one has ever seen God, but many, many, people saw Jesus, and by seeing Him, they came to believe in Him (John 1:18). At the end of his Gospel, John states that his disciples witnessed countless numbers of miracles performed by Jesus, but John recorded only a selection, so that his readers might “believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing [you] might have life in His name” (John 20:30f.).

So, you might say, historical enquiry – reading the source documents of Christianity, written by those who were around when God invaded earth – does indeed take you a long way on the discovery of knowing God.

But what about the third type of knowing?

Personal knowledge? Many in our culture are quite content to consider faith as a purely private, and personal, thing (so long as your beliefs don’t impinge upon anyone else). And, it is true: faith – to be true Christian faith – must have a personal dimension. Jesus summarised God’s requirements as “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.” (Matthew 22:37-39).

Truly knowing God means knowing his love, and learning to love as he loves.

As this brief survey has suggested, you will discover that I truly believe that you can know God! And, also, that you can know that he truly loves you! Of course, it is knowing of the kind we have outlined. Often this begins with an investigation of the truth claims about Jesus, recorded in the historic books of the Bible, but then this must lead on to a personal knowledge of God, as Lord and Saviour.

Here at Christ Church, we take as our strap line, “Knowing Jesus, and making Jesus known”.

People often ask me, “What is your vision for Christ Church?” At the moment, I can think of nothing better to say than this: “Everything we do exists in order to make Jesus known afresh to a new generation of people living in Virginia Water and beyond; and, thereby also, to equip our members to make Jesus known: by what they say, and by how they live.”

This is enough to be getting on with! We would love to help everyone who reads this magazine to connect with the life of the church, as we seek to “know Jesus, and make Jesus known”. Turn up one Sunday. Or, join one of our courses – Christianity Explored or Alpha. But, whatever you do, make sure that you know what you know, and you know why you know it!

Darkest Hour and The Perpetual Battle

Darkest Hour and The Perpetual Battle

This marvellous movie covers just a few days in May 1940.They were a dark period in WWII, in which the threat from Hitler was intense, and there seemed every possibility that Germany was about to invade England.

With a War Cabinet determined to seek a form of peaceful solution, appealing to Mussolini for help, Winston Churchill seems a lone voice calling for resistance and fight to the end.

Brilliantly played in this movie, by Gary Oldman, the plot focuses on the belligerence and dogged resolve of Churchill, faithfully supported by his dear Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas).

“Never give in…” “Never surrender…” Fight to the end….” For some, the arrogant myopia, and single-minded determination, of an egotist. Maybe. However, without a doubt, the war would have been lost without his rallying cries and unstinting resolve. His rhetoric was powerful:

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;

The author of Darkest Hour, Anthony McCarten, has Lord Halifax saying of Churchill, “He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle”.

Churchill’s rallying oratory mobilised an active belief that victory was essential, and possible, even against all the odds. He promised nothing less in his famous House of Commons Speech, on 13 May 1940, as the new Prime Minister of England.  He said: “I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.””

The themes of “cost” and “sacrifice” are very much part of the biblical vocabulary for the Christian life. The Bible also consistently speaks of the future reward promised to those who enlist in God’s army. We need to hear again the rallying rhetoric of the Bible, which will put steel in our backbone, and encourage us to continue faithfully to the end. Along the way, we also need the help of those who have gone before us, who have endured in the heat of battle, and who have remained faithful:  “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Heb. 13:7).

In short: 21st Century Christians need to recapture “war” language to describe true discipleship. There was regular comment made throughout the Second World War: “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”  We need to remember this comment in the spiritual realm too. In fact, the Salvation Army still produces a weekly magazine entitled The War Cry. Fighting for hearts and souls.

 As J.C. Ryle put it: With a corrupt heart, a busy Devil, and an ensnaring world, (we) must either fight or be lost”. The shape of that battle is with Sin, with Self, and with Satan.

Here at Christ Church, Virginia Water (http://www.cc-vw.org/), we begin a new sermon series in 1 Peter. We will consider what it means to be aliens, exiles, strangers, saints and soldiers, disbursed in this world. Like the Christians in Asia Minor, to whom Peter writes, we live in enemy-occupied territory. We may also sense the storm clouds on the horizon, as they did.

How then should we conduct ourselves during this battle? Several answers are given in this letter, but most telling is the compelling way Peter expects us to live our lives:

“In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3.15)

We should remember our commanding officer, King Jesus, and serve him unflinchingly. We should give an account of ourselves, and a reason for the thing that gives us true hope, even in the darkest hour. We Christians should be known – not for our aggression and hostility – but for our gentleness and respect.

I do encourage you to go and see Darkest Hour; it will steady your resolve in the face of opposition. But most of all, as believers, remember that King Jesus is on the throne and, if we are His, we are on the winning side! Never give in, never surrender, and fight to the end.

  • The Perpetual Battle, Simon Vibert, Published by Christian Focus, March 2018

 

“Fit for the Fight?” – New Year 2018

“Fit for the Fight?” – preparing for the publication of “The Perpetual Battle”, March 2018

Whenever I go home to the lovely island of Jersey, I see evidence of that painful period of German Occupation during World War Two. It was Hitler’s big prize: German soldiers on British soil! For five long years, the Channel Islands were taken over by the enemy. German soldiers and conscripts built bunkers, and huge concrete sea defences, to protect themselves from invasion, and in the hope that these small islands might be their stepping-stone to invade England.

It was tough for the locals. My parents are just old enough to remember some of it. German soldiers on the streets, rationing and hardships, uncertainty and fear. Although, for a young boy, there was a bit of intrigue as well, nurtured by a love of guns and soldiers.

To overcome any sense of bravado or complacency, parents regularly reminded their children, “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”

Christians in this world are, in a sense, living in enemy occupied territory, and also need to hear the refrain: “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”

If you were baptised in the Church of England you (or your parents and godparents on your behalf) will have pledged to “renounce the world, the flesh and the Devil”. Such a promise, for many, seems rather out of touch with the challenges of contemporary life.

The Devil? For some, such a creature (with curly tail and pitchfork) is nothing more than a comical figure. For others, rather more seriously, the realm of the dead is sought through séances, or interest in things of the occult.

The Flesh? Those familiar with the language of the King James Version of the Bible will know that “indulging in the works flesh” features as something we are supposed to be against. However, for many, the whole idea of “purity” of conduct is wrapped up in a perception of a Victorian taboo of anything to do with the body or matters of sex. What, after all, is wrong with our bodies?

The World? And, we ask, what is the matter with this great world around us? The beautiful sunsets, the rolling hills, the crashing waves. What of the world is that we are supposed to be renouncing?

Maybe this all seems a little remote. However, I suggest that the call to discipline, and even, the spiritual call to arms, is very relevant for the Church today.

The Baptism promises remind each one of us, that Christians are enlisted into an army. No, not to go off and fight a Crusade. Rather, to recognise that there, alongside the goodness of this word, and the goodness we often see emanating from humanity, there is real evil and horrible wickedness. Moreover, it is not just “out there” in the world around us, nor even just in the devilish influence of an evil one. No, it is here, within me. Maybe you too recognise what the Apostle Paul wrote:

Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work, waging war against (me)… What a wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:22-25).

During the 40 days of preparation leading up to Easter, known as Lent, we are encouraged to think more seriously about the reality of doing battle with the triad “the world, the flesh, and the Devil”.

My own thinking and writing on this matter has been shaped by some key books, and they will help focus our Lent course.

C.S. Lewis wrote a well-known fictional account of instructions from a Senior Devil to Junior Devil called The Screwtape Letters. Using his great literary skills, Lewis imagined the kind of training and worldview that needed to be inculcated in a demonic protégé, if he was to have his way in this world.

One time Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, the Puritan Pastor, John Owen, wrote about another battle, this time around “the flesh”. Whilst far from an easy read, his talk of “mortification” refers, not of humiliation, but of putting to death habits and patterns, of thinking and living, which are contrary to human nature as God intends it.

A third little book, by a Christian Psychiatrist, John White, is called, The Fight. It shows that the stresses and strains of this life are best solved – not necessarily by therapy – but by addressing our relationship with the God who has made us.

So, why not join us this Lent, for a kind-of spiritual health check? This is a chance to consider how we can get body, mind, and soul, into shape, by considering the timeless words of the Bible, with help from some of these great Christian writers. Yes, it sounds a bit painful, but it is the pain of that first session at the gym after the Christmas indulgences. Lent is the chance to get back in shape on the spiritual level. Lent also gives us the opportunity to view the Church, and our culture, through the lens of the Bible.

You can be “fit for the fight”.

Prayer for Peace

Simon Vibert, author of Excellence in Preaching and Stress, has written the guest blog post for April’s Inspiring Leaders newsletter. The newsletter follows the fruits of the spirit, and April’s newsletter explores the subject of peace. 

Sidlow Baxter wrote, ‘Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers.’

Spiritual power is at work when we pray. Samuel Chadwick said, ‘The one concern of the devil is to keep saints from prayer. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.’

I don’t want to make you feel guilty because we are all very conscious of our prayerlessness. I am very much aware of the paucity of my own prayer. Rather, I want to motivate you to pray and encourage you.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Here is a command: ‘do not be anxious’. ‘But, how?’ we protest. We cannot argue ourselves out of anxiety. The solution to anxiety is: prayer. Joseph Scriven summarised this so well in his hymn, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’:

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

What do we do?

We pray, petition, give thanks, and make requests.

  • Be verbal (pray)
  • Be emotional (petition – plead)
  • Be thankful (thanksgiving)
  • Be specific (request)

Why does it work?

Prayer does help us but it is not a self-help tool.  Rather, prayer is all about a relationship with the living God. This is demonstrated in two ways:

a. God is personal

Prayer is a relationship, not a slot machine. J. I. Packer’s book Praying: Finding our way from Duty to Delight highlights the 8 “P’s” we know about God which drive us to pray: God is Personal, Plural, Perfect, Powerful, Purposeful, Promise-keeping, and Paternal. We find these assumptions in Paul’s instructions in Philippians 4:

  • Rejoice in the LORD always (not in our changing circumstances) but in the Lord.
  • Remember, He is LORD – He is my Lord.
  • Present your requests to God – He the king of heaven, after all.
  • And His peace will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

b. God gives peace

God is not a force, God is not an ‘it’, God is not a thing. God is a person who relates personally to His people, through speech and language.

Hence, the pattern which motivates prayer: God speaks; we respond.

How does God speak? Through His word.

How do we respond? Through prayer (and praise).

As we converse with God during the day he grants us his presence and grants us his peace. Hence the bible encourages to be praying constantly (Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).

This is how we should read the instruction: ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17). If it only means shutting our eyes and getting on our knees, then doing that unceasingly would cause severe problems when Christians drive their cars and would have little time for anything else!  Actually it would be even more worrying than that because it would force me to drive without praying – and given that all the occupants in the car were praying fervently when I am driving that would be even more concerning! Rather, this verse speaks of a constant communion with God, the Prince of Peace.

Hence we should think again about the requirement of prayer, petition, thanksgiving, and requests:

  • Put it into words – we find that helpful just chatting to parents or friends
  • Say what’s really on your heart not what you think God wants to hear from you
  • Be grateful!  It really helps
  • Ask for specifics not just generalities:  Not, ‘Lord, I pray for world peace’ Better: ask him for some of the real needs in your life/the Church/the world right now.

And God will give his presence and his peace

  • To guard our hearts and minds (from anxiety, worry and stress)

The child’s most basic instinct is to cry out for food and comfort. This should be the same for the child of God. And our heavenly Father delights to hear our cries.

First published here