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

 

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“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 

Light in a dark world

 

A few thoughts on John 1:1-18 (mainly with Christmas preachers in mind)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (NIV)

 John 1:1-4

As we know all good storied begin “Once upon a time”

But the best story begins “In the beginning…”

Gen 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”

John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the word”, or “in the beginning the word already was”

… John’s magnificent Gospel begins by stretching our minds to the eternal existence of God, and the external co-existence between God and the Word.

… The word was with God and the word was God …. “I am the Father are one” (John 10:30)

This is the same one, who at this time, came to “be with us” – Immanuel. The one who was eternally with the Father, took on human flesh and was “with us”.

 What does “word” mean?

Rationality? The word ‘Word’ is the Greek word logos.  John’s Greek thinkers would have been very familiar with the concept.  Dating back to Heraclitus (500BC) the word came to refer to cataloguing, ordering, and sequential thought.  In fact the verb lego from which logos comes has become the name of a popular toy because of the way it encourages the development of building skills.  Other words in English include: Logical; catalogue, developing the same idea.

Certainly in John it is true that Jesus is seen as the logical coherence of this world.  He is its architect and builder, through Him all things were made and nothing was made without Him.

Wisdom? The idea of logos as wisdom spans the gap between Greek and Hebrews ways of thinking.  The Greek sophists saw knowledge as being the height of human development, and the concept was developed by Plato and Socrates.  God is the ‘big idea’, the seat of all knowledge and wisdom.  The Stoics came to see logos as the bridge between the material world and the world of the divine.

The wisdom emphasis in the Old Testament is found particularly in Proverbs and the prophetic writings (see Proverbs 22:17; 8:22-36).  The wise God reveals His plans through His prophets.

This leads us onto the dominant understanding of logos in the Old Testament.

Communication? God’s Word is God in action.

*             In creation: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made…” (Psalm 33:6);

*             In calling His people to Himself and producing spiritual life: ‘… so is my word that goes out from my mouth:  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’  (Isaiah 55:6);

The ‘Word of the Lord’ is not dry, arid or academic.  Far from it.  God’s word is creative and life-giving.  Through His Word God created the world, and still re-creates them with new spiritual life.

These two ideas come out very clearly in John’s Gospel.  Jesus, the creator of this world, through His Word brings men and women to new life.

John 1:5-8

The light has come – hooray! Praise the Lord? But many want to snuff this light out

The light shines; it penetrates darkness … like the far off lighthouse – slicing through the night.

Darkness doesn’t emanate. ..Darkness is the absence of light

Light reveals other things shine up in its light

Like the brilliance of truth

Like the ugliness of sin

Light is only welcome if you want to see what it illuminates cf John 3:17f.

If it’s not welcome you can seek to snuff it out… Herod tried; the Communists tried; the secularists tried; I tried ….but all you actually can do is shut the door on it… but it will keep pouring in through the cracks. …. Light is welcome but not if you would rather stay in the shadows (e.g. Nicodemus, a great example of one who journeys from darkness to light, Jn 3:2; 19:39)

John was the greatest witness to the light

But however great John was he wasn’t the light. He is the Voice; Jesus is the Word. He is the witness to the light, Jesus is the light.

Hence 1:29 – Don’t look to me, but look to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

For us who believe, Jesus is brilliant. Revel in His light; but never forget that the brighter he shines the more people will want to snuff the light out – and the stifle the faithful witness to him.

John – 1:9-13

Twin big themes in John – rejection of the light, powerful and simple transformation through belief and trust in Him.

Many will reject the witness of the Word – He is this dark world’s light (kosmos 73 times in John). As we saw yesterday – the light shines in the darkness and the darkness is unable to overcome it (v5)… this verse might suggest either wilful or just ignorant… but v 10b clearly implies that he came to those who should be most likely to accept him, but they received him not. Even at this pinnacle of God’s self-revelation there remains ignorance and stubborn rejection. Rejection should not be a surprise to us. We should rejoice, though, that this is no “false dawn” the true light has come.

But – a big but! (A turnaround sentence “But God” Eph 2:4) – those who “receive” and “believe” will become children of God. This, of course, is why John wrote this Gospel “these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).

 The human responsereceive and believe (acceptance and trust that He is the true light) correspond with the supernatural divine work (becoming a child of God) …. John emphasises both the Human response necessary and the Divine action required …

Not of natural descent or a husband’s will – it’s not inherent in being human. …you’re not born a Christian nor do you automatically become one by being born to a certain race or part of the world. It’s not a middle east or a western thing.

Not of human decision – it’s not even a personal lifestyle choice or a matter of personal preference.

You only become a Christian by receiving Jesus and believing in him. then you become a rightful child of God.– not illegitimate – but by receiving and believing you become a true part of the family of God. What a great privilege to be in this family and what a unity this brings about across the ages and around the world! He became a human child so that we, by believing and receiving Him might ourselves become children of God.

 John 1:14-18

It has been said of John’s Gospel that it is “a pool where children may paddle and elephants may wade”.  Maybe you are just getting “your feet wet” as a Christian.  Well, John is a good place to begin, for here we meet Jesus.  But for those who want to go deeper, the Gospel is intellectually stimulating and presents a challenge to our Christian discipleship.

God is invisible and unknowable apart from his self-revelation

  1. Believers get to see his Glory (v14). He pitched his tent among us. Veiled in flesh, yes, but – we get to see the unveiling of God (hence 2:11)… his glory is full of grace and full of truth.
  2. No one has ever seen God, but many people saw Jesus. “Have you ever seen God” – born too late. “Sight” is important for John, hence the signs … but seeing beyond the sign to the significance – the unveiling of God. He shines in this dark world, revealing a gracious God. He is not accessible through law keeping; he can only be known through Christ.

Yes, Good Friday and Easter matter. But so too does Christmas – God stooped low to be with us; to show unfallen humanity; to prepare the way for our salvation and offer grace and truth.

For more see https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lives-Jesus-Changed-Simon-Vibert-ebook/dp/B005WJOC62

Satisfied?

Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones could never get any satisfaction back in the 1960s when this song played over and again on the airways: “I can’t get no satisfaction” (released 1965).

This week I have been working with a Wycliffe Hall student team, Peter Sanlon and the congregation of St Mark’s Tunbridge Wells.

Among other things we have been surveying people door-to-door, giving out fliers and the tract Longing for Paradise (see) as well as doing some video interviews.

Leafy suburbia is “largely satisfied” it would seem: health, contentment, peace and money. But not everyone; and not all the time.

Nagging questions the meaning of life and the possibility of life beyond death remain.

And, of course, the person of Jesus Christ continues to be a source of fascination and interest. Established Religion and Church-going hardly feature, but the quest for satisfaction does not go away. Our hope as a team is that the good people of Tunbridge Wells will find their deepest needs in Jesus Christ, for it was he who said: “I have come that you might have life in all its fullness (in all its abundance)” (John 10:10).

The team’s 5minute summary of this theme is here

The Adele phenomenon

I like many others enjoyed listening to Adele’s music in recent years.

Her latest Album “25” was selling 1 million copies per week in the lead up to Christmas.

She has a wonderful voice. But there is also something about her down-to-earth and grounded approach to her music which stays with you. She seems prepared to parody herself (see the wonderful sketch on the Graham Norton show!) and speaks with earthy honesty.

The best known track on her album is “Hello” listing the apologies over a broken relationship ending with these words:

Hello from the other side
I must’ve called a thousand times 
To tell you I’m sorry, for everything that I’ve done
But when I call you never seem to be home

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried 
To tell you I’m sorry, for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

For me, though, the most humbling and heartfelt words are in the track “Million Years Ago

I know I’m not the only one
Who regrets the things they’ve done
Sometimes I just feel it’s only me
Who can’t stand the reflection that they see
I wish I could live a little more
Look up to the sky, not just the floor

I feel like my life is flashing by
And all I can do is watch and cry
I miss the air, I miss my friends
I miss my mother; I miss it when
Life was a party to be thrown
But that was a million years ago

This track speaks about loss, regret, the passing of time, and the fear of wasted opportunities. People in our lives come and go with little time for us to say everything we mean. And the busyness of life means lost opportunities fill our memories with a sense of wistful longing:

I know I’m not the only one
Who regrets the things they’ve done
Sometimes I just feel it’s only me
Who never became who they thought they’d be
I wish I could live a little more
Look up to the sky, not just the floor
I feel like my life is flashing by
And all I can do is watch and cry
I miss the air, I miss my friends
I miss my mother, I miss it when
Life was a party to be thrown
But that was a million years ago

I am not emotionally moved by much contemporary music (but Mozart’s Requiem might do that to me!), but the close of this track is mournful; soulful, even. These words are emotionally laden:

“Sometimes I just feel like it’s only me” – Adele creates great empathy, not least with the sentiment that we suspect that others too sometime wonder: “Am I the only one who feels like this!”

How about: “I wish I could live a little more, look up to the sky, not just the floor”. Wouldn’t it be good to look “up” and not just see the world directly in front of me.

And, she sings, life is passing by; the past seemed young and carefree. I miss those who passed through my life.

Adele has a way of capturing human angst and longing for intimacy and something that lasts forever.

Our 21st century western world is full of Adeles. Generally speaking the Church has been pretty poor at reaching them with a message of love, hope, fulfilment, meaning…. But wouldn’t it be great if we could help them “look up” to God, not just to the floor? To have that loss and longing met in the God who is love?

I have no easy answer: but I do recognise that I need to hear the longing of a lost human heart, and ensure that my preaching is full of empathy, speaking “heart to heart” (not just “head to head”) and full of real hope.

As C.S. Lewis wisely observed: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Here are a few texts that might help:

  • 1 Peter 3:15 encourages to be prepared to “always give a reason for our hope” (not just reasons for “faith”)
  • Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” As Augustine said “God has made us restless until we find our rest in Him”
  • To the woman at the well, who had gone from man to man, looking for love, but never finding satisfaction, Jesus said:”If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

There are plenty more examples, but the main point for me is the need to connect to the human heart and show that our deepest longings are best satisfied in God.

And my prayers are with Adele and many other young women like her, that they may find a reason for living in the Lord Jesus.