“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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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”.