Blogs for July 2017

The Greatest Story Ever Told. I seem to think thats the name of a film about the life of Christ and His Gospel. Its a good title. Catchy ! They say there is a book in each of us if we make the effort to have a go. I started one, wrote nineteen chapters, but never finished it. Many books are written today and many end up as cheap ebooks on the likes of Kindle or one of those cheaper Two For One paperback deals you can get in Tesco. So all that sweat equity you invest in your one book can, in the end, yield very little, if its fame and fortune you're hoping to make. The four Gospels are not like that however and collectively they do amount to the greatest story ever told because they record the life and doings of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were written a lot later than the events which they describe and that is a mystery in itself. Maybe I'll come back to my one book but I'm glad the four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, eventually got round to writing theirs and persisted in completing their books. The first eighteen verses of John's Gospel are some of the most profound words ever written: "In the beginning was the Word [thats a name for Jesus] and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were 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................" John comes to a great conclusion at the beginning of his book and not at he end where most of us would attempt to summarise our thoughts. Then there's a couple of strange verses at the end of John Chapter 20. Strange because having written in detail all that he did and with such illumination, he then throws these two, almost unneccesary verses in and for what possible purpose and why at that point in the book: "Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name". Were these two verses initially meant to be the end of the Gospel with Chapter 21 an afterthought? And therefore does that not throw greater weight behind Chapter 21 that he thought it necessary to add?

What is John saying in these two verses? Well he gives a very good reason; Gods purpose in seeing to it that men most qualified to leave a account for posterity do so - that men and women should one day find this Gospel and having read it come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, sent by God, and that by believing have life in His name for themselves. It's an incredible story. It is indeed the greatest story ever told. No-one could fail to become drawn into the story through those first eighteen awe inspiring verses. John was indeed the great "paperback writer" of his time. 3 July 2017 StanH.

Strange Love. Whole Lotta LoveWe all know those much loved words from John's Gospel Chapter 3 verse 16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes on Him shall not perish but have eternal (or everlasting) life". The "strange love" I was alluding to was that phrase "so loved". Not a phrase we use much to describe our own meagre love of anything or anyone. Maybe, therefore, it is only right and proper though that God's love alone, which is much more than human love, is accorded that special quantifying prefix "so". So loved. A "whole lotta love" is a rock and roll lyric by Led Zepplin but its not about God's love. There is a danger for we Christians that bible truths like John 3v16 are diluted down to a mere lyric lost in the hubub of human rock and roll. And then of course can we really believe that claim at all - that we are "so loved" by God? Thats an incredible thought. But thats the big challenge presented by the Gospel. That believing, if we can ever come to believe it, represents our faith in God. I'm sure there's a verse somewhere where Jesus quite pointedly asks someone whether they believe (do you believe these things?), but I can't just bring it to mind. So if you find it let me know. And of course the next problem is that God wants us to invest our faith not in Himself - but in His Son! God's greatest work has been to send His Son to redeem sinful man. While we were yet sinners or while we were still sinners. Christ died. If in our evaluation that counts for nothing then what a slap in the face for the Father that we care nothing for the Son in whom He was obviously so well-pleased (Matt 3v17). All the Law and the Prophets are bound up in this one verse (v16). Look no further. Study nothing else. Seek no better enlightenment. Do not leave this one chapter in the Bible. Unless you can receive (that is unless you can believe) this one verse then you are lost. Completely lost! John leaves us in no doubt about this: "Whoever believes in Him (that's the Son) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name (the good reputation) of God's one and only Son". John 3v16 is that "eye of a needle" you will either get through - or you won't. Which will it be ? 10 July 2017 StanH

Then there's that other strange wordFor one small verse, John 3v16 has a lot going for it. It speaks first of a special kind of love. God's "so loved" kind...and we saw that in the previous blog. But it also speaks of a special kind of end for those who are not "in Christ", if I might use the Christian jargon. Those who are not on the train when it leaves the station. Those who have in effect chosen to perish. Who chose not to receive a ticket and get on the gospel trainWhat a strange word is perish. Is it just an archaic word for dying or does it speak of a different order of, a different quality of, death? We would need to consult Strongs Bible Concordance in order to understand whether this is one of those special, rarely used, words that God has put into His bible. We all expect to die of course. In the end many will even welcome death as those whose time has rightly come. Most Christians look forward to the next phase with unabashed enthusiasm. But no-one likes a premature deathdo they - especially for children, young people and our favourite show-biz celebritie?. A life cut short. But to perish must speak of something else. I don't claim to know. Its a word that has always been embedded within John 3v16 but after forty-odd years of reading this verse it has only just been drawn to attention as now, I draw it to yours. God is warning us through John that we need to harken to this particular word. You can't expect to read the bible and completely understand it. Ever. It can only be understood in the measure by which the Holy Spirit illuminates it to us. As the nature of this alternative eternity has been drawn to my attention - so I draw it to yours. Let us take it that God put that phrase about perishing in the bible as the kind of word God Himself would use because from His lofty perspective He has seen into all our futures and the consequences of not receiving His Son, Jesus. People sometimes comment that no-one who has died ever came back to tell us what it is like. But here we have the nearest thing to that. From a God who sees the full spectrum of what eternity holds. For there are two eternities. Death is not a cop out. We will not be unconscious. One eternity for those who, as already mentioned, are in Christ and another for those who did not receive the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and now find themselves like the Rich Man on the other slope of the eternal valley, if I might put it like that. Separated forever from fellowship with God. There's a story in Luke's Gospel (chapter 16v19-31) about the Rich Man and Lazarus who both died but went to very different eternities. I warned you in the previous blog not leave the pages of Johns Gospel  chapter 3 because there is no better advice to be found anywhere else. But now - now is the time to leave that page and go to Luke chapter 16 and face up to an alternative ending to our lives in which it is possible to perish. 12 July 2017 StanH.

Exactly one year ago today...my very first Parish Blog was a relatively simple affair. Short and sweet. It went like this:

Sweet fellowship Jesus in the midst, life blossoms in the Church, men by men are blessed when Jesus is in the midst. Things are really beginning to buzz at St.James. The Prayer Meeting was so full last night the ticket touts were selling seats! No but seriously - if the Prayer Meeting of any Church is a barometer for what is happening in that Church you would have to conclude that something is really happening at St. James.             

That was written on the fourteenth of July last year. Where are we now? Has our "sweet fellowship" stood the test of time. Not that twelve months is much of a test but, like a week in politics, surprisingly large changes can take place over very short periods of time. The main change to impact the congregation has been incomers in unprecedented numbers. Our beloved Iranian asylum seekers. Doctor Luke records several milestones in the founding of the Early Church. Pentecost and Peter's Keynote Speech in Acts 2 which culminates in verse 41 with: Those who accepted his message were baptised and about three thousand were added to their number that day. In a single day. This large group began to fellowship together on all levels and in all aspects of life. The song "Sweet Fellowship Jesus in the midst" came out of that and captures the spirit of Acts 2v42-47 in those heady days of beginning and rapid growth. Verse 47 concludes with: "...and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved".

St James has seen all this, albeit not on the same scale. Changes to the way we did Church and met these new challenges manifested itself in the way we organised our week. Opening the church up on Mondays for prayer and work ministries, for fellowship and for food came out of all that. As did Wednesdays when in the beginning we had a fellowship (evening) meal together followed by the Emmaus Course and our main weekly Prayer Meeting. And of course some of them were invited into our homes. In Acts 4 Luke records that the believers shared their possessions and at St James, especially in the early days when new Asylum Seekers turned up on our doorstep with little or nothing we saw some lovely acts of generosity as one or another of us found clothes, shoes, bedding - even a can of paint. If I were to dramatise the situation at St James into a first century setting I could talk about these people being "...dragged before the courts". In truth the day was never that dark, though we accompanied and supported several of our new Iranian friends as they had to take their case for asylum to the Appeal Court in Bradford. Thankfully all were granted leave to stay in this country for which we thank God. In recent months no-one has had to go to appeal and there is an understanding working its way through that, as far as Iranian Christians are concerned, their Homeland is indeed a dangerous place and recognised as such by the Home Office. Where are we now? Well subtle changes are taking place. As more asylum seekers have been granted leave to stay the emphasis in Doncaster is turning to settlement, to finding work, to improving their English, to college and training, to finding their own place to stay. Because of this then realistically some of our Iranian friends have had to move on to find work or to connect with friends who can find them work openings. At least one man has been re-united with his wife and children in London. I could go on. There are so many stories. But I will finish with this; last week one man borrowed my calculator to do a Maths Exam. I am crying now because I've just remembered that he was the first young man to walk into our church just over a year ago. As I said there are so many stories. We cannot calculate the entire impact they have made on us as a Congregation in coming to St James and, who knows, just what an impact we have had on their lives. Perhaps a day will come when the King will say: "...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me". 14 July 2017. StanH.

Eden Re-Glimpsed. Yesterday we went on one of those old world charrabang trips - but sans charrabang ! Various cars, bicycles and pairs of shoes delivered us to our destination. Someone had a birthday and suggested we go for a picnic to Hexthorpe Flatts after church on Sunday afternoon. So we did. Fifteen to twenty of us, including children, took ourselves off to Hexthorpe Flatts and shared a picnic. It was one of those perfect summer days, very hot with shade available for those who wanted it. Now in my wife's rememberance Hexthorpe Flatts is a place, almost mystical in scale, from her childhood. Apparently folks used to go  to Hexthorpe Flatts from South Kirkby and South Elmsall on bus trip outings. But let's get this clear. Hexthorpe Flatts is just (and I say "just" for effect) a public park and amenity in the Balby/Hexthorpe district of Doncaster. A very nice park and probably even nicer back in the day. But would you really get a bus trip up to go there? Really? But apparently they did. You see, and here's the thing - things were simpler then. Expections were lower. Something that would not even merit a comment from today's children (unless it was say, to go to Alton Towers) gave delight and pleasure back  in the day. Something has gone out of modern life - never to return. As we struggled back to the car park with all the paraphernalia of our picnic my friend and I reminisced on the old days and how we had enjoyed our afternoon. And in that moment I swear (though we shouldn't swear) that I glimpsed the Garden of Eden. Something lost, never to be recovered. The writer of Genesis puts it this way: "After he [that is God] drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way [back] to the tree of life". Our old friend, Nicodeamus put it another way: "Surely they cannot enter [that is re-enter] a second time into their mother's womb to be born again!". In another time and place I was on a building site one time and over lunch someone told a story about a horse caught up in a road accident. I won't go into any gory detail because having heard it you could never erase it from memory and I wouldn't want to lay that on you. These three stories - Eden, Nicodaemus and the horse demonstrate the impossibility of going back. But God has come up with a way of getting back. John records the phrase that Jesus used when in conversation with Nicodaemus. He said: "You must be born again !". Born again. It describes a spiritual God-given way of getting back to where we should be. In fellowship with God. God has found a way to be reconciled with us. A way that Eden might be re-glimpsed which re-connects us with God (in Jesus) and allows us once again to walk in the Garden with Him in the cool of the day. 17 July 2017 StanH

I never saw that before. The other day I was driving along a familar stretch of road. When I saw for the first time a cottage/bungalow I'd never noticed before. And this is in an area I've lived in all my life. It wasn't new either. So there is some truth in phrases like "hidden in plain sight" and "blind spot". The familiar can in the end be more unfamiliar than we imagine. I don't know where it came from but the other day (thats a different "other day" to the bungalow day) I started thinking about the time-frame of the four Gospels. And this is more than forty years after I started reading the Gospels. What do I mean? Well we are told that Christ's ministry years were roughly three and a half years. We don't need to be precise. Or debate it. Lets say 1250 days rounded down. How does that correlate with time as recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? I wondered whether I could quantify time from phrases they used, like: "The next day as they were leaving Bethany...", Mark 11v12 or the three "next day(s)" found in John Chapter 1 or "When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went (that is walked) up to Jerusalem [presumably from Galilee]" from which you could work out a distance, circa 70 miles, and apply a leisurely walking speed and convert it to days. Do you see what I mean? Then you have phrases like: "About 8 days after this (quite precise as its not a week) in Luke 9v28. Rough estimates have to be made when Jesus goes on missions like: "Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues...", Matt. 9v35, where I made arbitary and probably low number allowances like, say 10 days for a biggish mission and say 5 days for a mini-mission. Its all guesswork of course but you only have to be moderately correct to get a very big surprise.Which is that each Gospel writer only remembered or recorded remarkably small windows of the total 1250 days. What do I mean. By quickly skimming each Gospel and looking out for "time clues" and acknowledging that the exercise is only ever going to be "rough and ready" I came up with these scores for each writer: Matthew seems to record 131 days from John the Baptist onwards. Mark is just a quickie - 56 days; but we seem to think that the Marcean document is a damaged document with lost pages don't we ? Ever thorough is Luke = 154 days; again from Johns Baptism going forward. And that brings us to John - 91 days with Johns Baptism recorded in the very first chapter. Even if my estimates are wildly inaccurate they still bear no resemblance whatsoever to the three and a half years that scholars talk about. Why? Two thoughts came to me on this subject - no three. A big mystery has always been why all four Gospels were written long after the Crucifixion of circa AD30. None mention the Destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 which would have been a cracking opportunity for His disciples to get one last "He told you so didn't He?" dig in at the Pharisees. That aside it is said that the Gospels began as an ORAL tradition passed on by word of mouth through the emerging Early Church. Later this inevitably led to a corruption of the truth by false teachers; and, as we know, Paul addresses this in some of his letters. This may well have prompted the faithful Gospel Writers to "cast the truth in stone". There are many gospels but only four found their way into the Canon of Scripture as being reliable records of the truth. Luke is interesting in that he claims to have "carefully investigated" and written an "orderly account". Here are some timelines from the internet: Marks Gospel written AD 66-70, Matthew and Luke written AD 85-90 and John written AD 90-110. No point in being more precise or pedantic here - as all are a long time after the events recorded. Why is so little written? Well the gospels are probably confined to the parameters or scope already established by the oral tradition (which practically could never have been, told orally, on the scale of a long treatise like War and Peace) and may have focussed on correcting what may have been wrongly taught. Also after a long time, every day and detail (like - then He did this and next He did this and Then He did that) becomes irrelevant and some of their most precious rememberances would win the day over a mass of words. Luke would only have been able to get out of witnesses what time would allow and their most precious rememberances. John's Gospel was always going to be uniquely different. Here was a man who was very close to Jesus and, afterall, he was family - His first cousin. John knew stuff that no-one else could have known. His persepective on these reamarkable days is priceless. It was John, wasn't it, who wrote: "Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples, whichare not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name". I think that could be said of all four gospels.  22 July 2017 StanH.

We've been having trouble with our internet connection for quite a few months nowThe service dips in and out, goes on and off - sometimes several times in an hour or even over a couple of minutes. And we lose signal at the most inopportune moment. In the mid-1980's I was into the Sinclair ZX81 Computer and I just loved to programme in BASIC (which is about all you could do on that rudimentary machine). I would work away all night, loved it, and then accidentally nudge the power cable with my knee. And there it was - gone! Lost in a moment.You won't believe this but I've written some brilliant stuff on this blog only to lose it all in the moment that I press the save button because my website edits are all saved online but the internet connection is down. But that's not what I sat down to write about this morning and yet in a strange way it is. In some versions (KJV) 1 Cor 13v12 talks about "looking through a glass darkly" when we don't see the full picture now but we will then, later, in a future time. The "ability-to-understand service" or the "comprehension signal" dips, as it were, in and out; goes "on the blink". I don't normally do daily bible readings but I have been recently. My mother-in-law, now deceased, had a book of daily readings compliled from the writings of Charles Spurgeon. It's titled "Morning and Evening" and, short of something else to read, I've started reading it. I freely confess that my Christianity is not in same league as that of Charles Spurgeon and yet that same experience, knowledge and insight that he obviously had is free to all those who would apply themselves and give themselves whole-heartedly to the life. Every so often (on the blink as it were) I actually see through a glass brightly. God allows me momentary illumination. A phrase "for then we shall all see" just came to mind which I think is a variant of Paul's follow on verse 1 Cor 13v13:"Now I know in part; then I shall know fully even as I am fully known". When our relationship with God is fully restored it will be like a visit from BT Openreach when I will get my internet service back forever.So there's my blog for today and I didn't even get to talk about what  Spurgeon wrote last night. Maybe next time. 23 July 2017 StanH

It started with Jairus's daughterIn Mark Chapter 5 we have the strange story of the woman with the issue of blood. Jairus had come to Jesus because his 12 year old daughter was dying and this woman's story somehow collides and interjects with his. It is assumed that the woman's issue of blood is somehow associated with what we would whisper in a corner as "women's troubles". Wikipedia defines a menstrual taboo as: "any social taboo concerned with menstruation. Still, in some societies it involves menstruation being perceived as unclean or embarrassing....Many traditional religions consider it to be ritually unclean". Leviticus is clear and prescriptive about this and that there should be no contact with such women and anything those women have come into contact with - like seating and bedding, etc. Statistically in that great band of Hebrews that crossed the wilderness with Moses when the Law was being laid down, there would have been many such women on any given day of those forty years. Leviticus 15 envisgages two situations - first the normal monthly cycle which event lasts only a few days and then, beyond that, something more long-lasting and chronic which is what has been envisaged in Lev 15v25: "When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period". So, in the case of this poor woman it had been for twelve years. It was a virtual life sentence!  And in the Jewish religious society in which she lived it would have been that in many ways and on many levels. Its not until someone wakes up one day to discover that they've gone, say, blind or deaf that they discover the innumerable ways in which their life has changed and what they took for granted has been taken away. Friends, family, husband - if he had not already long ago divorced her on account of the effective breakdown of their marriage. How did she make a living. Who would touch and buy her goods or produce ? Who would eat her food. How would she make contact with anyone. How would she bring up her children. Had she been able to have children. She might as well have been a leper. It would have been like the great plague of 1665 in this country when food and provisions were often left at a designated spot outside the village, outside the contagious area and those infected would keep watch in the shadows and come later to pick up what had been left for them. So there we have it. This woman had a life of misery made worse by the fact that she had spent all she had on medical quacks who could do nothing for her. Then Jesus came by one day and everything changed for her. There was her faith but it was a desperate faith. A last ditch effort on her part to get some closure on a condition that had marred her life and any chance of happiness. And it was a lonely place to be. Even her act of faith had to be done in secret - just a touch of His cloak. A reaching out of the finger tips at the very extremities of her very being. But Jesus knew. Yet though He was a devout Jew (Rabbi some said) He was bigger than even the Law; the risk of contagion to the purest man who ever lived was of no concern to Him: despised Samaritans, ten lepers (eleven including the one who came back), sinful women, dead bodies, non-Jews like the Syro-Phoenician woman, impure spirits and the demon-possessed. And to top it all - this poor woman with the issue of blood. God has confirmed in so many ways that nothing will prevent Him from making contact with us. Somewhere it is written that Jesus daid: "I am willing". 31 July 2017 StanH

 

 

 

 


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