Saturday, 27 June 2015

Check the Small Print

“So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33 RSV)

How to detect a disciple of Christ? Here were crowds, enthusiastic for a ‘Jesus Movement.’ But Jesus turns on superficiality - with a challenge:

1. THE LOVE TEST. Jesus was not undermining the fifth commandment when insisting (v.26) that a disciple must first ‘hate’ father, mother and relatives; He was using the Hebrew idiom of ‘Selection.’ Romans 9:13 is entirely about God’s selective purposes with its quotation from Malachi 1:2,3:“Jacob I loved; Esau I hated.” When love for Christ takes over, it must occupy the number one spot. True – it may well enhance all other loves, but that’s the test! Which comes first?

Jesus then declared (v. 27) that those who did not carry their cross could not be a disciple. Everyone knew that the cross was a terrible Roman instrument of execution. Carrying one’s cross meant that you were to put your own interests last – to the very point of death if necessary. Certainly it means death to self-interest, self-indulgence, self-satisfaction and self-esteem. Many are marked at baptism with the cross - the mark of death - upon their foreheads.

Jesus then told two parables – about the man who failed to think ahead about the cost of his building project, and the soldier-king who didn’t weigh up the full implications of going to war; both consigned ultimately to history’s book of heroic failures.

If discipleship is so demanding, then where does the appeal lie? Surely in the Man of Galilee Himself. Everything is worthwhile for His eternal friendship.


Thursday, 25 June 2015

Your call to Priesthood!

“So I will consecrate the Tent of Meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests.” (Exodus 29:44)

The setting up of the priesthood at the time of Moses models the call of even Christ’s newest follower! Every believer becomes part of ‘a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 2: 5).

And just as there were certain stages that were necessary in the Old Testament procedures involving the priests’ responsibilities, so too within our modern Christian context:

. Aaron and his priestly sons could not enter upon their duties until they had been washed (Exodus 29:4). This is equally necessary for today’s believer; we cannot be useful until we are cleansed afresh by the blood of Christ.

. The various garments that Aaron and his sons were required to wear (v. 5-9) distinguished them for what they were – priests of the God of holiness. Christians may ask themselves, “Is my resemblance to Christ by word and attitude enough to mark me out as someone set apart for His service.

This is set out in verse 7. In the case of the Christian believer this ‘anointing’ has already taken place (2 Corinthians 1:21,22; 1 John 2:20). The Holy Spirit has come into life and personality - and from Day One we are anointed for priesthood!

4. THE OFFERING – (OUR SERVICE). The sacrifices that the priests of old were required to offer (v. 10-28) find their counterpart in the prayerful service of God that is our privilege (Psalm 141:2).

The reward for faithful service (v. 45,46) is that God will dwell with us!

When the Vicar Won Wimbledon

“Lawn Tennis,” wrote J.B. Priestley, “is a name with the mildest associations. It suggests a companion pastime to croquet, a late-Victorian thing, bright with petticoats and delicately clouded with curates.”

So it seemed with the development of Wimbledon’s All England Lawn Tennis Club from its beginnings in 1869 as a Croquet Club, at which “Gentlemen are requested not to play in their shirt sleeves when ladies are present.” However, with the addition of tennis courts to the grounds, the new game gained ascendency, and the first Wimbledon Tennis Championships took place in 1877. 

It was at the third tournament of 1879 that the Rev J.T. Hartley, vicar of Burneston in Yorkshire, won the All-Comers Gentlemen’s Singles out of an entry of 45 competitors at Wimbledon, and repeated the feat the following year. On the middle Sunday of the tournament, he was obliged to dash back to Yorkshire to deliver his church sermon before returning once again to complete his triumph.

Never again was a clergyman to win Wimbledon (though in my own dreams I have appeared in the final a number of times).

Many of the early players were highly idiosyncratic. In the 1921 quarter-finals Randolph Lycett was playing Zenzo Shimidzu on one of the hottest days in memory. During the third set, Lycett had to be revived with gin every time he changed ends. In the fifth set, muzzy and staggering, he ordered a bottle of Champagne to be brought out onto the Centre Court, and he consumed the last drop of it as the umpire called, “Shimidzu leads by nine games to eight in the final set.” The gallery hardly knew whether to object or sympathise when Lycett dropped his racket, and then on hands and knees crawled round in search of it. To most people’s relief Shimidzu won.

Today a Bosnian, Novak Djokovic, as world’s Number One, leads a dazzling array of players who - almost universally - see Wimbledon as ‘the big W’ that can seemingly make a man or woman immortal.

I was once rung by an American church pastor who was to pass through Britain for one day only. “I’ll be your host,” I assured him. “Where can I take you in London?” He was very direct. “More than even seeing the Crown Jewels, I would like to see the Centre Court at Wimbledon.”

“Leave it to me!” I responded. “I KNOW A MAN.”

The man was Chris Gorringe, the CEO of the All England Club – the man we would see on TV, holding the winner’s trophy, before it was handed to the new Champion on Finals Day. Over the years I had come to know him.

I rang Wimbledon. “I have a vicar from America who would like to see the Centre Court.” The response came back. “Mr Gorringe will meet you next Wednesday at the Fred Perry Gates.”

Chris Gorringe showed us everything; the players’ locker rooms, Number One Court, the trophies; then finally we came to the most famous piece of grass in the world. The American seemed to be in heaven. “May I step just onto the edge?” he shyly asked. Mr Gorringe nodded. “The groundsmen can see you’re with me, so they’ve ensured no alarm will be raised!”

The mowers had been at work, and there were barrowfuls of grass ready to be disposed of.

“Come on!” I said. “Let’s fill our pockets!”

For the next few weeks I was giving little packets of the sacred grass to my friends.

I KNOW A MAN. That was the secret. As a tennis clergyman myself I can’t resist wanting to do a Rev JT Hartley – perhaps only in reminding of what he stood for - that there is indeed a Man we can come to know; the CEO not simply of some tennis courts, but of the Central Court that governs the whole universe and puts meaning, divine friendship and eternal forgiveness into all of our existence. He is universal Champion of our salvation and His Name is Jesus Christ. Know Him – and your smallest prayer gets you to the Centre…. of everything.

Hey, thank you JT !

This article first appeared in the July 2015 issue of ‘Connection’ – the magazine of Christ Church, Virginia Water, Surrey

Saturday, 13 June 2015

A Magna Carta of ‘Goodness’!

"Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good…. that they may not live unproductive lives    (Titus 3:14)

‘Doing what is good.’ This letter to Titus starts with ‘the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness’  (Titus 1:1)  Doing good/being godly – it’s the goodness that comes from knowing God that changes society!

1. If the Cross is preached, the result is good works. We read of ‘our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ who gave himself for us, to redeem us …. and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, EAGER TO DO WHAT IS GOOD’ (Titus 2:13,14).

2. If a person is saved, the result is good works. ‘And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to DOING WHAT IS GOOD’ (Titus 3:8).

3. If the Scriptures are taught, the result is good works and blameless living. Teach…. teach…. teach… SO THAT NO ONE WILL MALIGN THE WORD OF GOD’ (Titus 2:1,2,3,5; see 2 Timothy 3:16,17).

4. If the leadership is exemplary, the result is good works. (Titus 2: 7,8): ‘In everything, set them an example by DOING WHAT IS GOOD’

5. If the witness is consistent the result will be good works. ‘to try to please…. not to talk back…. not to steal…. be fully trusted, SO THAT…. THEY WILL MAKE THE TEACHING ABOUT GOD OUR SAVIOUR ATTRACTIVE’ (Titus 2:10) – and this was addressed to the supposed dregs of society, the slaves!

The expectation (Titus 2: 12,13) is that we live ‘self-controlled, upright and godly lives’ as we wait for Christ’s ‘appearing.’ He’s coming back!



Monday, 8 June 2015

May I see your passport?

"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Philippians 3:20,21)

Philippi was a proud Roman colony. But Paul tells his Christian readers there, ‘You are actually a colony of heaven!’ Christian – look at Psalm 87:6: your passport was drawn up in Zion, the New Jerusalem!

1. The Heavenly City. The believer’s life is to be coloured – and fulfilled – by the conviction of the City that is above – and that conviction will animate the whole of your life! Or are you simply living for the daily struggle of eat, work, eat, watch TV – and at the end have a few kind words said about you and get your name into the local papers for just one more time? 

2. The Coming Saviour. The Roman Caesars sometimes gave themselves the title of ‘Saviour.’ But what a bunch they were! By contrast, mums and dads, eagerly awaiting the return of Christ, would, in centuries to come, call their boys and girls after the friends of Jesus… ‘James’… ‘Mary’… ‘Joanna’… ‘Matthew’…. ‘Peter’ – while the really ‘big’ names of the first century, like ‘Nero’ or ‘Caesar’ are only reserved today for the family dog!

3. The Transforming Power. It’s all in our Scripture passage. Christ will do it at the Last Day. He promises it – “I will raise him up! I will raise her up!” Joni Eareckson Tada, California’s famed quadriplegic, has inspired disabled people around the world She smiles, “I like earth – but my heart pumps for heaven!”