All posts by Sean Jefferies

Dumpster fire

A while ago I watched a sermon on YouTube by John MacArthur, and it was clear from his homily that he fears no man. I could picture in my mind’s eye the reaction of the legion of perpetually offended if they were to be presented with sound bites from MacArthur’s sermons.

 

MacArthur once said that if you preach the gospel and no-one is offended, you’re doing it wrong.

 

Now, the goal of preaching the gospel is not to offend, but it is a pretty reliable by-product, and that is because the sinner doesn’t want to be presented with the fact of his (or her) sin. It’s uncomfortable.

 

I imagine that John MacArthur would love to meet the apostle Paul.

 

Paul is writing to the church in Rome, Believers thriving and making a name for themselves in the belly of the pagan beast, resting on the seven hills of the empire’s capital. A quick online search shows around 900 churches in Rome and curiously, a Baptist congregation with specialised Sunday services for Africans, Filipinos and Chinese.

 

http://www.romebaptist.org/

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+1%3A7&version=NIV

 

Paul sort of starts with the good news of where he’s leading us: the gospel being the power of salvation for everyone who believes, and the Christian who lives by faith:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+1%3A16+-+17&version=NIV

 

Having told us where we will land, he takes off in the next verse and sets out to convince both the pagan and the pious that we are in need of salvation. Paul is like a prosecutor entering into the record the evidence of our misdeeds.

 

It’s brutal. Earth 2019 is a dumpster fire.

 

 

If the world ever found out about Romans 1 and 2 from us, or from coming across it accidentally, they would howl at what Paul writes.

 

No Hallmark cards that I know of quote this passage. No feel-good movies that I’ve ever watched come close to even touching the subject matter.

 

Paul has to convince us that we are utterly devoid of virtue before we can see that we are in need of salvation. And he does a pretty good job of that. His fellow Jews would hardly need to be convinced that the pagans were doomed, however Paul also reminds them that they do the same things, and behave in the same ways as the most unspiritual pagans.

 

https://www.preceptaustin.org/romans_119-32

 

If I can summarize this part of Romans it’s the idea of wrath. God is justifiably angry. Most people would obviously not like to consider this, especially as it pertains to them.

 

For those who simply follow their own desires, without consideration of God, the passage is terribly offensive. However from God’s point of view, the behaviour of those who live however they want is offensive to Him.

 

Rock, paper, scissors, God. He always wins.

 

The wrath that Paul writes about is building (Greek: Orge) and will one day reach a point of exploding (Greek: Thumos). For the modern reader it can be likened to being in traffic for an extended period with several incidents, one after the other, until the driver stuck in traffic can no longer contain himself and goes berserk. Of course the analogy is not sufficient, because with God it’s not an emotional reaction but a considered, moral imperative to punish sin.

 

One of the most genuinely terrifying ideas that Paul explores is the wrath of abandonment.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+1%3A24&version=NIV

 

Sexual expression was created by Him, for enjoyment and procreation, to be kept for the marriage bed. Many people have cheapened and adulterated that gift and the wrath that He visits on them is to let them have their way, until its logical conclusion.

 

A movie scene comes to mind from ‘Brewster’s millions’:

 

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088850/?ref_=nv_sr_4?ref_=nv_sr_4

 

In making a video for Montgomery Brewster to receive a fortune after his death, rich relative Rupert Horn recounts a story of getting busted smoking cigars while under aged. To teach him a lesson, his father locks him in a closet with a box of cigars and will only let him out when they’re finished. The thing is Rupert learns his lesson and his Dad ultimately lets him out of the closet. In the scenario where there is a wrath of abandonment, it seems like the closet stays closed unless the sinner comes to his senses asks to be let out. Although in terms of this type of wrath, they would never want to be let out.

 

That to me is genuinely scary. I want God to tell me when I’m wrong. I want correction. Some people don’t want that and they get what they want.

 

The idea that a cosmic thumping awaits earth is the MacGuffin in many Sci-Fi movies, a disaster that suddenly rears its head. An asteroid, a nuclear exchange, a zombie plague. Paul’s language (in contrast) presents the idea that God’s wrath is gradual and increasing.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+1%3A18+-+22&version=NIV

 

His wrath is revealed (Greek: apocalypsis) from heaven. The idea in the passage is that people can deny that God’s way is clear, however if we eyes, ears and a brain, we can get an idea of what He is like and what He requires of us, even without Scripture. Merely from nature, and from life.

 

His wrath is revealed from heaven, and has been unfolding for a long time. As people, we collectively have been suppressing knowledge about Him by way of our wickedness.

 

A very popular idea nowadays is that man’s carbon footprint is causing extreme weather (also known as global warming, and since re-branded to climate change). In my view, it’s as possible that extreme weather could have man’s moral footprint as a cause as his carbon footprint.

 

If God can remove his restraining hand from our sinfulness if we kick Him out of our lives, why can nature not be an aspect of that? The curse of sin is expressed in creation and creation’s fall.

 

Paul writes of the Greek and the Jew. The pagan and the pious. Both are equally sinful and both are equally in need of salvation in Christ.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+2%3A1+-+6&version=NIV

 

His kindness to those who know Scripture was meant to lead to repentance but instead they turned it into a license to sin. Expressed in the cynical view of former French president Mitterand: “God will forgive, that’s his job…”

 

Paul uses the word ‘stubborn’ to refer to the religious people in his day, the Greek word ‘skleretos’ which modern physicians will recognise as referring to a plaque build-up in the artery. The pious are as susceptible to sin as the rank pagan. Every pushback against God is like plaque build-up in the arteries.

 

The trajectory is pathological.

 

When you sit down and take the medicine that Paul is dishing out, it tastes bitter, but like the best medicine it leads to health.

The initiative

On a recent Sunday in May, as a church family we took part in communion.

 

A New Believer was sitting in the front row, the intricacies and practicalities of being a Christian still unfamiliar to her. She had not yet taken part in communion and when we were about to go to the table, she hesitated and stayed seated.

 

One of the ladies in the church, a mature Believer didn’t let her just sit there, but took her by the hands, encouraged her and went with her to the table. For the first time then, she had communion, united in fellowship with Christ and her fellow Christians.

 

It was a very cool thing to see, and having seen it, I saw a picture of myself.

 

Not knowing what to do.

 

Having no initiative.

 

What I saw played out with this new Christian reminded me that my Saviour bore his wounds for me, personally.

 

That he went to the cross for me, personally.

 

That when I was lost in my sins, he approached me, personally and took me by the hand to the table.

 

I can’t literally remember when I took part in communion for the first time, but I do remember that there was a time when a preacher delivering a sermon and making an appeal for me was like the very voice of God speaking to me, personally.

 

This is the difference between an intellectual position on God and a personal one.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+17%3A3&version=NIV

 

He takes the initiative and all we have to do is respond.

Ek is ‘n Burger

Dit is net meer as ‘n week sedert die 2019 verskiesings in Suid-Afrika.

 

Ek het begin daaraan dink het het uitgekom by die gedagte dat ek ‘n deël van my land is, en ook nie ‘n deël daarvan nie.

 

Iets is fout; ek voel min oor die land se stem, Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika. Ek luister na BokRadio en lees ook Shakespeare. Ek ondersteun die Haaie, maar voel minder oor die Springbokke.

 

Gee my asseblief ‘n oomblik om te verduidelik. Ek het ‘n affiniteit vir Europese kultuur, vir my Moedertaal, Engels, tot die politieke struktuur van die Verenigde State en die geskiedenis van die Britse Eilande.

 

Maar ek is ook ‘n seun van die Afrika-vasteland. Diegene wat sinies is sal my daaraan herinner dat daar ‘n woord vir so ‘n mens bestaan. Dat ek ‘n ‘soutie’ is.

 

Dit is ‘n eenvoudige beskrywing van ‘n situasie wat vir my baie ingewikkeld is. Hierdie spanning tussen twee wêrelde is ook ‘n beskrywing van die spanning tussen my land en my Koning se koninkryk.

 

Deur my oë, is hierdie ‘n treurige land, vol ongerealiseerde potensiaal: wat ons kan wees as ‘n land, maar net nie is nie.

 

Ek het in 1999 Engeland toe gegaan en daar ontdek dat ek nie daar behoort nie. Ek is ‘n Suid-Afrikaner. Ek het met vrede en blydskap huis toe teruggekeer.

 

My land

 

Maar hoekom? Hoekoem het die Here my ‘n Suid-Afrikaner gemaak? Om watter rede was ek in hierdie land gebore? En op die tyd wat ek was? Hy alleen weet.

 

Ek dink aan Abram voordat hy Abraham geword het. Die Here het toe vir hom gesê dat hy uit sy land moet trek om na ‘n nuwe plek te gaan. Van Abram se voorbeeld, lyk dit asof die Here sorg dat mense in ‘n sekere land gebore is, maar ook dat vir Sy redes sommige van hulle moet ‘n trek ondergaan vir Sy bedoeling.

 

Vir die wat in ons Here glo, is daar ‘n spanning tussen ons land en ons Koning se koninkryk.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=philippians+3%3A20&version=NIV

 

Daar is ook ‘n spanning tussen wat ons aardse tuisland was en wat dit word. Dit is waar ons nou is in Suid-Afrika.

 

https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/should-christians-be-patriotic

 

 

Wat sal ons nader aan mekaar bring in hierdie land? Die waarheid dat ons almal kinders van die Here is. Die politiek is nie die antwoord nie, vir seker.

 

Ons kan almal terug verwys na ons geskiedenis. Ons het dit saam gedeel. Vir die wat glo in die Here, ons geloof bind ons saam.

 

Geskiedenis en geloof.

 

Ek is ‘n burger van die hemel. Dit is my geloof.

 

Ek is ‘n burger van my land. Dit is ons geskiedenis. En my gebed aan die Here is vir ons toekoms.

Elections 2019

The electorate didn’t really embrace the sentiment in this poster
Ordering some lattes and cappuccinos
Coffee run after voting early in the morning
A new dawn days after the election, same stale politics though
God takes care of His own

Romans

‘Another summer day

Has come and gone away

In Paris and Rome

But I want to go home…’

 

I’ve never been to Paris or Rome but if I did, I’m sure I’d agree with Michael Bublé that I’d want to go home. At least after spending a few days catching the sights. And it’s easy to hum along.

 

So, it looks like no more hunchbacks in Notre-Dame.  At least for a while.

 

While the loss to fire of artefacts and history is incalculable, it occurred to me and I imagine many, many others that Notre-Dame is just a building.

Screenshot of Notre-Dame fire

To my recollection, I’ve only ever been in one cathedral, the Westminster Cathedral in central London. Cathedrals are mostly really old buildings that pre-date anything that resembles a fire code. Any spark can set it off. But they are stunning on the inside.

 

I no longer remember any of the details of the inside of Westminster Cathedral – all I can remember is that I was impressed. You cannot mistake walking into a cathedral like wandering into a fast food restaurant, or ducking into an office space, or entering a kitsch shopping mall. There is only one reason for a cathedral, to worship.

 

In studying the epistle of Romans written by Paul, I came across an idea by Frederick Godet who remarked that Romans is the ‘cathedral of the Christian faith’.

 

Paul wrote a number of epistles to the early churches, addressing local issues and explaining spiritual principles, but none is so theological as his letter to the Romans. Romans was written on Paul’s third missionary journey, probably in the winter of AD 57 while in Corinth.

 

Paul normally wrote his epistles to the Believers at churches he had founded but he had not founded the church in Rome. In fact, in all likelihood, no one had founded the church at Rome. As the centre of the empire, Christians gravitated there and sought each other out. The Believers there had acquired something of a reputation of great faith, so much so that Paul and the rest of the world had heard of them.

 

It was an unlikely place for a Christian fellowship to thrive, in the midst of a pagan empire which zealously promoted the worship of its emperor. And yet they were known for their great faith. Paul was drawn to them and wanted to visit them to encourage them, but equally that they might impart encouragement to him.

 

In a historical irony, Paul never got to willingly go to Rome as he intended. After his arrest however, the Roman empire took him to the capital at government expense for a trial. He eventually made it there and there his journey stopped. Ultimately, Paul was martyred.

 

From reading about Paul, it seems he was always on the way somewhere to do something weighty or important. A driven man you might say.

 

On the way to Damascus to round up Christians for persecution, but meeting Christ on the way and becoming a Christian himself (Acts 9).

 

On the way to Jerusalem to take gifts to the poor Believers there.

 

Eagerly desiring to go to Rome, criss-crossing the Mediterranean basin on three missionary journeys. The guy couldn’t sit still, and where he was forced to because of winter or imprisonment, he wrote epistles.

On pilgrimage

It was while in Corinth on the way to Jerusalem that he wrote his epistle to the Roman Believers. He had recently been warned about the peril waiting for him in Jerusalem (Acts 21:10 – 14) and just in case he didn’t make it, Romans was his theological opus.

 

I’ve only just scratched the surface of Romans, reading about the context and stuff in the first chapter but from my earlier visits to this cathedral I can tell that this is more precious than Notre-Dame, Westminster and St Peter’s combined.

 

Romans is where we can lead an unbeliever through the doorway, crossing the threshold and of the way of salvation, the why’s and how’s:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+3%3A23&version=NIV

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+6%3A23&version=NIV

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+10%3A9+-+12&version=NIV

 

Romans is where I gaze at the foundation and walls that outline the thesis statement of what makes a Christian and how a Christian lives: by faith.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+1%3A16+-+17&version=NIV

 

Romans has the most beautiful stained glass window that I can stare at in wonder but seldom perceive the depths of what it is saying in terms of living in faith and what awaits the Believer after a short time of hardship and pain: glory.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8&version=NIV

 

This will never burn down.

Very early in the morning

Early morning convoy
“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning…” Luke 24:1 NIV
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” Psalm 150:6 NIV
““Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” Luke 24:5, 6 NIV
Mobile sound system
Table mountain in the far distance
Moon in the morning sky
Sun coming up
Christians gathered together
A new day, like the first Easter morning

Eyes front

In October 2008, the USS Theodore Roosevelt visited Cape Town along with the USS Monterey with the latter to enter deployment fighting piracy off the African coast.

 

The Monterey moored in Cape Town and accepted visitors who received tours, and I was rather chuffed to have seen a Ticonderoga class vessel up close. There is no upper limit of cool when you see SH-60 Sea Hawks, CIWS and behold the sight of a network of doors on the deck which at any moment can be opened and missiles of fury launched and directed by a high-tech weapons system that can play chess, write a report and tie your shoelaces at the same time.

 

I was impressed, surrounded by sailors and Marines providing force security. My nerd instinct was to salute, but I knew that a salute would not have been the proper response as I wasn’t enlisted or in uniform and was in fact a civilian.

 

I have still never been anything other than a civilian. And after 11 years I finally remembered to look up what the proper response is to a sailor or Marine (or any member of the armed forces in uniform): to put one’s hand over one’s heart.

Protocol is very important in the military. It denotes respect and the recognition of authority. The junior rank will initiate the salute and the senior rank will return it, with both locking eyes as they do so.

 

https://www.marines.mil/News/Messages/Messages-Display/Article/886473/customs-and-traditions/

 

https://gazette.com/news/things-to-know-about-military-salutes/article_594dc927-480c-56a8-8c09-e252aa925eb2.html

 

For several weeks, I’ve been praying for those who need to get saved, and I think of their posture as those who have their backs turned to Him, perhaps not out of spite, but with their backs turned to Him all the same. I’ve been praying that they would turn their eyes towards Him and recognise His authority.

 

An image from the book of Genesis provides for me an illustration of the posture of those who are living apart from Him. After they sinned, Adam and Eve hid from God. They had to have known that they couldn’t really hide from him. They saw the world that He had created, the stars in the universe that He put in place, seen in the night sky. The biosphere, the robust yet intricate systems apparent to their powers of observation. They had to have known that hiding from Him who sees everything was futile.

 

Did they hide in a bush? In a tree? In a stream bed? I can make a guess about their hiding place, but I reckon I’m not far off when guessing their posture, looking to avoid eye contact, possibly with their backs turned to him. A tragic hide-and-seek with no mirth.

 

So many are like that today, seeking refuge in intellectualism, hedonism, religion. Eyes to the left or right, looking anywhere but in His. Understandably so, for to look in His eyes would be to confess shame, to acknowledge His authority.

 

It occurred to me that professional soldiers – in a throwback to archaic forms of respect – understand authority: possessing it, submitting to it and formulating a culture around it.

 

I thought immediately of the Centurion in the time of Jesus’ ministry who had a sick servant and sent a request for Jesus to heal his servant. Firstly, in that day and age, servants were commodities who were either useful or not. Why would a Gentile military man care for a servant who could be discarded? Secondly, I wondered how he came to adhere to the Spartan, martial culture of Rome, yet adopted a way of looking at the world that was culturally Jewish and in terms of faith very Biblical.

 

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/faith-that-made-jesus-marvel

 

The article writer’s main point is that: “the Centurion recognized divine holiness in Jesus and sinfulness in himself and knew he was not worthy of Jesus’s presence.

He also recognized Jesus’s authority. While Jewish elders asked Jesus questions like, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23), this foreigner knew exactly who Jesus was. ”

In fact Jesus remarks that he had not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. An outsider, adopting new ways who obtains a measure of faith greater than men who had been steeped in faith and morals since birth.

 

The Centurion sent a delegation to demonstrate his faith, firstly to ask for healing, then subsequently to demonstrate that Jesus didn’t even have to be near the servant to heal  him. The centurion knew that authority wasn’t line of sight or within the sound of Jesus’ voice, but a real power that Jesus had to utter the command and it would be done.

 

The centurion’s understanding of authority and the stuff of faith impressed Jesus and it sure impresses me.

 

Posture is everything, in facing your fellow soldiers with respect or even your enemy. But especially your superior.

 

I see people in this world looking away from Him, in either disinterest, or in distraction, or in rebellion.

 

For some, its a prostration en masse towards Mecca and away from Christ; after all, it is written in the mosque at Al Aqsa that God has no son.

 

For others, it’s an intellectual embarrassment for the idea of God which to them seem so fairytale-like and excessively sentimental.

 

For others still, its like the reaction of Adam and Eve, people who would rather not be confronted with their own bent towards selfishness and evil.

 

As for me, this Easter, its eyes front, looking to Him.  Looking back at a cross and an empty tomb.  Looking ahead to a triumphal return.

 

 

God-breathed

Have you ever listened to your own recorded voice? And then thought how you sound way different than you thought you did, possibly disappointed.

 

If I want to, I can turn on my charm or my sense of humour, but my voice is fixed. And sometimes I wish it were deeper, as I’m a dude. One guy who doesn’t have that problem is David Suchet.

 

I have never watched any of the episodes of a particular whodunnit featuring Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective created in literary fiction by the legendary Agatha Christie. I knew of the actor and thespian David Suchet (who portrays Poirot) from one of my favourite action movies in the DVD cabinet, ‘Executive Decision’.

 

In that particular movie, Suchet plays with alarming creepiness, a mesmerizing terrorist leading the hijack of an airplane. Easily his most formidable feature is his voice. And his excessively hairy arms.

 

As Suchet tells it in an interview, he was irreligious, but didn’t know what to do with the passing of his grandfather, with whom he had been close. Thinking about the question of life after death – which Suchet didn’t believe in at the time – he decided to read Scripture. This in a hotel room in Seattle in 1986.

 

https://www.express.co.uk/celebrity-news/363810/David-Suchet-reveals-how-he-found-faith

 

Now the article does’t say, but the question occurs to me…where might an irreligious fellow in a hotel room acquire Scripture? Perhaps the Gideons? Suchet began to read Paul’s letter to the Romans and upon reading the eighth chapter that was when he found faith.

 

No fancy Christian movie, no contemporary Christian song, simply reading Scripture.

There have been times when I have been floored after reading a verse or a passage, but no recent time that I can think of. Recently, I started watching a Louie Giglio series called ‘Breath on a page’. He begins from the verse about all Scripture being inspired:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Timothy+3%3A16+-+17&version=NIV

 

Screen grab of Giglio message series

 

There are a lot of books out there in the world. Some are there for entertainment, some for instruction (like how to do something), but the author always wants to take us to a conclusion using words. Scripture is the only book God wrote, and it is alive.

 

Giglio’s first sermon out of the gate has the setting from Nehemiah chapter 8.

 

To set the scene, Nehemiah wanted to rebuild Jerusalem as the people had been carried away into captivity and the city was defenceless. Having asked permission from the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, where Nehemiah was also in exile, he set out to rebuild Jerusalem, first organizing some fellow exiles to rebuild the wall, and soon thereafter to gather in a city square to listen to Scripture being read by Ezra the priest from first light until noon.

 

They were a people of the Book, who needed to be reacquainted with what it said.

 

The people listening to the Bible being read had a notable reaction: they wept, because they realized they had not been living according to what Scripture said.  That’s because Scripture is living and active. They had no option but to change the way they had been living.

 

Scripture plus a human heart plus the Holy Spirit is a reaction. Without Scripture or the Holy Spirit, my spiritual life is inert.

 

This week it rained and I was thinking about Giglio’s sermon and the plants back at home that were receiving the rain and I remembered this verse:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+55%3A10+-+11&version=NIV

 

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven…” Isaiah 55

 

God’s word is alive and is like rain that causes sprouting and growing wherever it falls.

 

“yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater…” Isaiah 55

 

The Harry Potter series is not alive. The Qur’an is not alive. The Communist Manifesto is not alive. The latest John Grisham legal drama may be entertaining, but it is just words on a page. Not alive. Not breath. Not God’s breath.

 

God’s word is breath on a page leading to a change in the human heart.

 

And yet I’m preaching at myself here a little…there are levels to interacting with Scripture:

 

  • first reading it, then
  • second meditating on it, then
  • lastly applying it.

 

Sitting down, knuckling under and reading Scripture is comparatively easy (you can do it on your Smart-phone). Skim reading is one thing, its quite another to meditate on Scripture, to mull over it and let it brew like a tea bag left in the cup and swished around by the spoon. Its even more difficult to take the next step and after having meditated on Scripture, to be diligent about applying it.

 

Honestly, I struggle often with simply booking some time to simply just read Scripture. I haven’t opened my big Bible since Sunday and its now Saturday.  You might say – in a poor attempt at a joke – that I’ve been ‘phoning it in’, reading short verses on the Smart-phone.

 

Which is why church is so essential, you get to make time, open up your big Bible, and sit under its teaching. Kind of like what Ezra and Nehemiah did all those years ago. Good ideas always work, whether in Nehemiah’s time or now.

 

Her Majesty’s God-squadders

An incident just this past fortnight in London got me thinking.

 

Making a long story short, a street preacher named Olu, near Southgate tube station in London was reported to the police for being ‘Islamophobic’. Reportedly (according to @CConcern) a Muslim member of the public took exception to what this elderly Nigerian street preacher was saying, called his Bible the equivalent of something that can be found in the words where bears go, and became threatening. The police arrived to move the street preacher along, he refused to move and they arrested him under the charge of breaching the peace. Apparently, he was also too loud, but one cannot speak quietly on a street corner and be heard.

 

After one of the policeman whipped the Bible out of the street preacher’s hand, he asked the policeman not to take his Bible, to which the policeman replied that he should have thought of it before being racist.

 

http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/2019/february/christian-radio-personality-uncle-charlie-dead-at-84-ndash-these-were-his-powerful-last-words

 

Leaving aside the question of whether the police or the street preacher could have handled the situation better, I tried to remember what it was like living in London for the 14 months that I was there.

 

It was 1999 going into 2000, a different time: Tony Blair was Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street, Austin Powers was only just getting to wow audiences with his wacky brand of risqué humour, ‘9/11’ wasn’t yet part of our jaded lexicon.

Fish, chips, Mary Poppins, bad weather…London. Also good memories.

I think I get the British outlook: the humour, the pride in a common language and thousands of years of history. I never had a single encounter with a bobby on the beat that I can think of but the impression I get is that policing has changed between back then and now.

 

I don’t remember bumping into too many street preachers, but I do remember being in attendance at a market at Walthamstow – if memory serves. Without any self-consciousness, people were flogging their fruit and vegetables at the top of their lungs.

 

Stand on a street corner in Bellville on any given week-day and you will hear ‘guardtjies’ emitting similarly loud decibels as the taxis try to get customers. In any sense of the word, that would be considered disturbing the peace, much like this nameless street preacher at Southgate. And yet in Walthamstow, in those circumstances, it was perfectly okay.

 

It’s very much an issue of interpretation. However for this to have unfolded on a London street in the way that it did seems like a step in the wrong direction.

 

If I understand Brits at all, they are generally polite, love sports and dogs, appreciate a dry humour, don’t shy away from a moderate level of raunch, have an unfailing sense of fair play and standing up for the underdog, think religion to be a little strange, but nevertheless tolerate it as long as they can launch humour at what they call God-squadders:

 

“evangelical Christians whose members are generally thought to be too forceful in trying to persuade other people to believe as they do”

 

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/god-squad

 

For what I interpret to be a mild embarrassment at religious things, Brits are generally tolerant I think of bumbling vicars and kindly priests. And even God-squadders.

 

British Christianity has also produced some of the most influential people in my life: Matt Redman, Richard Bewes and Paul Blackham. The British and Foreign Bible Society has spread the Gospel tirelessly. Holy Trinity Brompton and the Alpha Course has had a huge impact. Like a rubber ball that has been flung to the far corners of the world with the message of salvation for the rest of the world, the rest of the world has come bouncing back, like a rubber ball, to preach the gospel in London.

 

It’s a very pleasing symmetry.

 

Meanwhile, Olu didn’t get fazed, he was de-arrested and found his way back to the same spot at Southgate. But of course.

Philadelphia

I must confess to being a ‘word nerd’. When the preacher last Sunday at church referenced ‘philadelphios’ as a word describing brotherly love in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, the logical part of my brain immediately began a cross-search coming up with other cultural references.

 

The city of Philadelphia in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is the first capital of what was then the new country of the United States of America. From the time of the First Continental Congress, there have in fact been nine capitals where Congress have met. Washington D.C. isn’t even sloppy seconds, but merely the final home of Congress.

 

https://www.senate.gov/reference/reference_item/Nine_Capitals_of_the_United_States.htm

 

Congress signing the Declaration of Independence is memorialised by Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell as depicted in the 2004 movie ‘National Treasure’.

 

Philadelphia’s less genteel side is depicted by one of her pugilist sons in the award-winning 1976 movie, ‘Rocky’.

 

Back to Thessalonica: Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians acknowledges that the Christian community there was taught by God how to love one another. Christ also specifically taught that Christians are recognized by their mutual love.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Thessalonians+4%3A9+-+12&version=NIVUK

 

That’s supposed to be a mark of Christians in world full of darkness. That everyone will know that we are disciples by way of our love for one another.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+13%3A35&version=NIVUK

 

I briefly squirmed when the preacher suggested that non-Christians are studying the lives of Christians to see whether they are any different.

 

Who might possibly be studying my life? What difference could it possibly make that I live the best I can for Him? At least as far as those who are not following God are concerned? I know they may shake their heads and tsk tsk when I stumble, but could the converse be true?

 

Perhaps it’s not even about me as I tend to be reductionist and bring things down to a personal level. Perhaps its about the Christian community as a whole; the relationships that we have with each other, that work, that are practical and sacrificial.

 

Who wouldn’t want to be part of a community like that? Perhaps, without trying to look like it, the non-Christians are studying us. Twirling their moustaches, squinting to see and studying us.

 

We are all part of intersecting communities. My particular ‘spider-web’ map includes my nuclear family, my extended family, my team back at corporate, Sharks supporters, Durbanites, my ministry family at Ambassadors, my home group on Monday nights.

 

And of supreme importance: part of a family of Believers, amongst whom we all are to function in brotherly love.

 

Philadelphios.

Community snapshots

We should know how to love one another. I must confess that my nature is to be solitary, or at the least very limited and discriminating in the lengths that I go to in being part of gatherings of people. In being hesitant I may miss out on both giving and receiving encouragement.  Check out this list that John Piper put together showing in what ways we are to love each other:

 

(A mere sampling)

 

We are to

  • Love one another with brotherly affection
  • Outdo one another in showing honor
  • Instruct one another
  • Bear one another’s burdens (this is a meaty one)
  • Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ
  • Encourage one another

 

https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/treasuring-christ-together-part-2

 

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians acknowledges that they know how to love one another, but just to add that little bit extra in. Almost to make sure.

 

Brotherly love amongst Believers is like heat. You can measure an absolute zero (minus 273 Kelvin) but there is no such thing as a maximum amount of heat (that I’m aware of). It can always get a little bit hotter.

 

We can always go that extra degree in loving one another.

 

I’ve come to a realization that as Christians we can ‘phone it in’. In other words we can be remote and say all the right things and ‘do community’ without really engaging.

 

An example: in the 1986 movie Highlander, Sean Connery was asked to record the voiceover to the beginning of the movie and apparently recorded it in a bathroom. It sounded fine to the producers over the phone and they signed off on it. Connery only even spent seven days on set and the movie doesn’t suffer for it, I suppose because some classic Bond charm and a Scots accent can cover a multitude of production sins.

 

http://mentalfloss.com/article/66939/15-immortal-facts-about-highlander

 

The church is a far more lasting and important endeavour than mere entertainment, so it’s good to take it seriously. What stands out to me is the idea of us bearing one another’s burdens, the type of things that only families are – or supposed – to do.