Have you ever thought about flies? They can ruin a picknic without trying very hard. Ponder how different religions and philosophies look at these irritating insects. The Egyptians worshipped them as gods. Plato said flies are just prisons for badly behaved souls? Materialists contend that flies are just items for sale? (£1 per item) Do you know what Scripture tells us about them? The book of Colossians tells us that bluebottles were made by and for Jesus? Jesus is Lord of all… even bluebottles.
In 1998 Geoff Smith spent 147 days buried in a coffin six feet under a pub garden in Mansfield reclaiming a world record set by his mother, Emma, thirty years earlier. Food, water and human waste were transported through a plastic tube!
There are three ways of looking at this story.
1) "Geoff – you are a nutter. You could have supped foaming pints of real ale in the pub garden like any normal person. Don't bury yourself alive."
2) "Geoff – You are an incredible bloke. You have been true to yourself. Burying yourself alive rocks! Your mum would be so proud of you."
3) "Geoff – There is absolutely no point burying yourself alive in a pub garden setting. Jesus died, was buried and came back from the grave after three days. Focus on that good news and not on getting your name into the Guinness book of records."
Glenn Hoddle was born in the suburbs of London in 1957. He became one of the most exciting and gifted footballers ever to play for England. In 1998 he was sacked from his job as the manager of the England team because of the following comments he made in an interview –
You have to come back to learn and face some of the things you have done, good and bad. You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap.
In Italy, Rome's La Republica, below the headline, "Sacked Because of Karma," suggested that Hoddle may be the first man of the modern age to lose his job for his religious beliefs. Can you imagine a manager being sacked for being an atheist?
A woman living in India was asked why she wouldn’t take her baby son to the doctor. He was very ill. She replied that the illness was part of the boy’s karma and he was being punished for something he had done in a previous life. She asserted that it was the boy’s fate to suffer! Many Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation and karma. When people suffer in this life they are being punished for deeds they have performed in previous lives.
Creative Evangelistic Spiel
"With karma you always get what you deserve, reincarnation in a rat, a shrimp or a deaf person. With Jesus you get what you don't deserve: God's love, the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life."
There are four way of looking at this story!
- When you die you rot! (Materialist view)
- When you die you get the afterlife you want (Relativist view)
- When you die you come back disabled if you have bad karma (Hoddle's view)
- When you die you are waiting for the resurrection if you love and follow Jesus. (Jesus' view, study John 6:35-59)
Is it possible to be an agnostic? Many would say yes! I say – no!
The idea of being an agnostic goes completely against the idea of 'worldview'. Worldviews are not intellectual ideas. Worldviews are the 'Big Stories' that can mug us and captivate our lives and imaginations. These stories are often invisible and under the surface. You have to dig them out. It’s hard work! We are talking about the deep, spiritual commitments that drive our lives.
Now the agnostic believes that he or she can simply ignore all this. She can sit on the fence. She can be the detached observer of worldviews without having a worldview herself!
This is very misleading. The agnostic has to live in a particular way. The agnostic has to live in a story. By being born we enter a world of choices and decisions. Show me a self-proclaimed agnostic and her bank statement will tell me what she is hiding. The way we make and use our moolah betrays the Story that we trust in. Those who call themselves agnostics are often materialist believers who live in the western story. Often they are blissfully unaware that they are living in a story.
Today we must challenge the epithet 'agnostic'. It is dangerously misleading and spiritually bankrupt.
- Follow me Sobek, the crocodile god. I am a fertility god and far more powerful than Heqet, the ugly frog god. I am virile beyond belief…
- Follow me Baal! I am a Canaanite fertility god and I promise to bless your harvests if you will only give me your children…
- Follow me Artemis, the goddess of hunting. I love my gladiator servants who kill wild animals in the Colisseum. I sponsor temple prostitutes and a tidy silver shrine business.
- Follow me Sulis-Minerva – Curse your enemies with my magical, supernatural power. That man who stole your toga is toast!
- Follow the stars and fate – we can tell you exactly what is fated for you – so relax, sit back and endure the journey. If you are a child abuser like Tiberius…don’t worry – you can’t help it.
- Follow me the divine Number 10. I am the never-swerving, the never-tiring holy ten, the keyholder of all.
- Follow me the god of sensual pleasure. Let us eat, drink and be merry. Focus please on wine, courtesans and orgies. (Aristippus)
- Follow me the tranquillity god. I will give you inner peace as you relax in your garden and make friends (Epicurus)
- Follow me the god reason. Think pure thoughts and enslave thick people (Aristotle)
- Follow me the pantheist god reason and endure your fate Stiff upper lip old boy! (Marcus Aurelius)
- Follow the gods of technology and the internet and there will be an end to hunger, disease, poverty, war and ignorance. (Byron Reese)
- Follow the poetry gods. Be unique. Dare to be who you want to be. Let no-one challenge your autonomy.
- Follow Pompey, the football god I will ruin your marriage, family and finances but trust in me! (John Westwood)
- Follow the scientific materialist way of life. Behold you are a computer made of meat. You are a machine with no intrinsic value.
- Follow me the money god. I will show you how to garner a great fortune. You will exhaust yourself in making the filthy lucre and then die in a mansion with no friends.
- Follow your heart and become who you want to be. Trust in your instincts and follow your sacred dreams.
- Follow Krishna. Forsake the world and live on your own in the temple. Your wife and kids will look after you as you seek enlightenment. Forget them and follow me.
- Follow the way of the Bardo and find release from karma and reincarnation. (Tibetan Book of the Dead)
- Follow me the god of Christian Science. My name is Mary Baker Eddy and I have spent many hours contacting dead people and they have told me the truth. There is no sickness and evil. It’s all an illusion. Trust me and my special teachings!
- Follow me Seth, the spirit guide. You, the worshipper, are ignorant of your deity. It is foolish to repent of your sins. Sin and evil are illusions.
In his famous sermon on the mount, Jesus calls his disciples to live in a radically new way. He challenges all his followers to love their enemies. This can be very difficult for sinful human beings who are prone to hatred, idolatry and evil thoughts. Hendrik Witbooi was a black African general who loved his enemies. He treated his German enemies with amazing mercy when they were destroying Hendrik's tribe. He loved his enemies in a war zone.
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your father in heaven.
Hendrik Witbooi was a king of the Nama people and he lived in the part of Africa we now call Namibia. His face is portrayed on the obverse of all Namibian dollar banknotes. He served God as a general of the Nama army when his tribe was attacked by the German army.
In the war (1904-1905) Hendrik went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the safety of German non-combatants, women and children. This deeply Christian man made sure that ‘enemy’ civilians were completely unharmed. His soldiers escorted German women, children and farmers back to the German lines. He treated his prisoners with the utmost respect because he believed that all people are created in the image and likeness of God.
His behaviour in the war can be contrasted with the German General Lothar von Trotha (1848-1920) who defeated the Herero (another African tribe) army at the battle of Waterburg. Callously von Trotha drove the Hereros into the desert of Omahake where many of the Herero combatants died of thirst.
The German soldiers were ordered to poison all the water-holes in the region and they were ordered to take no prisoners and to do nothing for the remaining women and children. Many of them were either shot or abandoned in the desert. The Herero population, which in 1904 had numbered about 80,000 people, had been reduced to fewer than 20,000 one year later. Von Trotha referred to the Nama and Hereros tribes as 'cattle' or 'stock'! He ordered his soldiers to kill 'enemy' women and children. Many of the Nama tribe were also slaughtered by the German army.
Again it is very instructive to compare and contrast two soldiers. The black, African general Hendrik Witbooi followed the Lord Jesus and the white, German general Von Trotha did not.
Be inspired by this story of faith in action!
August Francke was a preacher. pastor and professor of theology and he lived in Halle which is near Leipzig in Germany. Francke had a huge influence on George Müller, the famous orphan lover.
By a series of wonderful and providential events, he completed a huge building whose programmes included – a library of over 20,000 volumes, six schools, an orphanage, a home for poor widows, a hospital, an establishment for strolling beggars, a museum of natural history and a printing house devoted to making Bibles, hymnals and Christian literature. This man had both faith and a broad cultural vision. He reminds me of both William Carey and Abraham Kuyper.
One day he had to pay the construction workers but he did not have any ‘geld’ and so he prayed to God for provision. At the end of that day, the paymaster came and asked if he was going to be able to pay the labourers. The answer was – no. Just then a student knocked on the door and reported that someone who wished to remain anonymous had brought a pouch with thirty gold talers. Francke then went back into the other room and asked the foreman how much was needed for the payment of the builders. He replied, “Thirty talers.” Francke said, “Here they are,” and asked if he needed more. He said, “No.”’
Francke said this event strengthened the faith of both him and the foreman and they “recognized so evidently the wonderful hand of God.”
One day when he desperately needed funds to carry on his work, a destitute Christian widow came to his door begging for one gold ducat. Hard up, he politely but regretfully refused. Disheartened, the woman was so desperate she sat down and began to cry.
Moved by her tears, Francke asked her to wait while he went to his room to pray about the matter. Seeking God’s guidance, he felt that the Holy Spirit wanted him to grant the request. Trusting the Lord to meet his own pressing needs, he gave her the money.
Two mornings later he received a warm letter of thanks from the widow saying that because of his generosity she had asked the Lord to shower the orphanage with gifts. That same day he received 12 ducats from a rich lady and two from a friend in Sweden.
He thought he had been amply rewarded, but shortly afterward he was informed that Prince Lodewyk Van Wurtenburg had died, and in his will had directed that 500 gold pieces be given to the orphanage! Francke wept in gratitude.
In the year 1727, when Francke died, there were in all the schools connected with his establishment two thousand two hundred pupils!
When William Tyndale lived there was a great deal of discussion about the heart of the Christian faith. In medieval times the Roman Catholic church taught Christians that only priests, monks and nuns had proper callings. The rest (the laity) were without proper callings as they struggled to put bread on the table, jam on spoons, nappies on babies and manure on the fields. At the very top of this hierarchy was the Pope. Then came the cardinals, the archbishops and the bishops. Next were the priest and the deacons. Beneath these church-focused callings came the laity. At the very bottom of the laity were men and women who made shoes. William Tyndale was to get into a great deal of trouble for saying nice things about cobblers!
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
William Tyndale was a great Christian leader in the 16th century. Little is known about his childhood. Tyndale was born in about 1494 in Gloucestershire. His family were well off and William was encouraged to read and learn. In 1515 he went to Oxford University where he began studying theology. However he was very troubled that studying the subject did not involve reading the Bible! At that time the Church neglected the Bible. Many of the clergy were very ignorant of Scripture. William Tyndale was a godly man and he began studying the Bible himself and took great care to understand the teachings of Jesus.
Tyndale returned to Gloucestershire and he got a job as a tutor to the children of Sir John Walsh. Tyndale also became a popular preacher. He was passionate to teach people about the Bible and he soon found himself accused of heresy (false teaching).
William Tyndale was keen to translate the New Testament from Greek into English. (Tyndale was a brilliant linguist and he was fluent in Greek, Latin, Spanish, French and German. He later taught himself Hebrew). However Tyndale needed permission to translate it and in 1523 he went to London. While in London Tyndale continued his preaching. However he was unable to obtain permission to translate the New Testament. Eventually Tyndale realized he would never be allowed to translate it while in England so in 1524 he moved to Germany.
William Tyndale translated the New Testament from the original Greek into English. The new translation was printed in 1526 and copies were smuggled into England. Catholics in England were alarmed. The bishop of London banned the new translation calling it ‘that pestiferous (breeding disease) and most pernicious poison dispersed throughout our diocese of London’. In October 1526 he burned copies of the New Testament. However despite the bishop burning copies of the book it continued to circulate.
In 1538 William Tyndale published a book called The Parable of the Wicked Mammon. (Mammon is an old word meaning material wealth). It was banned in England in 1530. In 1528 Tyndale published a book called The Obedience of a Christian Man in which he attacked the corruption and superstition which was rife in the Church in England at that time. He then began translating the Old Testament from Hebrew into English.
Tyndale became very unpopular with many Catholic people because he taught that:
There is no work better than another to please God; to pour water, to wash dishes, to be a souter (cobbler) or an apostle, all is one; to wash dishes and to preach is all one, as touching the deed, to please God.
Tyndale had discovered a wonderful truth in the Bible. Ordinary people (cobblers, carpenters, cleaners etc) can serve God without becoming priests, bishops or monks. He argued that all Christians are priests and can spill the aroma of Jesus as they bake pies, make shoes and clean dirty ovens!
Sadly in May 1535 William Tyndale was betrayed by an Englishman called Henry Phillips. He was arrested and tried for heresy. Finally in October 1536 Tyndale was martyred. He was strangled then burned in the market square of Antwerp. The last words of William Tyndale were 'Lord open the King of England’s eyes'.
It is the mark of a true Christian to love both God and neighbour. It is very instructive to compare and contrast the lives of John Westwood and Gilberto da Silva. Both men love football but one does this in a good way and the other in a bad way. John has a tattoo on his chest that tells us what he really believes – "I'm Portsmouth till I die". Gilberto da Silva was a brilliant defensive midfield player who played football to the glory of God. He gave up professional football for six months in order to care for his mother when she became ill. What a role model he is!
Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment.
Gilberto Silva is a former Brazilian player who also played for Arsenal as a defensive midfield player. He has very strong Christian beliefs. For example as a young, highly promising professional, he gave up football for 6 months in order to be with his mum when she was very ill. He wanted to support his family both emotionally and economically. All his friends thought he was totally crazy! But Gilberto lacked their tunnel vision.
Thankfully his mother did not die but recovered. He says – "I believe in God. I know a lot of people who don’t. I am a Catholic and I think when you make a sacrifice in your life you are repaid in the future – and that’s what happened with me."
He is now very grateful to God for his present happy life. He is very glad he can help his family, friends and their children.
A few years ago he helped support a 17-day tour of Brazil by a group of homeless players from the UK. Organized by Street League, a scheme for homeless refugees and asylum-seekers, it gave the group a chance to see that life in Brazil can be even tougher than here. A delighted Gilberto revealed that, since returning, one player had joined a club, another was coaching and a third had landed a decent job.
Although Brazil has many problems Gilberto stresses that he grew up in a poor village where everyone knew each other and were very friendly and cooperative. Gilberto loves football but in a way that honours the teachings of Jesus.
The first recorded gladiatorial combat in Rome occurred when three pairs of gladiators fought to the death during the funeral of Junius Brutus in 264 BCE, though others may have been held earlier. During the height of the Roman empire thousands of men and women were killed in the Coliseum in Rome. Many Christians refused to attend these violent games but for many it was ‘just entertainment’. Few people know that it was a Christian monk who brought the games to an end in the early fifth century. Unfortunately Telemachus was stoned to death for his faith!
In the world you will have trouble, but fear not I have overcome the world.
John 16: 33
In the fifth century a monk named Telemachus from Asia (modern day Turkey) was led by an inner voice to go to Rome without knowing why. He followed the crowds to the Coliseum. Two gladiators were fighting, and Telemachus tried to get between them to stop them, shouting three times, "In the name of Christ, forbear!" Telemachus was then stoned to death by the furious crowd enraged that someone would dare to interfere with their 'entertainment'. Because of Telemachus' death, three days later, the Emperor by decree ended the Games.