Month: December 2010

Christians love to eat

The Royal Variety Performance is an amazing collection of entertainment acts performed just before Christmas each year. This year Michael McIntyre was tasked with hosting it, and he inadvertently said something quite profound.

About 7 minutes in, he commented that Christmas is characterised in this country by overeating, then went on to compare the celebration of holidays in different religions.

Christians love to eat to excess on their holidays. Other religions starve themselves on holidays. Jewish people have a holiday – they starve themselves. Muslims have a holiday – they starve themselves. It’s almost like Christians have had somebody look through the Bible for opportunities to eat to excess.

Along with Christmas, Michael McIntyre points out that we celebrate Christian holidays by eating pancakes, hot cross buns and Easter eggs. Obviously he was using the term Christian in the loosest sense of the term, and it is to be hoped that Christians do not overeat, but the essential point is an interesting one. Why do Christians eat rather than fast to celebrate a holiday?

Essentially it is because the holidays have a completely opposite purpose from other religions’ holidays, so it is wholly unsurprising that the method of observance is opposite. A Jew might fast to observe Yom Kippur in order to receive forgiveness, or a Muslim might fast to observe Ramadan in order to to please Allah more, but the Christian has a totally different intention when celebrating Christmas or Easter.

Christians eat because they are celebrating the past, not earning the future.

A Christian’s forgiveness is not earned by the Christian, but by Jesus. They are pleasing to God not because of their own actions, but because of Jesus’. It is Jesus’ life and death at the centre of Christianity, and it is Jesus’ life and death which give a Christian salvation despite their sin. It is Jesus who won our salvation by taking our punishment, leaving us guiltless in God’s sight. All the great blessings a Christian has from God are appropriated by Jesus. No wonder Christians look back and celebrate! In his classic book The Cross of Christ, John Stott rightly refers to Christians as ‘The community of celebration’. Christianity stands apart from other religions in that it is good news worthy of celebration. Most Christians, including myself, suffer from the problem of not celebrating it enough!

Anarchy and massacre

One of the BBC reports on the October massacre in a Iraqi Catholic church set me thinking on two counts. I’ve already given a few thoughts on the dilemma Christians face of staying or leaving Iraq, so now I want to pick up a completely separate quote from the same article. Ignatius Metti Metok, who believes Christians should stay in Iraq, commented:

Before the change of regime seven years ago, we didn’t have massacres like this.

I recently heard a Mark Dever sermon entitled Jesus paid taxes, and he made the point that any government is better than anarchy, because it reflects God’s authority and justice, even if only poorly. There are many reasons why Saddam Hussein’s government was not ideal, but it was government. Maybe not good government, but government nonetheless. It was raised up by God for the good of the Iraqi people. Now Iraq is in the unenviable position of having recently set the world record for the longest period of time to form a government, and it was during this period that the infamous attack occurred.

I wonder how often Christians are thankful for the governing authorities there are over us, especially when they do things we disagree with? They may not support the spread of the gospel, they may even try to curb it, but they are a sign of God’s mercy in giving us some degree of order.

An interesting point that Dever raised in his sermon was that the government both Jesus and Paul commanded civil obedience to was the same Roman empire that killed both the Messiah and the majority of the apostles, then persecuted Christians for centuries. If this authority is to be obeyed as stewards of God’s authority, what government isn’t?

To be killed or to be alive?

One of the BBC reports on the October massacre in a Iraqi Catholic church set me thinking on two counts. I’ll come onto the second later this week, but for now I want to focus on the differing perspective of two Iraqi Christian leaders, one in Iraq and one who has moved to the UK. I essentially know nothing about either of them, and I’m certainly not in a position to comment on their standing before God, but I did think their differences were interesting.

A senior Iraqi cleric in London, Archbishop Athanasios Dawood, called on Iraqi Christians to flee the country because it was so dangerous. “If we stay, they will kill us,” he told the BBC after addressing a congregation of Iraqi Orthodox Christians at a service in London. “Which is better, to flee or to stay? To be killed or to be alive? But when I say ‘leave’, my heart is injured inside.”

Here the concern was physical safety. Clearly the decision to leave his own country and his own people was a painful one, but Archbishop Dawood felt it necessary. Much as he wanted to stay, the desire to be alive was stronger.

Compare and contrast.

In Baghdad itself, both Church leaders and Christian politicians seemed unanimous in urging their communities to stay. … “We have to stay here, whatever the sacrifices, to bear witness to our faith.”

Doubtless Ignatius Metti Metok, the Syriac Catholic Bishop of Baghdad, also wants to live. Doubtless he also wants to be safe. But more important than his safety is his witness to his faith. He answers Archbishop Dawood’s question – it is better to stay. To potentially be killed. To bear witness to his faith.

I’ve never lived anywhere like Iraq. I’m supremely unqualified to pass judgement on the decisions of any Iraqi Christians to stay or leave the country as I can’t imagine the strength of conflicting emotion there must be in such a choice. But I do find it an interesting contrast of priorities.

I wonder what’s gonna happen to Harry Brown now?

This weekend I was planning to be at UCCF’s Biblical Evangelism Conference, which I believe is essentially a weekend of training on giving evangelistic talks from the Bible (though the snow meant I ended up not going). In keeping with that, I though it might be worth commenting on two quotes I came across a while ago from quite different sources.

The first is from a BBC interview which Mark Lawson conducted with Sir Michael Caine.  At one point (3:42 into the linked clip) Michael Caine says

If the audience is sitting there saying ‘Oh, isn’t Michael Caine a wonderful actor!’ then I’ve done it all wrong. They should be saying ‘I wonder what’s gonna happen to Harry Brown now?’

Michael Caine wants to be transparent, a mere window into the character he is portraying. His only intention is to reveal to us Harry Brown. There is a strong parallel with how Jesus lived, perfectly revealing His Father.

As I and others learn about giving evangelistic talks, this is how we need to speak. We are not to point to ourselves, but to another. If the audience is sitting there saying ‘Oh, isn’t Tim a wonderful speaker!’ then I’ve done it all wrong.

During the 1880s a group of American ministers visited England, prompted especially by a desire to hear some of celebrated preachers of that land.

On a Sunday morning they attended the City Temple where Dr. Joseph Parker was the pastor. Some two thousand people filled the building, and Parker’s forceful personality dominated the service. His voice was commanding, his language descriptive, his imagination lively, and his manner animated. The sermon was scriptural, the congregation hung upon his words, and the Americans came away saying, “What a wonderful preacher is Joseph Parker!”

In the evening they went to hear Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The building was much larger than the City Temple, and the congregation was more than twice the size. Spurgeon’s voice was much more expressive and moving and his oratory noticeably superior. But they soon forgot all about the great building, the immense congregation, and the magnificent voice. They even overlooked their intention to compare the various features of the two preachers, and when the service was over they found themselves saying, “What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus Christ!”

Spurgeon: a new biography by Arnold Dallimore, p216