The Fight Revisited

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2 Boxers by maecentric

Some time ago I wrote about the spiritual fight we face.  This week I spoke on this theme in my sermon. Here then is an extended text of the original post with embellishments from the pulpit.

In September 1779, the converted merchant ship Bonhomie Richard engaged a new, purpose built frigate off the coast of Flamborough Head.  During the battle the Richard’s flag was shot away. On seeing the ship’s ensign (battle flag) missing the British commander called out: “Have you struck, Sir (a sign of surrender)?” The American commander John Paul Jones quickly responded: “Struck Sir, I have not begun to fight.”

What a great contrast to the words of a different Paul.  On reflecting on his Christian walk Paul of Tarsus remarked: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7 KJV).”

So let us examine the fight.

The scriptures tell us a lot about the fight or tests ahead of us. First of all it takes preparation.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9: 25-26 “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.”  We are fighting for an eternal crown, and with that in the offering, we dare not flail about beating the air. But take our preparation seriously.

So how do we prepare? Easy, God has equipped us!

Ephesians 6:11-18 tells us:

11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

We have a belt of truth and a breastplate of righteousness.  These protect all of our vital organs.  We are not made vulnerable to falsehood and sin, because we are clothed in righteousness and truth.

And we have on our head salvation.  For Jesus, the Emmanuel – “God with Us” is our head.

And we have a shield of faith.  In our faith, no matter how dark it may seem, the assaults of evil can be extinguished – “for He who is in us is greater!”
I have seen some of this darkness, and the assaults on my life and my faith.  Four years ago Dianne and I lost our daughter Ana.  Shortly afterwards I had a heart attack, and yet was still reeling from our loss.  It seemed that no sooner than we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, that Dianne was diagnosed with cancer.  But it was faith that saw us through.  This is not bragging or bravado, but total reliance on Him who sustains.  What a shield!

And then there is the sword:

So often we skip our fencing practice, yet we are armed with a sword of the word of God, that is sharper than any human sword. Hebrews 4 tells us:

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

We have a weapon of mass construction.  We can change the world with it.

God has revealed everything to us in His word that we need for our faith and righteousness.  Yet, we often flounder around, like Paul’s boxer beating the air, seeking for answers in the wrong places.

It’s not about those crowns that won’t last, the fame, the money, the reputation, or whatnot. It is about finding our way in this fight though His word.

Here is something else to consider about the fight:  When Jesus asked His disciples who they believed He was, Peter answered you are the Christ . . . Jesus responded blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, The gates of hell cannot prevail against this truth.  Remember brothers and sisters, gates are a defensive weapon.  We are already on the winning side!

We also don’t stand alone.  We are part of a body.  We are part of a cohort of like minded, believing people.   We don’t need to stand alone.  And chief among those who stand in the fight with us, is our older brother, the First born Jesus.  And if God stands with us, who can stand against us?

Look at what happened at the Valley of Ellah.  The armies of Israel were in disarray.  They had taken to their trenches, and were not prepared to step out to face the challenge of the Philistines.  Why, because they had lost track of the fact that it was God who stood with them.  All they saw was Goliath of Gath.  It took a shepherd boy, who had come to deliver a care package to his older brothers to see the truth of the situation.

When the champion of the Philistines came out and taunted the Hebrews, David asked the telling question.  “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he taunts the armies of the living God.”  This mere boy, took up the challenge.  Not with the armour of Saul, but with a breastplate of righteousness, and a belt of truth.  For as he proclaimed it “Today, they will know there is a God in Israel.”  And what better way to prove it than, a boy armed with a sling and five stones, would with his very first shot, drop a nine foot man of war? If God is for us, who can stand against us?  Remember those defensive gates of evil, are already destined to fall to us.

As did the gates and even walls of Jericho.  The onslaught of the people of God, was assured.  For God had prepared Joshua, and God’s own hand was in the victory.

So what about us? Have we trained? Have we been fitted for our armour? Are we equipped with our shield and sword? Are we prepared to stand boldly like David, or Paul of Tarsus?

Let’s return to Paul’s rather bold claim, that he had fought the good fight and run the good race.

In 2 Corn 11:21-28 he summarises his Christian life:

“Whatever anyone else dares to boast about – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast about.  Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.  Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

Paul of Tarsus in deed fought a good fight on behalf of the gospel. He did so with confidence, and through it all he kept his “eyes on the prize.”

The question for us today is which Paul are we like? John Paul Jones “not yet even beginning to fight” or Paul of Tarsus?

Padre

Lime Blast Smoothie

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Here is another clean bright-tasting summer drink.  It has some citrus blast to it, and I find it really refreshing. Made will both frozen banana and ice, it has a great cooling effect as well.

Ingredients:

  • Limes 2
  • Coconut Milk 400 ml
  • Spinach Leaves 5 or 6
  • Stevia 1 tsp heaped
  • Banana 1
  • Ice 1.5 cups

Method:

Peel and freeze the banana at least 4 hours ahead.  Then when ready to prepare, juice and zest the limes.  Add the zest and juice to a blender. Add the leaves and milk and blitz for 30 seconds to a minute.  Break the banana into pieces and to the blender along with the sweetener and ice.  Blend until smooth and all the banana has been liquefied. makes 2 glasses.

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Beyond General Revelation

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When we come to the topic of God’s revelation to humanity, my students are taught that such manifestations take two forms: General and Specific Revelation.

  • General revelation is the universally available, but indirect revealing of truth. God can be revealed through reason, conscience, the natural world, or moral sense.
  • Specific revelation is direct revelation to an individual or a group. This sort of revelation includes dreams, visions, experience and prophecy, and the scriptures inspired by them.

I have written before about the design and cosmological arguments for the existence of God. These are forms of general revelation via reason.  The experience of the “still small voice” is similarly known and experienced by many, and Cardinal Newman’s moral argument grows from this, and expands upon the moral sense.

Romans 1: 19-25 reflects upon the natural world’s ability to teach the nature and existence of God.  Yet, humanity still fails to recognise it.

” . . .  since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”

This inability, or refusal to recognise general revelation, has led God to directly speak to us.  The prophets were given direct revelation of God.  Their recorded experiences and insights formed the body of scripture, and  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3: 16-17).”

Greater still was the revelation of the coming of Emmanuel.  God came to be with us.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been 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. . . . The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1).”

The gospels contain the testimony of this ultimate revelation of God manifesting Himself. We are the inheritors of these revelations.  We have the prophets, and the gospels. These in our hands and hearts give us all the tools of 2 Timothy 3, but there is more.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).”

We have the means to change the world.  We have the dual revelations of nature, morality, and reason; and the specific God-breathed revelation of scripture.  We are gifted beyond general revelation.

Marshall Keeble said, “You’ve got a book and you can take that book and conquer the world, but you can’t do it with it under your arm. You’ve got to have it in your heart.”  If in our hearts, then we too should be “alive and active,” informing and changing the world.

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Virgin Colada

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The weather is warming up here in the UK, and the East of England enjoyed temperatures of 25 C (upper 70s F) on Friday.  It made me think it is time to start looking at summer coolers and chilled mocktails.  This recipe is for a classic non-alcoholic take on the Piña Colada.  When I was a kid, my parents had a Hawaiian restaurant they liked to visit on special occasions.  One of the treats we kids got was having this mocktail when we visited for a meal.  Rattan furniture, Hawaiian leis, and fruity drinks with paper umbrellas – exotic luxury I assure you.  Well here then is the blast from the past.

Ingredients:

  • Coconut Cream 250 ml/ 8 oz
  • Pineapple Juice 250 ml/ 8 oz
  • Fresh Pineapple 2 rings tinned
  • Ice 1.5 cups

Method:

This is super simple.  Put ice into a blender and add the coconut, juice, and fruit.  Blitz until smooth.  It makes 2 glasses, and can be garnished with an additional pineapple ring or a cherry.

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Coconut Kedgeree Stew

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Kedgeree is another of the Indian dishes which was given a British re-make.  This dish typically made of fish, eggs, rice, and curry became a regular Victorian breakfast dish.  It is now generally made with smoked fish, though salmon or tuna can also make their way into the recipe.  While I enjoy traditional “dry” kedgeree as a breakfast option, I also like a more creamy stew version for an evening meal.  With that said, here a Friday Fish recipe based on the Victorian favourite.

Ingredients:

  • Smoked Haddock 400 – 450 g
  • Coconut Milk 400 g
  • Onion 1 large
  • Peas 1/2 cup
  • Eggs 2 hard boiled (shelled and halved)
  • Curry Paste 2 Tbs
  • Cooked Rice 250 g
  • Oil splash

Method:

Cut the fish into large pieces, and dice the onion. Sweat the onion in a splash of oil in a large pan.  Move the onions to the side of the pan, and fry off the curry paste for 2 minutes in the centre of the pan.  Add the fish. Stir about until fish the fish is coated in the paste and then stir in the coconut milk. Bring to the boil, and add the peas. Then reduce to a low heat. Poach for 3-4 minutes, or until the fish is nearly cooked. Add boiled egg and stir in the rice and simmer for an additional 3 to 4 minutes.

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Simple Carrot and Coriander Soup

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This is another easy to make soup.  It has a nice veggie taste, and only a few ingredients. The turmeric and carrots give it a rich colour, and even with the days getting warmer the soup provides a fresh-feeling meal.

Ingredients:

  • Carrots 5 medium to large
  • Water 1.3 – 1.5 litres
  • Vegetable Stock Cubes 2
  • Coriander Leaf  1 tsp dried
  • Turmeric  1/4 – 1/3 tsp dried

Method:

Peel and slice the carrots and add to a soup pot or soups maker.  Add the dry ingredients and water.  Bring to a high boil and then reduce and allow to stew for 50 minutes to an hour.  Blitz well until it takes a firm even consistency.  A little more coriander can be sprinkled on as a garnish when serving.

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Children Are “More Than A Score”

 

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I recently attended a campaign promotion on alternatives to high stakes testing hosted by Nancy Stewart of TACTYC (Association for Professional Development in Early Years). It was in response to the UK government’s proposed “base line” testing regime for early years and primary education.  Under the proposal all school starters (aged 4) will be given a base-line assessment in their first few weeks of formal education.  This twenty minute exam is envisioned to be used as a measure of attainment at all subsequent educational transitions.  It is supposed to provide quantifiable data by being a statistically objective measure, rather than the “subjective” teacher observation of skills and attainment.

However, Katherine Bailey of CEM (Centre for Evaluation & Monitoring) has stated that the testing regime would be “verging on immoral.” This is two-fold.  First of all it is pointless. Children at this age are not “test savvy,” and it does not take factors such as staff turn-over and school quality into the equation. More importantly it is potentially damaging. It risks labeling of students at the outset of their school journey, and may well lead even more schools to “teach to the test” to make up for “lost ground.” It may make early years education even more formal, and narrow.  The proposal also does not account for individual factors such as Special Educational Needs, English as an Additional Language (the test must be given in English), and summer births (which allows up to eleven month range in “base line” ages).  Poverty and other social disadvantage is also not considered in the measure.

While the proposal states that the results will be “cohort-ed” rather than individual, there remains a provision for schools to be offered a “narrative summary” of the base-line results which show “strengths and weaknesses” which can be used for setting.  These despite the best of intentions may well still result in “labeling.”

If this is compared to some of the current practices, such as synthetic phonics, we find that summer born students are twice as likely to fail phonics tests, and that even the Fisher Family Trust now accepts that “there is little connection” between outcomes and pupil progress at various key stages. In reflecting on this, the Gove era “reforms” have led to half of students entering secondary being marked as “failing” in at least one assessment measure. This has led to even more teaching to the test.

Do we need to complicate this further with yet another level of ever earlier testing? I am not suggesting that testing has no value in education.  What I am saying is it needs to be evidence based, and proportional.  It need not be testing for testing sake, nor merely for government ministers to have a sound bite.

Many other school authorities around the world are moving away from “high stakes” testing.  Australia is moving to holistic projects, and Malaysia has cut back on testing. There are testing alternatives. Children are more than a number.  Raw data does not give a true feeling of “who is the child.”  Data will never give a full picture of a child’s interests and abilities.  It is time we wake up to this.

Padre

The Gifts Within

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On Sunday Sister Ima brought her testimony, which was powerful in its humility, and insight.  The service’s theme was a reflection on the power of “ordinary” Christians to do great things.  Ima spoke about her inward faith, and how it made an impact into the life of her, then non-Christian, husband.  She told how her life of prayer and dedication, not expressions of ostentatiousness, but of simple faith, changed him by her example.  She went on to speak about the misfortune of a work-mate, whose family circumstances left in distress.  Ima, in living up to Christ’s call to “love your neighbour” showed acts of kindness, and has since changed the life of this family, again through prayer and example.

Pastor Vince expanded on this message by talking about some of his recent experiences where whole congregations reached out to touch, pray, and support one another.  Jesus called all Christians to “go into the world.” And in order to prepare us for this call, He has equipped each of us with the gifts necessary to fulfill to roles given to us by His Spirit.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4: 11-12).”

But not only these,

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines (1 Corinthians 12: 4-11).”

“Just as He determines.” We are gifted in building up the body.  Not all are pastors, but this does not mean that we “leave the work to the pastors.”  We each have gifts. We may only lack the confidence to use them.

I have had several Wizard of Oz moments recently.  Okay, some background first, I am a theologian and ecclesiastical historian. I have training, education, and experience.  But the Spirit is more powerful than any university or education system. He gives Christians the gifts mentioned. I am at times humbled by the knowledge and faith of my brothers and sisters.  I love learning from them!  Yes, I learn as they offer insights and experiences beyond my “book learning.”  This is not to say that I have nothing to offer, but it is all in the balance that Christ has constructed a body “just as He determines,” each uplifting and complimenting the gifts of others.

For those lacking confidence, trust in Him who is in you.  Remember the Wizard of Oz gave nothing to the Lion or Tin Man they didn’t already have within them.

Padre

 

A Liverpool Visit

I recently made a visit to Merseyside and the city of Liverpool. I lived in the area briefly back in the 80s and have fond memories of my day trips to the city. My recent visit took me to some familiar places, but also some new ones.  For instance this was my first ever visit to Liverpool’s Chinatown.

Liverpool’s Chinatown is not as large as some others, but is still distinctive with a magnificent gate, lions, dragons, and lanterns. There are a few Chinese businesses, and it is a nice photo op point of call.

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Albert Dock Area

On the waterfront there are several great attractions. At Albert Dock there is the Museum of Slavery, The Beatles Experience, and loads of eateries and cafes.

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Beatles Experience

Further along at the King’s Dock area is the convention centre, the Echo Arena, and the Liverpool Wheel.  The dock also has the John Lennon Peace Memorial.

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Arena and Liverpool Wheel

The Wheel of Liverpool, is 196 feet (60 m) tall, and has 42 fully enclosed capsules. This attraction is worth the effort and the money. The wheel provides good views of both sides of the Mersey and especially of the Albert Dock area, the cathedrals and the Royal Liver Building. We went on a drizzly day but the views were still good, and with four revolutions of the wheel, we were able to photograph the thing we wanted. I have noted it was worth the money, but that being said we did have a discount voucher.
The Arena hosts concerts and other similar events, and top rate acts play here.
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Royal Liver Building

The Royal Liver is another of the must see landmarks in the city.  The clock towers and Liver Birds are iconic and can be seen from across the river and from much of the city centre. A memorial to the Titanic stands nearby as well.

On our last two stays in Liverpool we used the Pullman Hotel.  This is a luxury hotel, which is not billed as such. This is one of, if not the best, hotel experiences we have ever had. This modern, accessible hotel ticks all the boxes. On arrival, there is no “check in counter” but rather members of staff there to greet you one on one, and take all of your details electronically cutting down that aspect of the experience. This gets you into your room quickly and efficiently. The staff are courteous, and go the extra mile to make you feel welcome. On our arrival, we were helped with all of our bags to the room, and then we were allowed to inspect the room for its suitability (disability issues were very definitely being respected and catered to) before getting settled in. The room (204) was large, with a super large bed, wide screen tv, and a bathroom with both a bath and shower stall. The floors were hard wood, and the bathroom mosaic tiled. The in room fridge was a useful and closet space abundant. Breakfast is buffet style though eggs can be made to order. There was a wide range of fresh juices, breads, and pastries as well. Sleep quality was outstanding, with a comfortable bed, great temperature control, and no external noise interference at all. To return to service, this is the biggest strength of this hotel. Members of staff took the time to listen to needs, or just be friendly. Real concern was shown to our health needs, and adjustments were made to make our stay as perfect as possible.

 

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Blueberry-Beetroot Smoothie

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This is a colourful and tasty smoothie.  It has that veg edge, without losing its fruity qualities.  I can be given extra sweetening, though I have not found it necessary (unless the berries are tart to start with). It is a nice breakfast drink to set you up for the day.

Ingredients:

  • Banana 1
  • Beetroot 1/2 cooked/boiled (not pickled)
  • Blueberries 1/2 cup
  • Coconut Milk 300-330 ml
  • Stevia 1 tsp (optional)

Method:

Peel and freeze the banana 4 hours to a day in advance. When ready to prepare, break the banana into pieces and drop into a blender. Dice the beetroot into small pieces and preserve any juice.  Put these and the berries into the blender along with the sweetener (if used).  Add the milk and blend until a consistent smooth texture.  There is no need to add ice, as the frozen banana will chill and thicken the mix.  Serve in a large glass.

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