Category Archives: Film

Etta James, R.I.P.

Soul and blues singer Etta James has died at the age of 73. She was rarely in the pop charts, although her biggest success – her cover of Muddy Waters‘ ‘I just want to make love to you’ – reached number 5 in Britain in 1996, but that was on the back of its inclusion in a Diet Coke advertisement:

Various reports around the web (including the BBC one to which I link above) give accounts of her life and music, so I won’t repeat that here. Suffice to say that she was born into disadvantage, like many early soul stars she began singing in church, she was only intermittently successful in her career and she had to conquer a long addiction to heroin. Not all her music was as brassy, bold and lustful as ‘I just want to make love to you.’ The song that became a wedding favourite, ‘At last’, was lush and gentle, with supper club overtones:

‘I’d rather go blind’ was poignant and melancholy, in the Southern Soul tradition:


Etta James was one who never reached superstardom. She flew just under the radar for much of her career. Occasionally she was recognised. In the last few years that happened in the wake of Beyoncé‘s portrayal of her in the 2008 film ‘Cadillac Records‘.

Most of us spend our lives flying under the radar, barely or fleetingly recognised. Fame and fortune are no ways to sustain life and self-esteem, but lack of affirmation can destroy it, too. I guess when Etta James was singing in her grandparents’ Baptist church, she heard a message about a God who loved her dearly. In the end, there is nothing better to sustain any of us than the knowledge that we are loved with an everlasting love. Even Jesus evidently needed to hear that message at his baptism.

So rest in peace, Ms James. You had soul. We heard it. You were loved. We all are.

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Peter Pan And Tintin: Icons For Today?

“Peter Pan is a lesbian.”

So said a seven-year-old to me, after he had seen the local pantomime. Sitting with my own seven-year-old who wouldn’t have a clue what a lesbian is, I didn’t know where to put my face.

“I’m right,” he added, “Peter Pan is played by a girl.”

All I thought was, just wait until you meet the  Ugly Sisters in Cinderella.

We saw Peter Pan a couple of days ago. It was a high quality production, with all the usual panto formulae. Oh yes it was …

But whereas in past generations Peter Pan was seen as inadequate because he didn’t want to grow up, is he now a hero? He conquers Captain Hook while remaining a child. Are we in a culture that doesn’t want to grow up? Having spent time before the performance in two or three shops selling computer games, where our children purchased games and accessories for their Nintendos, but where the majority of purchasers were adults, I do wonder whether we are filling our society with Peter Pans.
On the other hand, yesterday we took the children to see the incredible Spielberg animation of The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. That painted a more positive image of youth. Tintin is young, but in a job as a reporter (whereas Peter Pan explicitly doesn’t want an office job). Yet he is the one who shows courage to help the older, alcoholic Captain Haddock – with the one exception of where he wants to give up and Haddock tells him, ‘When you face a brick wall, push through it.’

The New Testament expects people to grow into maturity. Paul’s goal for the Colossians is that he will be able to present everyone mature in Christ. In Ephesians 4, there is a notion of the church ‘growing up’. Is maturity an increasingly alien notion today, when we say that 40 is the new 30 and 70 is the new 50? Do we prefer not to delay gratification but to keep on gratifying ourselves? Is that the inevitable consequence of consumerism, or is this all just about increased life expectancy? Which model do we offer young people, young Christians – Peter Pan or Tintin?

Either way, what would Christian maturity look like today, and in what ways would it be counter-cultural?

Sermon: The Holy Spirit And Mission

Acts 2:14-41

You may remember the 1984 film Amadeus, about the life of Mozart and his rival Salieri. There is a famous scene where Mozart receives a backhanded compliment. The Emperor Joseph II says to him,

My dear young man, don’t take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It’s quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that’s all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.

To which Mozart replies,

Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?

A sermon topic like today’s runs that risk – too many notes. When we think about the Holy Spirit and mission, there is so much to say. Hence if I don’t cover your favourite theme within this strand today, I’m sorry. But don’t worry, I’m sure it will pop up elsewhere, either in this sermon series or at other times.

So if you wanted to hear about the way the Holy Spirit goes ahead of us and prepares the way in mission – fear not, you’ll hear me talk about that on various occasions. If you wanted me to cover the use of spiritual gifts – well, they get their own billing later in the series.

Excuse me, then, if I limit myself to the big themes here in Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. They will give us an outline, and on other occasions we can fill in some detail. After all, you wouldn’t want a preacher with ‘too many notes’, would you?
Here’s the first strand. At college, one of my friends had a well-worn T-shirt which reflected another 1980s film with a musical theme: The Blues Brothers. Ian’s T-shirt had the slogan from the film: ‘We’re on a mission from God.’ These days, Ian is respectable in the church, with a PhD and a job as a theological college principal!

But the story of the film is of a man being released from prison, only to find that the Catholic home where he and his brother were raised by nuns is under threat of closure if it cannot pay a tax bill. They reform their old band and seek to raise the funds. Hence, ‘We’re on a mission from God.’

And the first part of Peter’s sermon shows that we all are on a mission from God when the Spirit comes. This is about the universal nature of the Spirit’s work in mission. The Spirit makes mission from all to all – from all in the church, to all in the world.

All that talk about blood and fire, billows of smoke, the sun going dark and the moon like blood (verses 19-20)? It’s not a weather forecast! It’s dramatic language, underpinning the basic point that this work of the Spirit to use all God’s people to reach all people with God’s love in Christ is an earth-shattering, game-changing moment. This is a great ‘day of the Lord’ (verse 20) when ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (verse 21), because God has poured out his Spirit on all people (verse 17), to the extent male and female, young and old, slaves as well as free will dream, have visions and prophesy (verses 17-18).

Yes, all of God’s people are equipped to prophesy, to speak God’s message boldly. Well did one preacher say that the Bible doesn’t just teach the famous Reformation slogan of the priesthood of all believers, it teaches the prophethood of al believers. When you say that only certain ranks of people in the church are ‘good enough’ for certain tasks, you forget that God has poured out the Spirit on all his people for his mission. Granted, we each have distinct gifts, but the Spirit comes on all who profess faith in Christ, and one reason for that is we are all ordained. God ordains all of us into the work of his mission.

Or, put it this way: we are not all evangelists, but we are all witnesses. We may not be able to explain and answer everything, but like a witness in a court case, we can all say what we have seen and what has happened to us. We can all talk about what Jesus has done for us. The Holy Spirit has come into our lives, and equipped us to do that.

This is not a threat or a demand, it is a promise. It fulfils the promise Jesus made about the coming of the Spirit before his Ascension: ‘You will be my witnesses.’ That isn’t an order, it’s a promise. When the Spirit comes, we are all ordained into the universal mission of God’s saving love: from all, to all.

The second strand in the Holy Spirit’s mission work here is this: it’s all about Jesus. For the rest of Peter’s sermon, he goes on and on about Jesus (verses 22-36). This is who he is. This is what he has done. This is how you have reacted to him so far. This is what you need to do about him. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

This amplifies what I’ve just said about us all being witnesses. Some of you may be familiar with a Christian website called Ship of Fools, a site which includes humorous sections such as Gadgets for God, featuring the latest in tacky Christian memorabilia, a Caption Competition, Signs and Blunders, through Mystery Worshipper reports on church service around the world, to serious discussion of pressing issues.

Ship of Fools started life as a print magazine in the early 1980s. I know, because I was one of the subscribers. In one of those issues, they carried a cartoon strip article called ‘Born Again Testimonies’. ‘You may be – but has your testimony been born again?’ the article asked. It depicted Christians who were discouraged that the story of their spiritual experience was not as dramatic and exciting as that commonly portrayed in Christian testimony books. It offered a rewriting of your story by Hollywood scriptwriters, plastic surgery, dental and gymnastic care, all to make you ready for the platform of an evangelist at a crusade.

I suspect it touched a raw nerve, because it hit on a feeling I’ve noticed among regular churchgoers. “I don’t have a Damascus Road experience to talk about, so my testimony will count for nothing.” If you haven’t been a drug dealer, a bank robber or a celebrity, no-one will be interested in your story.
However, as the great John Stott once put it, ‘Testimony is not autobiography.’ In other words, testimony is not my story, it’s not ‘me, me, me’, it’s the story of what Jesus has done in my life. Now again, you may think that unless what Jesus has done in your life is the religious equivalent of a fireworks spectacular, it may not be worth talking about.

But we would be wrong. All that Peter describes about Jesus in this sermon – his ministry, his death, his resurrection, his Ascension and his sending of the Holy Spirit – all these things impact us. So what if in our lives it doesn’t come all-singing and all-dancing, complete with a laser light show? What matters is that we know Jesus has changed us – and is changing us. The majority of people live ordinary, unflashy lives, and so an ordinary, unflashy story of what Jesus means to us is every bit as likely, if not more so, to have an effect upon them.

So – why not give it some thought? What has Jesus done for you? Reflect on it. There will be material from your life that you can share about the work of Jesus. that’s where the Holy Spirit wants to focus: on Jesus. We can co-operate with the Spirit by being willing to talk about Jesus and his work in our lives.

The third and final strand of the Spirit’s work in mission that I want to draw out here has to do with the effect upon the listeners.

What happens at the end of the sermon?

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Verse 37)

What has the Holy Spirit done here? It’s what Jesus (as recorded in John’s Gospel) called ‘conviction of sin’. Conviction of sin is the third element in this passage of the Holy Spirit’s work in mission.

Conviction of sin is when the Holy Spirit shows people how they are in the wrong before God – either generally or specifically – and calls them to change. In that respect, it’s different from that work of the enemy we call ‘condemnation’, which just says, “You’re a terrible person, you’re useless.” Condemnation leaves someone without hope. Conviction of sin is different, because it is specific, and there is a remedy that draws us to God, namely repentance.

So we see in the story today that when the crowd asks Peter and the apostles what they should do, he gives a specific reply:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Verse 38)

We know that coming to faith involves repentance in some form. Faith in Jesus Christ and following him entails changing our way of life. In all sorts of areas, we shall need to perform the spiritual version of a U-turn, to go Christ’s way. The Holy Spirit shows us what we need to change and renounce.

By way of an aside, of course this is not something that happens just once at the beginning of the Christian life: it happens throughout, as the Holy Spirit patiently works to make us more Christlike.

But let us note that it truly is the Holy Spirit who does the convicting. Peter has described the situation, and yes he has told the people that they and others were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus (verses 23, 36), but it’s still the Spirit who cuts them to the heart. We have to be careful not to do the Holy Spirit’s work ourselves, but faithfully to share God’s love and truth and leave the Spirit to do the convicting.

I once had the privilege of registering a wedding  for someone who had begun worshipping at another church in the area, but one which did
not own its own building. She had come to faith through an Alpha Course that church had run, and wanted to be baptised. However, she was living with her partner without being married to him. The church had not harangued her for this, even though they believed (and I do, too) that living together falls short of God’s vision for relationships. However, she felt it was not right for her to be baptised until her relationship was regularised. So I registered the wedding, and her pastor conducted the service. I believe it was the Holy Spirit who convicted her, and who led her to marriage before baptism. In fact, the wedding was at 11 o’clock, and she then went to another church building to be baptised at 12 o’clock!
And we also might remember that the Spirit’s timetable and agenda for sorting out people’s lives might not be quite the same as ours. I once heard the preacher Clive Calver tell a story at Spring Harvest about how he kept praying, “Lord, please take away my pride.”

When it didn’t happen, he continued to pray, asking, “Lord, why aren’t you taking away my pride?”

“Because then there would be nothing left,” was what he believed God replied.

We don’t always know why the Spirit highlights certain issues in a person’s life but delays attending to others. What we do know is that coming to Christ involves the Spirit showing us where we need to change our ways in repentance, and that that begins a process that lasts the whole of our lives.

In conclusion, then, the Holy Spirit enlists us for God’s mission in Jesus. The mission is for all people, and needs all God’s people, empowered by the Spirit, for it to flourish. That mission will focus not on us, but on Jesus. Our rôle is to tell the story of Jesus’ activity in our lives. And the Spirit draws people to follow Jesus through conviction of sin.

All in all, then, the mission of God will not function without the primary work of the Holy Spirit. Never mind our plans, our campaigns, our techniques or what the latest book or conference speaker says. No Holy Spirit, no mission worthy of the name.

Come, Holy Spirit.

The Church And The Scarecrow Festival

“You’ve got to go to the Pirbright Scarecrow Festival, it’s amazing,” said one of the mums at school. It was on yesterday, and, well, Sally was right.

Over fifty scarecrows scattered around the village green and the church, the latter forming a tableau of the recent royal wedding. I think my favourite, even if not the most sophisticated scarecrow, was the ‘cartwheeling verger’:

And here he is at Pirbright:

Yes, complete with odd socks.

It was a great day. Lots of stalls, amazing sausages and burgers from Fulks the local butcher, music, ice cream, fun for children and adults.

The royal wedding was the theme – or, perhaps more accurately, the theme was ‘William and Kate’. Hence you also saw scarecrows of William Shatner, Willy Wonka, and my favourite, a bush with a speech balloon containing the lyrics to ‘Wuthering Heights’. Yes, the bush was called Kate.

And you know what: the church was the driving force behind it.

Evidently, the event has been going some years, but the way the programme was worded, you couldn’t miss the theme that this had begun from the parish church. They had corralled local businesses into supporting it in various ways, and many local families had made the scarecrows.

No, it wasn’t remotely an overtly religious event, but I wonder what goodwill they build up in the village by doing this.

Sermon: Waiting For The Holy Spirit

Acts 1:6-14

“We’re all just trash, waiting to be thrown away.”

It’s a line from Toy Story 3. I’m sure several of you have seen the Toy Story animated films. Young Andy has a collection of toys, such as Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody. But in the third and final instalment, Andy is growing up and no longer needs his old toys. They end up in day care, where a bear threatens to put them out with the rubbish, and mocks them for believing in Andy’s love. He tells them, “We’re all just trash, waiting to be thrown away. That’s all a toy is.”[1]

Waiting. We see it negatively today. Waiting for something is a bad thing. That’s why we invented credit cards – to ‘take the waiting out of wanting’. Ask a child whether she likes waiting, and you can guarantee an answer beginning with ‘no’. That maybe a sign of what an immature society we now have, when that childish attitude is reproduced so frequently among adults.

In contrast, many of you from older generations know the benefit of waiting. You saved up, you waited for marriage and you stood firm in the face of pressure. You know that waiting can be a good thing.

Today, as we begin this new sermon series on the Holy Spirit, we find the disciples of Jesus waiting. In between the Ascension and Pentecost, they are waiting for the Holy Spirit. And while there is a sense in which we do not need to wait for the Holy Spirit any more, because all followers of Christ receive the Spirit when faith comes alive, we nevertheless go through periods of waiting for the Holy Spirit to work. So this morning’s theme of ‘Waiting for the Holy Spirit’ can still be relevant to our lives of faith today.

I want to suggest that when God makes us wait for the Holy Spirit, it is to focus us on what is important. How so? I find three ways in the reading.

Firstly, waiting for the Holy Spirit makes us focus on our priorities. Listen again to the opening dialogue in the story:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Verses 6-8)

The disciples still think the Messiah came to sort out the land for Israel and to repel the Roman occupying forces. Jesus tells them basically they haven’t got the right priorities. Not that he isn’t interested in politics, but if their priorities are only about what’s in it for them, something is wrong. They need to wait for God’s priority of the Holy Spirit. Because living in the power of the Spirit will do more to bring in the kingdom of God than lusting after political favour.

Jesus tests our priorities by keeping us waiting. When we have nothing, know nothing, get nowhere and don’t have the foggiest reason why, he exposes our priorities and motives. They come to the fore, and Jesus says to us, “Are you concentrating on what matters for God’s kingdom?” The longer we wait for something to happen, the more we struggle with the life of faith not being full of zest, the more we find life in the church dry and difficult, the more Jesus asks questions of us. He wants to know who or what we are trusting in.

So think of those conversations we have about the decline of the church, when we reflect on the unbalanced age profile, full of older people and shorter on younger and middle-aged people. Jesus listens to those conversations where we wonder what miracle cure we might invoke. He listens when we consider trying the latest trendy religious idea that we’ve heard about.

And what does he say in reply? I think he says, you have your priorities wrong. You are not concentrating on the right things. You should be using the spiritual silence to wait and long for the Holy Spirit. He would ask us whether our priorities are to try something humanly clever, where the glory would go to us, or whether our priority is to wait in prayer, seeking the power of the Holy Spirit. Today should be a day when we decide that, however unpromising church life may be, we reject our lust for human priorities and say that we will not rush to solutions, we will wait on God for the Holy Spirit, because nothing matters more.

Secondly, waiting for the Holy Spirit makes us focus on power. Jesus tells them,

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (verse 8).

Here is a reason to wait: we don’t have the power, the Holy Spirit does. It is one of those humbling lessons for human beings.
In fact, I would say it is a much harder lesson for our generation than it was for the first disciples. Belief in God and a general dependence upon God was pretty well universal in their time. We live in the light of a western culture which over the last three hundred years or so has relegated God to the private sphere even when we do still believe in him. We have made science and reason the dominant powers and qualities. Many in our societies think they can provide the answers to everything, and this belief also infects people of faith. We come up with policies, programmes, techniques and reasoned statements.

And it’s not that science and reason are bad. We owe so much to them. Advances in medical knowledge have benefitted us all. Inventions in technology and communication have improved our lives. We should be grateful for innovations like these. We would not want to turn back the clock.

But any idea that science and reason are the answers to everything in life should be tempered by other considerations. These same disciplines have also given us the horrors of nuclear weapons and the devastation of environmental destruction.
And that is to say nothing about other aspects of power. Political power has the ability to achieve much good, but we also know its tendency towards corruption. So surely when Jesus says, “You will receive power” we should see that as good news. Because the power of the Holy Spirit is the power seen in the life of Jesus himself. It is the power best demonstrated in humility and human weakness. It is the power that works to bless the poor and needy. It is the power that raises up the humble and dethrones the proud. Uneducated fishermen lead a revolution, and the wealthy and educated establishment can do nothing to prevent them.

Now if that is the case, why on earth are we satisfied with the limited promises of human power? Why do we run the church on the same values as the rest of the world? Why in our inpatient hurry do we default to the ways of the world?

Often we take heart from the ordinariness and the frailty of Jesus’ disciples when we fail. But maybe we could see something else in their story. As well as joy and relief that we are forgiven like them, could not also be encouraged and challenged by the fact that these ordinary, mundane people were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit?

If that is the case, then why do we keep rushing into the ways of human power? If we want to work for God’s kingdom, then we need God’s power for that. If we don’t have that power now, then we hold back. We wait. We wait on God.
Which leads me to the third theme that waiting on the Holy Spirit means: prayer. If we need to align our priorities with God’s, and if we need to seek God’s power rather than ours, then our waiting needs to be characterised by prayer. We don’t just wait: we wait on God.

That’s what we see the disciples doing:

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of* James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. (Verses 12-14)

They ‘were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.’ Here is true waiting for the Holy Spirit. Prayer.

Now this needs careful handling. The moment a preacher starts to emphasise prayer in a sermon, all sorts of things can go wrong. It can turn into a guilt trip. How easy it is to say that we don’t pray enough. And of course that isn’t just the congregation: that’s true of the preachers as well. We can impose guilt without offering positive hope, because we are often not up to much in this area, either. Besides, some listeners will say, “Are you suggesting I don’t pray? Of course I pray!”

So let me say this. I recall the words of a favourite Local Preacher in the circuit where I grew up. He was regularly the most challenging preacher to fill a pulpit there. When he said something to stir us up in a sermon, he often added this comment: “I never challenge you without first challenging myself.” Hence, what I preach here I say as much to myself as to you.

What I’d like us to notice is not simply that ‘they prayed’, but that ‘they were constantly devoting themselves to prayer’ (my emphasis). We’re not talking about a few short, simple daily prayers here: those first disciples made a radical commitment to prayer.
Now that will take on different forms in our varying circumstances of life. Depending on work, family life and so on, we shall each have different ways of demonstrating our devotion to prayer. But as R T Kendall says, “If we don’t have some system, we never get around to it.”

What is certain is that our attitude to prayer cannot be perfunctory. We look down on children’s prayers that sometimes don’t get much beyond “Lord, bless me and my family,” but in truth too many of our adult prayers are no deeper. It can be very telling what requests are put in a church intercessions book – and what requests don’t make it to the book. We want prayers for ourselves and our loved ones, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but sometimes it feels little different from an adult version of that child’s “Bless me, bless my family” prayer.

The challenge is to go beyond – to be ‘constantly devoting [ourselves] to prayer’ in the waiting time. Prayer for the Holy Spirit, I would suggest. Because we recognise we cannot live by our priorities, and need to align our lives with the priorities of God. Because we also recognise the bankruptcy of depending on human power, and know that the only thing which will turn around our lives and our churches is the power of God, the Holy Spirit.

So can we make a simple commitment today? A commitment to wait for God, and to wait on God in prayer. A commitment so to pray that it is less about asking God to bless us than asking God to reorder our priorities after his, and where we ask him to help us lay down our reliance on human power in favour of the Holy Spirit’s power. Can we make a commitment to wait in prayer for the power of God, the Holy Spirit?

Because nothing less than that is needed for the health of our churches and our witness to God’s saving love in Christ.


[1] Illustration courtesy of Tools For Talks (subscription required).

David Wilkerson

It is sad to read this morning the overnight news from Texas about the death of David Wilkerson.  in a car crash. His life and ministry impacted millions. No appeals to his supporters for the money to buy a Lear Jet, just a guy who risked his life in the violent Projects of New York to show the love of Christ to gangs led by the likes of Nicky Cruz. Famously, this was recounted in the book The Cross And The Switchblade, and the film of the same name, along with Cruz’ testimony, Run Baby Run.

Then the founding of Teen Challenge, to help young people with troubled lives. And a ministry at Times Square Church, New York, where he still preached regularly, even as he approached 80.

Google the Internet and you will find some of the controversial prophecies he made in recent years, not least on his blog. On some of these, time alone will tell.

His life affected my family. My sister went forward at one of his evangelistic meetings, around 1978 at Loftus Road, Queens Park Rangers football stadium.

Today I give thanks for the life of a courageous Pentecostal preacher, and the fruit of his ministry. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Bollywood And Jesus

Sorry for the lack of posts recently – all due to the move of appointment, which I begin today. Here’s a short piece to get back into the swing.

Bollywood is making a film about the life of Christ. It will have a cast of children, but will star a Bollywood heart-throb. Even Jesus has to be good-looking. It will cover from the birth to the crucifixion, the Guardian says. (Not the Resurrection? I wonder why.)

Also,

The film would include seven devotional songs, [the director] added, but would not feature the rumbustious music and dancing characteristic of Bollywood.

I suppose that is for reasons of reverence, but doesn’t that miss the Jesus who was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard?

Still, the motives are worthy: director Singeetham Srinivasa Rao says,

“Wherever there is conflict, pain, war, we would like to take the message of peace and love.”

Happy Easter

Happy Easter, one and all. I have no new sermon material for Easter Day this year. In the morning, we are doing worship differently, and although I am giving a two-part talk it is designed as initial input to start discussions around tables. It won’t easily translate here. In the evening I am at another church in my circuit (not one for which I have responsibility) and am taking the opportunity to repeat an old sermon.

In the meantime, let me enc0urage you to head over to the WorshipHouse Media website and view the Easter Drawing video.  We’re using this in the morning service. I think it’s great.

Gladys Aylward, Hero Of The Faith

Today I took two school assemblies in the same school – one for the infants, the second for the juniors. We are on a series about ‘saints’, which we have renamed ‘heroes of the faith’. This week I was stuck for ideas, so I put out a request on Facebook and Twitter for ideas, and received plenty of suggestions. Many I shall store up, but I loved my friend Sally Patterson’s suggestion that I tackle Gladys Aylward.

Not only was she a great woman of faith, I have an indirect connection. I come from the same part of north London as her, and my grandmother was friends with her. My grandmother too wanted to be a missionary, but was turned down on health grounds. It didn’t stop Aylward, though, any more than the other objections about her lack of educational ability to cope with Bible college training. She is a great example of faith in following God’s call despite the circumstances. If you ever want an example of the maxim ‘It’s not so much your ability but your availability that counts with God’, then she is an excellent illustration. This small, frail woman whose academic limitations meant she had been working ‘in service’ travelled by train across northern Europe, including Siberia, to reach her destination in northern China.

She is well known for her campaign against foot-binding – the Chinese practice of bandaging girls’ feet to prevent them from growing in the mistaken and cruel belief that small feet were beautiful. This is a woman from a small evangelical church (Tanners End Free Church), practising social justice at a time when such campaigning was largely thought worthless in evangelicalism, because such concerns were ‘liberal’ and we should just get on with rescuing people for heaven before the Second Coming.

Furthermore, what would she have to say today to some of the practices in the contemporary beauty industry? I think she would be pungent.

Then there is her courageous work of leading a hundred children on a hundred mile trek across the mountains to safety from the threat of Japanese soldiers. No comfortable life for her. It’s not Joel Osteen style religion.

She certainly was a feisty woman of faith. She was horrified that Ingrid Bergman was chosen to portray her in the film ‘The Inn of the Sixth Happiness‘. She wasn’t impressed with Bergman’s lifestyle, and therefore considered her unsuitable. Perhaps today we would be too dazzled by the celebrity culture. Not Gladys Aylward.

A friend of mine was a doctor, and a son of a doctor. His father once visited Aylward in a Southampton hospital when she returned to the UK once. She asked him to get out his Bible. But she told him not to read one of the ‘comforting’ passages. She wanted to hear something stirring!

O for more Gladys Aylwards today.

You can still sometimes come across old copies of her biography, ‘The Small Woman‘ by Alan Burgess.

Here is a video clip – not an excerpt from ‘The Inn of the Sixth Happiness’, but the trailer to a cartoon film on DVD for children about her.

Reel Issues

As of today, the Bible Society‘s Reel Issues site gets a makeover. No longer a subscription service, but free, and with three different ways of discussing contemporary film in the light of faith. Some of the new approaches are suitable for youth groups. Well worth investigating.

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