Sunday, 21 June 2015

Good news


At a recent Sunday service I spoke from Marks Gospel chapter one.

'The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.' - Good news.

My key verse was- “The time is come and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news".


I love good news and I have been on the receiving end some wonderful news in my life.

Sadly though it more often feels there is not enough of it around.

The end of the news report is often given over to a light relief part to give you a cheery thought to send you on your way.

It's hard to escape reality for long though.


So what is this good news ?

If you had asked me as a child what do I believe after 'giving my life to Jesus' in my Sunday school class I would probably have answered - We give our lives to Jesus and then when we die we go to be with him in heaven.

My simple view was very much about life away from this life, this promise of eternity where as we sang with gusto each week 'Heaven is better than this' and that was where we wanted to go- maybe not quite just at that moment though.


Many New Testament scholars agree that at the heart of Jesus’s message his passion was for - “the kingdom of God.”

Jesus came to pronounce that "the Kingdom had come near."


In the first century, “kingdom” was a political term. Jesus’s hearers knew about the kingdoms of Herod and Rome and the Roman Empire.


Rome referred to itself as a “kingdom” and not as an empire.

If Jesus had wanted to avoid the political connotations of “kingdom” language, he could have spoken of the family of God or the community of God or the people of God.

But he didn’t. He used “kingdom” language.

The coming of the kingdom of God on earth was about justice and peace.

Justice: that everybody should have enough the 'daily bread' we pray for in the 'Lords prayer'.


Peace, or Shalom, the Hebrew word goes beyond a simple one word interpretation, Shalom is more then just simply peace; it is a complete peace. It is a feeling of contentment, wholeness, well being and harmony. The absence of agitation or discord.

Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for the coming of the kingdom of God on earth.


As Dominic Crossan an ex-priest and theologian once said; "heaven’s in great shape – earth is where the problems are.

Jesus’ entire journey told people two major things:


That life could have a positive story line - there is good news.


And that God was far different and far better than we ever thought.


That Jesus came and humbled himself and personally walked through the process of being both rejected and forgiving, and then said;


“Follow me.”

In Mark 1v 16 -18 Jesus calls the first disciples.

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

First good news has to be good - sounds obvious I know.


Second it has to be good for everyone, everywhere; no matter their circumstances.

Pastor Rick Warren stated.

'The Good News is that when we trust God’s grace to save us through the work of Jesus, our sins are forgiven, we get a purpose for living, and we’re promised a future home in Heaven.'

So even Pastor Rick from the mega church in Saddleback, California USA, highlights the escape to that - sweet by and by.


My first introduction to him was his book 'Purpose Driven church' followed by 'Purpose driven life'.

I did dip into these best selling books but to be honest my niggle came with the word 'driven'.

The teaching and its impact continues today with Mega centres definitely being 'driven' in their aims to grow the church.

Having attended and served in a mega church centre my view of it being 'driven' was shown to be true.

Everything is done at a high level that takes a lot of volunteers working hard for long hours. They have to be there well before meeting/conference starts and long after the last visitor or church member has left.

The intensity of volunteering and the sense that it's your 'act of service to God' can lead to meltdown for some and increasing disenchantment for others. The next step for some is to leave and find a less 'driven' smaller church, to leave the church completely or to attend but not serve in any capacity ( this is not always a problem, new attendees are often ready to engage and serve). I can't give any stats for this but this is my own observations both personal and that of others I have discussed with.

I mention this here because I think this is not the 'good news' that Jesus spoke about. The 'get saved and now serve model' is, I feel destructive in the long run for the reasons I have written. The promise of eternal life in payment for this service is not 'good news'.


I have met many who sadly have reasons they cannot hear the 'good news', because life itself is screaming 'too loudly', about their current situation filled with possible pain or problems.

In Mark 6 we read:

"Then, because so many people were coming and going that they (the disciples) did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them,

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.

But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it's already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd


Compassion - splangkh-nid'-zom-ahee in Greek means

To let ones inside(bowels) feel the situation of another.

1 John 4:20 tells us; "What is love if it remains invisible, inaudible, intangible. "Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen."


Jesus told his disciples - YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT.


I would suggest to be successful at sharing this 'Good News', we must have this level of 'compassion'.


Jesus said to his disciples; "You give them something to eat."


Mahatma Gandhi said:

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

Japanese-American theologian Kosuke Koyama writes:

"The devastating poverty in which millions of children live is visible. Racism is visible. Machine guns are visible. Slums are visible. Starved bodies are visible. The gap between the rich and the poor is glaringly visible. Our response to these realities must be visible.


'Grace cannot function in a world of invisibility. Yet in our world, the rulers try to make invisible the alien, the orphan, the hungry and thirsty, the sick and imprisoned.


'This is violence. Their bodies must remain visible. There is a connection between invisibility and violence. People, because of the image of God they embody, must remain seen"


Walter Brueggemann states in his book

The Prophetic imagination that:

"Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness.”


We see in the Bible the teaching of preference being given to the well-being of the poor and powerless of society in the teachings and commands of God as well as the prophets and other righteous people.

Jesus taught that on the Day of Judgment, God will ask what each person did to help the poor and needy: "

In Mark 6 we read:

The disciples were tired from telling the 'good news'.

Jesus wanted them to rest.




The crowds were helpless and harassed and Jesus took pity on them and fed them with his 'good news', he spoke to them and told them stories to fill this hunger.


But then their spiritual hunger turned to physical hunger.


Jesus told his disciples to meet that need too.


I cannot help but feel good news comes attached to the needs of the people we are telling it too?


I like to think that 'you feed them', is not being 'driven' but being faithful with what we have, what we have received.


It's 'what have we got in our hands to share with others'?


It's reminding ourselves over and over that this is supposed to be 'Good news', it's a message that life can have a positive story line and that God is far better than we ever thought- now that's good news.




Monday, 24 November 2014

Jonah was he the first Liberation theologian?

Jonah and the big fish

I am reading a book by the Reverend Naim Ateek - 'A Palestinian Christian cry for reconciliation"; Naim is an Anglican priest and leads an organisation 'Friends of Sabeel', a group to raise awareness of the situation of the Palestinian people living in Gaza, the West Bank and those who live in Israel.

In his book he mentions Jonah and calls him the first
'liberation theologian'.

It got me intrigued to read the 4 small chapters of this Old Testament book again.

My first thoughts took me back to my Sunday school days and the chorus that we used to sing: here are the words if like me you have forgotten. It's sung to a catchy little tune.

'Come Listen to my tale of Jonah and the whale

Way down in the middle of the ocean

How did he get there whatever did he wear

Way down in the middle of the ocean

Preaching he should be at Nineveh you see

He disobeyed a very foolish notion

But God forgave his sin

Salvation entered in

Way down in the middle of the ocean'

The other thing to note if you do decide to 'google Jonah'; it gives you lots of material for teaching this to children in the Sunday school lesson. Reading the story again I am not sure why this story is seen as suitable to teach to children- just because there is a ' big fish' this is no children's tale.

The reason for this and it's 'not mentioned' certainly in our cutesy chorus; the possible annihilation of around 120,000 people if they do not repent of their sin.

This possible killing of so many led me to think deeply about the latest conflict and killing in Gaza this summer. This tragedy was played out in splendid technicolour for all to see on our news channels, it became a consuming factor in my world over these weeks and actually to this very second my concerns continue unabated. That conflict may be over but unfortunately the situation continues relentlessly.

I wrote several blogs about this situation: the first one How many lives'?

I was shocked that I knew so little, I had always dreamed one day of going to the 'holy land'. All the familiar names: Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Hebron, Galilee, Nazareth and so on were the places I had read about in my Bible.

But in July I heard about Gaza, a place sadly I knew very little about.

At Greenbelt a Christian summer festival this year I watched a presentation of 'Bethlehem unwrapped'. Justin Butcher a Creative Director, visited Palestine and saw the wall constructed that surrounds Bethlehem (apartheid wall ) and separates, Israel and Palestine: it is 8 metres high and it obscures Bethlehem’s holy sites and historic places. It is still under construction but runs approximately 273 miles it is (62%) completed.



He asked the Reverend Lucy Winkett of St James’s Church in London if she would consider having a replica part of the wall built in the church grounds, rather than their usual nativity scene. She was brave enough to go along with this controversial structure which led to questions from the public, many positive but some feeling that it was in poor taste; possibly leading to a rise in anti-semitism.

Berlin Wall

On 9th of November it was the celebration of 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell. The reason given for building the wall in Palestine is that it is there to protect Israeli people from attack by Palestinian 'terrorists'. I have many thoughts about this but for now I want to say ultimately we will never achieve peace with walls.

What is understood is that it has had a massive humanitarian impact on the many Palestinians living near the wall.

Back to to Jonah

Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh; "because its wickedness has come up before me."

I checked out the history of Nineveh and found it to be one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity, the total area of the city comprised about 7 square kilometres and fifteen great gates penetrated its walls.

It had an elaborate system of eighteen canals that brought water from the hills and several sections of a magnificently constructed aqueduct erected by Sennacherib one of the well known Kings.

It had as I have said 120,000 people twice as many inhabitants as Babylon at the time, placing it among the largest settlements. Some scholars believe that the Garden which Sennacherib built next to his palace, with its associated irrigation works, comprised the original Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

We know through preserved history that the times were brutal.

'The stone carvings in the walls include many battle scenes, impalings and scenes showing Sennacherib's men parading the spoils of war before him. He also bragged about his conquests: he wrote of Babylon

Its inhabitants, young and old, I did not spare, and with their corpses I filled the streets of the city."

Wars continue

I checked to see what countries the UK had been at war with and shockingly found that we had continuously had conflict over last 100 yrs, here are some countries we have fought against.

Russia, Afghanistan, Somaliland, Cyprus, Southern and Northern Iraq, Palestine, Korea, Cameroon, Brunei, Malaysia, Kenya, China, Greece, Sudan, Aden, Eritrea, Pakistan, Suez, Falklands.

So it seems conflict war and brutality was not left behind in the ancient world. Sadly it is continued to our current crises raging across our world- RIGHT NOW.

Nineveh was brutal and also the centre of innovation and beauty. All of humanity represented there- the good and the bad and the ugly. The reality that we are all not one thing. That nations are made up of people that live and love and hate and make war: with each other, within their families, tribes and against sadly against other countries and nations.

Back to Jonah

In Jonah chapter 1 the story starts: The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me."

The book of Jonah is in the Tanakh- the canon of the Hebrew Bible.

According to tradition it is read every year, in its original Hebrew and in its entirety, on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement, this is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people.

Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jewish people traditionally observe this holy day with an approximate 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services.

Jonah came from a town named Gath-hepher, near Nazareth. Unfortunately ignoring what God asked of him he boarded a ship bound for Tarshish, a city near Gibraltar in the southern part of Spain. Nineveh was located east of the Tigris River in modern-day Iraq. It was more than 500 miles east of Jonah’s hometown. Tarshish, in contrast, was west of Gath-hepher. In fact, it was more than 2,500 miles from Israel in the opposite direction of Nineveh. It was the most remote destination available to him. So clearly Jonah does not want any chance that the the Ninevites will be forgiven, certainly not from anything that he has anything to do with!

Whilst on the ship a huge storm arises and the sailors, realising this is no ordinary storm, cast lots and discover that Jonah is to blame, he admits this and states that if he is thrown overboard, the storm will cease.

The sailors try to dump as much cargo as possible before giving up and throwing him into the sea, and yes instantly the sea calms.

He is saved by being swallowed by a large fish or whale as we have come to believe where he spends three days and three nights.

So there we have it Jonah swallowed by the whale and let the children's Sunday school stories begin. For me in the same way Jesus was a story teller: this comes from the Jewish culture which was one of story telling.If you want to believe it really happened it's ok, many have looked to find if it's possible and believe it is; for me I think that Jonah in his disobedience spent 3 days in the dark of despair, knowing he had disobeyed a command from God, also trying to assimilate what this means to see the enemy of his people possibly forgiven.

Whilst in the place of disobedience he prays to God in his affliction and commits to doing what has been asked of him and go to the Ninevites. The reality is that he knew he had no choice but to do what God had asked him too.

In Jewish culture there is a word Teshuva ; which is the ability to repent and be forgiven by God. It means returning to recognise Gods presence wherever it is to be found. This means to see with spiritual eyes that whatever transpires, however good or bad it appears, God is within this. God is to be found even within the depths of the greatest despair and the most destructive evil.

Jonah knows as he states in Jonah 4:2. "I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

So what have Jonah and Gaza got to do with one another ?

Nineveh a city of at least 120,000 people and Jonah hated them ALL ! That includes babies and children and women - all of whom never participated in war or killing. He wanted God to destroy them let's not pretty this up.

He did his job walking the length and breadth of Nineveh telling them to repent of their wicked ways and amazingly they do.

We read that:

Jonah 3:5- 10

The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When Jonah's warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish." When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

So not only are the people going to wear sackcloth and ashes as a sign of repentance but even the animals.

This is the extent that the story goes too explain the complete turn around by the Ninevites.

Jonah is not a 'happy bunny' at this positive results: even though it was what God wanted it was obviously not on his agenda for the right outcome.

Chapter 4 tells us the story of his 'pity party'.

Jonah 4:9- 11

But God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" "It is," he said. "And I'm so angry I wish I were dead." But the Lord said, "You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?"

And that's where Jonah ends, it just sort of tails off with God explaining to him with an object lesson of a 'gourd from the Lord'

This hatred of other is something we all can easily experience let's not be hard on Jonah. We have currently in our politics the rise of UKIP a party that thrives on the fears of 'other' of scapegoating immigrants: with the scare tactics saying - 'it's these people (immigrants) who are taking our job and homes and ruining our infrastructure.'


Gaza is an occupied territory, it is the most densely populated place on earth; a 140 square miles with approximately 1.8 million men, women and children inhabiting this space. This summer the hatred felt by both sides culminated in the 4th conflict since 2008; 2:400 men women and children were killed and many more maimed with life altering injuries. Approximately 70 Israeli citizens were also killed.

1.8 million people; let that number sink in, men, women and children.

And something is not right: here is a quote from Gideon Levy journalist for Haaretz Israeli newspaper:

"My biggest struggle," he says, "is to rehumanize the Palestinians. There’s a whole machinery of brainwashing in Israel which really accompanies each of us from early childhood, and I’m a product of this machinery as much as anyone else. [We are taught] a few narratives that it’s very hard to break. That we Israelis are the ultimate and only victims. That the Palestinians are born to kill, and their hatred is irrational. That the Palestinians are not human beings like us… So you get a society without any moral doubts, without any questions marks, with hardly public debate. To raise your voice against all this is very hard."

So Israel the nation that produced a Jonah is now faced with a huge decision: what are we going to do with this people group that for the past 70 years we have warred against?

There is an imbalance here to be sure: Israel has the occupying force must and should lead the way to resolve this terrible ongoing conflict.

Jonah came to tell the Assyrians to repent of their wicked ways.

So it seems Jonah was a somewhat reluctant 'liberation theologian'. He called on the major power of that day to come to Repentance for their wicked ways. Repentance means to turn around and stop doing what it is you have been doing. For Israel who every year at Yom Kippur read this story and speak about Teshuva, the action of repenting and being forgiven by God, I would ask, why are they not taking this teaching seriously? They have to find a better way than continued occupation and aggression against the Palestinian people. The Jews once so horrendously oppressed in the holocaust must make sure their actions are not making them culpable of the same abhorrent horrors.

The way to peace can never come through yet more aggression. The continued stealing of land by Israeli settlers agreed and facilitated by the government. The continued building of a separation wall on Palestinian land. The human right abuses at checkpoints where Palestinians people can be forced to wait for hours in the heat of the day or can be refused passage even if they need to get through urgently. And so much more.

Noam Chomsky a university academic and peace activist: also a holocaust survivor has spoken out for many years against the actions of the Israeli government said about the latest conflict over this summer.

"It’s a hideous atrocity, sadistic, vicious, murderous, totally without any credible pretext. It’s another one of the periodic Israeli exercises in what they delicately call "mowing the lawn." That means shooting fish in the pond, to make sure that the animals stay quiet in the cage that you’ve constructed for them, after which you go to a period of what’s called "ceasefire," which means that Hamas observes the ceasefire, as Israel concedes, while Israel continues to violate it. Then it’s broken by an Israeli escalation, Hamas reaction. Then you have period of "mowing the lawn." This one is, in many ways, more sadistic and vicious even than the earlier ones."

Here is a great quote from Pastor Martin Niemoller a German theologian who also narrowly escaped execution and survived imprisonment during WW2. After his imprisonment, he expressed his deep regret about not having done enough to help the victims of the Nazis.He turned away from his earlier nationalistic beliefs.

'First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.'

This quote was altered by Michael Leunig a newspaper cartoonist

'First they came for the Palestinians and I did not speak out because I was not a Palestinian.

Then they came for more Palestinians and I did not speak out because I feared hostility and trouble.

Then they came for even more Palestinians and I did not speak out because if I did, doors would close to me, hateful mail would arrive, bitterness and spiteful condemnations would follow.

Then they came for more and more Palestinians and I did not speak out because by then I had fallen into silence to reflect upon the appalling, disgraceful and impossible aspects of human nature.'

He said - "As a cartoonist I am not interested in defending the dominant, the powerful, the well-resourced and the well-armed because such groups are usually not in need of advocacy, moral support or sympathetic understanding; they have already organised sufficient publicity for themselves and prosecute their points of view with great efficiency.





These photos are from the latest conflict over this summer, the loss of life and damage to infrastructure was overwhelming.

'Between 2,189 Gazans were killed (including 513 children) and between 10,895 and 11,100 were wounded. 66 Israeli soldiers, 5 Israeli civilians (including one child) and one Thai civilian were killed and 469 IDF soldiers and 261 Israeli civilians were injured.The Gaza Health Ministry, UN and some human rights groups reported that 69–75% of the Palestinian casualties were civilians; Israeli officials estimated that around 50% of those killed were civilians. On 5 August, OCHA stated that 520,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip (approximately 30% of its population) might have been displaced, of whom 485,000 needed emergency food assistance and 273,000 were taking shelter in 90 UN-run schools.17,200 Gazan homes were totally destroyed or severely damaged, and 37,650 homes suffered damage but were still inhabitable. In Israel, an estimated 5,000 to 8,000citizens temporarily fled their homes due to the threat of rocket and mortar attacks.'

It is doesn't make for comfortable reading: and for sure this situation needs people to take a stand and raise awareness of the ongoing atrocities.

I wonder if today we are all called to be 'liberation theologians'?

There are many groups and individuals speaking out against injustice across our world. On their own it may seem useless but I know there have been moments in history take Rosa Parks who catapulted the issue of racial segregation into the spotlight just by refusing to give up her seat.

We need to align ourselves with the oppressed and marginalised. We cannot say that we are unaware of this situation the voice of the oppressed calls out to us to remember them.
What does it look like to be a LIBERATION THEOLOGIAN?
I think it's vitally important to tell the story and not remain silent. As stated when the oppressor comes the oppressed need our voices to speak out.
What does it look like to be a PEACEMAKER?
We read in James 3:18: 'Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.' Our actions in thought and words towards others have implications. We can only be the answer we want to see happening.
My prayer is that as we read in Matthew 5:9; 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God'. We will look to be serious about this call.


Saturday, 9 August 2014

I am not wrong

It's 5am and I have just woken to write this piece which is burning in my heart.

I AM NOT WRONG about Gaza and the land of Palestine

I have been told by 2 people I respect that I may be wrong with my view on the situation in Gaza.

Well I have woken up and I say loudly and clearly: I AM NOT WRONG

  • I AM NOT WRONG: Because if my status update is the final one seen by the Israeli government and our world as the one that stops them in their tracks from killing one more innocent life; one more child; then I tell you again: I AM NOT WRONG: It may be my status update or tweet that is the one that saves the life of that one child so I say again: I AM NOT WRONG
  • I AM NOT WRONG: I never knew that my hero the great freedom fighter from oppression and injustice and murder Nelson Mandela said;


If Nelson Mandela knew this then I say again: I AM NOT WRONG.

  • I AM NOT WRONG: 2,000 years ago in a very obscure part of Palestine a young girl was told she would give birth to a baby and she should name him Jesus: because he was coming to save His people from their sins.

Jesus was quickly taken into Egypt to escape death by the powerful ruler Herod who was fearful of the birth of a new King: seen as a threat to his throne. Joseph had been warned in a dream that his life was in danger. It seems the world has always wanted to kill children for the hope that they can bring.

So I know that: I AM NOT WRONG, even today the killing and slaughter of innocents continues unabated; if we who know this and don't stand up and raise our collective voices and say together: THIS IS WRONG then we have failed the children.

Because one day Jesus had parents bring their children to him for him to bless them but his disciple had better ideas and they tried to stop them coming: but Jesus said these words in Matthew 19 v 13-15

"Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." After he placed his hands on them, he went away.

I will keep saying it because if I and my small insignificant voice can stop the death of one more innocent: one more child then truly it has been worth it.


  • WE ARE NOT WRONG: when collectively we choose to be the voice for those with no voice.
  • We choose to post and keep the pressure on the Israeli government.
  • We choose to take time to sign the petitions to stop the bombing.
  • We choose to raise awareness of conditions in Palestine.
  • We choose to march in peaceful protests.
  • We choose to tell our government by how we vote that the sale of arms is wrong: but even more so when sold to a government that is using them to target innocents and children.

I AM NOT WRONG: I cannot bare to turn on my TV for many more nights and see the broken and mangled bodies of once healthy children.

400 deaths and rising: please let's not stop raising the awareness of the death of innocence.

Together we can help this to STOP.

For the sake of the children - how we treat one of these innocents is the mark of our humanity.