- Follow me Sobek, the crocodile god. I am a fertility god and far more powerful than Heqet, the ugly frog god. I am virile beyond belief…
- Follow me Baal! I am a Canaanite fertility god and I promise to bless your harvests if you will only give me your children…
- Follow me Artemis, the goddess of hunting. I love my gladiator servants who kill wild animals in the Colisseum. I sponsor temple prostitutes and a tidy silver shrine business.
- Follow me Sulis-Minerva – Curse your enemies with my magical, supernatural power. That man who stole your toga is toast!
- Follow the stars and fate – we can tell you exactly what is fated for you – so relax, sit back and endure the journey. If you are a child abuser like Tiberius…don’t worry – you can’t help it.
- Follow me the divine Number 10. I am the never-swerving, the never-tiring holy ten, the keyholder of all.
- Follow me the god of sensual pleasure. Let us eat, drink and be merry. Focus please on wine, courtesans and orgies. (Aristippus)
- Follow me the tranquillity god. I will give you inner peace as you relax in your garden and make friends (Epicurus)
- Follow me the god reason. Think pure thoughts and enslave thick people (Aristotle)
- Follow me the pantheist god reason and endure your fate Stiff upper lip old boy! (Marcus Aurelius)
- Follow the gods of technology and the internet and there will be an end to hunger, disease, poverty, war and ignorance. (Byron Reese)
- Follow the poetry gods. Be unique. Dare to be who you want to be. Let no-one challenge your autonomy.
- Follow Pompey, the football god I will ruin your marriage, family and finances but trust in me! (John Westwood)
- Follow the scientific materialist way of life. Behold you are a computer made of meat. You are a machine with no intrinsic value.
- Follow me the money god. I will show you how to garner a great fortune. You will exhaust yourself in making the filthy lucre and then die in a mansion with no friends.
- Follow your heart and become who you want to be. Trust in your instincts and follow your sacred dreams.
- Follow Krishna. Forsake the world and live on your own in the temple. Your wife and kids will look after you as you seek enlightenment. Forget them and follow me.
- Follow the way of the Bardo and find release from karma and reincarnation. (Tibetan Book of the Dead)
- Follow me the god of Christian Science. My name is Mary Baker Eddy and I have spent many hours contacting dead people and they have told me the truth. There is no sickness and evil. It’s all an illusion. Trust me and my special teachings!
- Follow me Seth, the spirit guide. You, the worshipper, are ignorant of your deity. It is foolish to repent of your sins. Sin and evil are illusions.
In his famous sermon on the mount, Jesus calls his disciples to live in a radically new way. He challenges all his followers to love their enemies. This can be very difficult for sinful human beings who are prone to hatred, idolatry and evil thoughts. Hendrik Witbooi was a black African general who loved his enemies. He treated his German enemies with amazing mercy when they were destroying Hendrik's tribe. He loved his enemies in a war zone.
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your father in heaven.
Hendrik Witbooi was a king of the Nama people and he lived in the part of Africa we now call Namibia. His face is portrayed on the obverse of all Namibian dollar banknotes. He served God as a general of the Nama army when his tribe was attacked by the German army.
In the war (1904-1905) Hendrik went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the safety of German non-combatants, women and children. This deeply Christian man made sure that ‘enemy’ civilians were completely unharmed. His soldiers escorted German women, children and farmers back to the German lines. He treated his prisoners with the utmost respect because he believed that all people are created in the image and likeness of God.
His behaviour in the war can be contrasted with the German General Lothar von Trotha (1848-1920) who defeated the Herero (another African tribe) army at the battle of Waterburg. Callously von Trotha drove the Hereros into the desert of Omahake where many of the Herero combatants died of thirst.
The German soldiers were ordered to poison all the water-holes in the region and they were ordered to take no prisoners and to do nothing for the remaining women and children. Many of them were either shot or abandoned in the desert. The Herero population, which in 1904 had numbered about 80,000 people, had been reduced to fewer than 20,000 one year later. Von Trotha referred to the Nama and Hereros tribes as 'cattle' or 'stock'! He ordered his soldiers to kill 'enemy' women and children. Many of the Nama tribe were also slaughtered by the German army.
Again it is very instructive to compare and contrast two soldiers. The black, African general Hendrik Witbooi followed the Lord Jesus and the white, German general Von Trotha did not.
Be inspired by this story of faith in action!
August Francke was a preacher. pastor and professor of theology and he lived in Halle which is near Leipzig in Germany. Francke had a huge influence on George Müller, the famous orphan lover.
By a series of wonderful and providential events, he completed a huge building whose programmes included – a library of over 20,000 volumes, six schools, an orphanage, a home for poor widows, a hospital, an establishment for strolling beggars, a museum of natural history and a printing house devoted to making Bibles, hymnals and Christian literature. This man had both faith and a broad cultural vision. He reminds me of both William Carey and Abraham Kuyper.
One day he had to pay the construction workers but he did not have any ‘geld’ and so he prayed to God for provision. At the end of that day, the paymaster came and asked if he was going to be able to pay the labourers. The answer was – no. Just then a student knocked on the door and reported that someone who wished to remain anonymous had brought a pouch with thirty gold talers. Francke then went back into the other room and asked the foreman how much was needed for the payment of the builders. He replied, “Thirty talers.” Francke said, “Here they are,” and asked if he needed more. He said, “No.”’
Francke said this event strengthened the faith of both him and the foreman and they “recognized so evidently the wonderful hand of God.”
One day when he desperately needed funds to carry on his work, a destitute Christian widow came to his door begging for one gold ducat. Hard up, he politely but regretfully refused. Disheartened, the woman was so desperate she sat down and began to cry.
Moved by her tears, Francke asked her to wait while he went to his room to pray about the matter. Seeking God’s guidance, he felt that the Holy Spirit wanted him to grant the request. Trusting the Lord to meet his own pressing needs, he gave her the money.
Two mornings later he received a warm letter of thanks from the widow saying that because of his generosity she had asked the Lord to shower the orphanage with gifts. That same day he received 12 ducats from a rich lady and two from a friend in Sweden.
He thought he had been amply rewarded, but shortly afterward he was informed that Prince Lodewyk Van Wurtenburg had died, and in his will had directed that 500 gold pieces be given to the orphanage! Francke wept in gratitude.
In the year 1727, when Francke died, there were in all the schools connected with his establishment two thousand two hundred pupils!
When William Tyndale lived there was a great deal of discussion about the heart of the Christian faith. In medieval times the Roman Catholic church taught Christians that only priests, monks and nuns had proper callings. The rest (the laity) were without proper callings as they struggled to put bread on the table, jam on spoons, nappies on babies and manure on the fields. At the very top of this hierarchy was the Pope. Then came the cardinals, the archbishops and the bishops. Next were the priest and the deacons. Beneath these church-focused callings came the laity. At the very bottom of the laity were men and women who made shoes. William Tyndale was to get into a great deal of trouble for saying nice things about cobblers!
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
William Tyndale was a great Christian leader in the 16th century. Little is known about his childhood. Tyndale was born in about 1494 in Gloucestershire. His family were well off and William was encouraged to read and learn. In 1515 he went to Oxford University where he began studying theology. However he was very troubled that studying the subject did not involve reading the Bible! At that time the Church neglected the Bible. Many of the clergy were very ignorant of Scripture. William Tyndale was a godly man and he began studying the Bible himself and took great care to understand the teachings of Jesus.
Tyndale returned to Gloucestershire and he got a job as a tutor to the children of Sir John Walsh. Tyndale also became a popular preacher. He was passionate to teach people about the Bible and he soon found himself accused of heresy (false teaching).
William Tyndale was keen to translate the New Testament from Greek into English. (Tyndale was a brilliant linguist and he was fluent in Greek, Latin, Spanish, French and German. He later taught himself Hebrew). However Tyndale needed permission to translate it and in 1523 he went to London. While in London Tyndale continued his preaching. However he was unable to obtain permission to translate the New Testament. Eventually Tyndale realized he would never be allowed to translate it while in England so in 1524 he moved to Germany.
William Tyndale translated the New Testament from the original Greek into English. The new translation was printed in 1526 and copies were smuggled into England. Catholics in England were alarmed. The bishop of London banned the new translation calling it ‘that pestiferous (breeding disease) and most pernicious poison dispersed throughout our diocese of London’. In October 1526 he burned copies of the New Testament. However despite the bishop burning copies of the book it continued to circulate.
In 1538 William Tyndale published a book called The Parable of the Wicked Mammon. (Mammon is an old word meaning material wealth). It was banned in England in 1530. In 1528 Tyndale published a book called The Obedience of a Christian Man in which he attacked the corruption and superstition which was rife in the Church in England at that time. He then began translating the Old Testament from Hebrew into English.
Tyndale became very unpopular with many Catholic people because he taught that:
There is no work better than another to please God; to pour water, to wash dishes, to be a souter (cobbler) or an apostle, all is one; to wash dishes and to preach is all one, as touching the deed, to please God.
Tyndale had discovered a wonderful truth in the Bible. Ordinary people (cobblers, carpenters, cleaners etc) can serve God without becoming priests, bishops or monks. He argued that all Christians are priests and can spill the aroma of Jesus as they bake pies, make shoes and clean dirty ovens!
Sadly in May 1535 William Tyndale was betrayed by an Englishman called Henry Phillips. He was arrested and tried for heresy. Finally in October 1536 Tyndale was martyred. He was strangled then burned in the market square of Antwerp. The last words of William Tyndale were 'Lord open the King of England’s eyes'.
It is the mark of a true Christian to love both God and neighbour. It is very instructive to compare and contrast the lives of John Westwood and Gilberto da Silva. Both men love football but one does this in a good way and the other in a bad way. John has a tattoo on his chest that tells us what he really believes – "I'm Portsmouth till I die". Gilberto da Silva was a brilliant defensive midfield player who played football to the glory of God. He gave up professional football for six months in order to care for his mother when she became ill. What a role model he is!
Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment.
Gilberto Silva is a former Brazilian player who also played for Arsenal as a defensive midfield player. He has very strong Christian beliefs. For example as a young, highly promising professional, he gave up football for 6 months in order to be with his mum when she was very ill. He wanted to support his family both emotionally and economically. All his friends thought he was totally crazy! But Gilberto lacked their tunnel vision.
Thankfully his mother did not die but recovered. He says – "I believe in God. I know a lot of people who don’t. I am a Catholic and I think when you make a sacrifice in your life you are repaid in the future – and that’s what happened with me."
He is now very grateful to God for his present happy life. He is very glad he can help his family, friends and their children.
A few years ago he helped support a 17-day tour of Brazil by a group of homeless players from the UK. Organized by Street League, a scheme for homeless refugees and asylum-seekers, it gave the group a chance to see that life in Brazil can be even tougher than here. A delighted Gilberto revealed that, since returning, one player had joined a club, another was coaching and a third had landed a decent job.
Although Brazil has many problems Gilberto stresses that he grew up in a poor village where everyone knew each other and were very friendly and cooperative. Gilberto loves football but in a way that honours the teachings of Jesus.
The first recorded gladiatorial combat in Rome occurred when three pairs of gladiators fought to the death during the funeral of Junius Brutus in 264 BCE, though others may have been held earlier. During the height of the Roman empire thousands of men and women were killed in the Coliseum in Rome. Many Christians refused to attend these violent games but for many it was ‘just entertainment’. Few people know that it was a Christian monk who brought the games to an end in the early fifth century. Unfortunately Telemachus was stoned to death for his faith!
In the world you will have trouble, but fear not I have overcome the world.
John 16: 33
In the fifth century a monk named Telemachus from Asia (modern day Turkey) was led by an inner voice to go to Rome without knowing why. He followed the crowds to the Coliseum. Two gladiators were fighting, and Telemachus tried to get between them to stop them, shouting three times, "In the name of Christ, forbear!" Telemachus was then stoned to death by the furious crowd enraged that someone would dare to interfere with their 'entertainment'. Because of Telemachus' death, three days later, the Emperor by decree ended the Games.
It is God's purpose to restore, rescue and redeem His broken world through His Son Jesus. Turn on the news and the full impact of the fall will hit you. We hear of terrorist attacks, wars, famine, poverty, torture and environmental breakdown. God calls His disciples to preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15). We have heard how George Cadbury and Randy Lewis brought the kingdom of God into their respective work places but missionaries are also part of this great commission. It comes as a shock to many people that cannibalism ran riot in some cultures. It is seldom recognised that cannibalism has found its most formidable opponent in the dedicated work of countless missionaries like Don and Carol Richardson.
Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
If you were an aspiring Christian missionary, would you take your wife and three young children deep into the jungles of West Papua to a headhunting, cannibalistic tribe who valued treachery as a virtue?
In 1962, missionary Don Richardson felt called to preach the gospel to the Sawi tribe in western New Guinea in Indonesia. He set about learning the native Sawi language which was daunting in its complexity. There are 19 tenses for every verb! Don was able to become fluent in the language after a tough schedule of 8–10 hour daily learning sessions.
When Don and his wife Carol arrived among the Sawi people, they found a culture built on warfare, treachery and deceit between neighbouring tribes. Particularly galling was the process known as 'fattening the pig for the slaughter' whereby an apparent friendship was developed for the purpose of luring the victim into a sense of security, suddenly shattered when 'the pig' was suddenly killed and then eaten. The Richardsons were appalled by this brutal way of life. They agonised over how to make a breakthrough in their Christian communication.
Things got worse. When they told the story of Jesus to the committed cannibals, the Sawi made Judas their hero because of the way he had (in their eyes) 'fattened' Jesus for the slaughter.
Finally the Richardsons decided to leave and they watched with astonishment as the tribes, motivated to prevent this, made peace with a strange ceremony. Both tribes offered a baby into the care of their enemies, not, as the Richardsons feared, as a human sacrifice, but as a 'peace child'. As long as the peace child lived, peace was guaranteed. And the peace child was exempt from fattening the pig for the slaughter, for killing the peace child was the greatest sin.
At last Don and Carol had the key to unlock the Sawi culture. They explained that Jesus was God's peace child, and he was killed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Judas was now no longer the hero and the Sawi became Christians in large numbers.
What a breakthrough for God's kingdom!
Jesus claimed on several occasions that He had the authority to forgive sins. For many this is a deeply offensive thing to say. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ is challenged by many people today. It is very instructive to think deeply about people who believe that they can find God without Jesus. As we have seen before, some people will go to extreme lengths to earn their salvation. Consider this true story about a 'raised arm baba'. How do you respond to Amar's self-torture? Do you admire him or do you feel sad for him?
Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
In 1970, Sadhu Amar Bharati, left his wife and children and decided to completely devote himself to the Hindu god Shiva. In 1973 he wanted to show his devotion to Shiva in a unique way that would also sever him from all worldly pleasures and comforts. Amar made a vow to raise his right hand to the sky and keep it there… indefinitely. He experienced the typical numbness and tingling that we all feel when a limb "falls asleep". Even when that light tingling turned to extreme pain, Amar continued to serve Shiva, his god. After a certain amount of time, he claims the pain subsided and now the arm stands erect, seemingly on its own. The muscles have atrophied and the girth of the right arm has shrunk in relation to his left. Since clipping his nails would have required bringing the arm down, Amar hasn’t trimmed them in decades. His nails are now mangled and curl around his fingers.
Perhaps even more strangely, Amar isn't alone in his one-handed salute to Shiva. He has begun to disciple other Hindu holy men who also have a raised a hand toward the sky. Some of his followers have held their hands high for over 10 years.
Compare and Contrast
There are at least four different ways of making sense of this story. Where would you put yourself?
- Materialist response: Amar – you are crazy doing this. Go shopping and have some fun! Save up and buy a BMW. Drink champagne and watch football on the telly.
- Relativist response: Amar – I don't agree with you but I so admire the path you have freely chosen. You are being true to yourself. It’s your choice. Pat yourself on your back with your left arm.
- Ascetic response: Amar – you are right to torture yourself. Shiva will be pleased with your sacrifice. You are purifying your soul and you will be rewarded.
- Christian response: Amar – you do not need to suffer all this pain and agony. Creation is very good and your arm is a good gift from God. On the cross Jesus died for your sins. Follow Jesus and God will forgive you. He will raise you up on the last day and give you a wonderful resurrection body with two perfect arms.
Rachel is a young Christian woman and she is thinking about becoming a diplomat in the Foreign Office. She is challenged by a Christian friend who tells her that she will be wasting her life by going into such a ‘worldly’ and political profession. Again, and again, we can come up against this attitude, can’t we? The attitude that wants to create a hierarchy of callings. How do you love God in your job when it involves dealing with shady characters, compromised situations and ethical dilemmas? The OT book of Daniel can help us think through this issue.
Daniel was a learned man and he would have known that God’s law is not devoted exclusively to so-called ‘spiritual’ concerns, but he would also have known that he was living in a very different culture, a very different state, with different rules and codes.
How could he live out God's story with any integrity in such a broken, pagan culture? We get an insight into Daniel's diplomatic skills early on in his career when the question of diet reared its ugly head in chapter 1. If Daniel had resorted to a confrontational style or mockery of the Babylonian diet, his plan would have failed. He stays gracious and he keeps negotiating. He suggests a closed-door experiment, a dietary test, for himself and his three Jewish colleagues (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah). Ashpenaz agrees to this.
Fast forward ten days. Daniel and his three friends have passed the test with flying colours and Ashpenaz has ordered their diet permanently changed. So coming back to our friend Rachel, having read about Daniel and Jesus' teachings, she explains to her dualistic friend that Jesus had some very positive things to say about diplomacy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Diplomats are, of course, in a job where they can really take these words seriously and do something to stop wars and its ensuing destruction, misery and bloodshed.
Today, as in the time of Jesus and Daniel, ambassadors, diplomats, negotiators, mediators, and relevant others need great skill in communications, a deep knowledge of other cultures and politics, and a good handle on the actual problems. In the murky world of Babylonian politics, Daniel sought the wisdom of God to tell His story. Are you in an area of work that you feel is constantly compromised by the world? Your calling is not to abandon God as you walk through the door, but to bring transformation with wisdom that is deeper than that which the world can offer.
Frank is a real life opera singer who was due to play the role of Scarpia in Puccini's famous opera Tosca. He was a gifted bass singer and had never heard a sermon that connected the Christian faith to his work challenges. On a hospital visit he asked his ear nose & throat surgeon whether as a Christian he should be taking on such a role.
"Scarpia is a real scoundrel who takes delight in raping poor, vulnerable Tosca," he said. The surgeon explained that God wants his disciples to do "all things in the name of Jesus" and this includes singing in an opera (Colossians 3). After a great deal of discussion and thought they came up with the following solution. The surgeon advised him to interpret Scarpia in a way that spills the perfume of Jesus. "Don't glorify or trivialise what Scarpia is up to," he advised, "Sing the part so that people are horrified by this wicked tyrant."
And that's what he did. The opera singer had been helped by a surgeon to develop a baptised imagination.