If Seeing Is Believing – Why Don’t We?

On February 11th 2016, scientists around the world jumped for joy as they announced that they had detected ‘Gravitational Waves’ produced by the spinning and collision of two black holes more than a billion light-years from the Earth! The news was greeted with euphoria as it finally confirmed the prediction made by Albert Einstein 100 years ago in his Theory of General Relativity and supported by Professor Stephen Hawking’s work relating to black holes. The discovery was hailed as a landmark because it will revolutionise the way that we think about the creation of the universe and our continued understanding of it. The discovery is remarkable because Einstein himself had thought that gravitational waves would be too weak for anyone to detect – and yet the scientists have done it, and the evidence is there for all to see. Seeing is believing!

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Yet, however great the discovery of gravitational waves might be, it surely pales into insignificance compared to the discovery that was made by some women two thousand years ago, when they found that the tomb used to place the dead, crucified body of Jesus was empty, and that Jesus was indeed alive. It sounds completely astonishing, astounding and fanciful, and just the sort of thing that might be the product of the over active imaginations of some rather hysterical, grief stricken women! In fact, it’s a story that could be easily dismissed if it wasn’t for the fact that their story was corroborated by others – many others, and neatly summarised by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Christians at Corinth (I Corinthians 15.3-8). There were of course the women, but then there were the disciples, and Peter; a crowd of 500, James (the brother of Christ and later leader of the church in Jerusalem), the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and finally Paul himself, but perhaps the most telling, poignant and significant encounter was with Thomas. Thomas had been absent when the risen Christ had first met with his disciples, and upon hearing their exhilarating news, he refused to believe it, saying, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand in his side (the dead body of Jesus had been speared to prove death), I will not believe it.” (John 20.25). Like many others, I am so glad that this account has been recorded for us, because it shows a man who would not allow his heart to rule his head but wanted tangible proof of a story that would have seemed just as incredible in his day as it does in ours. Strikingly, when the Lord eventually appeared to Thomas, and he was invited to physically examine Christ’s wounds, we are not told that he did so, instead he immediately knelt before Jesus, proclaiming him to be “My Lord and my God”. Seeing was believing and seeing Christ before him was more than enough! Every doubt, worry and anxiety was blown away by this incredible and unique experience.

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The problem for us is, that we weren’t there, and many therefore refuse to believe. We will believe in the existence of gravitational waves simply because we are told by scientists that we have empirical proof, but what could be more substantial than the testimony of those who saw the risen Christ with their own eyes, embraced him, ate with him and were able to share in other forms of fellowship with him? These people were witnesses and many were prepared to die themselves on the basis of their experience and what they had seen with their own eyes. But we may protest, and therefore shout all the more loudly that rising from death is just impossible for human beings, to which my answer (along with that of so many others) is – precisely. This man, this ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, although fully human, was more than that – he was also divine. He was as the Bible puts it, ‘the Son of God’. So, unless we are prepared to ignore all the evidence to the contrary, we have to accept that this event too was of cosmic significance and totally revolutionises the way we look at the universe and our place within it.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and meaningful Easter.


“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” John 20.27


 

Let’s Celebrate The Prince Of Peace This Christmas

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In the light of recent atrocities carried out around the world and especially those in November carried out in Paris in the name of the so called ‘Islamic State’, it’s easy to see why some people take the view that it’s religion which is the cause of all evil, suffering and division. It’s especially easy to adopt this perspective if you have no religious faith of your own and yet wish to find some sort of convenient explanation as to why there should be so much sadness, suffering, anger and hate in the world, whilst at the same time distancing oneself from it. Unfortunately this view is rather too simplistic and doesn’t actually tell the whole story. For instance, it doesn’t adequately explain why so many of the victims of ‘Islamic State’ have actually been Muslim, or why some of the recent Islamic extremists weren’t particularly religious until they became radicalised. Neither does it recognise the vast amount of good that is done by people of faith and particularly by Christians up and down the land. The truth is that although none of us are perfect, there are some truly horrible people in the world, who at the slightest insult will do all that they can to ‘get even’, or take advantage, using whatever means, power or influence they have to gain control and satisfy their own wicked ends, regardless of the cost to others or the number of people they hurt. When sufficient individuals gather together in such a way, they have the means to become an expression of pure evil.

However, CHRISTMAS IS A REMINDER THAT THE WORLD DOES NOT HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS! At Christmas, the Christian celebrates the wonderful truth that ‘Almighty God’, the Creator of the universe, steps into his creation. He literally stepped into this forlorn and broken world in the person of Jesus, arriving not as a conquering king, tyrant or dictator, but as a tiny, fragile, vulnerable little baby; not as a superman immune to our trials and tribulations, but as a human being, walking, talking and experiencing the joys and pains of life just like each and every one of us. His ambition therefore was not to control the world or coerce its inhabitants in any way, but to transform it, starting with its people – by giving each and every man, woman and child the possibility of a new start and a new life ‘in Christ’. This is done by a simple act of repentance, a true and genuine act of contrition for every bad thing that we have ever said or done which spoils our lives and those of the people around us. It is not simply a case of saying sorry (as important as that is) or trying to be good (for who can be good enough?). It is done by putting one’s faith in the person of Jesus, acknowledging him to be our Lord and Saviour who dies for us upon the cross wiping out our sin, and indeed the sin of the world, and offering us forgiveness in its place. This is an act of pure and unadulterated love on the part of God, who ‘loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3.16). This is not simply an act of atonement but of peace, for how can we hate ourselves or the people around us if we know that God has expressed his love for us in the person of Jesus and dies for them, offering the same promise of hope, joy and peace to us all? This is truly GOOD NEWS and can make a world of difference to the world in which we live. No wonder Jesus is called the ‘Prince of Peace’!


For unto us a child is born…. Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’. Isaiah 9.6


Fury, Faith, Fortitude And Forgiveness – Reflections On Remembrance Sunday

Edith Cavell
Edith Cavell

As our nation turns once again towards Remembrance Sunday, we can note that 2015 has certainly been a year of commemoration, celebration and quiet reflection, marking as it did both the 70th anniversaries of VE Day (Victory in Europe Day, 8th May 1945) and VJ Day (Victory over Japan Day, 15th August 1945) along with the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The latter was marked by the magnificent sight and sound of 40 Spitfires and Hurricanes, and a single Blenheim, patrolling our coastlines once more back in September. No doubt there are many more significant occasions, notable events and distinguished acts of service that we as a nation should do our best to remember and take pride in. Not that we glorify war, because war is always a terrible thing and the cost of it purely in terms of human suffering is always immense, and yet despite its fury, we pay tribute to all those whose stoicism, faith and fortitude preserved our freedom, values and British way of life, remembering especially those who died in the process – and to this end I would like to invite and encourage you to join us at one of our Remembrance Day Services across the Benefice as we remember those who gave their lives in service of the nation, and give thanks to God for the freedom we enjoy.

Sadly our world is far from perfect, and when evil raises its ugly head we are constantly challenged as to what our response should be. It is Edmund Burke who is credited with the famous saying that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” and although it’s hard to pin down a definitive version of that phrase or even its attribution to Burke, we all know what it means. Ultimately, we all need to be prepared to ‘stand up and be counted’, for when it comes to challenging evil we appreciate that we can’t always pass that particular responsibility on to others. One such person was Edith Cavell, the World War 1 British nurse who is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers in Brussels from all sides without distinction. As a nurse she refused to ignore the suffering of the wounded soldiers she came across regardless of their nationality, treating them all equally as human beings. However, her medical impartiality didn’t mean that she was neutral as far as the war effort was concerned, for with the help of Belgian and French colleagues she helped over 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. Eventually she was arrested and found guilty by a German military court of ‘assisting men to the enemy’, culminating with her execution by firing squad on the 12 October 1915. The railway carriage or ‘Cavell Van’ which brought her body back to England has recently been on display outside The Forum’ in Norwich to mark the centenary of her death. However, on the evening before she died, Edith Cavell wrote in her diary some very moving words. She wrote Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

Edith Cavell was a Christian woman who was magnanimous in death, even forgiving her executioners. Her actions were no doubt influenced by the example of Jesus, who had in life exalted his disciples not only ‘to love God and your neighbour as yourself’ but their enemies too, and forgave his executioners even as they put him to death upon the cross. As previously mentioned, war is a terrible thing and sadly sometimes can’t be avoided, but it shouldn’t be the war or acts of violence which define us. It should be our attitude to life and the way we choose to live it which should be our lasting epitaph.


Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6.31


Let’s Plant A Little Hope This Harvest!

Send A Cow Harvest Appeal
Send A Cow Harvest Appeal

The plight of so many tired and weary people travelling towards and across Europe at this present time is really quite astonishing. Many do so because they fear for their lives and seek a place of safety and refuge, others (often because of war) have found their local circumstances to be simply unbearable and so they seek a better life in ‘foreign’ places of freedom and opportunity. The travelling is hard; the risks are great and for those prepared to do so – costly. Apart from risking their lives, most people have had to leave most of their personal possessions behind and have either spent their ‘travelling money’ on food or had it stolen by people smugglers and others wanting to exploit their situation. The one thing that unites these travellers and keeps them moving is hope! The immediate hope of a place to live in safety and peace, and the future hope of a better life, greater security and opportunity both for themselves and their children. Naturally, every face tells a story, and presents a challenge to world leaders and politicians. How compassionate are we – and how charitable can we afford to be? These questions will require a great deal of wisdom, soul searching and fortitude if we are ever collectively to find positive answers.

Harvest time is a time when we in ‘the west’ can really ‘count our blessings’ and appreciate just how lucky and fortunate we are. With so many shops at our disposal and convenience, we tend to take our daily lives for granted and never really think or entertain the thought that we might not know where our next meal or morsel is coming from. How lucky we are!

That’s why we as a church would like to continue to support Send a Cow’s Harvest for Life’ Appeal and encourage you to do the same. Last year we successfully raised enough money to provide several ‘Keyhole Gardens’ and this year’s appeal is to provide ‘Growing Kits’, which will enable families in Africa to become self-sufficient by giving them the tools, seeds and training to grow and harvest their own crops. Every £177 raised is enough to provide a ‘Growing Kit’ to a family. Send a Cow acknowledges that “poverty robs people of the power to choose their own path”, but their work with rural communities across Africa teaches, encourages and shows people how to get the best out of their soil and livestock, so that they can feed their families all year round. Socially, African husbands are also encouraged to see their wives as equals, appreciating that by positively working together they will be more successful at sustaining themselves and their children. Having grown enough food to feed themselves, families are able to sell the rest which improves their quality of life and allows them to send their children to school. This provides real hope and security for the future. Also Send A Cow’s ‘pass-it-on’ principle means that with every successful harvest, skills, knowledge and produce are shared with others within the community making it even more successful.

I would therefore like to encourage you this harvest to take stock of and count your blessings, and join us if you can for our special harvest service on 4th October at Necton, as we celebrate God’s goodness to each and every one of us and as we support this special appeal.

We’d also like to encourage people to bring to church ‘imperishables’ which can be brought up to the front during the service. These will subsequently be donated to the Swaffham Food Bank helping those people literally ‘on our doorstep’ who are finding it hard to make ends meet.

We very much hope you will come and we look forward to seeing you.


Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. James 3.18


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In Praise Of Church Bells

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This month, I am very much looking forward to our “Summer Concert & Abseiling from the Church Tower” weekend (Fri 3rd & Saturday 4th July) as we try to raise some money towards the restoration of our church bells. I know perfectly well that in the grand scheme of things there are many other things that are much more important and significant to people’s immediate welfare than church bells and I wouldn’t for one moment want to pretend otherwise – but equally, we in Britain have a great and grand tradition of ‘English’ church bell ringing (which is completely different to that done across Europe), not just for church services but at times of national significance and joyful celebration. Recently bells have been rung to celebrate various Royal occasions, the Olympics, and commemorate various anniversaries pertaining to both the first and second world wars. Not only are they our bells rung for Sunday services but they are also rung to celebrate weddings and other joyful events of people from our community. The bells therefore add another colour and facet to our daily life bringing us all together – and it would be such a shame if they were to fall silent just because we couldn’t afford to maintain them. So if you are one of those ‘brave souls’ who is prepared to jump off the tower and raise some funds for us on Saturday – thank you very much indeed! Or can I encourage you to sponsor those who are? I would also like to invite you to come to our ‘Summer Concert’ on Friday evening (7.30pm). It would be lovely to see you and your attendance really would be very much appreciated.

I’m sure that most of you will appreciate that for me as a clergyman, and as Rector of All Saints Necton, the bells are immensely symbolic, for they remind us that despite our busy and increasingly secular lives, there is still a place for God, both at the heart of our community and at significant times in our lives. God is there. He is always there, as represented by his church – not just in the bricks and mortar of our buildings, but in the hearts and minds of those who put their faith and trust in him. The bells are a call to worship, but they are also rung in celebration of his presence amongst us, even at the most difficult times in our lives. We may not always feel his presence, but fortunately faith is not based upon feeling, but upon our simple knowledge and understanding of him. The bells go on to remind us that God’s love for us both as individuals and as a community is not fickle, ‘here one moment and gone the next’, but like them, is constant, steadfast and enduring – and that has to be not only a comfort to many, but a cause for celebration.

Yours as ever,

Stephen Thorp


‘and surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ Matthew 28.20


(If you would like to know more about All Saints Necton just click the link in the ‘Link List), 

Floods, Chaos And A Bewildered Hippopotamus

People help a hippopotamus escape from a flooded zoo in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sunday, June 14, 2015. Tigers, lions, a hippopotamus and other animals have escaped from the zoo in Georgiaís capital after heavy flooding destroyed their enclosures, prompting authorities to warn residents in Tbilisi to stay inside Sunday. (AP Photo/Tinatin Kiguradze)

It would be comical if it wasn’t so sad! The sight of a heavily sedated hippopotamus being herded along the streets of Tbilisi by a group of civilians in the wake of a major flood that has devastated the Georgian capital and smashed its city’s zoo, is extraordinary. Sadly thirteen people are known to have tragically lost their lives in the flooding, and the city’s police have subsequently come under intense scrutiny for appearing to cavalierly shoot the escaped animals rather than see them be recaptured. A wolf that was shot by police even though it had been safely sedated appears to undermine the official police reports that their only desire was to protect civilians. Between the flooding and police shootings, the zoo has lost over half its animals, with its owners begging that animals are only shot if there is direct evidence that they are a danger to people (like the white tiger which sadly killed a man). ‘Begi’, the Hippopotamus, having been safely returned to an elephant cage high above the flood waters appears to be one of the lucky ones.

This devastating loss of human and animal life, combined with all the mud, water and chaos, is reminiscent of the biblical story of Noah. Now, many will immediately dismiss this ‘fanciful story’ as myth and legend, treating it as either a lovely bedtime story for little children or as the inspiration for the latest fantasy movie. Most will not be aware that there are many other ‘flood story’ accounts (such as the Gilgamesh Epic) springing out of the Middle East which give credence to the possibility that an actual flood occurrence might be part of that region’s collective memory. Regardless of its cultural background, not many will consider the story as it actually is – as theology, considering what it might have to say to us about our human condition or the nature of God! The sombre beginning to the Noah story sets the scene; “The earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (Genesis 6.11). The situation is far removed from the state of perfection found in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1 & 2). The mere fact that God was prepared to ‘wipe the slate clean’ with such a catastrophic flood and start again shows just how devastating it was to him that the earth should be so painfully wicked. It’s an extreme situation requiring an extreme response. God’s own holiness demanded that he acted, but his love and mercy required that he should also save the penitent. So, in steps Noah, a righteous man is given the task of building an Ark. But it’s not just his faith which is on display – it’s his obedience! Noah’s faith, trust and obedient actions lead him to produce the means by which a faithful remnant can be saved. The world is given a second chance through him. The hero of the Gilgamesh Epic closes the door upon his own boat, but in the story of Noah we are specifically told that it was God who ‘shut him in’, looking after, caring for and protecting Noah and his family. The seeds of salvation which ultimately come to fruition in the story of Jesus and his death upon the cross, are first sown for us here in the story of Noah.

Upon reflection, I’m not remotely saying that the situation in Georgia is a result of the people’s sin, but sometimes when we look at the state of the world and see how violent it can be at times – it’s not only ‘Begi’ the hippo who’s left utterly bewildered. But in the fight against wickedness, violence and corruption, we like God need to be prepared to see sin for the dreadful evil that it truly is, trusting that with God’s help the loving and faithful actions of a few can make all the difference.

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Genesis 8.1

Mediterranean Migrants – Compassion, Care And Caution

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I DON’T THINK WE’VE EVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT! The sight of so many poor people stranded on rickety boats, without food and water bobbing about on the Mediterranean Sea, desperate for help and longing to get to shore, is heartbreaking. Every boat seems to contain a heart wrenching story of brutal behaviour and callous mistreatment. Some people have been murdered for scraps of food, others have been thrown overboard due to religious intolerance, others have simply died from sickness and malnutrition and all have been exploited by people smugglers and cast adrift to meet an uncertain fate. The authorities are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and those countries closest to the crisis are pleading for international help to cope with so many refugees. Apart from the numbers it’s a complex and uncomfortable problem for underneath the obvious and overwhelming humanitarian need there is also a concern that the boats might contain a ‘Trojan horse’- Islamic extremists intent on getting to Europe with a more sinister intent.

Whatever the potential dangers might be, in the first instance we always need to give people the ‘benefit of the doubt’, treating them compassionately as individuals, for the vast majority of these people are genuine refugees fleeing the violence of war torn conflicts in Lybia and Syria. Not many people (men, women and children) would undertake such a desperate and dangerous journey unless they were completely and utterly afraid. We always need to remember and try to understand what it is they are fleeing from! Sometimes in our minds we try to make a distinction between those who are genuine refugees fearful for their lives and those who are economic migrants simply travelling in search of a better life, but in reality it isn’t always quite so easy to make such a distinction. Even if you weren’t in danger of physical harm, if all the structures you knew and relied upon had been bombed out of existence so that you couldn’t even feed yourself or your family, which one of us wouldn’t try to start again elsewhere? I’m not saying that governments shouldn’t have criteria or controls, but simply pointing out that sometimes these distinctions aren’t always easy to maintain.

The Christian view point has always been that life is sacred, for we are all made in the ‘image of God’ and the Bible teaches us that we should not only love God with all of our heart, but ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 22.29). Indeed Jesus reminds us in one of his parables that when we are generous in our care and concern of others, it’s almost as if we did it for him, blessing those who do so and judging those who don’t.

The situation may be vast and complex but we mustn’t allow ourselves to let fear and mistrust get in the way of our nation doing the right thing. Undoubtedly, nations must work together to challenge the root causes of such desperation (war, poverty and exploitation) but we must also encourage them to do their very best to provide immediate food, medicine and sanctuary to those in need. We demean ourselves if we turn a blind eye to such human want and suffering and it would be immoral if we were to simply let people – drift!


“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25.40


Can We Afford Not To Vote?

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ALL RIGHT I CONFESS – I DON’T KNOW WHO TO VOTE FOR!

And the truth is I suspect that I’m not alone! Like most people the present ‘coalition government’ has done some things that I completely agree with whilst others have brought me to utter despair. Indeed, there have been many times when I have felt completely disenfranchised by the current stream of politicians without any one single party capable of fairly representing me or my views. The possibility of another ‘hung parliament’ leading to yet another coalition has made things even more difficult with traditional labels no longer seeming relevant: now the Conservatives are the party of the ‘working people’ and Labour are anxious to show that they can be fiscally trusted with the economy. The political permeations are vast with the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Greens and Scottish National Party all vying for our votes – but who has the right ideas and who can be trusted? After all, we all ‘know’, don’t we, that politicians are famous for saying one thing and doing another so why should we bother – and how is it all going to be paid for anyway? Perhaps we should all follow the Russell Brand style of doing things by simply withholding our vote and using our lack of engagement as a silent weapon of protest against the political establishment and elitist system until they see sense. Unfortunately not voting, in my opinion, far from being ‘radical and edgy’ simply translates into an abdication of rights and responsibility and becomes a lame excuse for apathy! How can we possibly influence things for the better if we can’t be bothered to engage with the process? Democracy doesn’t always achieve for us the things that we hope for as individuals, but for us as a society it’s a hard won freedom that we should each cherish, respect and observe.

The problem is of course that we don’t live in a perfect society and neither do our political parties, therefore each one is made up of a mixture of things we like and dislike, good and bad (or good and not so good) and things that we can better identify with or not. Therefore instead of absenting ourselves from the process we need to make even stronger efforts to engage with it and understand things until we come to a decision. This isn’t always easy and for many is a bit of a struggle. Appreciating that there will never be a perfect fit in any human institution, I will vote for the party that sits most comfortably with my Christian faith and looks as if it will enhance our society in the most fair, just and compassionate way – just as you will vote according to your principles and what matters most to you. Perhaps, like me at the time of writing, you don’t know which way to vote, but there is one thing upon which I hope we can all agree and that is that ‘not voting’ is not an option!


“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6.8


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500 People Can’t Be Wrong – Can They?

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Josh McDowell, a Christian minister and author once spoke to a student saying:

“If I prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ was raised from the dead and is the Son of God, will you consider Him?”

The immediate and emphatic reply was “No!”1 

Why are so many people so dismissive even before they’ve given Christianity a chance? Is it because they don’t know the Gospel story or because they can’t accept it to be true? In many ways perhaps both of these are true, because it is increasingly clear that fewer and fewer people have any sort of religious background or contact with a church. Put simply, their parents didn’t go to church, so neither do they! Others dismiss religion as being the by-product of a by-gone age hardly credible for today’s modern thinkers, and recent books such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens reinforce this negative stereotype. Yet the main reason why some people tend to dismiss Christianity ‘out of hand’ is, ironically, not because it’s ‘proven’ to be false but because it might actually be true and if it is true then it’s a challenge!  Books such as the The Dawkins Delusion (Alistair McGrath) and Evidence that Demands a Verdict (John McDowell) have easily shown just how misguided and superficial these popular works by Dawkins and Hitchens are and yet if Jesus really did rise from the grave as at least 500 biblical eye-witnesses maintain (1 Corinthians 15.6) then Jesus has to be the ‘Son of God’ and his resurrection proves that all he ever said and did was true! If this is so, then it has to be the most profound piece of news that this world has ever known and requires a response – a response that requires each one of us to reconsider, take stock of our lives and reassess who we are before God, the world and each other; a response which many will find profoundly disturbing and uncomfortable as it shakes up their cosy world view, which is precisely why so many people tend to dismiss the Gospel story out of hand, not because it isn’t true, but because it suits us.

Today’s media tends to give us instant eye-witness access to the incredibly significant events (both good and bad) which shape our modern world and we seldom doubt the testimony of those who were actually present. Why then, are we so ready to dismiss the eye-witness accounts of those who saw the resurrection, just because they lived in an age prior to the internet?

I would therefore like to invite each person to honestly consider and reflect upon their own attitude towards Christ and their understanding of the Easter story, and to genuinely ask themselves if they have given the Gospel (meaning good news) a fair and open hearing. It is my hope that many will discover a new sense of peace and perspective as they do so.


 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news and said: “I have seen the Lord!”  John 20.18


1 McDowell, Josh: Evidence for Christianity. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006, S. 14

The Seductive Nature Of ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’

fifty shades of grey“It’s an extremely romantic movie,” says Sam Taylor-Johnson, the director of Fifty Shades of Grey, “and at the heart of it, it is a love story,” she told reporters. “I think we got the balance right.” What then could be better than having the film premièred just in time for Valentine’s Day on one of the most romantic weekends of the year? There can be no doubt that the novel has been an extraordinary hit with millions of fans across the world, particularly women, and no doubt many will want to see the film out of curiosity and intrigue, regarding it at worst as simply a poor story and at best as a piece of ‘harmless titillation’ but putting aside the fact that the film is a fictional story between consenting adults, and a stereotypical perception of the church as being ‘anti-sex’. Is this film romantic? Well, even on its own premise it’s hard to consider it so, for Christian Grey (an extremely rich, powerful and good-looking businessman) makes it clear to Anastaia (an innocent and naive young girl) that what transpires between them will be a purely sexual and not remotely romantic encounter. The subsequent series of assignations may be considered by some as an adventurous ‘voyage of discovery’, but it can hardly be called ‘loving’ as Taylor Johnson suggests.

It’s interesting to note that even among secularists it’s not so much the sexual activity that is being called into question but the nature of the relationship between the two central characters. For instance, is it true that sex is completely for pleasure and that all thought of love and romance should be stripped from it? The majority of people are usually unable to give themselves to another without it being considered as a very significant moment. They don’t want their bodies to be treated lightly or casually which is why in common parlance we call it ‘lovemaking’. Secondly Christian Grey may want his women to sign contracts which prevent them from speaking out about what’s happened to them, as if it’s all ‘done and dusted’ and ‘swept under the table’ but most people carry these experiences with them into the future and cannot pretend that they don’t have any bearing upon them, shaping who or what they are! Besides, with regard to sexual encounters, too many women have been made to suffer in silence as it is! Finally, if Christian Grey wasn’t rich, powerful and good looking, we might see the story for what it is – a story about one individual abusing power, manipulating events and controlling the life of another for their own sexual gratification.

The film is a well advertised, slickly marketed, glossy ‘Hollywood’ production and will no doubt do very well at the box-office and make it’s producers a lot of money, but the danger and perhaps the seduction of a film like this is, that it makes one feel that what’s depicted is what every ‘red-blooded man’ should aspire to and what every sexy, erotic woman should be willing to provide. It suggests that violent, manipulative, non-romantic sexual encounters between consenting adults are ‘normal’ and can be brought out into the open as just another perfectly valid lifestyle choice. However, once we have put the story and the ‘entertainment’ to one side along with all the ice-cream and pop-corn, I’m not sure that many people will feel totally comfortable with this as a concept. The film may be entitled ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ but upon reflection it’s amazing how the issues tend to become increasingly black and white.


“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – for your love is more delightful than wine” Song of Solomon 1.2