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I've just returned from Unbelievable the conference. It was brilliant to be there with Justin Brierley, Andy Bannister, Sharon Dirckx, Ruth Jackson and many others.

I launched my new poem, "Given." Words here.

Together with Andy Bannister we attempted to answer the top 5 hardest questions asked by the Unbelievable listeners (Why hell? What about OT wars? Can we trust the Bible? Why isn't God more obvious? and What about other religions?).

I led a seminar on how to reach out online. This meant I could share one of my favourite comedy videos to teach about the difference between yelling at cardboard cut outs and truly interacting with people:

And at the end of the day I was part of a panel discussion. My questions to answer were about sexuality, hell and Israel. My answer to the Israel question was just forming as I was speaking, but on the train on the way back a clearer answer crystalised. So here's what I wish I'd said...

QUESTION: My friend was talking about Israel and I wanted to make our discussion something that pointed to Jesus, what should I say when the topic comes up?

(Note the questioner was not talking about the political state of Israel nor Zionism nor the events of the last week. This was not about the IDF or Gaza but of the ethnic people group, Israel, more generally).

ANSWER:

The existence of Israel in the world is like the existence of two other remarkable facts. There's the extraordinary suffering and success of ethnic Israel; there's the extraordinary suffering and success of the person of Jesus; and there's the extraordinary suffering and success of the church.

Each of these three are peerless in their category. Israel is unmatched in the category of ethnic people groups. Jesus in unmatched in the category of historical persons. The church is unmatched in terms of global communities.

Israel has endured remarkable suffering, not just in the last century but from their days in Egypt onwards. At the same time it's incredible that they exist. I've never met a Moabite or a Hittite but I know many Jews. And the success of this proportionately tiny people group is incredible. One example: 22.5% of Nobel laureates have been awarded to Jews who represent 0.2% of the world's population. Incredible suffering and incredible success.

Jesus famously endured remarkable suffering. Above all things he is depicted as crucified and his biographies are dominated by his suffering and death. At the same time he is the most successful leader in history. Down through the ages and across the globe billions have followed him. Incredible suffering and incredible success.

The Christian church is the most persecuted group on the planet and at the same time the most successful sociological movement the world has ever seen. It continues to grow in the world in spite of opposition, in fact it seems to grow most where opposition is harshest. Suffering and success together.

Now let's put these three things together. In 2000BC Abraham is told that his offspring will suffer and succeed (Genesis 15:13-15). According to the flesh the offspring of Abraham is Israel. Singularly the offspring of Abraham is Christ (Galatians 3:16). Spiritually and corporately the offspring of Abraham is the church — those united to Christ (Galatians 3:29).

This means that the extraordinary suffering and success of Israel (Abraham's ethnic offspring) and the extraordinary suffering and success of the church (Abraham's spiritual offspring) are pointers to the extraordinary suffering and success of Jesus (Abraham's singular offspring) — and it was all predicted in 2000BC!

Standing in history are an ethnic people and a spiritual community that demand explanation. And the best explanation is the suffering and success of the most extraordinary man who ever lived: Jesus. Let Israel and the church lead you to Christ.

Anyway, that's the answer that crystallised for me on the train on the way back!

A great day, well done Premier for putting it on, and stay tuned for details of how to view the content.

DOWNLOAD VIDEO

If I should die think only this
... A bullet flew by that did not miss...

What story of the war is told?
Romance bright or horror cold?
Triumph's tale or tragic loss,
the iron or the wooden cross?
Lost lament or victor's boast?
Full brass band or lone last post?
Heroes, villains, cowards, kings?
It's war... it's all these things.

It's us unleashed for good and ill,
the gallant heart, the savage will.
A Kaiser's pride, a nation's fear,
a global greed, it's all in here.

What causes war, the old book asks?
Beyond the history, beneath the masks,
There grows a want, becomes a will,
demands our way, prepares to kill.

The war we mark as long ago,
is close to home, it's all we know.
What ceases war? The pressing question.
What can halt inborn aggression?
To end all wars and retribution -
war itself is no solution.

Can terror end all terror now?
Brute force subdue itself and bow?
Can darkness drive out darkened dread?
Or death extinguish death instead?

We need to interrupt the spiral.
A healing antiretroviral.
The story's told of an Anti-Zeus -
A God of Peace turned Human Truce.
Into our world, into our midst -
a walking, talking armistice.

A King made meek, a power made weak,
to stand and turn the other cheek,
to take the blow, absorb disgrace,
and rise to give again His face.
In grace undimmed and arms unfurled,
to bless and pacify the world...

...and you - to sweet surrender brought,
forgiveness for your battles fought,
a peace to pass to every soul,
then warfare ceased from pole to pole.

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You can download a copy for showing in church here.

Please do share - we're offering a free copy of 321 to enquirers. Pray that many find hope at Easter through this little resource.

If you had been here my brother would not have died.
If you'd tried.
Were you otherwise occupied? Hands tied?

Or did you hide? Maybe biding your time? For what?
A deeper challenge, a grander entrance, a brighter glory, a better story?

"The nick of time" is a good story.
That would do.
11th hour, you'd come through.
Midnight you were due.
Now it's half past two.
Where were you?

If you had been here he would not have died.
You were meant to ride on your white horse, enter the fray, the dragon slay, save the day.
Did you hear us pray?
Did you want it this way?

If you had been here to stop him dying...
Why are you crying?
You're meant to be death-defying,
now you're sighing at the tomb, decrying mortal ruin.
Why in God's name are you queueing for the same?

You're commander in chief, we demanded relief, but you landed beneath all our sorrows and grief.
Now it's you on your knees empty-handed, bequeathing us none of our pleas.
Is this what you chose? To bring only tears? We've got plenty of those!

Why are you here?
You say: "To draw near."

Then you sink like a stone past the brink of the chasm we desperately fear.
In darkness enfolded, our terrors you shouldered, while pierced by the nails and the spear.

You have been here.
You've stooped far below all depths that we know, engulfed in our weeping and woe.
Submerged in the grave, then risen to save, upending assumptions we'd made.

If you had been here,
the way that we'd prayed,
we'd only succeed in sorrow delayed.
We'd only evade the reaper for now,
But soon we would bow,
Soon we'd be ploughed in the ground, with no-one to plead.

Yet,
through you, death's a gardener and we are the seed.
And this is the path Resurrection decreed.

If you will be here,
drawing near, that will do.
For now to know you in your grace we can face what is true.
“As in Adam the world dies, so in Christ all WILL arise.”

When you appear - and my brother too -
When you wipe away tears,
when darkness clears,
when mourning has cheered
and joy swallows fear.

Through all our years,
here's how we'll cope,
this our sure hope:
You will be here.

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WORDS:

“Every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” Ebenezer Scrooge.

SCROOGE

I like the darkness... at least it’s cheap,
I keep adjusted to the gloom, the creeping doom,
that soon consumes the earth in tombs,
I hum its tune. Assume its tone and make my home right here
in the only world we know.
This world of woe.
Let others throw their festive flings,
I think I’ll keep my five gold rings.

SHOPPER

Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves,
She loves the doves.
Yeah shove it on the card above.
...No never fear my dear, I’ll pay it all...
Next year.

For now we’ll drink to Christmas cheer!
And deck the halls with tinselled bling,
Forget what our tomorrows bring
We’ll raise a glass of festive sherry,
Eat and drink and be quite m...

SANTA

Merry Christmas everyone! And what's your wish for me, my son?

A hamper full of festive fun!
With snowdrops, rainbows, furry mittens;
unicorns and mewling kittens.

Santa's sleigh may bring them near, but were you good for me this year?

Why YES, I think. I didn’t sink as low as some I know...
although…
Hey, No!
Father Christmas, mind your own business!

The kids might believe but they are naive.
I know for certain, I see through the curtain.
But when you strip it all bare, what exactly is there?

See Scrooge looks darkness full in the face,
embracing the chill but he loses the will to hope

The Shopper copes better, throws off fetters,
wears garish sweaters, but becomes a debtor,
spending now but nothing later,
tending down into death’s crater.

Santa offers Christmas cheer,
the most wonderful time of the year,
but is it real?
At least Scrooge knew the deal with the dark.

In this stark world can we face facts like Scrooge?
Then paint it rouge like the Shopper?
Proper banter like Santa,
But below the Ho, Ho, Ho, can we know a truth beneath treacle?

Good news of great Joy for all people?

STABLE

Are we able to strip back to the stable,
This fable made flesh, our Maker enmeshed in the mess.
To bless us, possess us, and be heaven’s Yes to our race.
To embrace us in grace, evermore in our place.
Pledging flesh, blood and bone. To exchange a throne for a manger.
Endangering all to be present to you. To be God’s present to you.

If you’re Santa or Shopper, or any such thing.
If you’re shepherd, or Mary or Joseph or king.
For this the herald angels sing.

In Him the Light shines and all is forgiven.
To you this Christmas Child is given.

 

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For Halloween / Hallelujah / Light Parties:

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WORDS

I've updated these slightly from those that are on the audio file...

Have you ever turned the darkness on?
Have you flicked a switch and the blackness shone?
Have you ever lit a lamp at night?
The darkness flees before the light!

Jesus please be my Light.
Shine into our darkest night
Jesus, our Risen Sun.
We thank you Lord that your light has won.

Have you ever seen the sunrise fail?
When it shines above can the night prevail?
Can the shadows push against the light?
Or gloom defeat the blazing bright?

Jesus please be my Light.
Shine into our darkest night
Jesus, our Risen Sun.
We thank you Lord that your light has won.

Have you ever been afraid of the dark?
The gloom departs with a single spark.
The night-time gets chased away
While the Sun is up it's always Day.

Jesus please be my Light.
Shine into our darkest night
Jesus, our Risen Sun.
We thank you Lord that your light has won

 

WORDS AND TAB

Am                       Dm       Am
Have you ever turned the darkness on?

C                                 G         C
Have you flicked a switch and the blackness shone?

Am                  Dm      Am
Have you ever lit a lamp at night?

C                  G          C
The darkness flees before the light!

 

F            G     Am
Jesus please be my Light.

C              G       C
Shine into our darkest night

F          G     Am
Jesus, our Risen Sun.

C                           G         C
We thank you Lord that your light has won.

 

It's National Poetry Day apparently, so here are a couple from my teenage years. The first was written just after arriving in the UK from Australia (aged 14)

Yoh-ghurt, Vite-amins, Sconns (to be performed)

Yoh-ghurt, Vite-amins, Sconns,
Yoh-ghurt, Vite-amins, Sconns,
The ways of saying these words are obeying
Rules of expanding your cultural standing.
You're making a case for social debase,
By cruelly denouncing the ways of pronouncing,
Yoggurt, Vittamins, Scoanes.

 

Big Issue

Big Issue, Big Issue,
A tool to accrue street cred,
As I tread down the no-through lane,
Diplayin' my copy for all the world,
My lips smugly curled at the end,
As I pretend to have read it.
I haven't.
Instead it's there to combat the stare
of the next vendor as I pass,
Upholding the farce of my middle-class trauma.
"No thanks!" says I, "Already read it." I lie,
And sell mine on round the corner.

trinity iconPerhaps my favourite verse of Scripture - notice the roles of the three Persons:

“The Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to Streams of Living Water and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)

 

And so...

 

For our anxious little realm,
for the fears that overwhelm…

There is a throne.

For mistakes we can’t forget
and the sins that still beset…

We have a Lamb.

For our lost and lonely hearts,
for our gnarled and tangled paths…

We have a Shepherd.

For our dry and listless souls
and our thirst for being whole…

We have a Stream.

For regret and ravaged years,
for all sweet and bitter tears...

We have a Father.

For treks through burning sands,
To our home in promised lands,
This hope till all is done:
Our God the three-in-one.

"The Sacrifice" by George Herbert:

OH all ye, who passe by, whose eyes and minde
To worldly things are sharp, but to me blinde;
To me, who took eyes that I might you finde:
Was ever grief like mine?
...

Judas, dost thou betray me with a kisse?
Canst thou finde hell about my lips? and misse
Of life, just at the gates of life and blisse?
Was ever grief like mine?
...

Then they condemne me all with that same breath,
Which I do give them daily, unto death.
Thus Adam my first breathing rendereth:
Was ever grief like mine?
...

Behold, they spit on me in scornfull wise,
Who by my spittle gave the blinde man eies,
Leaving his blindnesse to my enemies:
Was ever grief like mine?
...

The souldiers also spit upon that face,
Which Angels did desire to have the grace,
And Prophets, once to see, but found no place:
Was ever grief like mine?
...

O all ye who passe by, behold and see;
Man stole the fruit, but I must climbe the tree;
The tree of life to all, but onely me:
Was ever grief like mine?
...

In healing not my self, there doth consist
All that salvation, which ye now resist;
Your safetie in my sicknesse doth subsist:
Was ever grief like mine?
...

Read the whole astonishing poem

Check out our Easter Spoken Word videos BREAD OF HEAVEN and CANNONBALL

Plus, here's some stuff you're welcome to rip off if you like...

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Gethsemane:

Here's an idea for an all-age sermon / school assembly. It's a game of pass the parcel where the parcel is a poisoned cup. There's a song to go with it:

 

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Also for Maundy Sunday, I love this setting of When You Prayed Beneath the Trees.

Forget the singer, Christopher Idle's song's in my top 5 all time hymns.

 

Cross

Seed Song (Jesus is the Seed who dies and rises to bring life)

 

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Resurrection

Firstfruits

 

Easter Morn (the song that became 'Firstfruits' - no round)

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Little Fish! (Jesus is bigger than death)

 

Some Easter Sermons

Hebrews 2:14-18 (Last Sunday's sermon)

Some Talks By Others About Death (and Resurrection)

Dev Menon: Death Part 1 (Good Friday)

Dev Menon: Death Part 2 (Easter Sunday)

John Behr: Death the Final Frontier

John Behr: Taking Back Death

 

Videos

Some Easter .

 

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Feel free to DOWNLOAD the video and use it in church / youth group / wherever.

And here's me explaining the teaching behind the video

Our other spoken word videos:

 

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