How the gladiator games came to an end

Theme

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!

Scripture

“In the world you will have trouble, but fear not I have overcome the world.” John 16: 33

Story

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.

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Cannibal tribe transformed by the gospel

Theme

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.

Scripture

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. Mark 16:20

Story

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!

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Amar’s Painful Vow

Theme

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?

Scripture

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Luke 7:48

Story

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.

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Serving God as a Diplomat

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.” Matthew 5:9

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.

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Serving God as an Opera Singer

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 (Col 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.

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French Teachers, Horoscopes and Serving Jesus

Language expert David Smith has argued compellingly that the dominant way of teaching modern foreign languages (MFL) is shaped by consumerist and materialist narratives. The hidden message here is “I shop therefore I am”. Or for those of you who are fluent Latin speakers – “Tesco ergo sum”.

The focus in many French lessons is upon autonomous (self-governing) individuals buying ice creams, making complaints about hotels and busy in the many acts of (self-centred) tourism and consumption.

‘I want a strawberry ice cream’.
‘I want to make a complaint’.
‘I want a cold beer now’.
‘I want to buy a motor bike that makes me look good’.
‘I want a top job in Paris which will make me important’.
‘I want to live in a mansion where I can count out my money’.
‘Foreign person you exist to serve me’!

One other point worth noting is the striking absence of Christian beliefs and insights from MFL materials. It would seem that all foreigners live without any reference to God and Jesus. In fact the only reference to anything remotely ‘religious’ in many MFL syllabi is to horoscopes! Following the stars and following the money god are options in French textbooks but following Jesus is simply ignored.

So do we study French in order to serve the money god? Do we learn our French verbs because we want status, power and autonomy? Or do we learn French so that we can bless and love our neighbours?

A very simple way of teaching French in a Christian way is to tell stories that affirm hospitality and loving your neighbour rather than vignettes that promote consumerism and materialism. Why not do a lesson in French about Randy Lewis or George Cadbury?

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Serving God as an accountant

I’ve been talking to my mate Simon who is an accountant who works for a small business. This is the fruit of our conversation. Accountants can serve God full-time if they have a baptised imagination.

Accountancy has had a bad image ever since the Monty Python sketch with John Cleese and Michael Palin who have a ‘pop’ at accountants… “Dull, dull, dull, dreary, tedious and stuffy.” Is this fair?

Simon has been inspired by the story of Oscar Schindler who ‘fiddled’ the books and saved the lives of 1200 Jews! How did he do this? Old people were recorded as being twenty years younger; children were listed as adults. Lawyers, doctors, and engineers were registered as metalworkers, mechanics, and draughtsmen–all trades considered essential to war production. We’re talking imaginative and life-saving book-keeping!

Simon understands his work in terms of the cultural mandate. How can we unfold and serve creation as accountants? For Simon the accountant has a unique perspective on the company. Accountants go into all the departments making suggestions and recommendations. Simon wants to challenge the idea that all that matters is the profit factor. He is profit sensitive without being profit driven. He says that you have to make profit but not with tunnel vision. He wants to resist what he calls a ‘cynical mindset’ – Accountancy isn’t just number crunching!

He describes putting together a report for the CEO. This isn’t just reeling off facts and figures but infusing the report with local colour and human drama. A richer picture of the world than the kind of (Little Britain) person who says unthinkingly – ‘Computer says No.’ He says that the accountant feels the pulse of the business and he/she can make positive suggestions which can steer the company in good, wise and responsible directions. For example showing love to the cleaners. Maybe going in to bat for them re pay and conditions. You might get knocked down but you have planted an idea in someone’s head. He was also asked to manage a young autistic man. This requires a great deal of sensitivity and thoughtfulness. So the accountant has to be able to teach others effectively (many callings). He would very much like businesses to employ more autistic and disabled people. They can contribute some amazing things to a company. If you have a ‘baptised imagination’ accountants can do amazing things for God’s kingdom!

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Daily Work (Part 1)

I am really looking forward to working with vicar Guy Donegan-Cross and the congregation at St Mark’s, Harrogate next month. We will be exploring how to integrate Christian faith with our daily work and the church has asked RealityBites to craft some sermons on the topic. Fantastic!

A few brief introductory thoughts about our working lives. It’s very helpful to reflect on all the different jobs and work activities that we engage in. From changing a nappy to writing an essay. When did you feel most happy and when did you feel most miserable in a work assignment? Think of it like this. When did time seem to flash by when you were working and when did time seem to drag on minute after excruciating minute?

Here’s my answer to this. The work I have most enjoyed doing is teaching and storytelling. What a pleasure! The work I have least enjoyed doing is marking university level essays. Exhausting and such work makes me irritable and cantankerous! Ask my wife.

How would you answer this question?

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The Ugandan Pastor who has adopted 1700 orphans

Very often we hear bad news from an African country like Uganda. We hear stories about famine, hunger, misery, warfare and man-eating lions. We see disturbing pictures on television and in newspapers but is there any good news which comes from this vast continent? The following story is full of hope and clear evidence that God is at work in a broken, groaning world.

Our story begins in a difficult and challenging time for the nation of Uganda. Picture it if you can. The year is about 1975. Innocent people are vanishing on a daily basis. Idi Amin is the brutal and insane dictator of this benighted land. Opponents of Amin are fed to hungry crocodiles. Murder is in the air.

Little David had never known his dad. He was brought up with his brothers and sisters by his mother on a smallholding about 40 miles from Kampala in Uganda. When he was about nine years old (he isn’t quite sure of his age) his mother and siblings all died of a virulent form of malaria in the space of one week. The villagers helped him to bury his family on nearby land but none of them could adopt him as they already had too many mouths to feed.

David was alone, vulnerable and miserable. What should he do? The inspiring words of his Sunday school teacher “Trust Jesus” filled his mind. He set off for Kampala on foot and several days later he reached this sprawling, ragged city. He knew nobody. Quickly he was adopted by other ragamuffins and shown the best places to sleep and hide from the authorities. He discovered the best spot to find food – the skip outside the kitchens at the opulent Sheraton Hotel.

A few years later the street children heard that Idi Amin’s soldiers were kidnapping the
orphans and were forcing them to work on Idi’s sugar plantations. David was reluctant to work for the rotund and sadistic dictator. How could he escape a life of slavery and brutality? Christian-run businesses in Uganda are very overtly Christian and David noticed a commercial enterprise with a sign that declared: THE JESUS GARAGE.

Nervously David knocked on the door and a huge man came out and seemed startled to see the little lad at his doorstep. David remembers standing on tiptoes to try and look big and cheekily asked the imposing man for a job. Taking pity on him, the man said he could be the sweeper and gave him an old car to sleep in – his first home for years.

Over the next few years David became an accomplished mechanic who specialised in steering alignments. He became a committed Christian through the love and witness of the garage owner who had adopted him. The first thing he did when he had a proper pay packet was to rent a shack and adopt six homeless orphans. He met and married Sarah, a delightful and intelligent lady and they have had 8 children over the years. They adopted a further 9, making 15 adopted in all, and suddenly became aware that the kids needed schooling. They had no idea how they could feed them all but they have never starved. People heard about David’s large family and food or money arrived just when it was needed. After theological training and ordination, David became the Diocesan Evangelist for the Central Buganda Diocese of Uganda.

At first Sarah and David started a nursery school for their children and then they invited other local children. Then they established a primary school, of which they now have two. Then a secondary school was needed and so they set up Centenary High School.

They are now caring for and educating over 2000 children, a large percentage of whom are orphans. Each year they expect about 30 children to be orphaned and they do not turn them out when the school fees stop coming but make more bunk beds and somehow manage to look after them. Just like George Muller, the famous orphan lover of 19th century England, David and Sarah experience amazing provision from God. Money, food and clothing simply appear – often at the last possible moment.

In recent years David and Sarah have built a maize mill with funds from a Bristol
church which provides income and work for his orphans and staff. He has also bought a satellite dish and shows live football games to the local people, charging a small entrance fee to help towards the costs of the school. He is also constructing the “Double Cure Medical Centre” near Mpigi which is where Centenary High School is based. David and Sarah are concerned about every aspect of the lives of their colourful and vibrant community. Loving families, education, maize mills, hospitals and the beautiful game. What a contrast to the brutal and devastating legacy of Idi Amin.

David prefers to be called by his nickname ‘Romans’ and he is a man of integrity and entrepreneurial excellence. He is a Director of the Open Air Campaigners movement in Uganda and in recent months has been asked to organize the evangelization of the entire Buganda-speaking area which consists of six dioceses. His life is a thrilling and exciting adventure. An inspiration to Christians everywhere!

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Outcastes, Karma and Plato

David’s blog on Dalits and the caste system is well worth exploring in terms of worldviews. Why are so many Dalits/untouchables believed to be cursed from birth? The following true story is illuminating. A Dalit woman living in India was asked why she wouldn’t take her baby son to the doctor. He was very ill. She replied that the illness was part of the boy’s karma. He was being punished for something he had done in a previous life. She asserted that it was the boy’s fate to suffer!

Karma defined – All the good and bad deeds we have committed in this life and previous lives give us spiritual ‘brownie points’. These spiritual ‘brownie points’ determine what kind of body we will inhabit in future lives.

Does anyone know which religions teach the doctrine of karma?

Answer – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Druidism, Theosophy, Cabala, Sufism and many others.

The world’s most famous philosopher believed in karma and reincarnation. His name was Plato. For Plato we don’t belong here but we belong in heaven. Our immortal souls have fallen from heaven and entered this prison of earth and the body. Salvation will only come to philosophers who live the life of reason. The rabble (i.e. thick people who aren’t rational enough) will be reincarnated in the bodies of women, animals, and worst of all………female fish.

It’s vital to understand that this belief in reincarnation has been phenomenally popular. Surveys indicate that 1 in 3 British people believe in reincarnation. Some religions even teach that we can be reincarnated into vegetables! Some people, including the Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus, believed that there could be an immortal soul lurking in a humble tomato.

Karma is a very influential religious belief.

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