So a Comedian Walks into a Church by Paul Kerensa

Thanks to my wife for the following book review.

This book by the writer and comedian Paul Kerensa gives an insight into his life as a Christian and a stand-up comedian.  Paul talks of the highs and lows of performing in front of audiences both large and small.

The book is primarily about communicating and how it is possible to use humour to connect with your audience.  Paul talks humorously about some of the scrapes he has found himself in.

He is not afraid to gently poke fun at some of the things that we as Christians do and say.  In case we are ever in danger of taking ourselves too seriously, this book reassures us that it is indeed OK to be a Christian with a sense of humour.  Read and enjoy…….


The Banned Lord’s Prayer Advert

Here is the video that has been banned by the Digital Cinema Media (DCM) agency, which handles British film advertising for the major cinema chains: Odeon, Cineworld and Vue. They are refusing to show the advert because they believed it would risk upsetting or offending audiences!

Ironically this banning may well result in more people watching it then if they had just quitely shown the advert without making this strange decision!

Faith in the Fog

Thanks to my wife for the following book review on Faith in the Fog by Jeff Lucas.

With echoes of the Last Supper this book is based around John 21 with the risen Jesus eating with his disciples. This book examines the reality of faith and what it means to truly believe and trust in that which we cannot see, even when the going gets tough. Be encouraged as Jeff talks honestly about his struggles with doubt and depression.

We are invited to share in Jeff’s anguish as he admits how at times he struggles with the day to day walk of faith and wrestles with doubts about prayers which appear not only to be unanswered but at times even unheard. Jeff also talks about the guilt and shame that so often seem to afflict Christians who find themselves unable to recapture the excitement and enthusiasm that they experienced when first coming to faith.

This book won’t make you feel instantly better but it will likely make you feel less alone and more able to cope with the feelings of doubt and despair that we often find so hard to admit to, and which can in turn make us feel guilty and rob us of the joy of our salvation.

If you get the chance do go and see Jeff and Adrian Plass in one of their live shows.


Two Types of Wisdom

The following sermon is taken from James 3:13 – 4:3 and 4:7-8

One of the programmes that my wife and I watch on TV is Mastermind. I normally find that in the first round (the specialist one) that I barely get one question right out of all the questions that are asked to the 5 candidates. Unless someone selects a sports subject or maybe a pop music/ rock music subject or history and then I might get a couple of questions right. I normally fare slightly better in the general knowledge round but even then I don’t score many points.

I often find myself amazed at how the contestants know the answers to such obscure questions. I expect most people think that whoever wins Mastermind is a wise person full of wisdom. This morning we are looking at the two types of wisdom James describes and they are not the same as the type that is needed to win Mastermind or any other quiz show.

As we will have noticed by now James has a very blunt way of writing! He doesn’t sugar coat his message or pussy foot around but comes straight to the point. He is like an annoying friend who tells you things you do not want to hear!

It would appear from some of the commentaries that I have looked at this week that some writers feel that today’s passage is continuing in the theme of addressing “teachers” (3:1) from last week. Whilst James 3:1-12 is speaking about the taming of the tongue in relations to teachers and today’s passage at wisdom, I believe though there is scope to throw this out to the whole church and not just leaders and therefore will use that as my basis of exploring today’s reading.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom” (v13 NRSV)

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (v13 NIV)

James is emphatic in his view that wisdom should show itself in the way that we live our life. He believes that wisdom is practical. Wisdom is not how intelligent we are. It is more practical than this. One could be very wise but exhibiting unspiritual wisdom. It’s not your academic qualifications that count but how you live.

Matthew Henry said “These verses show the difference between men’s pretending to be wise, and their being really so. He who thinks well, or he who talks well, is not wise in the sense of the Scripture, if he does not live and act well. True wisdom may be known by the meekness of the spirit and temper. ”

Wisdom brings humility and not arrogance. It brings gentleness and not brashness.  Humility and gentleness are often missing from today’s society.

James then goes on to address another type of “wisdom” in verses 14-16:

“But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.  For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.”

I don’t know about you but it slightly surprised me initially to be told that “where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” I mean surely there are worse sins than these? Are envy and selfish ambition all that bad?

However as I thought about this I remembered some examples from scripture which supports this statement made by James:

1, In Genesis 4 we see Cain murdering his brother Abel because he was angry (envy) of the fact that God preferred Abel’s sacrifice.

2. In 1 Samuel 18 after returning from battle, King Saul was jealous because the crowds credited David with killing more people than him.

The women in the crowd were singing:

Saul has killed his thousands,  and David his ten thousands.”

This led to him trying to kill David. If you think about it what does it matter who kills the most enemy soldiers as long as your side wins.

3. In Genesis 37 we read about Joseph and how his brothers hated him and were jealous of him as a result of his dreams. They then plotted to kill him.

So we see that in all three examples from the OT that what started as envy or being jealous led to murder or attempted murder.

It seems to be that “bitter” envy and selfish ambition is the area in which the sin takes initial root and then goes onto something worse. We need to stop this sin from growing into something worse. It is “false to the truth”.

Envy can also be of someone’s else’s possessions too. We envy the new car / phone / house / insert what is appropriate!

Selfish ambition can destroy relationships as people tread on and destroy each other to get the new promotion at work. It can lead us to have inexplicable grudges and jealousies towards others for no apparent or logical reason. We need to ask God to help us to look to the greater good and not our own advancement.

We move onto verses 17 and 18 where we read about a better type of wisdom:

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

The wisdom James describes here contains many different elements;

  • Pure – properly clean, innocent, modest. Burdick says “…. to the absence of any sinful attitude or motive.” The Message says “Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life”. God’s wisdom should lead to an increase in holiness. “Without holiness no-one will see the Lord” Hebrews 12:14. It will not be easy and may often be a struggle but that is the direction we should be heading in.
  • Peaceable – We should be people who seek peace with one another. Don’t delight in maintaining grudges between you and others. Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (NIV). Hold out the hand of peace. It’s not your fault if it gets rejected.
  • Gentle – patient, mild. The NIV uses the word “considerate”. We should treat others how we want to be treated. Don’t speak harshly to each other.
  • Willing to yield – Compliant. The NIV uses the word “submissive”. Ephesians 5:21 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Don’t insist on always getting your own way.  Laying down your life for your friend.
  • Full of mercy – showing compassion to one another. If we want God to be merciful to us then we need to show mercy to others (Matthew 7:2)
  • Full of good fruits – Jesus reminds us in the sermon on the mount that “by their fruit you will recognise them.” (Matthew 7:20). We want the fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5 to shine through us.
  • Without a trace of partiality – We heard two weeks ago spoke about how James speaks out against favouritism.
  • Without a trace of hypocrisy – sincere (genuine) people. Live out our faith. Real Christian faith is not just for one hour on a Sunday morning! Don’t say one thing and live another! (If we are being honest we all fall short in this area). Live for God’s glory and not our own!

And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” (v18)

“And the principle productive of this righteousness is sown, like good seed, in the peace of a believer’s mind, and brings forth a plentiful harvest of happiness, (which is the proper fruit of righteousness,) for them that make peace – That labour to promote this pure and holy peace among all men.” (John Wesley). We reap what we sow.

Jesus exhibited all of the above and would want us to exhibit them too. Do we not want our lives to exhibit these qualities too? Someone with these qualities would be a very attractive advert for the gospel. You may not agree with everything I say but you cannot argue with the above in someone’s life.

Likewise someone who exhibits the other type of wisdom (envy, selfish ambition) that we previously looked at is exhibiting destructive qualities. They are unattractive and we should not want them in our lives. Whilst the wisdom from above is a very attractive advert for the gospel then this type of wisdom is a negative unattractive advert for the gospel.

James in chapter 4 then looks at the internal battles that often wage within us. We want things but often for the wrong reason. It is easy to kid ourselves that we ask for the right reason. Motives can be difficult for us to judge.

Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”  

We constantly need to be aware of the dangers of wrong motives and would do well to make the Psalmist prayer our own regularly:

Psalm 139:23-24:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Today’s passage concludes with James instructing us to follow four steps:

  • Submit ourselves to God. We need to obey God and to be under His Lordship. Our desires must be submitted to Him so that they are under Christ’s control. Jesus prayed before He was crucified “not my will but your will be done.” So very easy to say but not always easy to do. We need to allow God to direct us. He knows best.
  • Resist the devil. This involves action. If we submit to God and resist the devil then he will flee from us. It might involve a lengthy battle but ultimately the devil will flee not because of anything special we might be but because of the strength of Christ in us.
  • Draw near to God. If we draw near to God then He promises to draw near to us. Sometimes when we upset someone we might be scared or reluctant to approach them thinking they will reject us. The way that the Father accepted the prodigal son back is an indication of how God will accept us when we draw near to Him.
  • Confess our sins to God. Ask Him to cleanse our hands and to purify our hearts and not be double minded. Just as we might wash our hands before eating to get the dirt off us we need to do the same before God.

To conclude I want to read James 3:13-18 in The Message;

13-16 Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.

17-18 Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour.

I would like to close by asking “which one of these two types of wisdom do you want in your life and in the life of this church?



Sermon on Luke 24 verses 36 to 48

The following is a sermon based on Luke 24: 36-48

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’

40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

Unsurprising the disciples were startled and terrified, thinking they had seen a ghost.

Jesus seeks to encourage them to believe he is alive. He asks them why they are frightened and why do doubts arise in their hearts.

Jesus assures them that he is not a ghost but a human with real flesh and bones. Jesus shows his hands and his feet. And as the disciples still struggled to believe he asked them if they had anything to eat. The disciples gave him some fish which he eats in front of them.

By showing the disciples his hands and feet and by eating fish Jesus wanted to prove to his disciples that he really had been raised from the dead and was not a ghost.

Why is this important (i.e. the bodily resurrection of Christ)? The consequences of Jesus not being raised from the death are:

  • If Jesus had not been raised from the dead then death has won. (1 Cor 15:55 – “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?).
  • If Jesus had not been raised from the dead then we have no reason not to fear death. (1 Cor 15:55 – “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?).
  • If Jesus had not been raised from the dead then we are still stuck with our sins. (1 Cor 15:17 – If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.). Still in your sins means no forgiveness.
  • If Jesus had not been raised from the dead our faith is useless and futile (1 Cor 15:14 – and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. and 1 Cor 15:17 – If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. )
  • If Jesus had not been raised from the dead then we cannot experience the new resurrected life of Christ.
  • If Jesus had not been raised then it means that we cannot trust his words as he promised that he would be raised from the death. (Mark 8:31 – Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. )
  • If Jesus has not been raised from the dead then we are wasting our time coming here (1 Cor 15:19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied)

Christianity stands and falls on the resurrection of Christ. Without the resurrection of Christ there is no hope for anyone. Life would be a complete waste.

“The Gospels do not explain the Resurrection; the Resurrection explains the Gospels. Belief in the Resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith; it is the Christian faith.” (John S. Whale)

The wonderful truth we celebrate is that Jesus was raised from the dead. All Jesus’ opponents had to do was produce the body of Christ and the early church would have collapsed. The Jewish religious leaders and the Romans knew where Jesus had been buried. However they could not produce that body because God had raised Jesus from the dead!

44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’

The crucifixion and suffering that Jesus had experienced were already predicted in scripture (e.g. Isaiah 53, Psalm 22).

Some people claim that Jesus make a mistake by going into Jerusalem and miscalculated. He got things wrong!

God was not caught out by the death of Jesus and have to come up with “plan b” to rescue him. Jesus willingly laid down his life for you and me as part of God’s plan to rescue the human race from sin.

45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

The disciples had been with Jesus for 3 years and had seen many wonderful things including:

  • Paralytic man being healed. (Mark 2:1-12)
  • Lazarus being raised from the dead. (John 11)
  • Blind man being able to see. (John 9)
  • Man healed from leprosy. (Matthew 8:1-4)
  • The feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-14)
  • Jesus walking on water. (Mark 6:45-52)
  • Jesus calming the storm. (Luke 8:22-25)

However the disciples did not get it. They needed their minds opened to understand the scriptures.

Why do we need the Scriptures open to us? Why don’t we just “get it” naturally?

  • Our minds are blinded to the truth. (“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” 2 Cor 4:4). Our spiritual eyes need to be opened. Unless they are opened we will not understand.
  • Our hearts become harden to sin. (Hebrews 3:7-19). This can prevent us from understanding the truths of scripture.
  • Mere human intellect is insufficient in truly knowing God. We need our hearts opened to understand the wonder of the scriptures. It doesn’t matter how clever you are we all need the Holy Spirit’s help to truly understand scripture. We all need divine revelation from God by the Holy Spirit i.e. wisdom from the Spirit. It’s possible to have a long list of theological qualifications and still not get it. (“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God.”1 Cor 2:14).

We can also find ourselves in the same position as the disciples too. It might be that we have been coming to church for many years and still don’t get it. It doesn’t matter whether you are a member of the congregation, pastor, vicar or bishop we still need Jesus to open our minds to understand his word.

46 and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,

The idea of their Messiah suffering and dying was an alien one to the first century Jew. They believed that their Messiah would be a military one who would drive the Romans out and restore David’s kingdom back to Israel. However this was not what the scriptures taught and the disciples needed their minds opened to understand the truth of this.

As previously mentioned the suffering and death that Jesus had experienced were already predicted in scripture (e.g. Isaiah 53, Psalm 22).

We see Psalm 16:8-11, written by David as a passage where he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of Christ. Peter preached from this same Psalm on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2: 22-32) using it to prove to the crowds that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Paul other used this passage when preaching to the crowds in Antioch (Acts 13: 34-37).

When the Pharisees had asked Jesus for a sign he said ‘No sign, will be given to them but the “sign of the prophet Jonah” (12:39). “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). As Jesus explains, Jonah and the big fish is an analogy of the death and resurrection of Jesus, though Christ is a much greater prophet than Jonah.

47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Note how the phrase “repentance and forgiveness” are linked. (We sometimes like the idea of forgiveness without repentance).

Repentance involves a change in the thinking / position we are travelling. (We turn from wrong and turn to God).

What Jesus gives is the taking away and removal of sin and everything that relates to its destructive power.

The idea of repentance and forgiveness to “all nations” would have been a real challenge to the mind-set of a first century Jew. As far as they were concerned salvation would have just been for the Jews and not for non-Jews. It took a while longer for them to get this (Acts 10 and subsequent church leaders meeting in Jerusalem in Acts 11). Isaiah 60:3 “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

48 You are witnesses of these things.

The disciples had seen everything we have looked at in this passage this morning: Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. They were now given the privilege and proclaiming this message to others so that they too might know repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

We too have this same privilege. It is not always easy sharing our faith to those who are hostile to us. However we must do this. It’s not just a job for the clergy!

This morning I want to finish by asking you:

Do you get it? Have your mind and heart been opened yet to receive God’s word. This morning there are only two possible answers to that question. You either get it or you don’t get it. If you are someone who does not get it can I encourage you today to ask God to open your mind and heart to understand his word and to receive Christ.

Finally if you do get it are you being a witness of the gospel message? If you are not then where are the next generation of Christians going to be coming from?