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Michael's Missives

Britannia

At the height of Roman Britain, the Empire included all of Britannia, the Latin name for Great Britain (first invaded by Julius Caesar in 55 BC). People living in the Roman province of Britannia were called Britanni. The Emperor Claudius paid a visit while Britain was being pacified and was honoured with the agnomen Britannicus as if he were the conqueror. But, the noteworthy thing is that the island of Great Britain has never been completely conquered, even in Roman days.

Britannia was personified under Hadrian and Antonius Pius and depicted as a beautiful young woman, wearing a Centurion’s helmet and wrapped in a white toga with her right breast exposed. She is usually shown seated on a rock, holding a spear, and with a spiked shield propped beside her.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Britannia lost most of its symbolic meaning until the rise of British influence and later, the British Empire.  As British power and influence rose in the 1700s, Britannia became an increasingly more important symbol and a strong rallying point among Britons.

By the Victorian time, Britain renewed Britannia. Still depicted as a young woman with brown or golden hair, she kept her Corinthian helmet and her white robes, but now held Poseidon’s three-pronged trident and often stood in the ocean, representing British naval supremacy. She also usually held or stood beside a Greek hoplon shield, which sported the British Union Jack: also at her feet was often the British Lion, the national animal of England. Another change was that she was no longer bare breasted, due to the prudishness of Victorian Britain.

In the Renaissance tradition, Britannia came to be viewed as the embodiment of Britain, in imagery that was developed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Britannia first appeared on the farthing in 1672, followed by the halfpenny later the same year; the female model used, then and later, was Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Richmond, who appeared on the penny coin between 1797 and 1970, and on the 50 pence coin since 1969. When the Bank of England was granted a charter in 1694, the directors decided within days that the device for their official seal should represent “Britannia sitting looking on a Bank of Money”

With the disestablishment of the British Empire there have been moves to remove Britannia from the back of our 50 pence coin and portray an image more current to our society, and this led me to muse on the symbols of Christianity, and the current day tendency, through aggressive materialism and atheism, to reject the public wearing of a cross.  I was wondering therefore how these old-age symbols could be changed in keeping with the present manic trend of being politically correct and reflecting the contemporary trends in church society. Instead of a fire we could have an iceberg, instead of a cross, a personified saint indicating another way to God.

The old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t mend it” comes to mind. Why must we change anything, just because world systems and values become undermined and corrupted? The image or representation of Christianity is a cross and a fire: the one indicating Calvary and the other Pentecost. The death of Christ speaks of forgiveness, supreme love, and eternal life and the upper room outpouring of the Holy Spirit testifies of quickening and gift impartation. In reality the church is now known by the fire rather than the cross, as the book of Acts has not closed, but the fire and the cross are unshakable to Christianity.

“Ah!” You say, “That’s a sign of age,” well, thank God for that. If youth and middle age means we throw everything away that speaks of value, and undermine foundations of greatness, then may I be the only dissenting voice. The reason Billy Graham, now over 90 is honoured world-wide, is because he has never changed his message. He refuses to be political, although he has advised most Presidents over the last forty years. He preaches the simple unadulterated gospel; good news to all, repentance from sin, acceptance of the cross as the only means of salvation. Who can doubt the supreme importance of the cross and the fire-intensity of his life?

Politicians may be able to remove Britannia from our coins and England from the map, but they can’t rub out the marks of Christ in an individual life. Theologians may try and subvert the church, but they cannot change one sinner to resemble Christ, but the Holy Spirit can. He puts his indelible stamp on the coinage of Christendom.

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Michael's Missives

Why go to Church?

I have written down 15 reasons why we should attend a worship service. It could be more, but we will leave it at that number. This knowledge can be used as an evangelising tool as the reason we gather together weekly but not weakly! It is always wise to have a reason for the faith we hold and the practise we adopt. Here they are:

    1. Because people who attend church usually find a sense of peace and spiritual refreshment not found in a worldly atmosphere.
    2. Because those people who are really saved enjoy the fellowship of other Christians.
    3. Because they are able to hear God speaking in and through the prophetically preached word.
    4. Because they can participate in true worship with others as preparation for that great and final all-eternity everlasting praise time.
    5. Because it is a place where they can partake and be part of supernatural surprises.
    6. Because it is a place where God can speak to their heart about destiny and guidance.
    7. Because it is a living testimony to their neighbours that we are committed Christians.
    8. Because it is a place where communion is dispensed and they remember Christ’s death, resurrection and second coming.
    9. Because people who attend church usually live longer [a proven fact].
    10. Because God commands itdo not forsake the assembling of yourselves together” [Hebrews 10:25].
    11. Because it is a place where healing, renewal and revival occurs.
    12. Because it is a place where multinational unity exists as opposed to the frictional world system. It is a microcosm of heaven.
    13. It is a place where money is not worshipped and greed is discouraged and advice is given on how debt can be conquered and cured.
    14. Because it is a place where fellowship can grow into friendship and friendship into relationship.
    15. Because it sets a right example to our children [If we have any] and helps brings them up in the way of God in their formative years. They will do what you do not what you say!

Recently, I read an article entitled “Why a rest is as good for you as sleep.” It was a synopsis by Louise Atkinson who analysed a book by Dr. Matthew Edmund, The Power of Rest, she extracts various facts and concludes the article like this “Praying has similar benefits. U.S. research has shown that people who regularly attend religious services live longer than those who do not.” This is the point I made in No. 9 above! I had already discovered that fact in my own research several years ago. It is the best longevity pill on the Market!

We have to ask therefore why there are possibly more Christians outside the church than in it. Perhaps it is because they have forgotten that the principle of the tithe also includes their time, which amounts to 16.8 hours weekly freely given to God for his worship and service. The New Testament Christians realised this and set an example that is hard to follow. Hear God’s word:  “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple,” [Acts 2:46]. The result was this: “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” [Acts 2:47]. The example of the early disciples was such that it attracted a multitude of people who saw that their faith was real; so real that it was manifested in a daily expression of congregational unity and worship.

I ask myself if the modern Christian understands what Christ has really done for them; the complete and wonderful salvation, with sins forgiven, and destiny secured. Have they marked-time in their growth seeing Christ only as a Saviour, failing to embrace him as the ‘beloved?’ Perhaps their faith is just a cursory appreciation of his help in kicking the sin habit, or even less than that?  I ask myself the question: ‘maybe my salvation is different from theirs?’ but wonder how that could be, because we are one family with Christ as head of the body. I know that one day it will be church for eternity, so in the now I want to be prepared for that by attempting to mix with people I will see in that future time.

 

 

 

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Michael's Missives

The Wide-mouthed Jar

“In fact, he taught only by illustrations (parables) in his public teaching. (Mark 4:34 – TLB). Thus was the ministry of Jesus. “The word parable signifies in general a comparison, or a parallel, by which one thing is used to illustrate another. It is a likeness taken from the sphere of real, or sensible, or earthly incidents, in order to convey an ideal, or spiritual, or heavenly meaning.” “He that has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9). It is taking simple or common objects to cast light on spirituality or religion. It has been well said of the parable that “truth embodied in a tale shall enter in at lowly doors.” It abounds in events and daily figures and is connected with two words the root meaning of which is “likeness.”

I was once worshipping on the front row of the church and saw two things connected with the platform and projector. These could be called parables. The first – an access hatch on the platform adjacent to the pulpit which covered the baptistery had been recently lifted and reset and the carpet nap was in the wrong direction and therefore showed darker than its surroundings. I asked two of the male singers to lift it for me and replace it the right way and sure enough it blended into the uniform colour of the platform carpet. The lord said to me, “It was in the right position but was facing in the wrong direction, like some leadership,” who are in the rightful setting but their vision can be in the wrong direction.

The second instance – as I looked at the two screens to read the worship words I noticed that one was out of focus – you could clearly read the words but the picture was elongated as it pushed past the edge of the screen. Again I sensed God speaking to me to the effect that “Vision should not only be clearly seen like the worship words, but also have boundaries, it should not over-sail like the songs on the screen.” Thus, vision must have a boundary lest it becomes fanaticism. It acts as a limitation that keeps it within focus and a fact of possibility.

Here is one parable which I think has great significance in today’s frenetic world. “One day, an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration (parable) those students will never forget. As he stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz” and he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouth jar and set it on the table in front of him. He also produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class yelled, “Yes.” He replied, “Really?”

He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. He then asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was on to him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. He reached for a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar and it went into all of the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel.

Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?” “No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good.” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?” One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it!”No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point.

The truth of this allegory is, ‘If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.’ What are the ‘big rocks’ in your life, time with loved ones, your faith, your education, your dreams, a worthy cause, teaching or mentoring others? Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you’ll never get them in at all. Therefore, ask yourself this question, “What are the ‘big rocks’ in my life?” Then, put those in your jar first.

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Michael's Missives

Real Happiness

Britain’s war years sponsored a frontline song favourite, which was eventually adopted and adapted by the world system “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile.” Hide your problems and pretend to be happy. Look at the positives, ignore the negatives and so make it buoyantly through life. Don’t be sad, try never to be too serious, and only mourn if you have to. Unfortunately the same philosophy is often applied to sin. Gloss it over and it’ll be okay!

The structure of most human living – whether by the primitive or sophisticated, the wealthy or the poor, the educated or the uneducated – is based on the seemingly incontrovertible principle that the way to happiness is having things go your own way.

The world system believes that sidestepping negatives is necessary before the other things can bring cheerfulness. Throughout history a basic proverb of the world has been that favourable things bring happiness, whereas unfavourable things bring unhappiness. The principle seems so self-evident that most people would not bother to debate it.

Yet, godly mourning brings godly happiness, which no amount of human effort or optimistic pretence, based on possibility thinking, can produce. In the routine of ordinary day-by-day living, the idea of mourning to get happiness seems absurd, but Jesus steps in and confuses their maxim.

The epitome of His teaching is paradoxical – seemingly contradictory.   What he promises from what he says seems incongruous or inappropriate and certainly upside down in the eyes of the natural man. The assumed inconsistency of the second Biblical beatitude is obvious – (for ‘beatitude’ read blessedness or happiness). What could be more self-contradictory than the idea that the path to happiness is through sadness and that the way to rejoicing is in mourning? “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” How can I be happy when the chances are against me?

When we face great sorrow, disappointment, disillusionment, tragedy or failure, we wish that we could escape it as we escape a thunderstorm by running inside, but comfort from the troubles of life is much harder to find than shelter from rain. The deeper the sorrow, the harder the pressure and the worse the despair, the more elusive comfort seems to be. Avoiding pain, trouble, frustration, hardships, and other problems, in the estimation of many, will bring happiness.

The average Christian in this modern age fights against a false sense of assumed piety, which gives the impression that to be religious is to be miserable – how sad and weird! There is also the co-joined error that to attract people we must be deliberately upbeat and jolly.   It is this apparent superficiality and slickness that works against us because it is unintelligent and certainly illusory. Perhaps that is the reason the church is so unimpressive because in today’s climate of spirituality everything must be kept at a level that fails to produce seriousness and concern over real issues.

The love of God is offered as the answer; He is depicted as one who would never in any way harm us and that is basically true. It is thought therefore that everything should work for our benefit, and so it does, but not in the way we think. As an Arab proverb says: “All sunshine makes a desert.” There are certain things that only rain will produce otherwise the land becomes arid and dry. California seems to have an ideal climate but it is brown for many months.

The real meaning of what Jesus is saying is simply this: “Blessed [happy] is the person who is desperately sorry for their own sin and their own unworthiness.” That is the meaning of Biblical mourning, and the comfort that comes from that tearful confession is the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding . . . [which will] guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7).  Another interpretation says: “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” [1]  (Matthew 5:4). God helps us lose things that are counterproductive to our spiritual ascent.


[1] The Message by Eugene Peterson

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Michael's Missives

Valentines

Recent polls tell us that we no longer know what love is; we don’t recognise it and cannot work out what it is for.  We are “fearful of its complications, perplexed by its obligations, and wish it would simply go away.”  In spite of that mournful response the amount of money spent on February 14th on cards, flowers and chocolates, makes it the most expensive celebration next to Christmas.

The history of Valentine’s Day suggests it revolves around Bishop Valentine, a Roman priest who assisted the martyrs during the persecution and who suffered under the rule of Claudius II. The emperor found it difficult to recruit the male populace into joining his military leagues, believing that Roman men were averse to leaving their loved ones or their families. He therefore cancelled all marriages and engagements within the City of Rome.

However Valentine and Saint Marius continued to perform wedding ceremonies in secret. When it was discovered that they were defying the emperor’s decree, Bishop Valentine was apprehended and dispatched by Claudius to the Prefect of Rome who, being unable to force the saint to renounce Christianity, ordered that he be clubbed, stoned and then beheaded.

Some scholars say that during his stay in prison Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s  blind daughter (whose name may have been Julia), who used to bring him flowers and notes from children. It is said that the day before his execution on February 14th 269 AD, Valentine prayed for his sweetheart and she regained her eyesight. He also wrote a farewell note to her and signed it “From Your Valentine.” Clearly this phrase has become popular amongst lovers and is still very much in vogue.

Traditions
Hundreds of years ago in England, many children dressed up as adults on Valentine’s Day. They went singing from home to home. One verse they sang was:

Good morning to you, valentine;

Curl your locks as I do mine —

Two before and three behind.
Good morning to you, valentine.

In Wales wooden love spoons were carved and given as gifts on that day. Hearts, keys and keyholes were favourite decorations on the spoons. The decoration meant, “You unlock my heart!”

In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their valentine would be. They would wear these names on their sleeves for one week. To wear your heart on your sleeve now means that it is easy for other people to know how you are feeling.

Some people used to believe that if a woman saw a robin flying overhead on Valentine’s Day; it meant she would marry a sailor. If she saw a sparrow, she would marry a poor man and be very happy. If she saw a goldfinch, she would marry a millionaire.

Some time ago a survey revealed that British males are the most miserable in Europe with 35% expressing unhappiness with their lives.  The romantic side of their lives is especially highlighted. Nearly half of those males attributed their singleness to a lack of confidence – 40%, to fussiness – 29%, to not being attractive enough – 31%. They thought women expected too much of them and weren’t really interested in forming serious relationships. It seems that they need the spirit of Valentine as never before!

They say that the bones of Valentine were returned to Terni, and that that church receives 50,000 letters a year mostly on relationship problems, but the greatest problem solver is the Holy Spirit who can match-make to perfection.  For those who are willing to take His guidance they will find that he chooses the one who both complements and fulfils our natural desires and needs. It is very rare that relationships in marriage are without some strife, but the growing war of the sexes has highlighted the differences and depleted the likenesses to their own loss.

Singleness is escalating as people become bewildered and picky, looking for that mysterious perfect partner only to find they don’t actually exist. People leave it so long now to tie the knot that they are too set in their ways to change, and are encouraged to take that independence to limits that prohibit life-long union. It takes courage, maturity and tolerance to be married. Perhaps these qualities are no longer encouraged in young people as they grow towards adulthood?

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Michael's Missives

Schmitz

My first dog was a Doberman, which by definition was teeth on legs, and a wonderful creature. We sold him to a hotel in Solihull to get rid of awkward customers, and replaced him with two miniature Schnauzers who shared a large basket with Cadbury, our Chocolate Point Siamese cat. She used to sneak up and climb in as they settled down to sleep. The three were clearly friends and when Schweppes died Fritz her brother searched the garden, under every bush and tree trying to find her. He clearly missed her and became pensive at her disappearance – but she was not buried in the garden! Eventually all those animals died and we bought another dog called Schmitz, and this is how it happened.

God so arranges things that are remarkable, even in the most seemingly mundane experiences.  My first wife was in the Sunday evening service and went from praise to worship and then into The Presence. When you get there you can ask what you will and God will answer. Our penultimate dog had died and she was particularly upset and simply said to God, “I’m not saying I need a dog but if you think it’s good for me you’ll have to do it for we do not have the finance to buy one.”  The service ended and we went home and prepared the supper, took it into the lounge to watch Antiques Roadshow, and as we sat eating, the phone rang. At that time of night it was usually for her, and as she talked I realised it was. She suddenly put her head through the serving hatch and said “we’ve got another dog.” Not do we want one or shall we have one, but “we’ve got one.” It was clear the deal was done!  Someone who was ignorant of her prayer [as I was] rang to give her £300 for another dog.

We checked breeding kennels and found two in the Cotswolds so off we went to explore what was available, but neither one presented possibilities for a suitable pet. We stayed overnight in a bed and breakfast in Broadway and next morning after breakfast causally walked up the main street before we left for home. As we strolled along approaching us was a man with a miniature black schnauzer, the kind of dog we were looking for.  After talking to him we found he had bought his from a kennel near London where we lived; we spent no delay in visiting it on the way home and bought one of the pups.

The mother had been an America Champion and her owner had put an embargo on any of her offspring being shown thereby reducing the price from £450 to £300. Do you think God was ignorant of that when he caused someone to offer that sum to Patricia?  He is sovereign in small and large things and events. It was no accident that the three wise men brought gifts that Joseph and Mary could sell for their upkeep as they migrated to an embalming country. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. God planned well. He always does.

Schmitz, our last dog, was with us for about 12 years and gave great fun and loyalty. When Patricia asked God why he gave him so miraculously, he said quite simply “to put a smile on your face.” That was important to God. She had suffered much over many years, and any smile was a bonus. He touched her where she needed and provided over and above expectation. Our life together was paean of praise to His almighty forethought and supply. Thus we are sure that because of the past supply there will be current and future miracles. He changes not, He is constant in His love and care for us.

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Michael's Missives

One degree out

“The remains of a fleet of 17th century French warships, victims of a fatal navigational mistake, have been discovered off Venezuela, more than 300 hundred years after a reef dashed Louis XIV’s hopes of seizing the Dutch Island of Curacao.”[1]

Seven of the fleet’s 18 ships and 500 men were lost because the fleet was off course by one degree.  The aim of Vice-Admiral Jean d’Estrées to capture and subdue the island was thwarted by human error after the attack had been minutely prepared with the best artillery France could supply – half of it finishing at the bottom of the sea.

A one-degree error and the timber hulls of the ships were just torn apart as they sailed for shore. They had unwittingly headed for a reef off the Island of Las Avas, 50 miles east of Curacao. Mr. De Bry, head of archive research, said that “d’Estrées was a good soldier and an incompetent sailor,” but was later promoted to rank of Marshal of France – nothing changes!

When Civil Engineering contractors undertake a tunnelling project they start both ends at once and meet in the middle, well that’s the theory, and it usually works. But, if they are out by less than one degree there can be serious implications and they certainly don’t meet in the middle – I know I was a trained as a Civil Engineer.

I was once asked to set out a 275 KV substation to an accuracy of one eighth of an inch to three hundred and sixty feet (old imperial measure). Almost impossible, but it had to be done because of the rigid aluminium connectors between the concrete arms. We went through the seven correcting exercises to ensure we were accurate, especially as we were using a steel tape that measures differently with each degree of temperature!

Accuracy is essential in many walks of life, not least in our standing before God. If anyone is accurate it must be God, for his eyes see everything and can measure our shortcomings better than anyone else. His is the standard against which all is measured. This is what Amos the prophet said: “Thus he showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand.” (7:7 KJV).  This is why the Ten Commandments are so important.

A plumb line is a heavy weight, usually made of lead, on a strong wire line that hangs down; it is not a linear measure, but tests verticality.  Anything out of true by even a fraction is highlighted. In 1955 I was once in charge of building one of the tallest cooling towers in the country at Hams Hall ‘B’ Power Station, they were 350 feet high (107 metres) and to do this we hung such a plumb line with the bottom lead weight hanging in a 20-gallon barrel of oil to resist swinging.

When we stand against God we can see not only a one-degree error but also that we are wide by a few inches (millimetres) or miles (Kilometres). We all miss the mark and would all have the hulls of our lives dashed open if we were not guided by God.

He came as our plumb line and then put his Spirit within us so that we can live right to his standard or measure. God now measures us against His Son who has made us in his image – “Christ in you the hope of glory.” What a relief! I may be incompetent but God isn’t. Changing back to the first metaphor, He knows where the rocks are, and has navigated a safe passage for us. We won’t miss God by any fraction; if we are saved we are dead (live) on course for eternity – no rocks.

Lastly, when the winds of adversity blow he will sometimes hang us in oil (Holy Spirit) to resist the pressures of life. Clothed in the Spirit is a good place to be and condition to be in.


 

[1] The Daily Telegraph