Iron Sunday/Železná Neděle

As is now tradition, I am posting my advent series on the Sundays of Advent. Below is the English version, followed by the Czech translation

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Iron Sunday

Nations crushed by iron wheels,
With gladii and oblong shields,
As far as human eyes can see
Reigns Caesar unopposed, supreme.

He sees himself as a great god
To rule all with an iron rod.
“My empire has been built to last
My might will never be surpassed.”

But soon That Day will come.

Železná neděle

Železná kola národy drtí,
oválné štíty a čepele smrti.
Kam oko člověka dohlédne, vidí,
Císař je bezmezný vládce všech lidí.

Jist si je nade vše svou božskou rolí,
železnou vládne všem pěstí a holí.
“Pevně jsem zbudoval říši svou věčnou,
vládnu jí mocí nekonečnou.”

Však brzy již vzejde ten den.

Marriage Vow

This song is adapted from an upcoming collaborative project with Anthony Marchetta, and also commemorated my twenty-first wedding anniversary last week. (a new version of the video with improved audio has now been uploaded

Options for downloading or listening via major online stores and streaming services can be found here as soon as they become available:

https://song.link/MarriageVow

Lyrics, Melody, arrangement, vocals, mixing and video editing by Ben Zwycky.

Czech subtitles are also available, translated by Petr Mares.


Marriage Vow

When two souls are joined as one,
The wise are moved to tears,
For they foresee the blessings
That will flow down through the years.

The bonds of love we treasure
And honour all our lives
Repay us without measure;
Through love our souls revive.

This is my marriage vow
That I’m declaring now,
Before the people here,
As they applaud and cheer:

I promise faithfulness,
And utter openness,
To heal our brokenness
With playful tenderness;

I’ll always stay with you,
Faithfully pray with you,
Whatever trials may come,
We’ll work to overcome.

You are my joy,
You are my peace,
In the shelter of your heart I find release.

We’ll raise our children
To love the Lord,
To know His Word and stand up to the world.

When we get tired
As we grow old,
Your love will still mean more to me than gold.

When two souls are joined as one,
The wise are moved to tears,
For they foresee the blessings
That will flow down through the years.


Manželský slib

Když se dvě duše spojí v jednu,
moudrým vstoupí slzy do očí.
Vidí, že zde pramení požehnání,
Pro řadu nadcházejících let.

Když je nám pouto lásky vzácné
A ctíme ho celý svůj život,
Naše odměna je nezměrná.
Láska dá život naší duši.

Toto je manželský slib,
Jímž se zde dnes zavazuji,
Před všemi těmi lidmi,
Co nám tu tleskají a radují se.

Chci slíbit věrnost
A úplnou otevřenost,
Jež zahojí naše rány
Hravou něžností.

Zůstanu vždy při tobě,
Budu se s tebou věrně modlit,
Ať nás potká jakákoli zkouška,
Společně v ní obstojíme.

Jsi mou radostí,
Jsi mým pokojem,
Ve skrytu tvého srdce se cítím volný.

Společně vychováme děti
v lásce k našemu Pánu,
aby znaly jeho Slovo a dokázaly čelit světu.

A až budeme jednou unavení,
Až přijde stáří,
I pak pro mě bude tvoje láska cennější nad zlato.

Když se dvě duše spojí v jednu,
moudrým vstoupí slzy do očí.
Vidí, že zde pramení požehnání,
Pro řadu nadcházejících let.

When Mummy Hears This Little Song…

Today is my wife’s birthday. I wrote a song with a simple melody for it so that our two youngest could sing it together with me for her.

When Mummy hears this little song, she might begin to cry;
It tells her how we love her and lots of reasons why:

Cuddles before breakfast are the best start to a day;
And as far as we can see, it’ll always be that way.

So many things you cook for us with skill and lots of love,
Experimental recipes we’re so glad you thought of;

Creative crafts and projects that help us to create
Many clever, pretty things that we can imitate;

Fun businesses and startups that bless so many hearts:
Bouncy castles, candy floss, embroidered works of art;

Plays on words and running jokes that add that extra spice,
All in all, our precious Mum, life with you is so nice.

A kiss goodnight that sends us off to all the sweetest dreams;
Your love can work such magic that’s limitless, it seems;

You remember lots of things that we need every day,
So remember, we love you in lots of different ways.

Light Unto Another World – An Isekai Adventure by Yakov Merkin

For those of you who haven’t heard about it, my old client and friend Yakov Merkin has been very busy over the past couple of years, and is running a successful fundraiser for the continuation of his Light Unto Another World series, whose promotional video includes some high-quality animation. I haven’t been involved at all in this work of his, but knowing him it’s a good bet to be entertaining. Click on the image below to take a look and see whether this is something you’d be interested in backing

Yesterday’s Sermon: ‘Course He isn’t Safe. But He’s Good.

I had the opportunity to preach at my church yesterday. Here is the sermon I gave:

Galatians 5: 13-23:

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Isaiah 42: 10-13:

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
    you islands, and all who live in them.
11 Let the wilderness and its towns raise their voices;
    let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice.
Let the people of Sela sing for joy;
    let them shout from the mountaintops.
12 Let them give glory to the Lord
    and proclaim his praise in the islands.
13 The Lord will march out like a champion,
    like a warrior he will stir up his zeal;
with a shout he will raise the battle cry
    and will triumph over his enemies.

The children of our church (my own included) recently went on a Royal Rangers camp based on the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. There are so many lessons, illustrations and passages that can be taken to use as sermons from such a rich book, the one that has always stood out to me from a theological perspective is when the Pevensie children are with the Beavers and are first told about Aslan, when Lucy asks:

“Then he isn’t safe?”

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

It’s only natural that people, especially children, want to feel safe. So why do I find this answer so satisfying? Why do we praise God for being a mighty warrior? Why does that reassure us?

Because a God who is safe, who is harmless, has no power to protect us from the dangers we face in this world. A kitten or puppy enriches our lives and makes us feel good, but it is no help against a wild animal, an invading army or tyrannical government. Safety, protection, requires strength, and our God is almighty. Good news!

While we’re on the topic of God’s omnipotence, people often ask the question:

“Can God make a stone so big that he can’t lift it?”

And think that they are asking something clever, as if showing that omnipotence itself is a contradiction. But this comes from a misunderstanding of what omnipotence is.

This becomes clearer when we break the question into two parts. The key is the second part: Can there be a stone so big that God can’t lift it? Of course not; size and mass are no obstacle to an omnipotent God. This is a logical impossibility, nonsensical. Now is the time for another favourite quote of mine from Mr. Lewis, this time from The Problem of Pain:

“…meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words, ‘God can.’ It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

So asking whether God can create something logically impossible, in this case a stone too big for God to lift, remains nonsensical. Omnipotence means being able to achieve anything that power can achieve. Let’s keep nonsense out of our discussions, and take God seriously.

So, God is omnipotent, and this concept makes sense, but strength, by itself, is not enough to reassure us. Bullies and tyrants are stronger than their victims (though they are not stronger than the strength of all their victims added together, which is why they like to keep people divided and fighting each other). I’m reminded of the American saying from the 1950’s (and probably earlier)

“A government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take everything you have.”

Everyone in this country (the Czech Republic) over the age of 40 has experienced this under Communism, and many people across the world, even in supposedly free countries, are experiencing it now. I don’t know about you, but I don’t place much trust in politicians and bureaucrats to not abuse their powers. This is why the second half of Mr Beaver’s remark is so important. Aslan is not safe, but he’s good.

Our God is not just dangerous, omnipotent, he’s also good, goodness itself. God’s unlimited power is reassuring because of his unlimited goodness, his love, his kindness, gentleness, and generosity, his forgiveness, his patience with us.

God is dangerous to the world, because he is stronger than it and better than it, he uses and turns around the world’s evil schemes to achieve something wonderful in the long term, even though in the short term things can get very unpleasant. He also shows us a better way to live to resist being part of the world’s evil. This is why the world hates Him and those who follow Him

Coming back to the first text, the world wants us to be impure, deceitful, angry, jealous, divided and out of control, because those kinds of people are easy to manipulate. It’s easy to point at someone and say, “That person is the problem, those people are the source of all the evil and danger you see around you, pour out all of your pent-up uncontrollable rage and cruelty on them. Whenever you start to feel bad about something you’ve done, look at today’s target and see that they are worse than you. Punish them, destroy them! Then you’ll be the deliverer of justice and can drown out your own guilt (for now).”

God’s kingdom doesn’t work like that. We are called to be productive, capable, self-controlled, loving, generous, kind, merciful and joyful. When we see someone doing something evil, our reaction should not be “Ha! I’m better than you!”, but instead “Without God’s grace, that could’ve been me.” We are not called to control other people, to make their choices for them, or take away all consequences of their actions; that’s not what God does with us.

[*Indeed, as Lewis opines elsewhere in “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” essay found in God in the Dock:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”]

God allows us the freedom to make mistakes, take the consequences and learn and grow from them. In this life his primary interest is in our salvation and our character, in the direction we are growing. Unfortunately, in order to truly pay attention to an issue and learn, it often takes a lesson that hurts.

That’s not to say that we should remain passive; we should stand up for what is right, and if we see someone doing something truly evil and dangerous, and it is within our power to stop them, then we should try to, but not with the goal of destroying them, but to give them a chance to see sense, repent and turn their life around.

Our God is not safe, but he’s good, and our king. He calls us to be free. As we serve him, and in our dealing with others, let’s try to be like Him.


(*unfortunately the Czech translation of God in the Dock only contains about a third of the essays in the original and omits this one, so I was unable to use it in the sermon, hence this section being in square brackets)

A Certain Precious Magic

Today is the 22nd anniversary of the first time I contacted the girl who became my wife. Here is the song I wrote and sung for the occasion last night.

There’s a certain precious magic in communication
When distant souls discover they are close;
Two lonely hearts that have their homes in separated nations
Take a chance, and thus a friendship grows.

That friendship can plants seeds of love that sprout and grow and bloom,
And multiply the joys and stakes of life,
Until the two stand side by side as blushing bride and groom,
Forever to be joined as man and wife.

I’m so glad I started down this path that led me to your heart
And grew my soul immensely on the way,
So I’ll do my utmost to always play my part
In blessing you, my treasure, every day.

Victory

The Devil rested on his laurels
Knowing that he’d won;
He’d arranged for God’s own people
To kill his Only Son.

“His wrath is unavoidable,
He’ll cast them all away,
I’ll drag them down to join my fate,
Despairing all the way.

“The great plan of his creation
Has failed so utterly,
The thought of all those screaming souls
Fills my heart with glee.

“What other torments can I plan
For the fools who followed the Son of Man?
They fled the scene and failed the test
When my time came with his arrest.

“Now they cower, now they hide
In locked rooms fully terrified
Of my next great show of power
As morning breaks this very hour…”
 
Then the ground shook, the curtain tore,
The stone was rolled from the entrance door,
Angels stood and told the news;
His soul was utterly bemused.

“How can this be? He’s back to life!
And thrown the gates to heaven wide,
So any sinner can approach
The throne of God without reproach!

“He used the scandal and the shame,
Humiliation and the pain
To pay the price for what went wrong,
Instead of where the blame belongs.

“All my scheming, all my work
To drive the human world beserk
Has come to nought, my power’s broke,
How dare he twist my twisted joke

“Into something beautiful and true
That cure’s man’s ills and will renew
His bond with his creator God
So all will call him Saviour, Lord?”

And so the Devil did retreat
Ashamed by his complete defeat,
His mandate over Man revoked
For those who choose to bear Christ’s yoke.

Your Burden

My failures stand before you,
Adding to the weight
Of your burden on the cross
When you took my fate.

As they drove the nails in
You did not rage or curse,
Determined in your task to save
The entire universe.

As your lifeblood flowed away
You looked to other’s needs:
Your mother’s care, forgiveness
For those who did the deed,

And most of all to pay the price
In anguish of your soul,
Separated from His love,
So we could be made whole.

Let me not forget your grace
In all I try to do;
The thing that everyone on Earth
Needs most of all is You.

Welcome

May You be as welcome
In my heart as on that day
When crowds laid cloaks and branches
To glorify your way,

Proclaiming you as rightful king,
They sang and praised your name,
That you healed the blind, the sick,
The outcast and the lame.

Your rule in me is what I need
To combat my foul pride and greed,
To count the cost and sow good seed
With wisdom and with grace.

So as your influence grows,
Your wondrous mercy flows,
With joy my whole soul knows
That I have put You in your place.

Today’s Sermon: The Master Renovator

2 Corinthians 4: 6-18

Ezra 3: 10-12

The temple had lain in ruins for around 50 years. Destroyed, but not forgotten, just like Jerusalem itself. It still had immense, painful value to the Israelites. The visible sign of God’s presence among them desecrated and useless for anything except a reminder of what once was. Hence the strong emotions of both joy and sorrow, joy that the temple, and through it the nation of Israel, is being rebuilt with God at the centre, and also sorrow that it will never be like it was under the glorious rules of David and Solomon.

It’s hard to imagine the task of rebuilding an entire nation, but I’d like to look at the process of reconstruction, of renewal, from a different angle, using some modern examples from youtube. There are a lot of channels that focus on this sort of project, whether it’s restoring a classic car, a boat, an airplane or a house, but there are some projects that stand out.

A youtuber with a lot of followers often drove past a hill that had a ruin on the top of it. It wasn’t a castle or temple or anything like that, it was an incomplete construction project that had been planned to be a great mansion, but for various reasons construction halted and the partially completed house was abandoned to the elements for nearly twenty years, had been frequently snuck into by teenagers and animals, every window was broken, rain had gotten into the stonework, there was dirt, rubbish and broken glass everywhere, and many of the timbers were rotten. What could have been a very valuable property was now useless. He saw the potential of the place, bought it for a vastly reduced price and began to work on it, documenting his progress in various episodes and updates. He cleared debris and filth, tore down rotten beams, parts of the roof and walls until there was nothing left but the foundation and the interior walls and floors that had remained intact and undamaged by the elements, then over the next two years new frames and walls are added, roofs and windows replaced, plumbing and wiring done, doing a lot of the work himself alongside various professionals, learning new skills from those professionals, and in the process made changes and expansions to make the house even larger and more practical for his family, finally moving into it recently while some areas surrounding the house are still being worked on.

The viewership of his channel increased enormously, he obtained sponsors for the individual episodes that enabled him to pay for professionals to implement his more ambitious plans, His viewers are excited and happy for him, supporting him financially through buying his merchandise, giving him advice as well as professional contacts on all sorts of aspects of the project.

Another youtuber who specializes in restoring planes and motor vehicles was offered a plane for free if he could get it running. It had cost half a million dollars new, but had broken down and been left to rot outside for fifteen years, inhabited by birds, rats, mice and spiders. It was filthy, stank of mould and every kind of droppings, its engines were clogged with all sorts of gunk and seized up with possible corrosion.

Step by step he took the engines apart, scrubbed and cleaned the various components, cleared the lines with pressurized air, put them back together and after many failed attempts got first one engine to start, and with the help of some spare parts sent in for free by a viewer, also the second. Both engines will be sent for a full professional service later, the exterior has been given a deep clean, and recently crawled around the filth and foul stench of the interior to clear the trash, remove the seats and carpets to begin the process of giving the whole of the inside a deep clean.

Again, his channel received a major boost in viewership from this project, he’s raised over $200,000 via crowdfunding for the project, from people who will get nothing in return, only the knowledge that they helped make this project succeed.

Why is that? What is it about these projects that so captivates the audience? Is it following the progress of a pleasant, enthusiastic and skilled individual working hard to achieve their goal? That’s definitely part of it, but these cases also touch on something deeper.

Something that was clearly valuable was overlooked and written off by the crowd as worthless, beyond saving, too much work to consider bothering with. But then a wise and kind individual came along and fell in love with the beauty and potential and true value of the thing, currently spoiled as it may be. That person then lovingly and patiently and skilfully sacrifices their time and effort, working to restore and polish that treasure so it’s true magnificence can be seen by all.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone loved me or you like that? Are we dirty, broken treasures that can be repaired, cleaned, renewed and transformed into something wonderful? I have good news. You are a treasure, loved deeply by God himself, though you are full of dirt, brokenness and corrosive sin. He is ready and excited to work on you to clean, repair, renew and transform you into something glorious. If you have already given Him your life, then he has already begun that work, it is called sanctification. This process takes a long time, can be unpleasant and for long periods it can seem that no progress is being made. Parts of you need to be scrubbed clean of all the corrosive sins and attitudes that threaten to eat them away; that can hurt. Some parts will need to be thrown away and replaced entirely with something new and better, so we can become a new creation; that can be scary. Parts that have been seized up your whole life will begin to function, giving you capabilities you didn’t know you had.

You are a temple of God, a place for the Holy Spirit to dwell, a great treasure in a pot of clay. You might think that you are too broken, too polluted, to be of any use, but a whole new abundant life awaits you, if you only allow the master renovator to do his work.