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Stained glass shadows westernskycommunicationscomRedbird’s Roost has a good post on St Paul’s faith, contrasting it with that of many Christians today.

In ‘Pressing On’ Redbird examines Philippians 3:13-14 wherein the apostle tells his faithful that he has not yet attained perfect faith and sanctification, yet he was determined to

press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Redbird goes on to describe two different types of Christians. The first group are those who say that unless we believe everything they do and live exactly as they do, we are doomed. Redbird observes:

Sometimes our professed maturity and sureness may not be as mature as we would like it to appear. Psychologists tell us that the so-called true believer who appears to be rock hard in his or her faith may be in fact engaging in a cover-up of troubling inner questions and insecurities.

On the other hand, Redbird says, are those who expect Christianity to be an easy life where everything immediately becomes perfect, especially our sanctification and faith:

So we reduce Christianity to some simplistic package that you can accomplish quickly and without effort. We thus imply that the Christian life is something petty and inconsequential.

Once again, this proves the necessity of daily Bible reading so that we understand what Scripture says about leading the Christian life.

May we become more Pauline in our approach to faith and in our relationships.


Before seeing Noah, especially with children, it’s worth (re)reading the account of Noah’s life in Genesis.

First, God had His reasons for the flood — also for sparing Noah and his family (Genesis 6:5-8):

5 The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

Then, when the time came (Genesis 7:13):

On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark.

Afterward, when God told Noah that he and his family could leave the ark (Genesis 8:20-21):

20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though[i] every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

God then made a covenant with Noah and his family (Genesis 9:8-11):

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

The Lord added this beautiful reason for rainbows (Genesis 9:12-16) — something to remember and share with young people (emphases mine):

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

The Bible story, taken verbatim, would have made a beautiful film for everyone. Yet, the film does not represent the Genesis account.

Kat Butler unpacks Darren Aronofsky’s film for the family-oriented Movieguide. In ‘What’s Wrong with Noah?’ she notes:

The writers of the movie seem to have turned to the BOOK OF ENOCH to introduce details of the world before the Flood. (Enoch himself is named early on in the movie and referenced by Noah’s grandfather as the story unfolds.)

As for the Watchers, she says:

Understand that the term “Watchers” refers to both the good and fallen angels. Thus, Gabriel is a Watcher, and Uriel, too. The Watchers who have fallen to earth for being sympathetic to Adam and Eve refer to those angels who followed Lucifer in his rise up against God. (These are the fallen angels who ultimately mate with female women and produce the nephilim — the race of giants.)

Incidentally, you can read more about the Nephilim in my post from 2013.

Butler counsels against becoming too empathetic towards the Watchers:

After the fall to earth, the outcast angels are damned. Most importantly, they do not repent. It is in this vein that they continue to “play gods” in the human arena, and defy God all the more by teaching technological advances and all kinds of learning to humankind. (This, too, is referenced overtly in the movie, as it relates to the growth of cities.)

The question arises, then: Why borrow the Watchers and make them Noah’s friendly helpers, who serve him, and (by implication) God, by assisting in the building of the Ark?

The very suggestion that the Fallen Angels are benevolent creatures is misleading. Especially if we realize that one of them, referenced in the movie, is Lucifer himself: Azel/ Azazel the “courageous one” and “arrogant one” who rose up against God

Perhaps the flawed representation of the fallen angels makes its way into NOAH by accident. I’m willing to believe that. The fact remains that it is not good, and that media-wise viewers will do well to educate themselves as to why nursing sympathy for those cast out of the Heavens is dangerous.

She points out that the film is faithful neither to the Bible nor the Book of Enoch — not part of the biblical canon:

At the end of the day, one has to wonder why the fallen angels help Noah at all. It’s not necessary for the storyline. It would have been just as epic for them to side with the fallen men, and for God to save Noah from destruction. It would also have saved the movie from an inherently flawed and dangerously misleading theology.

Aronofsky’s NOAH, in this sense, plays the part of false counsel. Those who leave the movie feeling even remote sympathy for the Watchers and the attempt of such creatures to redeem themselves inadvertently miss the mark; as do those who imagine Noah as a frail man, who wrestled with his decision to follow through on God’s command. The implication at the end is jarring as it leaves room to question whether or not humanity survived because of Noah’s inability to go through with God’s plan (an accident, as it were), or because God knew all along Noah would “choose love.”

Fellow blogger (and reader!) Alex Dekkers details how the film’s narrative differs from the Bible. Please be sure to read ‘Alex’ view– What is wrong with Noah?’ before you or your family see the movie.

He lists several pertinent observations, three of which follow. These illustrate the importance of understanding and familiarising ourselves with the Bible so that we can spot mistakes — intentional or otherwise — in culturally popular depictions (emphasis in the original for the first item — the rest are mine):

  • In the Bible it is very clear that Noah, his wife and his three children with their wives were on the Ark. And what do we see in the movie? Only the oldest son goes on board of the Ark with his wife. What happened to the wives of the other 2? And the oldest gets to girls, implying that somehow the other brothers would eventually make families with these to girls?
  • The grandfather of Noah is Methusalem and in the movie he is made a sort of sorcerer that helps the wife of the oldest son to not be barren anymore. First of all only God can make a wife that is barren to get pregnant. Making him a sort of sorcerer is again an attempt to bring the devil into play as a sort of saviour which he is not!
  • Also Methusalem dies in the flood. So, you would ask, does it matter? Yes it does matter, because his death is very significant. Almost 1.000 years before the flood mankind was warned for this judgement of God, so we as mankind had almost 1.000 years to repent and change! So if people call God a cruel God because of the flood, then they are mistaken and false! The reason that Methusalem is so significant, because his name in Hebrew means: “if I die it starts”. God made sure that he received this name, because on the day Methusalem died, the flood would start. So the devil lied in the movie by letting him die in the flood and not before it!

Noah could have followed the biblical account of a man who loved the Lord and did everything He commanded (Genesis 6:22, 7:5). The Lord rewarded his obedience with a covenant that extends to the end of time.

This could have been such a marvellous film. As it is, it seems to play to humanity’s sin and darker instincts. More’s the pity.

The Revd Walter Bright has an excellent post on the short New Testament book of Philemon.

Philemon might not be well known to some Christians, but, as ‘Refreshing Times of Reconciliation’ explains, it is nonetheless an important letter which St Paul wrote to one of his converts Philemon concerning the man’s slave Onesimus, who also converted.

Philemon is loath to forgive Onesimus for stealing from him then fleeing to Rome. Paul counsels Philemon, encouraging him to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ.

Bright’s post gives us a concise exegesis with concordance of the letter to Philemon in a seven-step route to reconciliation. Here is a brief sampler:

3. There is always a time of refreshing when we humble ourselves in the process of reconciliation… See verse 10 ( I appeal)

4. There is always a time of refreshing when we validate one another…  when we recognize the worth of others… See verse 11

6. There is always a time of refreshing when we see each other clearly… See verse 16; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17 (no longer a slave but a brother)

Then comes this superb observation:

After reading the book of Philemon, we come across the names of God and Christ, but not once is the Holy Spirit mentioned. But, I can tell you, by the time you get through these [']7 refresh my heart challenge[s'] Paul gives to Philemon, you are in for a mighty moving of the Spirit of God. The Spirit will release his presence in ways you’ve never experienced.

If you haven’t read Philemon before, now is the time. Then, read Bright’s post with its encouraging words.

During the Tour de France, BBC4 showed the 1977 Danish documentary, A Sunday in Hell, about the 1976 Paris-Roubaix cycling race.

Paris-Roubaix is one of the oldest races and was first run in 1896. It has a number of cobbled sectors which make the race dangerous no matter what the weather. If it’s dry, as the 1976 contest was, the riders put up with lengthy dust clouds on the cobbles. If it’s rainy, the cobbles become slick and puddles are everywhere, multiplying the risk of crashes or flat tyres.

A Sunday in Hell was made around the time I spent my year of study in France. This was the France I knew and understood. As older Frenchmen say today, you used to be able to tell where someone was from by what they wore. You could tell who was from Paris (the protestors railing against computerisation replacing linotype) and who was from the North (the farmers in their heavy tweed suits). These days, it’s less clear; nearly everyone conforms to the current fashion.

As far as cycling is concerned, this documentary depicts a man’s race. It still is, certainly, but riders didn’t wear helmets in 1976; in fact, those were not obligatory until 2002. They wore cycling caps or no headgear at all. The training regime included a high-protein diet. Breakfast on the day of the 1976 race was a huge, rare steak. No bowls of pasta or rice for those riders. The other fascinating aspect was the physiotherapy segments at the beginning. One rider’s knee looked very out of joint; another had huge long scars on his legs. Yet, they were deemed fit enough to ride all those kilometres on cobbles.


In 1895, two textile magnates — Théodore Vienne and Maurice Perez — built a velodrome in Roubaix, on the French border with Belgium. They wanted a new race which would start in Paris and finish with a few laps at their velodrome.

The two men appealed to the newspaper Le Vélo. At the time, this was the only sports-oriented journal in the country. Le Vélo‘s cycling editor, Victor Breyer, agreed to find a suitable route. He was driven along part of the route. He rode a bike for the rest of it. Aghast, Breyer was shocked at how dangerous the cobbles were. However, an agreeable dinner with Vienne and Perez softened his opposition and he agreed to support the idea.

The first Paris-Roubaix was held on April 19, 1896. Josef Fischer, finishing first, was the only German to ever win the race.

The race earned its name Hell of the North because of the state of the cobbles after the Great War. A team of organisers and journalists investigated their condition in 1919. Closer to Paris, the route was passable. However, as the group journeyed further north, they could smell broken drains and rotting cattle carcasses. Trees were dying and mud lay everywhere. The headlines in the newspapers announced the group had seen ‘the Hell of the North’.

After the Second World War, local and regional councils worked hard to find money to pave over the cobbles. Such a road indicated backward living. The lanes which remained were used only by farmers transporting their cattle on foot. Consequently, councils and mayors were reluctant to grant permission for the race to go along one or more of their cobbled roads; they were a source of embarrassment.

Although fewer cobbled lanes exist now, there are still enough to put on the route, which often changes. A group of race enthusiasts, Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix, maintains the cobbled roads with the help of horticulture students who replace broken or stolen stones. Realising that the race is legendary and brings in tourists, today, even local councils contribute money, sand and cobbles.


The Trench of Arenberg is said to determine who the finishing riders will be. It was introduced to the race in 1968 but has not been used for every race since because it is so dangerous.

In 2001, rider Philippe Gaumont suffered a horrific fall on this section. Recalling his broken femur, he described his injury as follows (emphases mine):

What I went through, only I will ever know. My knee cap completely turned to the right, a ball of blood forming on my leg and the bone that broke, without being able to move my body. And the pain, a pain that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The surgeon placed a big support [un gros matériel] in my leg, because the bone had moved so much. Breaking a femur is always serious in itself but an open break in an athlete of high level going flat out, that tears the muscles. At 180 beats [a minute of the heart], there was a colossal amount of blood being pumped, which meant my leg was full of blood. I’m just grateful that the artery was untouched.

Part of the Paris-Roubaix route was on this year’s Tour de France. The stage started at Arenberg Porte du Hainaut and finished in Ypres. Orchies and five other cobbled sections were included. Three more had been scheduled, but the rain caused the Tour organisers to reroute these to paved roads.

Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault participated in Paris-Roubaix three times in the early 1980s, winning twice. That said, he found the course infuriating and said so publicly. In the years that followed, fewer of the top 20 UCI cyclists participated. In 2004, there were none; that year, Philippe Brunel of L’Equipe wondered whether Hinault had an indirect influence on this non-participation:

We won’t go as far as say that the five-time winner of the Tour [Hinault] – who every year gives the winner his celebration cobble stone on behalf of the organisers — has contributed to the dilution [paupérisation] of the queen of classics, which would offend him, but his words have contributed to the snub, or the indifference, of those who stay away. The fact isn’t new but the phenomenon is getting worse and is concerning. The peloton of stayaways has grown to the point where Paris–Roubaix is now only for a tight group of specialists… especially the Belgians, capable of maintaining high speed on the cobbles.

Nonetheless, Tour de France riders are still riding in — and winning — Paris-Roubaix. Among them are Fabien Cancellara (winning in 2006, 2010 and 2013), Tom Boonen (2005, 2008, 2009, 2012), Stuart O’Grady (2007) and Niki Terpstra (2014).

The film

Riding strategies are one of two: either on the side of the cobbles where the surface levels out, although that involves negotiating puddles; or at top speed down the middle, which heightens the risk of punctures.

This clip shows how treacherous the route is. Note the gash on the first injured rider’s head at 1:38 and the dust cloud after the 9:00 mark:

Another YouTube video shows the 1988 race, filmed for CBS in the US and narrated by England’s own Phil Liggett, who provides commentary for ITV4’s coverage of the Tour de France:

For non-English-speakers, Liggett’s commentary is clearly spoken as is that of David Saunders who covers the 1976 race, so ably filmed by Jørgen Leth and Christian Clausen’s team.

Readers suffering Tour de France withdrawal symptoms may find that watching Paris-Roubaix races will provide the necessary antidote!

Although cycling fans in Britain were disappointed that we had no chance of winning this year’s Tour de France, nonetheless we enjoyed three weeks of suspense.

Thankfully, the Tour took the decision a few years ago to make it more challenging, the way it was a century ago.

Outside of Vincenzo Nibali’s reign at the top, the rest of the overall classification turned out to be as unpredictable as the stages.

From the start, favourites dropped out because of injury. Crashes were frequent. Mark Cavendish collided with Simon Gerrans near the finish line of Stage 1 in Harrogate. Cavendish went on to hospital and an urgent operation a few days later. Gerrans hung in there until Stage 17.

The crashes happen anyway, but perhaps never involved as many team leaders and other stars as this year’s. Chris Froome, last year’s winner, was out on Stage 5, causing team Sky to rethink their strategy. Andy Schleck was out on Stage 4. Alberto Contador — another favourite — crashed on Stage 10. Andrew Talansky left on Stage 12. Rui Costa dropped out on Stage 16.

The weather was surprisingly sunny in Yorkshire and unusually rainy in France. Moist tarmac and slick paving stones created havoc, causing collisions and flat tyres. Even when the sun was shining, the mountain stages — several of which were unfamiliar to the riders — proved relentless with their many steep gradients.

That said, for those riders fortunate or savvy enough to persevere until the end, the feeling of accomplishment was palpable. The overall winner of the race, Vincenzo Nibali, announced in Paris on Sunday, July 27:

Those past few days, when I was asked which one was my best moment of the Tour, I anticipated that no feeling of happiness could be compared to what we feel on the podium at the Champs-Elysées. It’s even more beautiful than what I could imagine.

Alessandro De Marchi, winner of the Combativity Prize, was at the other end of the spectrum in some ways, yet, was delighted with the result:

I’m very happy and proud to be part of the protocol ceremony on the Champs-Elysées. It’s been difficult to ride the way I did during three weeks but I want to continue racing aggressively in the future …

We have much to look forward to next year with regard to the high quality of French riders. AG2R La Mondiale won the team prize with all nine of their riders present on the podium in the Champs Elysées.  Their Jean-Christophe Peraud came in second place and Romain Bardet sixth.

Peraud, who crashed but recovered in Paris — proving the final stage is more than ceremonial — said:

I had realised yesterday already with the tears, I was aware of the importance of my performance. I never do things simply, I added a little last-minute handicap. I had that idea that something would happen. I was used as a skittle, I was pushed aside by the whole peloton. According to Christophe Riblon, there was a bottle on the tarmac that cause a big wave and I was taken down. It added a little bit of stress. I needed a little bit of spice on the last day.

It was above all moving after the time trial, now I put things back in perspective and I could take advantage of the nice view of Paris …

Bardet sounded apologetic for coming in sixth, then predicted great things in future:

… it’s only my second Tour de France, I lack a little bit of experience at times. But 6th is early a great performance. There is really a big generation in France. With Thibaut [Pinot, see below], we’re going to battle it out in the years to come, but there is also a good international opposition. To ride that fast and that young at such level, it’s good for the future. Now we’re going to spend a good evening together with the team and the family. We achieved a great collective performance in the first place.

Thibaut Pinot from FDJ (Française des Jeux) won Best Young Rider and came third in the overall classification:

The objective was the top 10, we knew the white jersey would come along as well. It’s the way I am, I love to attack, I love to have fun in the climbs. That’s bike riding the way I see it …

Bernard Hinault was the last Frenchman to win the Tour … in 1985! Could 2015 be France’s year? I look forward to finding out.

In closing, this year marked Jens Vogt’s farewell Tour. Aged 43, he’s participated in 17 and will be sorely missed. He went out in style with a brief one-man attack on the Champs Elysées.

Also worth mentioning is this year’s lanterne rouge, Cheng Ji, China’s first participant in the Tour. Although he finished 164th and crashed in Paris, he provided useful pacing for his team, Giant Shimano, throughout. We wish him well in his recovery from his left elbow and knee trauma. It was a relief to find that he was able to finish the stage and avoid disqualification.

Roll on 2015 — vive le Tour!

Good news for those of us following Meriam Ibrahim‘s sad story of Sudanese court cases, imprisonment and subsequent release with a view to a new life in the West.

My last post on her saga found her, her husband Daniel Wani and their two children living in the library of the US Embassy in Khartoum.

On July 24, thanks to the continued negotiations by Italy’s Deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli, she and her family flew to Rome. Pistelli accompanied them on the flight.

The Guardian reported that after arriving in Rome, Pistelli, prime minister Matteo Renzi and foreign minister Federica Mogherini took the family to Casa Santa Martha, Pope Francis’s Vatican residence. There the Pope spent just under a half hour with them.

The paper says that Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi described the meeting as follows:

The pope thanked Meriam and her family for their courageous demonstration of constancy of faith. Meriam gave thanks for the great support and comfort which she received from the prayers of the pope and of many other people who believe and are of goodwill.

He added that the Pope expressed his personal

closeness, attention and prayer for all those who suffer because of their faith and in particular Christians who suffer persecution or restriction to their freedom of religion …

A number of politicians in the US and the UK expressed their outrage. Human and religious rights organisations, such as Redress and Hardwired, also got involved in Ibrahim’s case.

However, the Daily Mail spoke to Ibrahim’s lawyer El Shareef Ali, who said:

The Italians had the greatest influence on Sudan and were able to secure her release.

Furthermore (emphases mine):

Hardwired added that charges against Meriam are still open in Sudan and it is unclear what will happen to the cases.

Her original death sentence for apostasy is now with the Supreme Court in Khartoum.

She also faces additional charges for falsifying documents and a new case filed by her family which seeks to annul her marriage.

El Shareef said: ‘We will continue to challenge the case at the Supreme Court and seek a decision that recognises the apostasy law as inconsistent with international law and the Sudanese Constitution so no one else is harmed by these kind of charges.’

Italy’s tireless pursuit of justice in Ibrahim’s case is to be applauded. The Mail reports prime minister Matteo Renzi stating:

If there is no European reaction we are not worthy of calling ourselves Europe.

Too right — and well done!

The Mail and Huffington Post accounts of the Vatican meeting have several photographs for us to enjoy.

The family are hoping to fly to the US very soon. More news to follow on what we pray will be a happy ending and a new beginning for them.

Bible readingContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 13:18-21

The Mustard Seed and the Leaven

 18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

 20And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”


In last week’s reading, which immediately precedes today’s verses, Jesus rebuked the hypocrisy of synagogue leaders who took issue when, on the Sabbath, He healed a woman who had been bent over for 18 years because of a demon.

In today’s verses Jesus states that the kingdom of God will start out small but grow to the extent that everyone under its influence will benefit (verses 18, 19).

Jesus makes this statement because, as Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Many perhaps were prejudiced against the gospel, and loth to come in to the obedience of it, because its beginning was so small they were ready to say of Christ, Can this man save us? And of his gospel, Is this likely ever to come to any thing? Now Christ would remove this prejudice, by assuring them that though its beginning was small its latter end should greatly increase so that many should come, should come upon the wing, should fly like a cloud, to lodge in the branches of it with more safety and satisfaction than in the branches of Nebuchadnezzar’s tree, Daniel 4:21.

In order to explain His ministry and the sowing of the seed of His bride the Church, he uses the analogy of the mustard seed which grows into a huge, sturdy bush. Everyone in His audience knew how tiny these seeds were.

John MacArthur says that the mustard seed was the smallest seed in that part of the world in those days. The only seed which approximates it in size is the tobacco seed, which is the size of a full stop (‘period’ to my American readers) seen on this page. However, tobacco was an American plant exported to Europe only in the 16th century.

MacArthur elaborates on the size of a mustard seed bush:

Now a mustard seed produced a bush. Typically it could grow to eight feet high and 15 feet in diameter. That is a big plant. As far as garden plants go, that is the biggest garden plant that they new anything about …

And it grew to be a tree it says, it’s not a timber tree, but a large shrub is in view here. In fact, this thing is so large it says that birds of the air nested in its branches. And the word nested here is permanent dwelling. They set up their home, they put their nests there. It’s branches were big enough and broad enough to build permanent nests in. A little unusual for a garden plant. That’s the picture. They get so big and so sturdy and so strong that the birds find it a good place to put their permanent home. We’re not talking about lighting on it and flying away. We’re talking about building a nest and staying.

Jesus’s ministry produced relatively small results at the time because of unbelief often driven by hypocrisy of the religious hierarchy, hence, His allusion to the mustard seed. Yet, it would continue to grow and spread throughout the world. Civilisation under the influence of Christian belief would come to provide a good, secure life for all. Certainly, there have been exceptions throughout history; nothing is perfect. Civilisation has had to evolve over two millennia. And we all wonder about the world today, including Western society.

Despite that, MacArthur says (emphases mine):

And you know, as the kingdom grows in its external visible form as Christianity develops, what comes with it? The greatest civilization, the most advanced civilization, the greatest comforts, the finest medicine, the best education, the best harnessing of human resources and the resources in the earth. Christianity is the one that brought along all of the graces that grace this otherwise pagan world.

And just like 1 Corinthians 7:14 says, “That an unsaved spouse is sanctified by being married to a Christian.” So unregenerate people are sanctified by being around the influence of the growing kingdom of God. I mean, we who live in America should understand that, right? Don’t call America a Christian nation. It isn’t. But Christians have been such a dominating force in this nation’s history as to have provided the best possible life on the planet for all the non-Christians that nest in the tree of Christianity. So the Lord shows by simple power…a simple parable, don’t underestimate the power, the external growth of this kingdom. Christianity, as we speak today, in name is the largest religion in the world; in the world. And it came from such a small and obscure beginning. Just as Jesus said it would. And nesting in the tree are many nations throughout the history of the world benefiting from the blessing of the growth of the kingdom. That’s the external.

Note his mention that this analogy represents the external Church.

In the next two verses (20, 21) Jesus describes the internal growth of the believer. He compares it to the woman who leavened flour. MacArthur says she would have done this with sour dough culture:

when a young Hebrew girl married, her mother would give her some things as mothers do when girls get married, but one of the things that a mother gave a Hebrew girl was some fermented sour dough. That was a wedding present and she took it to start her first batch of bread in her new family. And it symbolized the wonderful continuity from her family into that new family. There are some things you want to leave behind, like the wretchedness of Egypt. There are some things you want to take with you like the love of a family.

And so this idea of leaven symbolized all kinds of influences. And He is saying so it is with the kingdom.

Jesus is saying that faith transforms one person at a time, just as a relatively small amount of raising agent transforms flour into dough from which one can make bread.

Henry says:

But you must give it time, wait for the issue of the preaching of the gospel to the world, and you will find it does wonders, and alters the property of the souls of men. By degrees the whole will be leavened, even as many as are, like the meal to the leaven, prepared to receive the savour of it.

MacArthur makes two good points about the influence of Christianity in our fallen world. The first ties in nicely with Henry’s perspective of allowing a lot of time for the Gospel to percolate. It concerns the Tsunami relief work which was going on in 2004 when MacArthur preached the sermon I’ve been citing in this post:

many of the relief workers in South Asia helping with the Tsunami victims are Christians. In fact, this word that I received was that Christians are flocking in there realizing that these nations are anti-Christian, persecute Christians, kill Christians, burn churches, etc. I heard a story this week about a whole seminary that was burned to the ground. They know there’s a window of opportunity and that the relief work is permeated by Christians. The world doesn’t know it. The world doesn’t see it. It can’t be seen. But it’s a way that God advances His kingdom, and it comes down to this, it’s you and it’s me in the sphere of our influence. That’s how it happens. It’s not going to happen in the great capitols of the world. It’s not going to happen through bureaucracies and civil government and authority. It’s going to happen the way it’s always going to happen, hidden as we influence the world. What a glorious calling and what a great ending.

MacArthur’s other point is that the Church continues to grow, believer by believer, even in countries which forbid any exercise of religion:

I read recently that 95% of the world’s population presently have part of the Bible or all of the Bible in their language. It’s working. Ninety percent of all tribes have had an opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. You think about Ethiopia, claims to have something around 35 million “Christians.” Talk about 50 million plus Christians in China. Did you know Cuba has 50 Christian denominations operating there under Fidel Castro? Somebody estimated that about 65,000 people profess to give their lives to Christ daily somewhere in the world.

And about 1,500 new churches start ever week. We don’t need the political power. We don’t need the military power. Christians through the years have gotten that very confused. It happens through influence. And Jesus put it this way, “I will build,” what, “my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” And some day He will come as King of kings and Lord of lords. And at that time, let me tell you folks, every eye will see Him as King of kings and Lord of lords and we will be revealed as the glorious manifestation of the children of God becomes evident to the whole world, and we’ll reign with Him in glory for 1,000 years and then on into eternity forever.

May we rejoice every time someone asks us about the Gospel message. That’s the internal influence leading to further external influence of the Church.

Next time: Luke 14:2-6

Those who watch the Tour de France at home could be forgiven for not thinking very much of the podium ladies who present the stage awards and the various coloured jerseys on each day’s stage.

After all, we only see them at the end.

Yet, as Le Monde‘s blog En Danseuse — ‘standing on the pedals’ — explains, they have a full time job just as everyone else involved in this three-week endurance race does.

Henri Seckel interviewed the podium ladies who present Tour sponsor Antargaz’s daily award for the Most Aggressive Rider. This presentation isn’t usually shown on television, but it is for the rider who does his very best — despite physiological and environmental conditions — to finish a stage. However, he must put strategic and aggressive effort into his performance.

The ultimate winner of this accolade, officially known as the Combativity Award, is announced in Paris on the final day of racing — Sunday, July 27, 2014. One lucky losing rider will be in pocket:

Prize money: € 20,000 for the overall winner (€ 58,000 in total).

By contrast, the overall Yellow Jersey winner, who, this year, will be Vincenzo Nibali, will win over €1m.

More on Nibali in a minute.

The Combativity Award

First, to Henri Seckel’s interview with the ladies, Priscilla and Ophélie, who present the Antargaz award. The title of the blog post states that the Combativity Award is not a rubbish prize.

Ophélie explains that it goes to someone who has:

the courage, the pluck, the genius that gives the impression that he could be a stage winner or the best sprinter or the best climber. As there are riders who would like to win this award, it has value.

Becoming a podium lady

Now on to how the ladies got started with the Tour.

Ophélie says that she initially applied to be a driver:

I didn’t realise you had to have such a lot of experience. They said, ‘You won’t be able to do that, but we have something else for you.’

Priscilla had worked on the publicity caravan:

and if you really love the Tour, you want to know everything about it. But I told myself I probably didn’t have the right profile [for the podium].

When asked what the desired profile is, Priscilla said there wasn’t really any of which to speak. Ophélie said:

You have to be tall, at least. Then, not too ugly.

Seckel asked them if they feared being seen as airheads. Both said they were kept quite busy throughout the day, it’s just that most people don’t see them. Ophélie explained:

In the morning, we help prepare the stage departure, we’re running around, we’re welcoming Antargaz’s guests. Then we go to the middle of the stage where there are more guests; we welcome everyone, distribute gifts, then it’s on to the finish. The podium is only two minutes in our day. 

Easygoing and friendly

Seckel then fielded questions about women’s temperaments. As to whether there were ‘wars’ between hostesses from different sponsors, both women said that all the ladies were easygoing. Priscilla added:

The recruitment criterion is for easygoing people. We’re not tearing each other’s hair out.

But, Seckel asked, what about the women who present the yellow jersey? Was there any envy on the part of those who weren’t selected for that?  Ophélie said that no one makes a big deal out of it:

Of course … it’s highly prestigious. But the day-to-day job is still the same.

When asked how they were treated by spectators or guests, Priscilla said that the ladies who work only in the caravan suffer any number of verbal insults, but the podium ladies are treated with great respect. The riders, she makes clear, are nice to everyone.

Post-Tour blues

Such is the experience of the podium lady that, post-Tour, it’s a bit of a wrench getting readjusted to normal life. Ophélie explained:

It’s such a huge event — you’re in a bubble, in a little cocoon. The first time, they tell you: ‘You’ll see. By the end, you’ll be in tears.’ Because you’re totally taken care of, lodged, fed, made beautiful, and then, all of a sudden, that’s it. You’re on the way home, on the train, all alone, no one recognises you because you aren’t carrying anything branded Antargaz, no one smiles, no one says hello.

Priscilla felt the same:

The first year, I said, ‘Nah, I won’t cry, I’ve only known you for three weeks.’ And, frankly, I never cried harder in all my life. The Tour family is not a myth. We see each other afterward, go on holiday together — it’s really impressive.

Podium choreography

I suspect that people who watch a stage all the way to the end for the podium presentations are those who insist on watching all the credits at the end of a film. I am one of those people.

Those of us who do watch the podium presentations know how well synchronised they are. Nothing is out of place. Everything goes like clockwork.

Priscilla and Ophélie said that everything is rehearsed again and again, down to the last detail. It’s not unusual for the podia to be marked for positioning one’s feet and one’s distance from the rider.

They both said that even the slightest faux pas must be avoided, including touching one’s hair. Hence the need for lots of hairspray pre-podium.

Watch the 2013 final awards in Paris (at 1:00 in) to see how the women stand, how they applaud in a ladylike way and how expertly they do this aspect of their job, including the accomplished airkisses they give the riders:

Yet, one Yellow Jersey podium lady bucked the trend this year. In Sheffield, at the end of Stage 2, Vincenzo Nibali won the yellow jersey for the first time in his career. He’s gone on to win it every day since.

Huffington Post has a seconds-long replay in slow motion. The brunette with the bouffant made it look as if she were giving him a kiss but actually only grabbed his neck, pulling him towards her, leaving him covering for the incident by adjusting his collar.

You can see more in a news report via YouTube:


No one knows the dynamics behind her refusal to kiss him. Please note that Nibali did not say anything publicly afterward, certainly not as HuffPo’s title might imply. That particular remark came from someone online.

Although not asked about this incident, Le Monde‘s Seckel did want to know about the riders’ hygiene post-race. Ophélie told Le Monde that they are very clean by the time they reach the podium:

At the finishing line, they get into a little camping car where they have a nice wash, change their jersey and so on, so that when they arrive on the podium they’re spick and span.

I shall miss these insights — as well as the Tour — come next week. They’ve become part of my life, too.

Le Monde has been running an excellent blog on the Tour de France this year.

It’s called En Danseuse. In English, this translates idiomatically as ‘standing on the pedals’.

As more than one English-speaker has said over the past three weeks, ‘Doesn’t everything sound better in French?’  You bet.

One of the En Danseuse bloggers, Lucie Soullier, interviewed two Belkin team riders, Maarten Wynants (Belgian) and Lars Boom (Dutch). As I write, they are 113th and 105th in the overall classification. Their team leader, Bauke Mollema, is in 7th place and another teammate Laurens Ten Dam is in 8th.

Soullier asked the two riders all the questions Tour de France fans would appreciate. Below is a summary with quotes for the answers to the big ones.

Boredom: There’s never a dull moment on the Tour, especially this one, which seems to have a higher number of treacherous roads and steep climbs than usual.

Scenery: There’s no time to enjoy the scenery; Wynants watched a replay of Stage 3 in London and saw the sights then.

Gastronomy: Local specialities are out of the question. Riders have to follow the team diet which revolve around rice and pasta with a smaller amount of protein — fish or meat. When cycling, it’s gels and high-energy snack bars.

Now on to the big subjects.

Hair removal

Soullier asked the riders if they remove body hair every day.

Wynants said he doesn’t; often, he’s too tired.

Boom said:

I think I’ll always shave. It just looks nicer. In fact, I’ve never had long hair on my legs.

Soullier asked if hair removal was for aesthetic or practical purposes. Boom explained:

It’s to avoid any infections if you fall.

Wynants added:

And for the massages. If they’re a bit rough, body hair makes them hurt that much more.

Soullier then asked whether they preferred shaving or waxing.

Boom said he preferred shaving:

We guys are softies.

Wynants agreed:

I tried waxing once and cried like a baby. I swore I’d never do it again. A razor is good.


Professional cyclists’ shorts are sleek and skin-tight. This leads to an obvious question. Boom explained:

Underwear wouldn’t be very comfortable. But we wear a chamois [a thick cushion underneath the shorts].

Wynants elaborated a bit more:

It’s impossible to wear underwear because of all the friction. We sometimes spend six hours sitting on a bike. The chamois makes it much more comfortable.

Calls from Nature

These days, television coverage sometimes shows a aerial shot of a group of cyclists pulling over to the side of the road, modestly spaced apart. One leads and others follow. There is no protocol.

They are taking a comfort break. This can be difficult when people line nearly all of the route, such as the first two stages this year in Yorkshire.

What happens when it’s difficult to pull over to the side of the road — especially considering riders are consuming five litres of water on each stage?

Boom said he had been able to train himself to go, as it were, whilst riding. He and his teammate actually used a cruder term.

Wynants hasn’t been able to do that:

It’s simple. You stop. There’s a tacit rule that says when the leader stops for a comfort break, there are no attacks. Besides, more often than not, everyone takes a break at the same time. Some can do it when riding, but it isn’t easy. I can’t do it — must be something psychological. And [the presence of the] television [cameras] makes it complicated. You don’t have the right to [go] in front of the spectators. Anyway, you can even be fined for it.

So, there you have it — another Tour de France scoop, thanks to a lady from Le Monde who asked all the right questions for those of us watching at home!

It has often been said over the past century that the Tour de France is more than a cycling race, it’s also everything else going on around it.

Along the route at every stage is the publicity caravan with participating Tour partners and sponsors. These companies have staffed, branded vehicles which go along the route 45 minutes prior to the cyclists’ arrival with inexpensive items or snacks. There are 200 of these vehicles in total.

Some partners, such as the sports newspaper L’Equipe, sell that day’s edition along with umbrellas.

Other companies give away branded pens, keychains or product samples.

Among the most popular companies are those distributing free food or beverages. The lunch meat company Cochonou gives away cotton sunhats and small packets of their dried sausage products, similar to salami.

The spectators, the caravan — and, of course, the riders — make the Tour France’s annual spectacle. It’s popular because it’s free; some lucky souls can walk out their front door and stand along the roadside for a day of fun with their families or friends.

Tour detractors call the three-week long spectacle panem et circences — bread and circuses. However, there is no question that the Tour generates excitement for its many fans.

Some camp out overnight. Others leave home early in the morning to get a prime place along that day’s stage route. The atmosphere builds in anticipation.

It’s worth knowing that July is one of France’s two big holiday months. Approximately half the country is on holiday then; the other half is off in August.

When the caravan of sponsors’ vehicles arrives, everyone knows the riders aren’t that far away. By then, the excitement is at fever pitch for some spectators. Drunk or sober, they want their goodies, especially if they’re free.

This 2013 video shows how the Cochonou caravan — a small truck leading a few 2CVs — goes along the stage routes to distribute sausages and sunhats:

This video shows the company’s stationary vehicles at a stage in Nice:

Cochonou — and other companies — consider the Tour caravan a good way of generating and maintaining customer goodwill.

To find out what exactly goes on in the 2CVs, Le Monde interviewed Elodie, a member of the Cochonou team, in 2011 and 2013. Last year marked her seventh Tour de France in the caravan. In 2011, she was studying physiotherapy. By 2013, she was working as a physio in Paris. Even so, she loved the Cochonou experience too much to miss it.

Many of those working Tour partner caravans are university students. The three-week race is a good way for them to see the country, meet new people and have a laugh.

In Elodie’s 2013 interview, she gave Le Monde the inside scoop on what it’s like to work as part of the caravan crew:

- Elodie got involved thanks to one of her cousins who raved about her time as part of a caravan crew;

- The Cochonou team is small. Everyone gets on well with each other, dawn to dusk;

- Most caravan workers return to the same sponsors year after year so they can spend part of their summer with old friends;

- Although most caravan teams go out at night, they may be subject to random alcohol tests the following morning;

- Workers must be outgoing and friendly towards the public;

- Lunch breaks are five minutes long; one comfort break per stage is allowed;

- The first few days take getting used to, as one’s arms ache from constantly waving at the crowd and distributing goods;

- Crews receive training on how to distribute goods; they lob food and caps out far into the crowds to keep people away from the middle of the road. Spectators making the most noise are top priority;

- One gets a lot of bruises from constantly moving around in a confined space;

- By the end of the Tour, everyone’s exhausted.

Elodie explained the hazards crew members encounter from the public. It’s better to be one of the crew standing up in the 2CV than sitting down. Some men verbally insult the women leaning out the windows or squirt water in their faces. A few spat at Elodie and her colleagues in 2011.

She thought that was bad until a subsequent Tour stage, when a few angry Basques urinated through the open windows. Elodie said one quickly learns to keep one’s eyes and mouth closed when those approaching the vehicles appear menacing.

And heaven forbid you run out of free stuff!

The Tour is more than a bike race. For those who work the caravans, it’s the ultimate three weeks out and about in France.

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