Monday, 26 September 2011

Paternoster power!

I've enjoyed reading books by the magnificently named Dutch Sheets, & the even more unlikely Preston Sprinkle this week! We just don't make names like that in the UK.
My favourite quote of the week comes from a proper, solid, sensible British name, Richard Foster. His classic on Prayer is every bit as worth reading as Dutch Sheets. Both will get you out from under the sheets earlier in the morning and onto your knees.

Writing of the Lord's prayer, Foster says:
"For sheer power and majesty, no prayer can equal the really is a total prayer. Its concerns embrace the whole world, from the coming of the kingdom, to daily bread. It is lifted up to God in every conceivable setting. It rises from the altars of the great cathedrals and from obscure shanties in unknown places. It is spoken by both children and kings. It is prayed at weddings and death beds alike.
The rich and poor, the intelligent and illiterate, the simple and the wise - all speak this prayer. As I prayed it this morning, I was joining with the voices of millions around the world who pray it this way every day. It is such a complete prayer that it seems to reach all people at all times and on all places."

Here is this breathtaking prayer, from Matthew 6, in the Message paraphrase:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what's best— as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You're in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You're ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Rob Bell vs William Booth

Bell or Booth? Opposite ends of the theological spectrum, yet compellingly provocative in their own way. I’ve been reading Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’ this week, alongside some great old sermons by William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army & agitator of the comfortable religious of the late 19th Century.

They are uncertain bedfellows on the surface – Booth’s strident, hell fire Victorianism sitting uncomfortably on the Ikea sofa alongside Bell’s skinny decaf gospel for post moderns.
Whatever you think of their eschatology (their views on the end of everything), you’ve got to love their overwhelming desire to impact society with a gospel which is far bigger & broader than simply preaching salvation.

Both are desperate to engage relevantly with their prevailing culture, using creative language that builds a bridge for the good news about Jesus to travel across.
Both are longing that we get out of our comfortable Christian places, roll up our sleeves & get our hands dirty being the friends of sinners, the defenders of the weak, the hope to the hopeless.
Both are wanting to re-establish the current disconnect between our future hope of heaven, & an urgency for a taste of heaven on earth now for those who live in a relative hell.

They both say it with a slant, but you can’t argue with their passion. Let me give you a taste of both now, see for yourselves.
Rob Bell: ‘A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, whilst the rest of humanity spends forever in torment & punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s clearly been communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith, & to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided & toxic & ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness & joy that our world desperately needs to hear.’

William Booth: You must do it! You cannot hold back. You have enjoyed yourself in Christianity long enough. You have had pleasant feelings, pleasant songs, pleasant meetings, and pleasant prospects. There has been much of human happiness, much clapping of hands and shouting of praises, very much of heaven on earth.
Now then, go to God and tell Him you are prepared as much as necessary to turn your back upon it all, and that you are willing to spend the rest of your days struggling in the midst of these perishing multitudes, whatever it may cost you. You must do it. With the light that is now broken in upon your mind, and the call that is now sounding in your ears, and the beckoning hands that are now before your eyes, you have no alternative. To go down among the perishing crowds is your duty. Your happiness from now on will consist in sharing their misery, your ease in sharing their pain, your crown in helping them to bear their cross, and your heaven in going into the very jaws of hell to rescue them.'

Whichever side of the fence you fall on, whether it’s into Booth’s or Bell’s back yard – The greatest danger for those of us who profess to be Christ followers is that we talk in our churches & define our doctrines, whilst the plight of the poor in spirit gets worse, whilst injustice & sinful poverty increases, & whilst even in our streets, people live & die outside of a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ the Saviour.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Work, Rest & Romanians

We have been right over the last few years to learn much about rest, leisure, family time, date nights, fun with friends in church life. We’ve been right to turn from a frenetic, 'church meetings every night & 3 times on a Sunday' works mentality - Out from a need to be seen to be working hard for God, & into a grace fuelled rhythm of life which releases us from legalistic busyness.
However, perhaps we are in danger of losing the strong New Testament exhortation to work hard as we partner with God. Is it just possible that we risk settling so snugly in the slippers of our 21st century lifestyles that we now think it’s just going to happen or someone else is going to do it?

Whatever culture (legalistic church or lazy postmodernism) we have unthinkingly soaked up – the scriptures encourage us to get up on our feet & work hard by the grace of God for the spread of the gospel. This is an exhortation to hard work like we have never known, but allied with the beautiful rest of grace deep in our souls.
This Sunday as we look at the second half of our Big Vision, we mustn’t be afraid to talk about hard work in these terms.
Maybe it’s time to remind ourselves, to allow ourselves to be unsettled. Not to provoke a return to the rose tinted days of church busyness, but to release a new day of passionate, missional impetus in our generation.

We’re not going to lose the value of protecting our family time, but shouldn’t we be provoked by people like my friend Ioan Ianchis in Cluj, Romania who is now planting his 30th church since communism fell. Earlier this year I asked Ioan, ‘When do you rest?’ ‘Rest?’ he said, as though it was a bad word to be washed out of his mouth! ‘I’ll rest when I go to be with the Lord. In the meantime, I have work to do to make sure Romanians are changed by the gospel!’

Or maybe the bright lights of church history will stimulate us. Wesley who slept on his horse some days because of the unrelenting travelling & preaching schedule. Booth who was so troubled by lost men & women in Gateshead when he was still a Methodist Minister, that he walked away from his comfortable church of a thousand in order to spend himself for the tens of thousands who were outside the walls & didn’t want to hear his message.

Don’t worry, we’re not going to lurch into some boot camp mentality. But isn’t it time to wake up & redress an imbalance as we begin to live urgently again in our day? Isn’t it time to at least ask ourselves whether we are in danger of putting our own comfort ahead of the great commission? So much ministry today is directed inward at self awareness & healing. Much of this is so valuable. But there is a greater commission than my needs being met. It’s time to be propelled from introspection & self protection, back out into a broken world with force.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Jeremiah Lanphier & the longest thirty minutes.

As we conclude a powerful week of prayer today in East Grinstead, let me encourage you with one of my favourite prayer meeting stories. Whether you have been to our meetings or you read this in another part of the world – allow these words to catch your attention.

On 21st September 1857, a businessman named Jerimiah Lanphier invited workers to join him for a Wednesday lunchtime prayer meeting. His purpose was to reverse a decline in church attendance & Christian living.
On the first Wednesday he paced up & down the room borrowed from the Dutch Reformed church, fear & anxiety growing as the minutes ticked by. No workers appeared, no prayers came, only his. Jeremiah persevered, he decided to pray the full hour as publicised. Then, as the clock turned 12.30, he heard the first steps into the room. Eventually six came, ready to pour out their hearts for those outside of Christ.
Twenty came the second Wednesday. Within six months, 10,000 businessmen were gathering daily in New York for prayer with the persevering Lanphier rejoicing that he had pressed through in that first half hour!

The writer John Piper says, ‘Undoubtedly the greatest revival in New York's colorful history was sweeping the city, and it was of such an order to make the whole nation curious. There was no fanaticism, no hysteria, simply an incredible movement of the people to pray.’

God was clearly working behind the scenes to bring together a set of catalysts for such an underground movement which so quickly fountained above the surface.
Those who came to the meetings were broken men & women. Another great depression had come like a thief in the night. Wall Street crashed on October 14th. Forget our own Credit Crunch & the Lehman Brothers – here the entire economic system of the country collapsed in just one hour!
Heman Humphy writes of that day: ‘Like a yawning earthquake it shook down the palaces of the rich, no less than the humble dwellings of the poor, & swallowed up their substance. Men went to bed dreaming of their vast hoarded treasures & awoke in the morning hopeless bankrupts.’

From that first half hour of torment, Dr Edwin Orr estimates that one million nominal believers had come back to Christ & one million more unbelievers had been converted in the two years that followed. 50,000 converts in New York alone. What began with six people spread nationwide, by 1859 to Ulster, down into Ireland, into Wales, Scotland & England. Over one million converts were added to the churches in Great Britain.

In this new day of austerity, where banks collapse & economies are often false – where are the Jeremiah Lanphiers who will pray, who will not despise the day of small things, & who will believe that God is already at work behind our backs to sweep in another lost generation?