Thursday, 31 May 2012

Heathen Europe and the greater Carey legacy

William Carey, the Cobbler from Kettering who became the 'Father of modern missions', was famously rebuked 230 years ago. At a Ministers meeting, agitating about the possibility of foreign missions, Carey was put in his place by this patronising reply, 'Young man, sit down! When God chooses to save the heathen, He will do it without your help or ours!'

Could there ever have been a more monumental misunderstanding of how God chooses to work in the world to fulfill His great plan? Undaunted, Carey wrote his 'Enquiry' pamphlet - An attempt to show that the Great Commission remained valid, and probably the first missionary survey of the nations in the English language, showing regions, languages, main religious groups.

Carey was both disdainful and pragmatic in dealing with some of the main objections to missions amongst the nations. 'First, as to their distance from us....' He puts this down by saying modern boats have a compass and that sailing is now more certain and safe! He acknowledges that European food may be hard to obtain, but masterfully goes on to say that because the 'natives' eat something, so can the missionaries. As to learning their languages, Carey has no time for excuses ; 'It is well known to require no very extraordinary talents to learn, in the space of a year or two at most, the language of any people upon the earth.' This comment of course from a man who taught himself Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Dutch and French whilst he was still working as a Cobbler and Pastor in Kettering!

The truth is, God chose to save the heathen by using the 'help' of ordinary men just like Carey. His conviction about the Great Commission, transformed not just his own life, but the pattern of missions that followed. Almost 70 years after Carey's death, in 1900, India and China received more missionaries than any other nation on the planet, mostly sent from the UK and America. Over 7000 men and women took Carey's model as their own, convinced in the upside down way of the Kingdom, that God was indeed wanting to work with them to reach the nations. Could there be a greater legacy than this for Carey?

In a word, Yes! What William Carey could never have anticipated, was the reversal of missionary culture which is now taking place in the 21st Century. Patrick Johnstone's excellent 'The Future of the Global Church' confirms that in 2010, over 82,000 Indians were sent out as missionaries by the resurgent Indian church. Yes you read that right, 82,000 men and women coming out from the nation that William Carey arrived in alone. Indeed, you can add to that over 20,000 Koreans and a similar number from China.

The rise of the church in the Global South and the Far East is shifting the missionary power base in our generation. This change is accelerated by the increasing secularisation of 'Post Christian' Europe, where it is possible to now call nations such as France and Italy 'unreached people groups'. The United Kingdom is a case in point. The home base of pioneers like Carey, and the top nation for sending missionaries abroad in 1900, is today the fifth highest receiver of missionaries on the planet - most of whom have come from the Far East, Nigeria and South America.

So it remains true. To paraphrase the famous Carey put down - 'God does want to save the heathen in Europe, and he will do so with the help of the Indian believers!'

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Bankrupt worldviews and the developing world

Materialism and consumerism are probably the two defining worldviews which operate within our Western culture in the 21st Century. More than 'operate', they have us in their vice like grip - worse than this, we are blind to it, stumbling unaware through our lives filled with plenty of stuff but devoid of any real meaning.

One of the best ways to spot whether you are being lied to by a defective worldview is to get outside of your own culture and enter someone else's paradigm. There is no bigger jolt to our system than landing amongst people who don't see the world in the same way as us, who don't value the stuff that we thought was of primary importance. For many of us, we get the occasional hit in this area through watching Comic Relief. Seeing through our TV's the lives of the have nots, only to be astounded that those who go without are actually happier than we are - happier than us, with all our stuff? And suddenly a bankrupt worldview is exposed.

One of my most recent 'exposure' moments came when visiting a Gypsy community in a desperately poor village in the north of Romania. Startled by their want, confronted by my plenty, I was shocked again at how hard I find it to connect with the developing world. Travelling home, thinking these issues through, I read these compelling words from Calvin Miller in his excellent little book, 'The Disciplined Life.'

'The editors of Leadership magazine suggested nine rather drastic steps wealthy Westerners would have to take to truly identify with the developing world:

First, take out the furniture. Leave a few old blankets, a kitchen table, maybe a wooden chair. You've never had a bed, remember?

Second, throw out your clothes. Each person in the family may keep the oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. The head of the family has the only pair of shoes.

Third, all kitchen appliances have vanished. Keep a box of matches, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a handful of onions, a dish of dried beans. Rescue the mouldy potatoes from the garbage can: Those are tonight's meal.
Fourth, dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, take out the wiring and the lights and everything that runs by electricity.

Fifth, take away the house and move the family into the tool shed.

Sixth, no more Postmen, Firemen, Government services. The two classroom school is three miles away, but only two of your seven children attend, and they walk anyway.

Seventh, throw out your bank books, stock certificates, pension plans, insurance policies. You now have a cash horde of $5.

Eighth, get out and start cultivating your three acres. Try hard to raise $300 in cash crops because your landlord wants one third, and your money lender, ten percent.

Ninth, find some way for your children to bring in a little extra money so you have something to eat most days. But it won't be enough to keep bodies healthy - so lop off 25 to 30 years of life.'

Friday, 18 May 2012

Mad Priests, Angry Mobs and Biblical Plagues!

Operation World, the fine prayer catalogue for every nation on planet earth, is right when it asserts that there is more opposition to the churches in Romania from the Orthodox Church than there is from the state.

Last Sunday I was taken to preach in a small town in the north of Romania called Solona. There is now a church plant there, an established, growing work in this rural community. I had the privilege of appointing a new leader whilst I was with them, and afterwards, heard the amazing true story of their inception.

A group of believers from a nearby town had been making regular evangelistic forays into Solona, they had seen some early converts and were looking to step up their mission. One Sunday, they travelled together in a convoy of 3 or 4 cars to visit the town after their own Sunday meeting was over. About half a mile outside of Solona a man could be seen in the road walking towards them.

Pulling over as the stranger waved them down, this group of believers were not surprised to hear that the local Orthodox Priest was stirring up trouble. Knowing that they were coming to the town, and aware that a number of converts had already left the dead Orthodox faith, the Priest decided to take matters into his own hands.

Using church funds he purchased a large amount of the local moonshine and offered it in copious amounts to a group of 40 or so of the bored young men of the town. As the alcohol took effect, the Priest was able to provoke them into an angry mob about these outsiders who were coming in to disturb the peace. They were waiting on the main road into the town, armed with clubs and farm tools, ready to stop the cars and attack the believers as they entered.

Fortunately, one man was brave enough to walk on ahead of them and warn the believers. Having heard this report, they prayed briefly, and decided not to risk confrontation or damage. They agreed that God was well able to defend His honour, and turned back praying that If He wanted them in Solona, He would open the door.

As they turned to go, a terrific hail storm began to buffet then. Leaving the fringes of the town, they left the storm behind and thought no more of it. The following week, they began to hear the most amazing report from Solona.

The hail had been so strong and heavy in the town that it had damaged homes and gardens. Remember, in this community, each home is almost self sustaining, growing much of their own food. Gardens and crops were ruined. The town was in turmoil. However, it soon became apparent that the homes of the new believers had not been touched by the hail storm - somehow, it had simply missed them. In this small town, they were the only ones to have escaped the deluge.

Quickly making the link between their hostility to the Christians, and the subsequent storm, those who had been worst affected went immediately to the Orthodox Church and ran the angry Priest out of town. There was no doubt in their minds that this Old Testament style judgement had been a direct response to their allegiance to the Priest and his jealous, territorial spirit. Totally humbled, they approached the small group of believers in the town, asked their forgiveness, and requested that they invite the team of evangelists back again!
The errant Priest has now been replaced, and whilst his successor is against the believers, he will not do anything to directly oppose them - he doesn't dare! Now, three years on, a fine church has been planted, and the town of Solona is wide open to the gospel.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Scream of expensive religion

Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' painting sold at auction yesterday for £74m, making it the most expensive art work sold to date.

Surely there are few paintings which give a window into the soul of a man than this one? For me, The Scream is as much inspired by the claustrophobic effects of dead religion more than any other hidden angst in the life of this troubled artist.

Munch was raised by his father in small town, reformed Norway, his mother died of TB when he was still only five. Here is where the seeds were sown which produced the kind of work that now sells to billionaires.

Writing about his troubled and strange home life, Munch said, 'My father was temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious - to the point of psychoneurosis. From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow and death stood by my side since the day I was born.' Not the warmest family tribute you could read.
Later, Munch spoke about how his father would tell them that their dead mother was looking down from heaven and grieving over their behaviour.

Munch's father was himself the son of a Priest, and this manic religious angst seems to have infected the family. Today we would see this madness worked out in stress, symptoms of OCD, manic depression. For the young Edvard Munch it was distilled and emerged as striking, breathtaking, yet disturbing art.

What distortion of the loving relationship between man and God leads to such religious fear and uncertainty? What brand of christianity is fostered in the minds of children who are brought up to be very afraid of God and all that He stands for? It is not the religion of the bible. This is reformation gone mad. This is the kind of religion that kills, it has no life, it is devoid of all hope. This is religious slavery to fear, judgement and despair.

The end point of this religion drives you towards a suicidal mania. A silent scream of anguish is the inevitable response to living every day with the unbearable burden of trying to please a God who is always angry with you. This painting is so powerful because it resonates in all of us who have looked inside ourselves and found that yet again we have fallen short.

The Scream is the perfect picture to represent the foolishness of dead religion over the wonder and release of grace and acceptance in Christ. The Scream is the face of all those who have wasted themselves, their lives, their money, their best years, chasing after all the wrong ways of getting to God.

From today this priceless picture of a brand of killer religion that eats your soul is now hanging on the wall of some wealthy Saudi, haunting their view, or leading them into truth?