Friday, 30 August 2013

Dangerous Calling

The magnificent, 'Dangerous Calling', by Paul David Tripp has made a timely intrusion to my summer reading plan. It is an uncomfortable mirror of a book, which frequently needs to be out down and considered with hones appraisal. For this reason it is a book to be read over a week or so rather than in a sitting.

At a time of personal transition, about to begin a new work in a new town, this paragraph on unhealthy expectations pulls no punches.

'It should be obvious that unhelpful assumptions made as the Pastor is coming to lead the church would be fruit in a whole set of unrealistic expectations. The biggest is that many churches simply don't expect their Pastor to struggle with sin. But he is not sin free! Since he is still being sanctified, sin still remains and is being progressively eradicated. They don't expect him to get discouraged in the middle of the war for the gospel. They don't expect him to be tempted towards bitterness or envy. They expect him to be a model father and husband. They don't expect him to be lazy or to settle for mediocrity. They don't expect that in moments of self protection, he will be tempted to be anti social and controlling.

They expect that he will be able to joyfully carry an unrealistic job description that would overwhelm anyone this side of Jesus's return. They expect that he will be content with significantly less pay than most people with his level of education. They expect that his wife is so fully committed to ministry herself that his coming to the church is actually a two for one deal. They don't expect that there will be moments when he is tempted to doubt the goodness of God. They don't expect that in a meeting or in the pulpit, fear of man will keep him from doing or saying the things that God calls him to do and say. They don't expect to hire a flawed man who is still desperately in need of the very grace that he is called to offer and exegete for others.'

Towards the end of the the book, Tripp comes to a conclusion which is true for all of us who lead, and all of us who form expectations as we follow leaders. 'There is only one Messiah, and I am definitely not him!'

Thursday, 8 August 2013

What Muslims Believe

Today is Eid Mubarak, the end of the month of Ramadan. It is always a time when Muslim friends and neighbours are very open in discussing their faith. However, most Christians don't really know what Muslims believe. Obviously, within Islam there are huge differences much as you will find within the range of beliefs across the Christian church. Having said this, the basic tenants below will be generally accepted by mainstream Mulsims the world over.

They believe in the one true God (Allah), and his total rule over humanity, a day of judgement to come, and life after death. There is no sense of assurance about receiving mercy from Allah on the final day, and so a life lived in merit, in accordance with the five pillars Islam is necessary.
Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, although God's ultimate revelation of himself was to Mohammad, through the Angel Gabriel, recorded word for word in Arabic in the Quran.

Here are the five pillars of Islam that Muslims must uphold:

1/ The Creed
'There is no God but God (Allah), and Mohammad is his messenger.' Reciting this creed sincerely in the presence of a witness is what makes you a Muslim.

2/ Fasting
During daylight hours in the month of Ramadan, Muslims may not eat, drink, smoke or have sex.

3/ Giving to the Poor
True Muslims are expected to give 2.5% of their income to the poor.

4/ Prayer
Muslims pray in the direction of Mecca at five set times of the day. These are set prayers in Arabic, with more optional prayers available.

5/ Pilgrimage
All Mulsims who are physically able to, are expected to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during their life time. Those who give money to enable others to travel believe that it gains them merit with God.

This is the briefest of all summaries of belief possible. It is not an endorsement or an attempt to highlight flaws - but even a basic understanding of sincerely held faith can open doors of understanding, perhaps breaking down some of the misconceptions which lead to fear, ignorance and sometimes unhelpful behaviour from Christians towards Muslims.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

'We must be prepared for the fact that we may be arrested' - A tribute to Samuel Lamb

When Mao Zedong came to power in China in 1949 he quickly expelled the foreign missionaries and began a long programme of persecution against Chinese believers with the purpose of wiping out Christianity in the atheistic Mao cult state.  After his death in 1976, it became apparent that the very opposite had happened, and a vibrant underground, authentically Chinese New Testament church was flourishing.

One of the best known hero Christian leaders, Pastor Samuel Lamb, who pioneered through this era died lat Saturday  in Guangzhou, aged 88.

Lamb was arrested during one of the first big waves of persecution in Mao’s 'Great Leap Forward', imprisoned from 1955 to 1957. At the time, the estimated number of believers in China was in the low millions.

The only way to stay out of prison for church planters at was to compromise and bring their churches under the control of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the state-regulated Protestant Church. Refusing to take this step, and as the leader of an illegal church, Lamb was sentenced a second time in 1958 spending 20 years in labour camps.
Giving up everything for the sake of his call, Lamb saw his wife for the last time during the five months that he was on remand. She died in 1977, a year before his sentence ended.

In 1979 Lamb pioneered his house church  in Guangzhou. Numbers grew quickly, mirroring the fast and exponential growth all over China in that decade. Lamb was able to move his congregation to a bigger building in the same city, but to this day they remain an illegal house church congregation, only tolerated by the authorities.

World Watch Monitor make the following tribute:  Suffering played an important part in many of Lamb’s sermons. He was famous for repeating: “More persecution, more growth”. That phrase had not only to do with numbers of believers, but also with spiritual growth.

Lamb saw that China has changed in the past decades and that Christians are now granted more freedom. Still he wanted to make sure that Christians do not too easily assume that nothing will happen to them. Even though his congregation was still illegal, it hasn’t been raided in years but he always remained cautious about the government.

He always warned: “We must be prepared to suffer. We must be prepared for the fact that we may be arrested. Before I was sent to prison, I already prepared a bag with some clothes, shoes and a toothbrush. When I had to go to the police station, I could just pick it up. I was ready. People are still being arrested. You don't know what will happen tomorrow. Today the authorities are not bothering us, but tomorrow things may be different. I pray that we will receive the strength to stand firm.”

His death leaves a hole in the Chinese Church. Together with other renowned figures like Wang Mindao and Allen Yuan, he symbolised the bravery of a Church that grew at an unprecedented speed in world history.

Long after his passing it will be said in many churches that more persecution only has one outcome: more growth. Simultaneously, he became an example for millions of believers in China, where today estimates say there are now about 80 million Christians – some estimates claim one tenth of the population is Christian.
Samuel Lamb's story of steadfast resolution and determination has also inspired and encouraged millions of Christians around the world.