Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Where are the Whitefield Celebrations?

Yesterday, as the 16th December ticked past and we all raced towards another Christmas, we in the UK missed George Whitefield's 300th birthday!
How was this allowed to happen? Our American cousins were full of celebrations yesterday, honouring Whitefield through articles, blogs and books. Indeed, owning him as their very own hero of their very own brand of reformed Christianity. This is not a bad shout, but he is ours, and we have forgotten him!

Although Whitefield courageously crossed the Atlantic many times to serve in the colonies, the main impact and fruit of his unparalleled preaching ministry was here in the UK.  My personal view is that George Fox another neglected Englishman from an earlier generation, and the contemporary of Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, had more of a shaping effect on both American Christianity and constitution. However, there is no doubt that Whitefield's magnificent preaching gift foundationally influenced the States.

In an era of dead English religion and a nation far from God, the young Whitefield took first the UK by storm. Joined soon by other greats like the Wesleys, but unmatched in his zeal and authority with the gospel to the point that the nation was changed. We refer back to his time now as the Great Awakening simply because an entire generation of unreached English, Scots, Welsh and Irish were transformed by the gospel through the preaching of George Whitefield and his peers. 

Lists of stats about the number of sermons given, the persecution faced, the open air preaching, the hours spent on horseback, on boats, in prayer.....all of this would give some insight to Whitefield's legacy. And yet it was his deep compassion for the lost, and his ability to reach them through his preaching gift that tells the story best. If I could select one story alone to celebrate 300 years since Whitefield, and to stir our generation, it would be his early encounter with the poor Miners at Kingwood, Bristol on February 25th 1839. Whitefield aged just 25.

This underclass of the newly emerging working class poor were outside of society, far from the gospel, unwelcome in established churches. Going to them, against advice, to preach. Observers noted that they could see the effects of the message visibly displayed on the Miner's faces. Streaks appearing down their blackened faces as they listened with tears of repentance to this wonderful open air preacher.

Whitefield himself notes from that day in his journal: 'At four in the afternoon I hastened to Kingswood. At a moderate computation there were about 10,000 people to hear me. The trees and hedges were full. All was hush when I began; The sun shone bright and God enabled me to preach for an hour with great power, and so loudly that all, I was told, could hear me.....The fire is kindled in the country: and I know that all the devils in hell shall not be able to quench it.

Happy Birthday George Whitefield, and may your story amongst the British be a provocation and impetus for new fires to be kindled of such power and transformation once again!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Through Advent with Cranmer

Regular readers of this blog will have heard me wax lyrical about one of my heroes, Thomas Cranmer on numerous occasions. His 1549 and then 1552 revision of the Prayer Book would have changed English social history for ever had Edward VI only lived a few more years. As it was, Edward's untimely death meant the end of a reformed Prayer book, and soon after, an end for Cranmer, burned alive at the stake under Queen Mary.

We reformed modernists have turned our back on the old church calender with it's connection to the land, the seasons and the peoples of another age. However, the nuances of Cranmer's measured language, and his systematic teaching of theology to those who knew nothing of the gospel or the grand narrative of God's dealings with men, has yet to be surpassed in any generation. Quite simply, Cranmer discipled the entire English tribe with his short daily prayers and scripture readings. His biblical ideas gradually becoming established and embedded in a nation that lay under the darkness of catholicism.

More than this, for the average Priest and Peasant, both likely to be illiterate, Cranmer's methodical teaching through Psalm, song, collects and prayers brought the big story of the bible to life for those who had only every heard the Latin rites. Teaching both preachers and the congregation, in their own language simultaneously was Cranmer's great achievement.

Having an opportunity to enjoy Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral this week, I was reminded again what a hero of both the Christian faith and the English language Cranmer was. His much noted compromises and recantations under the two monster Monarchs Henry VIII and Mary, cause many to consider Cranmer in a less than heroic light. However, his reforming zeal under Edward and the ultimate manner of his martyrdom should leave no room for doubters.  

The 1552 Prayer Book has many times since been updated (not for the better), but the structure and flow remains morning and evening in every prayer book service. Evensong today will continue it's way through the Psalms, 59-61, readings from Isaiah, Matthew, the ever present Apostle's Creed, and this Collect which highlights both the high view of the scriptures and this advent season:
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Still

Advent has begun. Advent meaning arrival, coming, dawning. We use the word for things inconsequential, heralding the advent of the latest tablet computer or mobile phone. But the Advent with a capital A which we remember again this December is something, someone altogether more noteworthy. This Advent was heralded not by press releases, but by actual heralds - Angels and stars!

If Advent is all about the arrival of the Saviour, then our response is to make room. To create space in this Advent in order to ponder, reflect, prioritise, worship. The old carol writer Phillips Brooks, in 'O little Town of Bethlehem', put it this way.
'How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given,
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.'

It's impossible to know what emphasis Brooks intended for that vital little word in the fourth line, 'still'. I've always liked to think that, even with the comma and the drawing in of breath in the rhythm of the carol, that a certain stillness, a pause of reflection is required for the Advent to be truly recognised in our hearts.

In all the busyness and business of another Christmas, Advent seemingly outflanked and outnumbered between the twin bullies of Black Friday and Boxing Day.....still. Be still, allow Him to come, to make his very real presence known.

Author Robert Boyd Munger wrote the wonderful slim book, 'My Heart, Christ's Home'. The first Advent was launched in a stable, a relief to all of us who haven't cleared up every room of the house before He comes knocking at the door. My heart, your heart, Christ's home?

Make room, Jesus wants to come to us.  His Advent, His appearing, silently, imparting His gift to our hearts, our homes, His home amongst us, welcomed by meek souls like ours. Still.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Renewal, Revival and Europe!

Something extraordinary happened at the end of an ordinary day's teaching on church history with 40 or so Impact students.
We'd spent the day following the spread of christianity into the UK, through the English Reformation, revivals and radical movements through the centuries to the present.
To conclude, we found ourselves in the charismatic renewal of the 1960's and 70s: This rediscovery of the life of the Spirit within the denominational churches that refused to remain a personal issue of renewal, and led to restoration church streams emerging all over the UK. These are our roots in the New Frontiers family of churches, and we now find ourselves tipping over into the second generation of our movement, along with others.

If church history teaches us one thing, it's that most radical, pioneer movements, slow and settle as they move into their second generation. Indeed some stagnate or even turn right off course. Our challenge is to remain not just a pure restoration stream, but one which has significant impact with the gospel in our towns and cities across the UK and into post-Christian Europe. For us, this would be far from slowing or maturing, but a pioneering gear change and increase of impact.

So, to the extraordinary events of the opening paragraph - We ended the day with this double edged warning and provocation in mind, by reading together the remarkable prophecy from Smith Wigglesworth dating back to 1947. Reflecting on the last 40 years of our history, our development as a part of the 'Word and Spirit' movement, this prophecy speaks clearly of two eras which have now passed with incredible insight.

Knowing this, the final third predicted by Wigglewsorth is even more stirring - a revival outpouring the like of which has never before been seen, from the UK out into Europe. No wonder our response in the room last week was one of groaning and expectant prayer - what about you? May our second generation be marked by such radical and zealous discipleship that the map of Europe is once again transformed by renewal and revival!

Here is the prophetic word in full:
During the next few decades there will be two distinct moves of the Holy Spirit across the church in Great Britain. The first move will affect every church that is open to receive it and will be characterized by a restoration of the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The second move of the Holy Spirit will result in people leaving historic churches and planting new churches. In the duration of each of these moves, the people who are involved will say ‘This is the great revival’. But the Lord says ‘No, neither is this the great revival but both are steps towards it.
When the new church phase is on the wane, there will be evidenced in the churches something that has not been seen before: a coming together of those with an emphasis on the Word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit.
When the Word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest movement of the Holy Spirit that the nation, and indeed the world, has ever seen. It will mark the beginning of a revival that will eclipse anything that has been witnessed within these shores, even the Wesleyan and the Welsh revivals of former years. The outpouring of God’s Spirit will flow over from the UK to the mainland of Europe, and from there will begin a missionary move to the ends of the earth.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Milan perspectives

Duomo distance

Tram cables

Duomo drama

Bags of swagger

Fast food, slow lunch

Flags

Go Milan

Red saddle

No way

Easy rider

Tale of two cities

Streetscene

Monday, 3 November 2014

Living for the city?

I've been in two truly great cities just this weekend. Milan again. Then 24 hours and a train ride through the two sides of Turin. The modern shiny centre with an urban sprawl full of ordinary families from all over the world living simply on the breadline.

Cities matter, big cities will matter even more as the 21st century progresses. Estimates suggest that by 2100, over 90% of the world's population will be crammed into urban mega cities, mostly in the global south. Even our major European cities will swell, not just in population, but as economic and cultural centres that transcend the old notions of national identity. Giant, multi tribal, multi cultural, constantly regenerating hubs of tens of millions of people.

The old stories of the bible show us that God has always been interested whenever people gather into cities. Ninevah, 120,000 strong, ancient Eastern City, yet so contemporary in it's arrogant swagger - a city needing to be noticed, a self made, self sustaining kind of place where only the strong survive, the rich get richer whilst the poor stay in the gutter. You see, the same old cliches about giant communities still apply today.

Another enduring truth is that cities matter to God. Not the buildings, the institutions, so much as the people. In fact, if the Ninevah story is to be believed, the animals too!
These crowded hubs of humanity where every square foot of space is accounted for - they break God's heart. The multitudes of workers who don't know their right from their left,  the kids heading back to schools, the elderly who no longer know how to find community. Therefore the systems do matter too - the economy, the work place, the education system, the services - it all matters.
As I stood amongst the crowds of rushing workers and wide eyed tourists in front of Milan's Duomo on friday, I reflected on the idea that a city is the only place on the planet you can be lost and yet alone in a crowd - But God would grace such places with dignity and purpose. He lifts the lonely, the poor and the multitudes in dead end emptiness, up from the mundane, giving them worth and value where they had only known meaninglessness.

The killer question is this - if cities are so much on God's heart, then why have God's people largly ignored them? We know the early pioneer church of the 1st Century was deliberately a city taking movement in the Roman world. Strategically, they impacted urban centres and flowed out - a city to rural movement. In recent years in the west though, we've managed to reverse that trend. Post war migration of the educated middle classes to the suburbs has been reflected in the Church community, believers fleeing the 'hard' urban centres to form holy huddles around the extremeties, safe from dangerous influence.

If we learn anything from the ancient/modern story of Ninevah, then we must look to see this unbiblical trend turned around. It is more informed by fear than by the purpose of God for His followers. God surely wants His prophets in the heart of the city? God surely sends His Jonah communities to live amongst the City dweller in order to reveal His Father's heart of compassion for the lost multitudes? If we don't go and live this way, how will they ever know what He is like?

Such prophetic communities don't live in fear of being swamped, wondering if they can still catch the last train out of town before the judgement comes. No, they have seen something of the nature of God. They actually believe they can contaminate the city, that their small, weak churches can boldly influence an apparently stronger clty culture and see it transformed. They have come to town to reverse the curse, to build a city within the city. They don't dream of escaping to Zion, to a New England, they determine to build it here, amongst the lost, by the grace of God.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The power of 'Re'. Re:Member

We are getting better at putting new people through courses to help them join the local church. However, numbers of our existing members, some of whom may have been running faithfully for many years, may not feel quite so connected as the newcomers who are being added into them?
They may not any longer make such a strong connection between their serving, their worship, their gifts, their life in the home or the workplace, and the big mission that we are called on together?

It may just be possible that over time, the vision has become less sharply focussed for them:  No longer acting as a directional force behind their actions, or strong pull into a future in God that they long to inhabit.

It's quite possible this is the case, because we recognise the symptoms in our own lives. Honestly? We don't live every minute of every day in the vision zone, pumped, primed and totally clear on our goals and direction!
The truth is, we forget. We get tired and weary, we drift off course, we allow good and bad distractions to divert us or just hold us up for a while. We repeat patterns in our worship and our service over again with faith, but don't always remember why we do them. It's not that the mission doesn't matter any more, everyone agrees that it does - it's just that we're not sure how it all connects up and how we get back on track.

As believers, we are being drawn into the hope of a compelling biblical worldview, which it is possible to lean into afresh and line up with anew. The view ahead hasn't changed - our very New Testament mandate to love Jesus passionately, love one another deeply, and love our lost generation, both near and far away with a compassion that flows from the heart of God. Agreed!

Our RE:Member teaching this month in the local church is a simple attempt to take this shared agreement on the mission, and try to join up the dots for our lives, our serving teams and the main things we do together in church life.

The prefix 'Re' is worth noting. It means to go back, to return again. For example - If I 're'turn home, I am going back to my house. If I tell you that my hair is 're'ceding, then you will understand that the hairline is actively moving back across my scalp!
Or maybe we consider the prefix in the context of doing an action over again? If I 're'arrange the furniture, I am not doing so for the first time, but arranging it again, perhaps into a new configuration or returning it to how it was supposed to be.

In returning to our first call, there may even be some areas of thinking, behaviours or attitudes which no longer line up with the biblical culture that we now see more clearly again. This is our opportunity to reject them, to refrain, recant, reduce or even make redundant.  Even these responses are positive, freeing us to focussed and unhindered momentum once again.

Every church needs time to Re:member, for both new and old. Reminding us all what we are made for, who we are made for, the mission we are on and the connection our everyday lives and serving have to it.

This is our hope and prayer through this season:
That we would be re-energised, re-equipped, revitalised as we rediscover our purpose. May God himself refresh and rebuild us as we reconnect and recall his direction for our lives together.
As reflection and re-evnvisioning enables us to  recalibrate our thinking, let our foundations be firmly re-established, our daily purposes redeemed, our deep hearts for God, one another and the lost world refilled and rejuvenated. Amen

Monday, 1 September 2014

Top Three Reads of the Summer

It's part of the job description perhaps to be asked what I have been reading, or even to recommend something. This is always highly subjective, and previous blog posts have made suggestions on key titles in certain topic areas or the best big books you should invest in.

However, after a summer absence from the blog, here are my top three reads from this August. You may love them or hate them!

In traditional reverse order:

3/ A Delecate Truth - John le Carre
No one weaves a spy yarn like le Carre. Even without the more familiar back drop of the cold war, this modern, suspenseful tale walks the line between big business, politics and espionage. It's a proper thriller, with an ending to leave you shouting out loud,  that I was pleased to read, retro style, in paperback!
http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Delicate-Truth-John-Carré/dp/0241965187/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1409585585&sr=8-1

2/ Saving Eutychus - Gary Millar and Phil Campbell
This practical book is written with the intention of helping preachers to teach God's word AND keep people awake and engaged at the same time. It was surprisingly simple, very practical, and full of the kind of helpful examples and analysis that make you re-assess your own style and delivery. One of the better books I've read on the practise of preaching in a while.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Saving-Eutychus-preach-people-awake-ebook/dp/B00D2Y368E/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1409585771&sr=1-1&keywords=saving+eutychus

1/ The Bible in 100 Pages - Phil Moore
This excellent little book, based on a sermon series preached recently at Everyday Church, does exactly what it sets out to do. In literally 100 pages, Phil takes us through the big story of the bible, managing to give the scope and breadth of this grand narrative and demonstrate how it all holds together. Many books do this well, but to do so in such a concise way, and to engage the reader and provoke pastoral application - this is impressive! I read it, and it is now working it's way through my teenage children one at a time!
It's really cheap on the Kindle, under £3, but I bought the paperback knowing we would pass it around.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bible-100-Pages-Phil-Moore-ebook/dp/B00KPW1854/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1409586286&sr=1-1&keywords=the+bible+in+100+pages

Honourable mentions go to Tom Wright's helpful 'Acts for Everyone', and also the grittily honest 'All is grace', the last word from Brennan Manning. But for this summer, Phil Moore's Bible in 100 Pages gets the award!



Monday, 21 July 2014

Discipleship tunes about change

Over the past few weeks of our discipleship training, the songs I've tweeted about change have produced as much comment as the content of the course! 

So, for those who are asking, here are the six songs that I've used, all of them in some way expressing a yearning for change or transformation. Some are more bitter sweet, even sad and broken, but all are stretching towards a new way. They are not scripture songs, but this perhaps makes their longing all the more powerful, coming from voices who don't yet know the ultimate metamorphosis that comes to those who receive the good news about Jesus.

Week 1/ Keane - Everybody's Changing.


Week 2/ Augustines - This Ain't Me


Week 3/ Aretha Franklin - Change Gonna Come


Week 4/ David Gray - Transformation



Week 5/ Man in the Mirror - Joyful Noise


Week 6 / Tourist Ft. Lianne La Havas - Patterns



Monday, 23 June 2014

None of the above? The primary purpose of discipleship

I've been reading James Emery White's latest book, 'Rise of the Nones.' His provocative attempt to shape churches and lives in order to reach the irreligious who state 'none' to the religion question on their census forms.
Quite simply, to reach an increasingly post Christian generation, authentic Christians are needed to grow up as quickly as possible.
In our local church, we are learning that the emphasis on creating a discipling culture is with this real Missional purpose - It is in order to create genuine followers of Jesus in community, that make his message very real and attractive to those who currently consider him irrelevant to their lives.

This fabulous quote from James Emery White summarises so well what we are aiming at. It contains a quote within a quote, a Bill Hybels bonus from his book,'Courageous Leadership.'

"Hybel's gathers his final thoughts:
'There is nothing like the local church when it's working right. It's beauty is indescribable. It's power is breathtaking. It's potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens it's arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, the disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addictions, frees the oppressed, and offers belonging to the marginalised of this world. Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness.'
This is what we have been called to give our lives to, and in order to change the world, we must give our lives to it. Until we have this vision coursing through our veins, we will never be able to cast it before a watching world of 'nones' who dismiss it as irrelevant at best and harmful at worst."

Monday, 16 June 2014

Culture of discipleship : An authentic rabble

We're considering the culture of discipleship over these couple of Sundays together as a local church. Not so much the structure of how to get it done, but how it feels to be part of a discipling, growing community of people who are eager to grow up fully into the mission of Jesus.

The story of David in Adullum's cave is great example of the kind of mixed up people that are drawn into this mission, and that are still called to partner on Kingdom adventures today.
The distressed, discontented and those in debt began appearing at the cave as they heard David was hiding out there - this sorry bunch of loser outlaws with all their hang ups and poor history became the power base for the new kingdom through their growing love for David, and the increasing understanding of the adventure they were engaging in together.

This rag tag rabble don't look too different from the troublesome twelve that gathered around Jesus' leadership hundreds of years later! These fall out boys were constantly at each other, always bickering and boasting, never quite seeming to get the point....and yet look what they became.

Maybe we are beginning to realise that these are just the kind of people that authentic disciples are made from, the kind of people who get shaped and sent on mission? Maybe we have to change our thinking and realise that the ordinary disciples we look around at on a Sunday morning are the ones God calls in our generation for the sake of his glory and his purposes?

To paraphrase the great writer Brennan Manning in his 'Ragamuffin Gospel' :
This call to discipleship is for the bedraggled, beaten up, burned out.
It's for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to another.
It's for the wobbly and weak kneed who know they don't have it all together and are too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.
It's for the inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker.
It is for the poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents.
It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay.
It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a disappointment to God.
It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scallywags.
It is for me and anyone who has grown weary and discouraged along the way.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Mr Genor story

Stories are always great, and we used this one about Mr Genor to finish a training day on the Kingdom of God today. Some of you have asked about it so I have copied it below. I read the story from the book 'Fire Evangelism' by Che Ahn.

A number of years ago in a Baptist church in Crystal Palace, in south London, the Sunday morning service was closing, and a stranger stood up in the back, raised his hand, and asked the Pastor if he could share a testimony.

He said, “I just moved into this area, I used to live in another part of London, I came from Sydney, in Australia. And just a few months back I was visiting some relatives and I was walking down George Street when a strange little white-haired man stepped out of a shop doorway, put a pamphlet in my hand and said, ‘Excuse me sir, are you saved? If you died tonight, are you going to heaven?’ “

He said, “I was astounded by those words. Nobody had ever told me that. I thanked him courteously, and all the way back to Heathrow this puzzled me. I called a friend who lived in this new area, where I’m living now, and thank God, he was a Christian -He led me to Christ. And now I’m a Christian.

That Baptist Pastor flew to Adelaide, in Australia, the next week. A woman came to him for counseling, and he asked her where she stood with Christ.

And she said, “I used to live in Sydney. And just a couple of months back, I was visiting friends there, doing some last minute shopping down George Street, and a strange little white-haired man, elderly man, stepped out of a shop doorway, offered me a pamphlet and said, ‘Excuse me ma’am, are you saved? If you died tonight, are you going to heaven?’”

She said, “I was disturbed by those words. When I got back to Adalaide, I knew this Baptist church was on the next block from me, and I sought out the Pastor, and he led me to Christ. So sir, I’m telling you that I am a Christian.”

Now this London Pastor was now very puzzled. Twice, within a fortnight, he’d heard the same testimony. He then flew to preach in the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Perth. And when his teaching series was over, the senior elder of that church took him out for a meal. And he asked him how he became a Christian.

He said, “I grew up in this church from the age of fifteen through Boy’s Brigade. Never made a commitment to Jesus, just hopped on the bandwagon like everybody else. And because of my business ability, grew up to a place of influence. I was on a business outing in Sydney just three years ago, and an obnoxious little man stepped out a shop doorway, offered me a religious pamphlet, and accosted me with a question, ‘Excuse me sir, Are you saved? If you died tonight are you going to heaven?’ “ He said, “I tried to tell him I was a Baptist elder. He wouldn’t listen to me.”

“I was seething with anger all the way home to Perth. I told my pastor, thinking he would sympathize with me, but my pastor agreed with the man! He had been disturbed for years, knowing that I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus - and he was right. And my pastor led me to Jesus just three years ago.”

Now this London preacher flew back to the U. K. and was speaking at the Keswick Convention in the Lake District, and he threw in these three testimonies. At the close of his teaching session, four elderly pastors came up and said, “We got saved between 25 and 35 years ago through that little man on George Street giving us a tract and asking us that question.”

He then flew the following week to a similar Convention in the Caribbean for missionaries. And He shared these testimonies. At the close of his teaching session, three missionaries came up and said, “We got saved between 15 and 25 years ago, respectively, through that little man’s testimony and asking us that same question on George Street in Sydney.”

returning via Atlanta, Georgia, to speak at a Naval Chaplain’s convention the Pastor spoke to over a thousand Navy Chaplains. The Chaplain General took him out for a meal and he asked him how he'd become a Christian?

The Chaplain relied, 'I was living a reprobate life on a US Battleship. We were doing exercises in the South Pacific, and we docked in Sydney Harbor for replenishments. We hit King’s Cross with a vengeance. I got blind drunk. I got on the wrong bus - got off in George Street. As I got off the bus, I thought it was a ghost. This elderly white-haired man jumped in front of me, pushed a pamphlet into my hands and said, ‘Sailor, are you saved? If you died tonight, are you going to heaven?’” He said, “The fear of God hit me immediately. I was shocked sober, and ran back to the battleship, sought out the chaplain, the chaplain led me to Christ and I soon began to prepare for the ministry under his guidance. And here I am in charge of over a thousand chaplains and we’re bent on soul-winning today.”

This London Pastor, six months later, flew to do a convention for 5000 missionaries in a remote corner of northeastern India. And at the end, the host took him home for a simple meal. The Pastor asked him, “How did you, as a Hindu, come to Christ?” He said, “I was in a very privileged position, I worked for the Indian diplomatic mission. And I traveled the world. One bout of diplomatic service took me to Sydney. And I was doing some last minute shopping, walking down George Street, when this little white-haired man stepped out in front of me, offered me a pamphlet, and said, ‘Excuse me sir, are you saved? If you died tonight are you going to heaven?’”

He said, “I thanked him very much, but this disturbed me. I got back to my town, I sought out the Hindu priest, and he couldn’t help me. He to go and talk to the missionary to satisfy my curiosity - that was fateful advice. That day the missionary led me to Christ. I quit Hinduism immediately, and then began to study for the ministry. I left the diplomatic service, and here I am, by God’s grace, in charge of all these missionaries, and we’re winning hundreds of thousands of people to Christ.”

Eight months later, this same pastor was ministering in Sydney. He asked the Baptist minister, “Do you know a little manwho witnesses and hands out tracts on George Street?” And he said, “I do. His name is Mr. Genor, but I don’t think he does it anymore, he’s too frail and elderly.”

The man said, “I want to meet him.” Two nights later, they went around to this little apartment, and this tiny, frail, little man opened the door. He sat them down and made them some tea. The London preacher told him all these accounts over the previous three years. This little man sat with tears running down his cheeks.

He said, “My story goes like this.” He said, “I was on an Australian warship and I lived a reprobate life. And in a crisis, I really hit the wall, and one of my colleagues led me to Jesus and the change in my life was so amazing and I was so grateful to God that I promised I would share Jesus in a simple witness with at least ten people a day - as God gave me strength.

'Sometimes, I was ill - I couldn’t do it, but I made up for it at other times. I wasn’t paranoid about it, but I have done this for over forty years, and in my retirement years, the best place was on George Street. There were hundreds of people. In forty years of doing this, I’ve never heard of one single person coming to Jesus until today.”

It has to be deep love for Jesus that enables a man to keep this up over the long haul without knowing any of the results. This is more than could be sustained by simple commitment, this is a love for the lost that flows from a love & gratitude for Jesus. That's over 146,000 people that this simple little man provoked about Jesus. Goodness knows how many more had been impacted for Christ.
Mr. Genor died two weeks later. Nobody except a little group of Baptists in southern Sydney knew about Mr. Genor, but I’ll tell you his name was famous in heaven. Can you imagine the fanfare he went home to?

Monday, 2 June 2014

28:20

Matthew 28:19 has been rightly emphasised by churches down through the centuries - 'Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit'.
Nothing has changed - this mission remains our top priority. However, verse 20 is of equal value, and yet has received less emphasis.
28:20 'Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you, and surely I am with you to the very end of the age'.

It seems that by emphasising verse 19 and not verse 20, we risk getting new believers to baptism, but then leaving them to get on with things on their own. To work it out as they go along. If this mission to the world remains our most important focus, then we cannot afford to leave disciples of Jesus looking and sounding just like the world they have been saved out of. What gospel message is that going to preach?
The idea in the early church was that our distinctive, Christ shaped lives would be an attractive contrast to the lost world around us. Indeed, for the early church, this was exactly how it worked - transformed by the gospel, learning to walk each day full of the power of the Holy Spirit - no wonder people were drawn in and joined this new band of believers on a daily basis.

For us as a local church in Crawley, the mission to over 100,000 people around us who don't yet know Jesus, who maybe don't know so many distinctive Christians, and probably don't connect with a New Testament church, couldn't be clearer. We need to get in shape, Jesus kind of shape, and quickly! Bringing our lives into line with his teaching in his word, so that our community sees something authentic and attractive.
Genuine New Testament discipleship then is less about me getting my issues dealt with and feeling better about my life (although you will), and more about growing up and looking and sounding increasingly like Jesus to a world which needs our authentic witness.


28:20 Discipleship evenings are a simple attempt to do something about this.
We will meet on monday evenings during term time to work our way through Mark's gospel. In doing so, we will be learning how to read the scriptures, how to hear God speak through the bible, and how to apply what we are learning to our lives.
There will be a chance to deepen our prayer life too and to learn how to get filled with the Holy Spirit and exercise spiritual gifts together.
Each week, we will follow a simple pattern, with the idea that you can replicate that template on your own in quiet times, with your family or even friends in a small group.
In short, we want to make you into disciples that can make disciples of others rather than lock you into an unhealthy dependency.
Our expectation is that you will grow quickly, begin to see breakthrough in all kinds of areas in your life, learn to walk by the Spirit, and start to see real missional impact through your ordinary christian life.

Friends, there is too much at stake on this mission for us not to take this seriously. If there is anything in you that wants to grow, however hard a change it may mean - come and join us!
Tom Landrey, coach of the Dallas Cowboys in the early 80's described coaching as, 'making men do what they don't want, so they can become what they want to be.'

What kind of Christ follower do you want to be? Let's stop living in neutral, or even worse, unthinkingly getting discipled by the culture and attitudes of the world around us. Why not start living for Jesus, as you intended from the start? For the sake of the world around us, your friends, neighbours and work colleagues who don't know what a New Testament believer looks like- its time to grow up and take Matthew 28:20 as gospel!

See you at The Charis Centre, Mondays 7.30pm from June 9th.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

One Direction, bad boys & true discipleship.

Those One Direction boys Zayn and Louis are in a bit of bother, allegedly caught on camera with spliff in hand whilst in Peru this week. Their behaviour isn't far out of step with their contemporaries. Two of the five boy band members stand accused here, but one in five young people claim to have experimented with casual drug use during the last year. 

In his Guardian newspaper column today, Owen Jones remarks on the pressure on One Direction to conform to the sort of clean living that even disciples of Jesus would find a little stringent. Jones is clearly not attempting a reasoned theological summary of the gospel here. Rather he is pointing to the micro analysis of their every move, and the need for squeaky clean lives to maintain lucrative teen idol status contracts.  
He is however plain wrong, but his words say something significant about our generation's misconceptions and lack of any real understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It's just another lazy assumption about Christianity and being good that probably comes from never having been in close proximity to true discipleship.

Peter, James, John (disciples, not the other three members of One Direction) lived freely around Jesus and got themselves into the kind of scrapes that would send band Manager Simon Cowell reaching for the contract Lawyers on speed dial! For much of the time they didn't seem to understand what they were supposed to be doing, they flunked their lines at key moments, there were seasons of constant infighting amongst them that went far deeper than artistic differences. Then, when it came to the crunch on the biggest night for this original band of disciples, Peter pulled out a blade and cut someone's ear off!

The truly great thing about being a disciple of Jesus is not the stringent rules. Jesus doesn't seem to order them. Indeed, they join the band through an invitation - 'Come and follow me.' The thing that undermines the 'how to be good' expectations of the 21st century observer when they think about caricature christianity, is the ability to walk and live alongside Jesus whilst being really quite bad.

It's the bad boys and girls that get invited in the bible stories, the fighters, the adulterers, the fraudsters - but with the invitation to follow comes an invitation to be transformed. You may start out in one direction when you walk with Jesus, but it's hard not to be turned around and to fall in step with him. That's the definition of repentance and discipleship - the discovery of a better way to live and learn for all those who struggle in secret or are caught on camera.

True discipleship of this nature is a wonderful thing, a relational thing, free from the restraint of commands or contracts. When we observe popular culture, it's hard to work out who is discipling who - Are One Direction modelling and coaching their teenage fans, or are the band a product of their broken generation? Maybe it's a bit of both - Either way, we've got a valuable message about discipleship with Jesus that is being dismissed before it's heard and yet it's the very thing the lost boys of our generation need to discover.
Our role is not to criticise Owen Jones et al for unfairly rejecting our message. It's our fault that they don't know any better - Rather, our responsibility is to develop compelling, distinctive and attractive Christ followers whose adventurous lives in close proximity to the world simply cannot be ignored.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Re-opening the wells of healing

In our local church community, we've been using the story of Isaac in Genesis 26, re-opening wells which had been dug in a previous generation by his father Abraham.
This narrative is a helpful prompt as we discover again some of the life of God that has been in our history. This is true in a number of areas, but no more so than with healing miracles. Although they have been significant in our past, we want them again in our present, and into our future.

The need for us to dig once more into what we once confidently drew water from is apparent, as is our need to clear away the rubble of wrong thinking and the opposition of a cynical culture. Should either mindset prevail in a local church, the well of healing will remain blocked. Instead of being an oasis of life giving water for the thirsty, we become a cynical Nazareth, the kind of place where even Jesus found it hard to work miracles because of their unbelief.
Our battle is to decide which water source we want to draw from. Our culture, our experience, or the old well which promises living water and life? The answer is easy to give, but the necessary action is harder to take.

None of us are looking for disappointment, we all would rather find quick fixes, and move onto something new when things don't quite pan out the way we'd hoped. Unfortunately, that's not the way through on healing. Drawing from this well invites us into people's lives and painful realities. It pulls us down into deep pastoral questions, doubts, fears and unresolved pain. It's a pursuit that is best not started, certainly not half heartedly, as it is another one of those journeys where God has decided there is much more to learn on the way, than just the mere outcomes of whether someone gets healed or not when we pray.

Terry Virgo summarises wisely when he says this in his 'Spirit Filled Church.'
"Taking such a journey also leads to pain, disappointment, frustration and mystery. You come face to face with the fact that so many people suffer daily, carry huge burdens into their daily life, agonise over sick relatives, and yearn to be made well.
It's probably easier to leave the whole subject alone, and not put oneself in a context of pressure, anguish, embarrassment and vulnerability, but, on the other hand, Jesus said, 'Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also and greater works than these he will do, because I go to the Father.'"

Whether you are at the start of such a journey, or are growing in confidence, there is nothing quite like swallowing hard, stretching out your hand to pray for healing, making yourself vulnerable and dependent on the God who can suddenly seem far off in that moment. Aware of the huge weight of longing for breakthrough in the person that you are praying for. That is exactly the trepidation I felt as I approached this man, Romulus at a conference last week. After two unsuccessful back surgeries, longing for Jesus to do what the Doctors had been unable to.

Who in their right mind would step up to such a task? Only those who believe that wonderful promise of greater works from Jesus the healer. Such courageous believers will push through the rubble and get to the water source time and again for the sake of a breakthrough in others. Will we be numbered among them, persevering as we dig and draw afresh, learning to walk in  this wonderful gift for God's people?

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Cluj-Napoca perspectives

Orthodox Cathedral

Father and Son

Streetscene

Streetscene 2

Cables, cars and clouds

Catholic Cathedral

Down by the river

Colour code piazza

Straight Street

Stop lights

Bus shelter

Cable chaos

Communist concrete

Rooftops

Concrete highway west

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Ecstatic joy to lazy legalism - Breaking Bad bible habits

Romanian Underground church leader during the Communist era, Richard Wurmbrand, writes of the desperate need of access to the bible. It's an historic account, but true in many parts of the world today.
'Two very dirty villagers came to my home one day to buy a bible. They had come from their village to take the job of shovelling the frozen earth all winter long to earn money in the slight hope that they might be able to buy an old tattered bible with it and take it back to their village.
Because I had received bibles from America, I was able to hand them a new bible, not an old tattered one. They could not believe their eyes! They tried to pay me with the money they had earned. I refused their money. They rushed back to their village with the bible.
A few days later I received a letter of unrestrained, ecstatic joy, thanking me for the scriptures. It was signed by thirty villagers! They had carefully cut the bible into thirty parts and exchanged the parts with one another!'


Contrast this story with the latest research to come out of American churches this week. According to Lifeway Research, the nation that faithfully sent bibles to Romania during the Communist era doesn't read their own bibles very much at all! Before we Brits shake our heads and tut at our American cousins, our own habits and hunger for the word may not be too far behind. The research indicates that 60% of American believers only read their bibles weekly. That's not much at all, although even that is better than the other 40% who don't appear to open their bibles at all.

How is it possible for us to sustain ourselves as followers of Jesus in this hostile world, never mind actually grow and mature - without a daily, passionate searching of the scriptures and a hungry desire to meet Jesus in his word? The dirt poor Romanians had the right attitude, receiving even a portion of the scripture with 'unrestrained, ecstatic joy.'

So what about your habits and mine - is their much evidence of thirst and ecstasy in our bible reading? Are you leaping out of bed in the morning, desperate to get to your quiet place of contemplation, privileged to drink deeply from this refreshing, life giving stream? Is it time for a change of attitude?

Last night with our small groups we challenged ourselves with four simple steps in our bible reading. Perhaps the first is to make a fresh start!
1/ Read the passage and ask God to speak to us through it. He loves to show Himself through the scriptures when we simply ask.
2/ Ask ourselves some reflective questions - Who was this written to, what did they understand by it? What kind of literature is it - narrative, poetry, song, prophetic? Where else does the bible talk about this subject? - let the bible interpret itself
3/ Application - what does this passage mean for me today and in what practical ways do I work it out in my life? What does that look like in action rather than just aspiration?
4/ Pray the passage - Let it live by getting it into you through prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to shape and change your heart from the inside out, conforming us more to the likeness of Jesus by aligning us with his truth.

Whether you read this from a place of relative Western comfort, or from within the confines of a more controlling State, this simple bible reading template will help transform our hearts and mature our attitudes after the pattern of the one who longs for us to seek him and find him in his word.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Noah, Phil Collins and a new Bible Gateway!

One of the more surprising stats to follow the flood of press coverage over Darren Aronofsky’s epic Noah film is the direct correlation to an increase in bible reading.

Over last weekend, visits to the Flood account in Genesis 6-9 at online bible app Bible Gateway saw a 223% increase over the previous weekend. What we don't know from these headline numbers is who these readers are, and why they are reading.

It's fair to assume that many will have gone home to check the story they've just watched at the cinema against the plot they remember from their Sunday school bible class. We all do that with any story we see which has been adapted from a book. Often we are disappointed at the disparity, witness the latest Hobbit film!
However, it's also entirely possible in this post Christian, secular age, that large numbers of people are reading the bible for the first time after viewing the Noah movie.

Never before in history has it been possible to generate these kind of mass stats on our hidden bible reading habits. When Mel Gibson's 'Passion of the Christ' film was released a decade or so ago, no such online bible reading apps existed. It's quite probable just such an increase in bible reading occurred as people went home to examine the gospel accounts, but we will never know.

Now we do know. And what's more important is that in homes without an actual paper bible on the shelf (up to almost 40% of us in the UK) seekers can simply google the passage in Genesis or download a free app such as Bible Gateway and have the most incredible resource immediately in their hands. At a time when many churches are despairing of decreasing appetite for the scriptures, this is a fact to be celebrated. Beware though - Googling 'Genesis' may result in the unchurched reader inadvertently downloading Phil Collins tracks, but that danger aside, this stat is greatly encouraging!

When we layer this latest research over figures released by Amazon for last year, the trend we find is actually rather encouraging. Bibles, bible reading and books about the bible remain extremely popular. Today's generation simply find these writings in a different place to those of us who grew up before the World Wide Web.
We may find it baffling, even a little unnerving, but this old book is still intriguing, alluring and as popular as ever. As Nicky Gumbel still tells us on the Alpha Course, 'Well, it's such a good book!' This good book may no longer be available in all good book stores because they no longer exist- but it is definitely alive and kicking on the Internet. It cannot be subdued.

Whatever you think of the Noah movie, and I haven't yet seen it - It's worth noting that a film made for a mass market secular audience is at least in some way managing to demonstrate enough of God's redemptive story and mercy, to such an extent that today's lost generation will search out meaning from the old story for themselves. Thank God for the big story of the bible and for the Internet!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Same fire, same story!

The big story of the Temple is another tale which spans the bible narrative from Eden to Revelation. Whispers of a temple, the unadulterated place of God's presence amongst his friends, can be found in the first garden before sin spoiled choices closed the gates. It reappears later in Moses' burning bush and dramatically in the Tent of Meeting where the face to face time with God was intimate friendship under canvas. Even as Solomon dedicated his permanent structure, he knew something of the inadequacy of a mere building to try to house God. You see, the promise from the beginning was that the presence of God in men and women made in his image would spread and fill the whole planet, not just inhabit a building!

Jesus, makes the story his own, personifying old prophetic yearnings of a more glorious house, and declaring that the more glorious temple is in fact a person. 'These stones will be torn down and rebuilt in three days', he told his slow to understand disciples. Only after his three day death and resurrection did it begin to dawn on them that a once and for all temple sacrifice had taken place. No wonder he had the nerve to say 'Come to me, don't go to the temple'. One greater than the temple had come - The word made flesh, the temple on the streets, a new kind of order, for which the old bricks and mortar temple is relegated to the role of signpost.

Pentecost becomes a new temple kind of moment. The same fire that Moses and Solomon saw, now breaking out from the confines of a building and filling ordinary men and women, who in turn fill the streets and fill the city.

Even the non Jews get to enter Gods temple as the goalposts appear to shift into line with the original Eden intent for the presence of God to be carried by men to the nations. Those who were not allowed in the temple, who could not come near to the inner courts, who were forever kept apart from a knowledge of God - now welcomed and received into his presence. Witness Peter at the house of Cornelius.

While Peter is still speaking the Holy Spirit falls on Gentiles in the same way as Jews. No difference. The same fire, the same cloud, the same anointing. Who said they couldn't join the temple club? Not Jesus. He opens the door, changes the entry requirements, dress code and the menu - he wants men everywhere to know his presence and no walls or boundaries will stop that plan. No wonder Paul declares later to the Ephesian church that in Jesus the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. That in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. This is temple language, worked out in our corporate flesh so vividly that Peter gasps, 'These stones have come alive!'

No more special places, special buildings, special cities or even special days of the week - this thinking is too limiting - The promise is here and spreading out until Spirit filled communities are alight in every far flung corner of the planet. This too is our story, living stones, living temples, living not for ourselves but for a greater prize - longing for the day when heaven comes down to earth and the whole redeemed planet becomes the eternal place of his presence.

Monday, 10 March 2014

The story we find ourselves in.....

What's so amazing about the big story of the bible, is that ordinary people like you and me get to play our part in it. It's as though we actually get written into the script, finding our lives caught up in the grand narrative sweep that stretches like an epic novel from the beginning of time, way ahead into an infinite future hope.

The Apostle Paul put it well in his letter to the Ephesian church when he said that we are now heirs, sharers together with Israel in the promise of Christ Jesus. In other words, it's no longer just someone else's story, we have been scripted in, we get to play our part.

In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C S Lewis gives us a similar insight. Edmund, Lucy, and their annoying cousin Eustace are drawn into the Narnian world through a picture of a ship at sea. The picture itself tells a story, but it's as though it becomes alive as they look at it, becoming so real, that they are pulled from their world into a greater reality, a new world. They land in the ocean near the boat and are taken aboard by the new King of Narnia, Caspian. The unfolding of the story finds them dragged from their present state into the service of a King on a mission, in a world which seemed far off or even unreal to them not long before.

I don't know of any better description of what ought to happen to us when we respond to the gospel and begin to follow Jesus. So many recognise that their sins have been forgiven, but fail to see the bigger narrative of God's mission in the world. So we continue in our own small stories, caught up in little more than individual self help plans and missing the grand adventure and purpose that God has intended we participate in.

If Paul is right that we are sharers in the promise of Jesus Christ, then we too must feel the pull of the new Kingdom. We too must allow ourselves to respond to the gravitational current of a greater reality, the call to service on the Kings mission and purpose. Ordinary believers like us must jump into a new world, one which may seem distant and unreal, but nothing less vital than the big story of God's redemptive plan for planet earth. Why waste your life on your own small story, when one so significant is waiting for you to participate?

Monday, 3 March 2014

Firm foundations & lazy longitude

Our individual lives and our church communities can be built on all kinds of foundations. In our preferences we can run after many things, many good things - but not always the main thing!

Sometimes in church life you will observe that an overly pastoral foundation has been laid. A very caring church which meets many needs and offers much in the way of support, but still manages to miss the main purpose. If the main thing is the mission of God into the broken world around us, then any over emphasis, pastoral, teaching, activist, or otherwise in the foundations of a local church can leave us shaping lives that lean away from the bright sun of our main purpose.

Elsewhere you see churches more shaped by the ever shifting preferences of our culture. It's not that surprising when we consider that our churches are made up of ordinary people like us, bringing our imperfections, our personal world views and unstable foundations into the new community. Our lives are not neutral when we come to Christ. All of the old ways of thinking need renewing, digging out and replacing with biblical foundations if we are to build well individually and corporately.

So whether it's culture, pastoral preference, binding family traditions, sinful attitudes - whatever fundamentally affects church life can knock us significantly off the course of what the New Testament considers to be recognisable and healthy foundations for a church. Where a church is way off the graph at one extreme, this is what we call a cult. Even if you hear yourself saying that this is the way we have always done things in our church - if you can't find it in the bible, it's likely that you have evolved into something that is more shaped by preference and culture. This is not just potentially harmful for individual lives, but it hugely diminishes the mission - Remember the main thing we were talking about? It's so easily forgotten!

To a lesser extreme, we can find ourselves gradually losing focus. Making lesser things the main thing, and so over a generation we become the very opposite of the people that God called us to be on this planet. We may have started out on the journey very close to the plan, but with the passing of time, and the blurred fuzziness of confused purpose, we become something very different.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed from Europe for Asia. He was heading for Japan, but because he was just a few degrees out in his longitude calculations, Columbus actually hit land in the Bahamas. We don't have to be far out of line in laying key foundations in church life. Just a few degrees over the first few miles at sea makes little difference to your general direction, but by the time you have sailed long enough, you are an entire continent apart!

Healthy churches then will heed the warning of Columbus and his dubious mapping, and search the scriptures in order to realign, recalibrate, even relay foundations. The right biblical latitude and longitude is so important, because the main thing (remember that?) is at stake. We can't afford to sail unthinkingly towards the wrong destination as so many have done before.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Sochi stirrings & Archibald the Arctic

I've been enjoying the thrill of the Winter Olympics in Sochi along with millions of others around the world. It's stunning though to realise that it's warmer there than the average summer beach holiday in England! Whatever the accomplishments of these winter heroes, their exploits have reminded me of a true winter hero of the faith who has never been decorated with victors medals. I've written and spoken on him at length before, but the opportunity to honour him again is too great to miss.

Archibald Lang Fleming arrived amongst the Eskimos as a missionary in 1909. Ok, he was a hardy Scot from Clydebank, but nothing can have prepared him for the extremes of this kind of living. Remember,these were the days of Empire, when British explorer types set off up a mountain or into the Amazon armed only with a machette, a tweed jacket and a fine handlebar moustache!

Fleming needed more than a tweed jacket as he joined a people group who had maintained their existence for generations through the most precarious balance of hunting, skill and sheer fortune, in a climate which would finish off Europeans in a week.

Acclimatisation? Well, Fleming got straight on with it. That first winter of 1909 he spent living in a small igloo with two other Eskimo families! Stephen Neill in his 'History of Christian Missions' quotes Fleming as follows-

'Life in a crowded hut has many disadvantages. The foetid atmosphere was sickening, and the acrid smoke from the blubber lamps was an aromatic disinfectant, though when it caused us discomfort the hole in the roof was cleared and a better circulation of air was created.......What Commander Peary wrote of Eskimo dwellings was true. 'A night in one of thses igloos, with a family at home, is an offence to every civilised sense.'

Fleming is not famous amongst missionaries or explorers. There is probably a statue to him somewhere, but I don't know where. Even his Wikipedia page is brief! But this man was a giant, the kind who counted his own comfort and even his life nothing, for the sake of seeing distant people reached with the gospel. Jim Elliot rightly gained attention decades later, but Fleming also was 'no fool, who gave the things he could not keep to gain what he would never lose.'

That first, terrible winter of 1909, the whole settlement were only days from starvation, their lives hanging in the delicate climatic balance. At the last, the wind changed, and Eskimo hunters were able to find walrus to eat. Fleming survived, and persevered, discovering a brotherhood with the Eskimos through their shared adversity which drew them together.

By the time of his death in 1953, Fleming was known as 'Archibald the Arctic' with upwards of 80% of the indigenous Eskimo peoples of Canada now faithful Christians. It's a spectacular legacy of faith and perseverance, a winter endurance which sets the physical achievements of our current crop of winter athletes into a true perspective. As we marvel at their resilience in the Sochi games, perhaps we can think and pray too for unreached people groups in inaccessible places, and those who may be called to reach them with the gospel in our generation?

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The protective place of prayer

Driving to the office this morning, along a rural country lane towards the town, a family of deer chose their moment to leap through the hedgerow and cross the road in front of the car. The first three made it, then the smaller deer skidded and swerved to a stop by the side of the road as I did likewise in the car! There was no collision, and all six deer hurried on their way, our admiring glances at their beauty and poise lost on them as they disappeared into the opposite foliage.

When we come to prayer, we have many purposes and motives in mind. Breakthrough, healing, momentum. All good and rightly sought after. However, the encounter with the deer reminded me of a comment by E M Bounds, which emphasises the place of protection and comfort in our prayer.

Bounds tells this story in his book, The Necessity of Prayer:
'Rising early one morning I heard the barking of a number of dogs chasing deer. Looking at a large open field in front of me, I saw a young fawn making it's way across the field and giving signs that it's race was almost run. It leaped over the rails of the enclosed place and crouched within ten feet of where I stood.
A moment later, two of the hounds came over, and the fawn ran in my direction and pushed it's head between my legs. I lifted the little thing to my breast, and swinging round and round, fought off the dogs. Just then I felt that all the dogs in the west would not and could not capture that fawn after it's weakness had appealed to my strength. SO it is when human helplessness appeals to Almighty God.'


What a thought, that in the moment of our fear and headlight staring paralysis, the very strength and protection of God is released and secured for us! What an idea, that the weak and startled disciple, who doesn't know which way to turn, might be swept up into the arms of one who is stronger, into the heart of one who cares and acts!

May this picture of the deer cause us to run into the protective place of prayer, individually and corporately. May we find the one who laughs in the face of our fears, and sweeps us out of troubles and into his purposes as we hide ourselves in him.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Under new Shepherds : Knowing the true voice

Over the last few days I've been chatting through the implications of Jesus' famous words in John 10 with a number of people and small groups. We've been exploring together what impact these statements about his Good Shepherding have for those of us who are walking through a church leadership transition.

God Himself is the supreme Shepherd of his people - That's one of the primary ways that he reveals himself through the Old Testament. But his plan has always been to entrust some of the weight of his leadership to under Shepherds, to enable them to express something of his heart and his care. So, from Moses, through Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, the great King David, God's people were Shepherded. There were more bad Shepherds than good - These, the Prophets denounced, even as they longed for the one true Shepherd who would come and lead God's people.

In Jesus the Messiah, the Good Shepherd arrived. At the same time, He is both the Lamb and the Shepherd. The one who chooses to willingly sacrifice his perfect life for our imperfection, to lay down his life for his sheep. In Jesus, we have the fulfilment of all the prophetic yearning in the scriptures for a new kind of pastoral leadership of God's people.

When Jesus underlines this in John 10, it's evident that relationship is the most vital ingredient. The bottom line is that his sheep know his voice, and he knows them. There is a deep security in this kind of intimacy. Indeed, the contrasting scenario given by Jesus, whereby a stranger tries to call the sheep, is striking. Sheep will not follow a voice they don't know. More than this, they will scatter and fear and danger ensues. It's the polar opposite of the intimacy and security of the familiar voice of the true Shepherd.

The urgent provocation for our lives is that we recognise our deep need as Jesus followers to know his voice, and to know it better. This is even more vital for a church community that is undergoing a change of under Shepherd. More valuable than ever in such a time is the mature ability of every member to connect themselves in a meaningful way to the voice and path of the Good Shepherd.

It is after all a time where a familiar voice of pastoral care is being replaced by an unknown voice. The danger of insecurity and scattering is real. An enemy, whose schemes we are aware of, waits in hope of picking off the vulnerable. Whilst it naturally takes time to trust and follow a new voice, the need to do so must never override the greater need for each individual to connect themselves to the only truly Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Only here do we find the safety, intimacy and nourishment that we are longing for.

We won't find this in a man. However accomplished an under Shepherd he may be, even as we learn to know his voice, we find his leadership is simply a reflection of a greater Pastor. Only in Jesus do we rest in agreement with David's magnificent Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.' Perhaps by turning our faces, our ears, and our hearts to him, we will find that we also walk in step with each other as he leads us in paths of righteousness?