Blogroll: God Gold and Generals
I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 7 posts from the blog 'God Gold and Generals.'
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We recently had a Christianity Explored evangelism offsite with our trustees, staff (including Rico Tice, Craig Dyer, Ian Roberts, Stephen James, Louanne Ems) plus Glen Scrivener from Speak Life and Le Fras Strydom from Word 121.
Here are some of my personal conclusions from our detailed discussion and assessment of the state of evangelism in the UK
All mistakes, errors, unhelpful suggestions, etc in this are my fault not the groups! And anyone in the group is free to disagree with my attempt at a summary of our discussion.
1. "The man with the mic doesn't speak for all". Many people are far more open to biblical truth than we think
2. There is a large audience for serious Bible based content: but it has to be delivered in a technology friendly and accessible and convenient format
3. Do we believe in our own product? We say we believe in the power of God's word but do we live like that? Why are resources allocated in such an imbalanced way with so little towards evangelism? Are we wedded to an out of date and unbiblical 'outsourced and top down' model of evangelism? How can we unleash the power of millions of ordinary Christians sharing their stories by using the Bible?
4. The answer is not a fearful retreat from ongoing cultural changes (some of which are actually positive for Christians) but a bold mobilisation
5. 2 Corinthians 4 is a key passage. At the root of our collective failure is a heart issue: we need to care more for our non Christian friends and love and fear the Lord more. Evangelism is a sub set of faithfulness not vice versa.
"The man with the mic doesnt speak for the room"
At a well known UK university the CU decided to "troll" the students with controversial questions such as "Is God misogynist?". Maybe its better to use more positive questions; after all Coke doesn't advertise its product with talks on "Does Coke rot your teeth?"
At the event there was one very aggressive atheist questioner who grabbed the microphone and dominated the discussion, laying into the Christian faith. John’s gospel was shared very effectively afterwards 121 but the plenary discussions felt completely different. In fact, the other non Christian people attending were annoyed by this man hijacking the event, but it didn't feel like that at the time for the Christians.
Lesson for us is that “The guy with the mic doesn’t speak for the room”. Many people are repulsed by aggressive atheism and it hardly represents most peoples' thinking. I would say out of 50 people I have invited to chat about the bible 121 with me not one was an avowed atheist.
In fact surveys like "Talking Jesus" show that nearly 70% of non Christians have a Christian friend they like and only 7% of people think Christians are homophobic.
Yet, Christians feel cowed and afraid of the "person with the mic" and cases like Israel Falau reinforce this. But well known atheists like Matthew Parish defend the Christians right to free speech. A few opponents are highly vocal but most people are far more open than we think. It is not that they have considered the Christian message and rejected it but that they are unaware of what it is. We want a megaphone to answer the guy with the mike but to shout at our opponents louder and louder is not the answer. We should engage people whether opponents (a few) or indifferent (the many) with warmth and love, rather than respond to aggression with more aggression.
How do we react to cultural changes? One answer must be to speak personally. Authority is rejected of all types, including the church : there is a general crisis of authority, which we can see if we look at politics. But speaking as individuals (based on the Bible) we have credibility. Modern culture says that "Everybody has a story to tell"and our own individual story of Christ and the Bible can be accepted and listened to as part of that.
An obvious approach is “I couldn’t have got through x without Jesus”. 'X" can be anything — in my case cancer. The Lord though and not us must be the hero of the story. Our testimony should be about how Christ helped us and his character and nature, not ourselves (which is a danger). This is a much more interesting narrative to the non Christian than "how I became a Christian' in which I am the hero of the story.
Individuality and accessibility is a key factor. Audio dominates; Joe Rogan has for example 30x the audience for podcasts as he does for YouTube. Under 40s want information on their own terms and their own time: they will "binge listen". How does this fit with the traditional church methods of communication?
At the same time, people also want to unplug from their devices and find community. When people buy a car for example they do all the research online but then always want human contact at the end. The goal is to get people to come to and join a church community but we need to reach them in the first place. Why should we expect them to come to us? We should go to them — the parable of the sower.
Heavy Duty Biblical Content
Also surprising is that people are willing to listen to some very heavy duty content about the Bible. Jordan Peterson, who is not a Christian but has a huge following, is an interesting case study. While we dont need to agree with everything he says, and we dont want to position the church as "right wing", it's nonetheless interesting that he has made people fascinated by the Bible, creating a whole new trend. His lectures are 2-3 hours long and they have millions of listeners and viewers.
Peterson says that West is lost as the 'younger son' in the Prodigal Son story, living in the pig sty and turning our back on Judaeo Christian culture. Peterson's answer is really to leave the pig sty, reject nihilism and hedonism and swing to morality, to clean up your life. “I will become like one of your hired men”. He wants us to move towards the older brother's position. There is a whole movement on the web against postmodernism. People like Sam Harris (who is an atheist), Ben Shapiro and Dave Rubin and many others easily attract 1 million views per blog.
We might say good for them. But, Christians must be neither right or left but above. We see that the left is perhaps the younger brother and the right is the older. As the Father (God) seems to be absent we are left with an ugly political battle between the two brothers.
The Christian's role is not to support the right in preaching morality (or the left in preaching community) but to try and represent the Father's view. Expressive individualism gets us nowhere, as the culture is falling apart. People like Jordan Peterson preach morality as a way out, but the truth is we can’t even for a short period reach that moral standard. After trying 'moral reformation' for 18 months people give up.
So we can learn from Peterson's appeal without following him. For example, the phrase "Christophobia" is a dangerous one. We hate being called (say) “homophobic” so we shouldn't use a similar label for ourselves. We certainly shouldn’t pray for a resurgent right.
Another example of cultural openness to the Bible is John Barton who is a retired Oxford theology professor who has written a recent best selling book on the bible and its relationship to religion. While he is liberal and denies both inspiration and infallibility, nonetheless the book has a wealth of interesting information about the bible and has attracted a large readership. You can read my review here https://jsjmarshall.blogspot.com/2019/05/book-review-history-of-bible-book-and.html.
There is a vacuum where people are looking for something Another example of interest in the bible and its influence on the West is Vishal Mangalwadi's book "The Book that shaped your world". Tom Holland the influential British historian has a book coming out soon on the cultural impact of the Christian faith on our culture
None of these are the gospel per se but they are "entry ramps" to it. They get people interested in the Biblical/gospel content and its message for todays culture.
So the culture is restlessly searching for something and many people are realising that we are driving into a cul de sac of nihilism. There is a unique opportunity to preach Christ. So why aren't our churches full?
Various reasons: one is because people under 40 are not interested in traditional means of communicating and are reluctant to enter a church, let alone listen to a traditional sermon. They want dense, long form and spoken material, but in a way that they can consume at their convenience at a time and a place they want, 121.
TV has fooled us into thinking we are dumber than we really are. Yet commuters and long haul lorry drivers are subscribing to degree level material
Our young people are being preached at and discipled — but not by us.
Our evangelism is too light weight. People are looking for thoughtful material and they are given a 5 minute light evangelistic talk
We don’t believe in our own 'product' but lead with the bait ("beer and meat oh and yes there's a 5 minute talk")
We are not training ministers well in how to communicate with non Christians in general and especially how to do that with those under 40: we tend to rely on very traditional methods in traditional settings. Many people are open to biblical truth, but the communication model used to convey that has to be modern and accessible.
Peterson takes the Bible very seriously as something that speaks to our culture today and speaks to many people of any background. We evangelicals tend to preach to Christians and focus on fine tuning their discipleship. We can tend to treat the non Christian as an idiot. We underestimate their intelligence and interest and overestimate their biblical knowledge
We need to unleash the bible and ensure that we treat the bible as about the whole of life.
Do we believe in our own product?
Do we evangelicals really believe in our own product? (the Bible). We say we do but do we actually use it day to day in our interaction with friends?
As we go round to conservative evangelical churches and ask
“Do you believe in the power of Gods word”
“Do you use the Bible?”
It's not clear we do in evangelism: or if we do it may need a rethink. We say in theory we do believe in the power of God's word, but we don’t tend to connect that with the people round us.
Is evangelism really a priority in our churches? We say it is but actions speak louder than words. Events (if they happen) tend to be being run centrally by professionals and the pressure is on the church members to invite people. Is that a biblical model? Isn't it rather about helping each and every Christian to have the courage and confidence to share the gospel themselves? We can relate to our friends in a way that our pastor cannot.The pastor is no longer the centre forward "banging in" the evangelistic goals while the congregation applaud from the stands but the coach equipping and training the congregation who should be "on the pitch”.
This is not about stopping preaching. We are all for better and more preaching. Rather it's about getting non Christians interested in the Bible in the first place so that they are willing to end up in a church listening to good biblical sermons.
We can have an institutionalised top down mindset. Women tend to be very good at this “bottom up chatting about stuff” evangelism. How do we enable and train women to be evangelists? Men often don’t know how to do this face to face "gospel chatting". Maybe we men should be humbler and more teachable by women?!?
The goal is that everyone is equipped to share their faith 121, that people feel "I can have that conversation."
Most theological students want to be a pastor but very few an evangelist. Result is a complete mis allocation of resources. Imagine the evangelical church was a business with nobody in sales and everyone in customer service. It would be bankrupt pretty quickly.
We need to support and encourage each other in sharing, not beat each other up. Making people feel guilty is not the answer. A focus on "How rather than why" can be a helpful approach, as is showing encouraging testimonies from ordinary Christians of how evangelism can work.
Responding to the culture
We are afraid and cowed into silence
The constant secular hammering on Christians on LGBT and other issues has led to defeatism — "people are not really interested". But thats not true.
We have to be willing to "Go outside the city walls carrying our cross"- to be non respectable, to be radical, to take some risks, to be willing to be laughed at. We are no longer part of the establishment - but nor was the early church.
Possible (wrong) options include
- Rightwing war on the culture (culture wars*)
- Retreat from the culture (Benedict option)
- Reconcile with the culture (liberalism)
Each of those is defeatist but in a in different way.
What we need rather is resilience and to recognise that the cultural shifts as well as issues bring many opportunities.
We should take Marshal Foch's excellent dictum "My centre is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent, I attack"
What we need is resilience within the culture, based on Gods word, on equipping and mobilising millions of individual believers to have confidence in Gods word. How that word is delivered (courses, talks, 121, podcasts, street evangelism ) is a secondary issue and there's room for all sorts of approaches. Job of para church organisations like us is to support and encourage the local church.
Imagine a dam with a lake. A small group of people live happily on the lake whilst the rest of the country is desert. We need to "release the dam" which is constraining the transformational power of Gods word (the water) just to the Christians and release the water which is dammed up into the surrounding desert to bring life.
The Bible and the heart
Rico was recently with a large well known evangelical organisation talking about 5 key features they saw as essential in evangelism:-
- Bible teaching evangelists
- Prayerful Evangelists.
- Accountable evangelists.
- Committed evangelists
- Inspirational evangelists
Surprisingly, they saw the biggest issue that needs addressing in what they do as 1! And within that they felt that the major issue is the holiness of God.
Key bible passage on evangelism is 2 Corinthians 4
4 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
The heart of the gospel is that Jesus is Lord. We are weak and feeble and have this treasures in jars of clay, but there is divine power available through Gods word.
At the root of our ineffectiveness is a lack of love for the lost and a lack of love for Christ.
The answer to our fear is more fear: the Fear of the Lord is key. As the hymn goes "Fear him, ye saints, and you will then have nothing else to fear;
Evangelism is a sub set of faithfulness not vice versa.
If we really fear the Lord that’s enough to help you live a consistent Christian life. If we do that we can't but naturally share our faith.
*By culture wars I dont mean defending the Christian view on various ethical issues such as abortion (where we may make common cause with the right) or refugees (where we may make common cause with the left). Rather, I mean as we see in the USA hitching the evangelical church to an explicitly right wing political agenda.
I got lots of reactions and questions from my previous post which you can read herehttps://jsjmarshall.blogspot.com/2019/05/only-suffering-god-can-help-us.html.
Several people pointed out there's a lot more to be said about suffering. Thats right, this is a very partial response from my perspective (having incurable cancer).
Others wondered if ultimately the bible gives a complete answer to suffering and that the way to get through it is, even whilst not fully understanding why it happens, to learn to trust God in suffering. I think thats right. God doesn't give us ultimately complete theological answers he comes himself in the form of a suffering servant for "only a suffering God can help us".
Most of all in suffering we need the presence of the Lord Jesus. If you aren't a Christian you can also know that if you want - thats his open invitation to all, to come to the master physician and be comforted.
I am acutely conscious of not wanting to give glib or unhelpful answers. Its so easy to get it wrong - look at Job's comforters who did well until they started talking.
One particular friend came back with lots of follow up questions and has graciously allowed me (i have removed any personal details) to post our correspondence, I hope you find it helpful
Q: Jeremy thank you for sharing about your cancer. I have a morbid fear of getting it, due to family members having it. How do you react when, after prayer, you are not healed? I am looking into healing prayer at the moment
A: A few thoughts 1. Fear. This is the think I experience more than any other and it’s a natural human reaction to danger and the loss of control. However it’s comforting to know that the most common command in the Bible in general and from Jesus to his disciples specifically is “don’t be afraid”. God knows our human weakness and frailties and sympathises with us. His remedy for fear is more fear: the fear of the Lord. Look for example at the story of Jesus in the storm. God appears to be asleep and the disciples are terrified. He wakes up and stills the storm and they are even more terrified because they begin to realise who they have in their boat. Same for us: if Jesus is in our boat though the storms of life will still make us afraid (for we are human beings) the presence of God and the fear of the Lord drives out our fear. Also just because something is a big fear doesn’t mean that God will give it to us. He’s a loving Heavenly Father. He cares for his children. And if he does (and don’t forget sometimes parents have to inflict pain on their children for their own good eg vaccinations) then he will give us the grace to deal with it. Why don’t you have that grace now you might think? Because God doesn’t give us hypothetical grace for imaginary situations but real grace for the situation we find ourselves in. Take your fear to God, tell him about it and ask for his presence and “the peace that passes all understanding”. How will we most commonly experience his peace and his presence? Through his word and in cases like this I suggest in particular through the Psalms. Next healing prayer. Yes I certainly do pray to be healed and to live. And although I am not healed - my tumours are the same size and they were four years ago - nor am I dead! Or even I can say with great gratitude that I am not in a worse position than I was. So God has answered my prayer: not exactly as I hoped he would but in amazing way. So prayer for healing, absolutely God the Bible tells us can do anything he likes. But we cannot expect to be healed. God may heal us wholly or in part but he may not. He is God and we are not. We cannot possibly treat God as some kind of cosmic slot machine into which we pop our prayers and out of which comes what we want. God has much bigger purposes than we can possibly imagine. Ultimately our picture of God is much too small. What he wants us to learn is in every aspect of life to trust him. What he promises is that if we are his child he will be with us. “Yes through I walk through the valley of the shadow of death you are with me your rod and staff they comfort me still”. God doesn’t promise to build a bypass round that dark valley - through which sooner or later we all must pass like it it not. What he promises though is his mighty Father presence to comfort us and guide us every day of our life. “I will never leave you or forsake you” May you know the presence and comfort of the Lord God Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth and our Eternal Father
Q: Hello Jeremy I am reading some books about fear from a christian perspective. Some fears are attacks from Demons. The whole area of healing is a problem for evangelical Christianity. Many people are perplexed with the lack of healing after many prayers and fastings. Life is full of problems for us as humans, and I wouldn't ask the Lord to remove me from them. But I would like to feel God in the problems (tells a personal anecdote which i remove) and was asking the Lord for peace, but none came. I got depressed and wanted to die. I got out to a river and was shouting to God asking "Where are you when I need you." Again nothing. This made me look into myself to see if I was at fault. I read in Psalm 103 yesterday that the Lord heals all of our diseases . I spent time asking Him why myself and others are not healed. I am waiting for a reply.
A: Thanks brother first of all we can’t take Bible verses out of context, we have to look at the whole bible. The devil is an expert at wrenching verses from the Bible (specifically Psalms) out of the context - see what he does with Psalm 91 when he tempts Jesus. Psalm 103 will be fulfilled in eternity, looks forward to Jesus and may also be fulfilled today. God can heal now and he often does but we cannot demand that he always does. He is God and we are not. Logically then if that was always true that all our diseases would be healed then no Christian would ever die. But the Bible tells us that we all must die for “it is appointed for man once to die and after that the judgement.” Everybody in the bible died except Enoch and Elijah. Eventually Jesus will takes us all up and all our sins will be forgiven and all our diseases healed. But not 100% yet. Otherwise we wouldn’t need faith, the Christian life would be like a slot machine put in request get healing. This is one of the many errors of the prosperity gospel. But “without faith it is impossible to please God”. Faith is believing in things that we dont see. If we were automatically healed every time we asked, automatically, that wouldn't be faith.
John Piper says “even our diseases and our calamities are not defeats. That is what Paul in Romans 8 is saying. In them all we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. They work good for us now in all the ways that count. And they prepare a weight of glory beyond all comparison.” I don’t think demons normally cause fears or disease either. On your feelings we must rely on the word of God not our feelings. Our feelings come and go, sometimes we feel near God, other times not. This is part of being human. Read Psalm 22 for example and other Psalms wrestling with the same feelings. The Psalmist feels alone and forsaken and what does he do? He meditates on the truth of God’s character, his power, his love for us, his faithfulness to his word and as he does that his feelings are transformed. We have to let the truth about God transform our feelings (as far as we can).
When we feel God is far away - which we all feel sometimes - what must we do? We must like a shot look in his word, the Bible, because that’s how in the main God speaks to us and draws us to himself. That’s how he speaks to me. There are many many Psalms which deal with this feeling and it’s perfectly normal.
Look at Psalm 77 for example the psalmist feels forgotten and what does he do ?
“I will remember the works of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your wonders of old. I will reflect on all You have done and ponder Your mighty deeds.”
When we look to God and meditate on his word and what he has done (especially the cross and the empty tomb) then I often find his peace which passes all understanding comes flooding into my heart. Even if we don’t feel this amazing peace - for we are human and our feelings fluctuate - His mighty promises stand unchanged and indeed they will never change if we are his “look I am with you always even to the very end of the age”. God uses fear and suffering to teach us to trust him as we should
Q: I wonder how many Christians have similar thoughts to me, but for fear of sounding negative never reveal their true selves.I cannot agree with one of your comments."God uses fear and suffering to teach us to trust him as we should " I agree that scripture must be read in context. But the verse in Psalms 103 can be cross referenced in the New Testament. I appreciate your thought
A: Thanks brother yes most Christians I would guess so thank you for being so very honest! We must be honest about our feelings and not "super spiritual". I certainly have those thoughts as well.
In terms of learning from fear and suffering consider Jesus in the storm: the disciples were afraid and suffered: through that they learned more about who Jesus was. It’s not automatic but suffering can be redemptive - the cross is the great example. And yes Psalm 103 is absolutely fulfilled in the NT. Jesus by his death on the cross will cure eventually all our diseases, and when we trust in him and his death and resurrection, he has already then cured us of our biggest "disease" - our estrangement and alienation from God.
Suffering in the last few days seems to be everywhere
We read in the media about Sri Lanka, Christians, men, women and children one minute celebrating Easter, next moment blown to tiny pieces or seriously injured.
I heard about a young couple, wonderful Christians, involved in an exciting church plant, who died tragically in an accident on holiday
More personally, various friends have been in touch just this morning
A very old friend who suffers from a very painful and debilitating long term illness yet is full of joy in the Lord
Another friend whose young daughter is very ill and requires a major operation has also been in touch this morning.
Another friends niece did tragically young in the last few days
Another friend has major problems with her elderly parents.
My uncle, a wonderful Christian, died yesterday
All of these friends courage and faith is inspiring to me
And last and certainly least, my eye is very painful, a blister on it having burst and got infected.
I take various medicines and they do help.
I need though urgently to take some medicine to treat my suffering soul and this suffering world.
To the "medicine chest" then friends — what does the Bible have to say about suffering? If there is a God who is loving and caring, why does he allow such suffering?
1. Suffering wasn’t part of God's original plan .
Genesis 1 and 2 show that the world was made by God and it was very good. There was no suffering or death. "It was good" says God looking at his own work. Suffering results from what Christians call "the fall" — human beings deliberately deciding, when presented with a choice, to choose evil. Where does evil come from? Why does God allow evil to exist? I don’t know and although the bible has some hints I am not sure there is a complete answer. Certainly we as Christians must beware of giving glib or superficial answers.
2. God allows suffering — bad things happen to good people.
The book of Job is a mysterious book which deals head on with the question of suffering. It shows us that God is in control of everything, including evil, in the form of the devil who is allowed to inflict suffering on Job but only within strict limits set down by God.
It is a great book for dealing with the terrible error of the prosperity gospel, about which i intend to write in the next little while, as even the FT had an article about it last week.
Job and his friends who try and comfort him struggle with understanding what has happened and why
His friends argue like this
- "You are suffering
- God is fair and gives us what we deserve
- Therefore you have done something really wrong"
- I am suffering
- I haven’t done something really wrong
- Therefore God is unfair
What we can say is this: that suffering can be used by God for his own purposes. We can see the big picture behind Gods purposes while Job can’t. Job continuously complains about what is happening to him and says "if only someone had written down my words in a book". I like to think that when Job eventually met God and was told "You know what, Job, actually your words were written down in a book", that a slow smile spread over his face as he learned that God had used this story to help millions on millions of people since.
But that wasn't any help to Job at the time and in that sense we are all we are all "Job" — we are in the suffering story and can struggle to see any rhyme or reason in it. When we meet God everything I believe will click into place and we will realise, if we trust God, that he can use our suffering for his glory. But how to live in the meantime?
More encouragingly, Job senses his need of a person to help with his suffering: a friend, an advocate and a mediator, someone to represent him, someone to help him, someone to get alongside him. Suffering can be so lonely.
Now, finally, here comes the good news for all of us experiencing suffering. God didn't leave us (as we deserve) to the consequences of our own sin and to deal with suffering on our own, but decided to intervene, to come on a rescue mission to offer us a way out of suffering. And that rescue mission involved God himself suffering.
3. Matthew, who is one of the four eyewitness account of Jesus's life and death says this 'Jesus just before he was arrested and crucified prayed this “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.'
When we look at our own suffering there is nowhere else to go but the cross. We must always end up at the cross. We can’t make sense of our suffering without looking at God's suffering on the cross
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (pictured above) was a German pastor who protested against the persecution of the Jews. As a result he was sent to a concentration camp and was executed on Hitler's order just before the war ended. Shortly before this, he smuggled out of his cell on a scrap of paper these words: "Only a suffering God can help us".
Now how can the infinite God who made the universe and is far above any change — what theologians call "immutability" suffer?
God can suffer because he became human and he therefore can and did experience suffering. Truly, and this is mind blowing, the infinite God who made the universe is also a personal God whom we may reverently say "knows what it’s like" to suffer.
God chooses to redeem the world through suffering himself. God therefore knows what it’s like to suffer but he does it voluntarily because he is perfect. I have no choice over my suffering, it just happens to me. Of course, if I did I would stop suffering straightaway and so would anyone sensible. But God chose, in the person of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to suffer.
Why? Because he loves us.
God also we should add deeply sympathises with us in our suffering. "Jesus wept" at the tomb of Lazarus. John 11
But he also does something about our suffering — he comes on a rescue mission and by suffering freely, he opens up a way of escape from the evil that causes the suffering.
4. Revelation. "God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”
We can all picture a small toddler who trips up in the garden and who scuffs her knee and runs crying to her father. He sits her on his knee, takes care of the wound, and pulls a tissue out of his pocket and wipes away the toddlers tears. The toddler is comforted and soon stops crying and runs back off to play.
This friends is the amazing and indeed staggering image that we find right at the very end of the Bible. God himself will 'sit us on his knee' and wipe away all our tears and pain. All suffering and pain and even I suggest the memory of suffering will be removed. Everything thats gone wrong will be made right. Evil itself will be defeated and destroyed.
How? Through Jesus's suffering
Why? Because he loves us
What should our response be? Trust in the God who suffered that we might escape suffering.
For a suffering God can help us.
Book Review; A History of the Bible, the book and its faiths by John Barton (Allen Lane, April 2019)
It was the best of times it was the worst of times. It was the best of books it was the worst of books. Such are my views on John Barton’s new book on the bible, its formation, its effect and its relationship to Christianity and Judaism. Others far more theologically qualified than me can make more technical comments (for example did Luther really say what Barton makes him say? I have seen Lutheran theologians shaking their heads vigorously in other reviews). This is a general review by and for the general reader.
The book has been very well reviewed in the secular press and its certainly worth reading because at the micro level it contains an enormous weight of learning, the product of a life spent studying the bible.
However, it’s certainly suggest essential - to also disagree strongly with his overall conclusions about the nature and purpose of Scripture. Ian Paul has well expressed his theological concerns on this here https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/what-is-the-church-of-englands-problem-with-the-bible/.
The worst of times first. John Barton is very open that he is writing from a liberal view (though by appealing to Hooker he tries, unsuccessfully in my view, to bring his line of argument somewhat more within the mainstream of historic Anglicanism.)
I am not all convinced that Hooker would have agreed with the rather snide comment Barton makes at the end of the book “it is striking how forms of Christianity that still insist on “first century period junk” survive and flourish. Yet a sizeable body of Christians do think that though the essence of what was taught by Paul remains authoritative, it’s expression was conditioned by its time and should be reconsidered.”
This is telling. It is also telling that the section in the book on the inspiration of scripture (never mind its infallibility) is so short. Thus, we can see from the above, that Barton views the bible as a human derived set of teachings, heavily conditioned by their time, from which we can extract the “essence” of Christianity and jettison the “expression” Or even call it junk! .
Barton doesn’t explicitly say that but the obvious inference is that biblical teaching that doesn’t culturally fit the values of 2019 should be rejected. We, the reader should place ourselves above scripture and pick and mix the bits we like, removing the pesky first century 'junk'. But the bible's view of itself is that it is God breathed. If there is a God who made the whole universe and everything in it, who chooses to communicate with us through human means, surely he is able to communicate in a way that is authoritative? In other words if there is a God that he is a God who is “competent to communicate” and we are not engaged in some endless pursuit of divine Chinese whispers where the message has continually being garbled. And can only be interpreted by Oxford dons!
“Mere Christianity” whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant is as John Barton points out very important and of course we cannot live in a system where absolutely everything taught in the bible is essential. Nor would anyone sensible argue for that. But, and this is a big “but”, where absolutely basic Christian truth such as the Trinity or the incarnation can be regarded as adiaphora (things indifferent) as Barton proposes we must strongly object. We must as good Protestants protest! We must I suggest draw a clear distinction between being under the authority of the bible and imposing our own cultural prejudices on it. Otherwise we look as someone has said "down the well into the bible at the bottom and see our own face (and its cultural assumptions) staring back."
My other beef about the book is that conservative theological research of all types gets very short shrift in the overview of the theological consensus. In the last 50 years there has been a huge increase in academic research from such a perspective and this is often (though not always) ignored. Especially so I would say (though I defer to others far more knowledgeable than me) in Barton's treatment of the state of Old Testament scholarship. Ian Paul expands on this in the article above.
Now, it’s true as Barton says, that some fundamentalists want the bible to be like say a 'sat nav', that tells us at each junction which way to turn. A rule book. We turn on the sat nav and off we go. As he rightly points out the bible is a much much bigger and richer book than that containing many different genres and designed to make us think. And it’s also true - and he is very thought provoking on this - that Christianity has diverged at time to time from its biblical base. But the Reformed view is that we need to close that gap: to sit under the bible and where we have drifted off “out to sea” (as frequently and perhaps inevitably happens ) use the bible (and not the culture) as the navigation point to “row back to the land”.
Understanding the way that the bible was written and transmitted is hugely helpful in understanding how we ended up with what we have today. And here though I have to disagree strongly with the macro view held out in the book of what the bible is for, we can certainly learn a lot from the micro description of how this amazing book came into existence and its relationship to faith.
Just to take one example: the relationship between Judaism and the bible and especially the way that the latter departed from the former in terms of relying on rabbinical interpretation is extremely well told, as well as the connected interplay between the Hebrew language as it evolved and Aramaic. In addition, the way that Christians often dont understand Jewish approaches to scripture is illuminating. For example, Barton explains how the Christian view of the bibles arc is of a disaster followed by a divine rescue story. For our Jewish friends though “the bible is not a story of disaster and rescue but much more of providential guidance... of how to live a faithful life (collectively)”. These crucial differences mean that effectively the Hebrew Scriptures are almost different works for Jews and Christians. And this impacts the set up of the bible in the Jewish faith: it’s not one story pointing to the Messiah but three collections of which one (the Torah) is far more important than the other two. Barton also points out that this wasn’t always the case: for example the book “Wisdom of Solomon” a work from the first century, well known to Christians, was actually very interested in the fall.
Now of course a scholar or a theologian or a pastor will (hopefully!) know all this anyway but John Barton writes so clearly and well and at a level which can be followed by the interested lay reader (such as me!). There are many other examples of this: for example on the formation of the canon (where he is very orthodox) and the textual transmission . He also makes very very astute comments on biblical genres. For example on narration he writes “ this sophisticated yet laconic style of narration...familiarity with the bible can blunt our sense of how remarkable it is”
Maybe there is a popular book written for the secular reader which does something similar but I’m not aware of it. Certainly Barton fills a gap in the market for a non Christian looking to understand as it were the history of the bible. He does it using a methodology which personally I completely disagree with. But while disagreeing at the macro level I learned a lot at the micro one, and I was glad I read it, even though in places you can only roll your eyes!
Finally, the reception and success of the book shows I believe a surprising level of openness amongst the general public to looking at the bible. As the bible fades into the background from general culture it acquires a power to shock and influence which its previous familiarity has reduced. We might ponder as evangelicals for example on the extraordinary case of Jordan Peterson, who gives 2-3 hour talks and draws millions by lecturing mainly on the bible, without even being a Christian at all.
There is a growing demand to learn about the bible and what it says to us today from the general public. It’s a terrible shame that Barton’s huge knowledge and learning - from which we can learn a lot - is rendered far less useful by his blatant liberal biases and methodology. Maybe some great biblical scholar can write a book like this, about the bible from an evangelical perspective, aimed at the general public?
Dear Doubting or Sceptical Friend
Got doubts? Not a Christian as you have doubts about the Christian faith? Are a Christian and still have doubts as well?!?
It’s normal to have doubts. We all have doubts: yes even Christians doubt some things or struggle to believe certain aspects of the bible which are hard to understand. If you have doubts about the Christian faith, be encouraged! Even Jesus’s disciples who spent every day with him for three years had them in spades. Here is one of many examples: the well known story of “doubting Thomas”, from John, one of the four eyewitness accounts:
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
What can we say for doubters today? Don't, I suggest, wait until you have resolved your doubts but come as you are, doubts and all. Faith is not the elimination of all doubts for that’s impossible. Rather, it’s looking despite our doubts to the evidence for Jesus’s resurrection. As we do that, if we are sincere, then we will meet him, for God promises “if with all your heart you seek me you shall surely find me”. God does not play hide and seek. He wants to be found: more importantly in fact he is searching for us and calling us to believe in him.
We see also that Jesus is incredibly patient and kind with Thomas: and by extension with us. He doesn't want any to be lost outside of knowing him, so he is persistent. You might think that Jesus would be irritated with Thomas for not believing and even more that he would be angry for Thomas insisting - with almost ghoulish zeal - that unless he puts his fingers into the cross wounds he won’t believe. Not at all! He offers Thomas exactly what he asks for: the Lord is truly and amazingly humble and kind to this errant disciple. You might also think that Jesus would reject each of us when we have all had so many opportunities to believe. Not at all! He offers to each of us also today the answers to our doubts
What does he offer? Evidence. Faith is based on evidence. Don’t believe or have doubts? Then please, I implore you, look at the evidence for yourself. How should one do that? What I suggest is to read one of the eyewitnesses of Jesus life - in particular John in whose eyewitness account we find this story. I have particularly enjoyed doing that using word 121https://www.theword121.com. Christianity Explored https://www.christianityexplored.org offers another way of looking at the same evidence.
That’s why the gospels were written - Johns mission statement is this “these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the son of God and by believing have life in his name”
What do we mean by belief or faith?There are lots of misunderstanding of the word “faith”.
People today who don’t believe often think (from Richard Dawkins) that faith is a leap in the dark: hoping something that you think isn’t true, might actually be true. Hoping it's true in the face of evidence to the contrary. But that’s not the reality of faith which is evidence based and logically and historically provable.
Furthermore, people today often think faith is intellectual assent to the propositions of Christianity. That’s an incomplete answer. Rather than stopping at such an intellectual assent (the devil has that assent and it does him no good at all) it’s something much more. You need to go further. "Real" faith involves meeting the risen Lord and then trusting him, obeying him, committing your life to him and worshiping him as God (which is of course what Thomas does)
Thomas had more evidence than he deserved and so do we. We have a ton of eyewitness evidence. What we need most of all - through looking at the evidence - is to meet the Lord. Evidence and apologetics are great and I love them: but they must lead somewhere. They should take us to meet the risen Lord and to belief in his resurrection
So how do we meet him? Through primarily reading his word especially the four eyewitness accounts and that’s why the last two verses are key here. “Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” If you sincerely read about him in the eyewitness accounts, I promise you that you will meet him. He invites you, as that happens, to believe.
I would suggest that the fact that in all the gospels there are stories of doubting disciples (eg the story in Luke of the two on Emmaus road, the men disbelieved the women, even as Jesus was ready to return to the Father we are told "many doubted") indicates that they placed there to encourage doubters. We have no right to expect anything at all but in God's infinite grace we actually get what we don’t deserve - proof and more proof.
Of course it’s better not to have doubts. Jesus tells Thomas "stop doubting and believe". But, as humans, we have doubts and the truth is by nature as lost souls we are often filled with doubts. That’s part of our lost nature. We are blind and can’t see God.
The wonderful encouragement for all of us is the patience, humility, condescension and long suffering nature of God. Peter, another eye witness, says “God is patient with you not wanting anyone to perish but all to come to repentance”.
Now eventually that patience will end and if we reject him, then God will validate our rejection of him and say "depart from me": but not now: this is the day of grace and the Lord as with Thomas, so also is with us 2000 years later. He humbly and graciously invites us to find him, seek him and know him. As we stumble along the road of doubt he will meet us “en route”, “doubts and all”.
The last few days we have been staying in Poperinge, Belgium, for my sister Sarah's 50th birthday. We used the town as a base to explore the Western front, mainly Ypres but also Vimy Ridge which is about 50 miles to the South.
Our highly knowledgeable guide pointed out how small the section of the line held by the British Army was, perhaps 70 or 80 miles in total. To the North the Belgian army held the sector nearest the coast, which was protected by deliberately flooded areas. To the East and South a much larger section was held by the French Army, all the way to the Swiss border.
The colossal loss of life in such a limited area is terrible to see. The British Army lost over 500,000 dead in this relatively small sector, and around 1.5m wounded. Then there were further large fatalities amongst the troops of the British Empire - both Canadians and Australians lost about 50,000 men each
The sheer scale of the death and slaughter is bought out when you visit Tyne Cot cemetery (pictured above). This is the largest British military cemetery in the world, with 11,000 bodies buried, the large majority of which are unknown. It is very moving to see headstone after headstone saying "an unknown soldier of the Great War, known only to God". Additionally there are 35,000 British and New Zealand men whose bodies were never found who are inscribed on the memorial. This is in addition to a further 54,000 missing men whose names are on the Menin Gate, which we also visited.
Thanks to the expertise of our guide we also visited a German cemetery and the tranquil "Pool of Peace'" which is now a lovely pool fringed by beautiful trees, but on the morning of 7th June 1917 was the point of an explosion so loud it could be heard In England. Nearly 100,000 lbs of high explosive were detonated under a key German position on the Messines Ridge, just prior to an Allied attack. It has now been left as a memorial.
The human impact on this was bought out when we contributed some of our own stories.
My brother in law David's relative was reported missing in action (which meant almost always killed) whilst fighting near Ypres and his body was never found. We were read by my sister Debs a plaintive and desperately sad letter from his widow to his regiment, written 9 months after this, begging for news of his body. We learned that his widow for many years hoping against hope, still thought her lost husband might suddenly appear.
We found the grave of a great great uncle of my brother in law Paul, in Ypres. This man had emigrated to Australia and was killed while his sister was also in Ypres, serving as a nurse. His sister never had the chance to meet him, leaving her grieving for the rest of her life
My own grandfather, Joseph William Marshall fought for two years at or around Ypres. Miraculously he survived or I wouldn't be writing this. He used to tell my father many stories about the war, such as being in an abandoned ruined house, seeing a man seemingly asleep with his back to the wall. My grandfather went to wake him up and tell him to get up and move, when the moon came out from behind a cloud and showed that the back of his head had been blown off.
We were in Poperinge, which was far enough behind the lines to be used as a relaxation centre, both physical mental and spiritual, for the soldiers. On the Sunday morning, we had a service at Talbot House, which is three or four doors down from the place we we staying, Skindles House, which was the British officers mess. Talbot House ('Toc H'), named for a British officer who had been killed, Gilbert Talbot, was set up in 1915 by a padre ‘Tubby' Clayton and was used a a centre for all ranks to offer somewhere to try and escape the awfulness of the trenches. In the attic is an Upper room where we had our service. This room, pictured above, it was moving to think, was the last place where thousands of men had their last Christians service before returning to the lines, many to die
The cross as pictured has an interesting story "One of the items of special interest in the Upper Room is the original wooden cross which marked the grave of Lieutenant Gilbert Talbot. In the mid 1990s the doorbell rang at Talbot House. When the door was opened there was no-one to be seen in the street, but there was a large black plastic bag left on the doorstep. On opening the bag it was found to contain Gilbert Talbot's original wooden cross. The metal strips attached to the cross contained the following details:LIEUT. G. W. K. TALBOT
7/ RIFLE BDE
30-7-15 The whereabouts of this cross up to that moment still remain unknown, but possibly someone had been keeping it safe for all these years. Most of the original crosses were burned when they were replaced after the Great War with stone headstones."
This was the summary of my talk in the Upper Room on John 12.
It was Palm Sunday and what an appropriate passage to look at. I found Ian Paul's reflections on Palm Sunday very helpful and have borrowed some points from him.
WW1 was started due to a political breakdown and this passage is very "political" . Jesus, having shunned the limelight, suddenly goes public. He normally did not court popular attention: in fact his own brothers criticised him for his unwillingness to appear in public. It says time and time again in John's gospel that "his time had not yet come"
But now he does go public: because the time had come. The time to die, which was the purpose of his mission. These things leading up to Jesus death and resurrection, as well as the events of easter itself, were not "done in a corner". Thousands of people saw them happen and as a result the Christian faith is based on verifiable historical events recorded by reliable eyewitnesses.
Unlike in WW1, when things spiralled out of control, Jesus is in complete control of events. This perhaps comes out less in John than in Luke, where repeatedly when describing the process of obtaining the donkeys colt, Luke keeps writing “the Lord “ needs it.
The Lord was in control of events and his purpose was to die. Jesus was a voluntary and a willing sufferer. He did not suffer because he was vanquished by a superior force but because he loved us and wanted to rescue us. Today also he is a willing and a loving saviour who is most willing to receive us if we will come and trust in him. He is most willing to receive us: in fact he is just as willing to receive us as he was to die
Christianity is deeply rooted and dependent on our Jewish elder brothers and sisters. Which is why anti Semitism is so wrong. We can see this perhaps nowhere more clearly than on Palm Sunday. The city is getting ready for Passover.
This is a Jewish King entering into the Jewish capital, Jerusalem. Jesus is claiming explicitly to be the long promised Jewish Messiah
To do this, he is as it were "ticking off points" which were promised hundreds of year before by Jewish prophets about the coming of the Messiah. This included the donkey, which was closely associated with salvation. In fact, Jewish Rabbis said if anyone dreamed of a donkey, that alone was enough to bring salvation
Since then the revelation of God in the Hebrew bible, now fulfilled, has gone to every country on earth. Jewish rooted truth and grace has blessed the whole world. Ironically (and John loves double meanings) this was exactly what the religious leaders worried about "Look, this is getting us nowhere, the whole world has gone out to him" they said. Of course this is not only hyperbole but also double meaning and John is writing in a sense propheticall,y for thats exactly what did happen.
Palm branches were political symbols of righteousness and also of nationality - theyw er used as such for example by the Macabbeans.
The Hosannas from Psalm 113-118 were sung by the temple choir each morning during the festival
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up[c] to the horns of the altar.28 You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you
Jesus title is "Price of Peace". Jesus is claiming to be a king but a different type of king. Usually Roman emperors entered Rome with captives, slaves and an army, with the Emperor on a war horse signifying power, might and victory.
But Jesus, though he is the King not of Rome but of the universe, is following Zechariah, riding the small colt of a donkey not a mighty war horse. He is deliberately emphasising that he is the humblest, least threatening and kindest and gentlest monarch imaginable. One day he will return and will ride on a war horse (see Revelation) and bring judgement on his enemies and those who reject him, but not today.
2000 years ago and today rather he offers peace, he sits on a donkey, riding to his death. Early Christians were mocked for this: a famous graffiti has been uncovered by archeologists showing a crucified slave with a donkeys head and the mocking inscription “Alexamenos worships his God “
Zechariah goes on to highlight this peace: “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth”
Earlier, another Jewish prophet, Isaiah son of Amoz saw this vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem:2 In the last daysthe mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.3 Many peoples will come and say,“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore”
We can remember 75 years of peace in Western Europe since 1945 and be grateful., But easter is about more than just human peace, good as that is. What we need most of all is peace with God and until we find that we will never have lasting peace with each other. Our sins, all the things we have done wrong, deserve Gods "war" against us. Thats what justice demands.But God offers us today peace, not war. Peace achieved through Jesus death on the cross where justice and love meet and both are satisfied with the outcome. Peace where the broken relationship with God, destroyed by our sin, can be rebuilt through jesus's death in our place.
Whats the meaning of Easter? I suggest it is this: peace with God, which in turn will bring peace on earth when the Prince of Peace returns to reign. How do we make peace with God ? We receive the prince of Peace, gentle, kind and riding on a donkey of peace, on his way to die for us, motivated by the love he has for us.
Paul Eddy on FB asked this "I was reflecting a lot on discipleship development in the churches I serve. Growing up in my formative teen years in the 80s and early 90s for my 20s, I was privileged to attend churches which had a passion for mission and evangelism. As a result, we often had leading/preaching sisters and brothers who were in FT service for the Lord, often in very difficult circumstances and we heard and were inspired first hand how God uses people fully available to Him in whatever situation. Coupled with that was good home groups, mentoring and good preaching and biblical worship songs.... So, my reflections today/onwards is..what ‘good’ of the past might we have thrown out or no longer practice? What things are no longer relevant to today’s modern church/culture - ie time to move on? What disciple-making resources are new for today which are helpful? ...What strikes me is the very many married couples, and singles, in the churches of 80/90 who lived and breathed faith and for whom the Bible was the first port of call for direction, but were gracious, generous and hospitable. They drew people to them, especially young Christians like a magnet. We seem to be so ‘busy’ these days, yet are we, really, compared to the 80:90s or do we choose to be? My father was a self-employed carpet fitter, sole income provider for a family of 5, churchwarden, went to a home group and every other Thursday evening was on the Evangelism Explosion team visiting baptism/wedding couples to share faith....I do think that my generation of Christians, brought up in Christian families had Sunday and faith first as a human and cultural norm/priority but if you these days, were brought up in a non Christian home and Sunday was not important for worship and your ‘experience’ of faith is a gradual awakening to a moral good code, rather than a need for a relationship with a God, and finding it via conversion and Christ then maybe your lifestyle, expectations and practice as a Christian really does rely on mentoring - which most churches don’t do".
I was born 1963 and grew up in a very strong Christian culture: my father was the pastor of an evangelical free church. I have written at length about my childhood memories you can read about them here and the blogs following that https://jsjmarshall.blogspot.com/2016/10/memoroes-of-childhood-1-introduction.html. It was a house steeped in Christian values: "The Doctor" (Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones) was a regular visitor and our summers were spent bible smuggling behind the iron curtain.
Not so good;
There was a certain distance and suspicion to the rest of evangelicalism which i think was not helpful: Graham Kendrick and modern Christian music was regarded with deep suspicion (remember the book “Pop gives the gospel?”). Anglicans and Billy Graham were also regarded same way! When i went to university I was surprised to find evangelical Anglicans thought just like me :)
Good things from the old days:
- serious bible teaching (3 x on Sunday, typical sermon 1 hour)
- emphasis on personal holiness:
- good old Christian hymns and metrical psalms:
- strong emphasis on reading Christian books
- warm hospitality regularly practiced:
- most importantly I think, lovely godly incredibly generous “ordinary” Christians who loved me as a child:
- strong focus on evangelism, especially open air.
Good things we have now:
- 121 evangelism:
- social media resources eg Glen Scrivener:
- barriers between free and Anglican evangelicals broken down:
- resources available to us eg occa on apologetics.
Not so good:
- too busy
- loss of focus on evangelism:
- superficial Christianity:
- lack of hospitality and generosity:
- lack of discipleship and personal holiness and commitment (I include myself in all of these! )
The caring and inspirational Christian people in my father's church I mentioned above were "ordinary" people (but extraordinary Christians). They were plumbers: printers: engineers: jobbing builders and handymen: factory and mill workers: but they had commitment and love and hospitality and generous and loving hearts (plus good bible understanding!). Some of these lovely warm and kindly Christians who cared for me as a child are still alive, or their children are so I shall name them: Colin and Jean Thompson, Les and Janet Gibbons, Don and Rosemary Pettit, Lionel and Molly Morgan, Chris and Jan Powell, Ron Scott, Christine Pettit, plus several elderly single ladies long gone to glory, Auntie Queenie, Auntie Nelly, Auntie Peggy, as we children were told to call them! All were kindly, loving, friendly and great role models. They did what they could when they could and they did it with love. (I must add Dr Felix Konotey-Ahulu and his wife Rosemary, even though they came along a bit later.) I am so thankful for each of them.
So what is to be done?
I throw out a few thoughts on making disciples.
1. Practice hospitality and friendship and yes "mentoring". Help others along the Christian path. Love others, befriend them, get alongside people. Be a good example. Help those in trouble. We can all do that. Hospitality is a particularly undervalued skill I believe.
2. Those of us from backgrounds similar to mine have a huge privilege and responsibility. "To those to whom much is given much shall be required". Use your blessings from God to help others.
3. We need more of the bible. We need to be steeped in it, know it, love it, feed on it, read it more and more. As readers of my blog know I have found https://www.theword121.com amazing as an evangelistic tool but it also works excellently as a discipleship one. Interesting to note that Jesus' last words were "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Making disciples and teaching them is the key, not converting people (though of course you need to be born again to become disciples). How do we do that? immerse each other in Gods word. Its like medicine or food. As we take it it does us good. As we read the word we meet the Word.
4. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither are Christian disciples. We shouldn't despise the day of small things. Simple encouragements and help repeated multiple times guide people closer to the Lord. We should help each other to become disciples not make each other feel guilty. There is a place of course every day for guilt and repentance but if we guide people closer to God he will do the rest. We are all wounded soldiers limping along the road home, let's help each other. If we see a badly wounded fellow soldier lying in a ditch, I suggest we help them climb out, rather than stand by and lecture them on their mistakes in getting into the ditch.
5. Pray. MLJ said the following "Prayer is beyond any question the highest activity of the human soul. Man is at his greatest and highest when upon his knees he comes face to face with God." and "Always respond to every impulse to pray. The impulse to pray may come when you are reading or when you are battling with a text. I would make an absolute law of this: always obey such an impulse." Why dont we see much progress? because we are prayerless.
6. How do we prioritise our time? I realise its rank hypocrisy to write this while I am on the internet! But we are all tempted to reduce time on church activities.
7. Read Christian books. Or if you dont like reading listen to good podcasts or vlogs. Which ones? Here are my top 5 which I think every Christian should read (after the bible, obvs!)
Holiness JC Ryle
Expository Thoughts on the Gospels JC Ryle
Knowing God J.I Packer
Screwtape Letters CS Lewis
Prodigal God Tim Keller
8. Help those who are not Christians in every practical way we can. Do good, help the poor, lonely, refugees, homeless, troubled. Equally, take every opportunity to share our faith as best we can. Time is so short dear friends. With incurable cancer i feel this strongly. The Lord said "we must work while its still day for the night comes when no man can work". heaven will be great but it will be TOO LATE to share our faith.
9. Dare to be different, to be radical. My friend David Martin has written effectively about this in his recent book:https://www.10ofthose.com/uk/products/24758/different which i recommend very highly.
10. Know more of Christ. At the top is a link to a new course, Discipleship Explored, which i was involved in filming. Look at the first 20 seconds. Thats a friend of mine, a pastor in Serbia, Simo Ralevic, whom i visited just this week. As he says "we need Christ: outside Christ is only death: in Christ is life". If we are becoming better disciples we will follow Christ more closely, know him more strongly, experience him more intensely, sense him more powerfully, obey him more carefully and love him more deeply