Blogroll: God Gold and Generals

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Book reviews and comments by Jeremy Marshall on Christian, historical and business themesJeremy Marshallnoreply@blogger.comBlogger240125
Updated: 2 hours 11 min ago


Fri, 10/08/2018 - 21:53
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There is precious little hope around these days. 
One of the main things the Christian faith offers, is hope. Hope not in the sense of "I hope it will be a nice day" but a "certain and sure" hope of victory.
That's especially important for me as I consider the prospect of yet another chemotherapy round. Without hope it would be dreadful, with hope it is bearable. 
I want to suggest that the Christian's hope should be one of the most distinctive things about our life
This hope - if its true - is available for anyone. All you have to do is believe that the hope on offer is real hope.
Paul writing to a brand new church in Thessalonica in about 55 AD said  (see below) "we should not grieve like the rest of mankind which have no hope."
in fact I find that this contrast is true, if I contrast the one thing from which there is no escape - death. Comparing for example Christian funerals with any number of  humanist ones I have been to, the contrast is striking. I think in terms of the length of the service, the intensity of the congregation, the wanting to be there compared with wanting to be at the pub, the power of the message - only memories compared with the certain hope of seeing the dead person again. 
In short hope versus no hope
The background here to Paul's letter (see below) is that this is a new church where Paul had to leave in a hurry or risk being lynched. There were lots of young new Christians. Some believers  had died in the meantime. The remaining Christians were confused, they didn’t understand Christian belief on life after death
Paul writes to them and stresses over and over again the centrality of the resurrection. Why was this so emphasized? Because it was the central claim of Christianity. Christianity was from the beginning above all a resurrection movement
In fact, the Christian message in Acts is more about the resurrection than even the cross. Dont misunderstand me, you can hardly get to the resurrection without the cross: we need both, they are two sides of the same coin. But the central claim of the Christians in the first century was this “Jesus has risen from the dead, repent and believe”. 
So its a puzzle given this as to why this was such an issue. Surely Paul had drilled it into the Thessalonians? It seems firstly that somehow their grief overcame their teaching, which is quite to be expected. Grief is powerful and natural. Secondly, that the resurrection is an explosive teaching, completely shocking to the public. The Thessalonians could hardly believe it.
So they were confused, befuddled - Paul reassures them “Its ok” and answers their questions about what happens after we die. Paul refers the Thessalonians back to what they already knew - that Jesus died and rose again. That if you were there with an I Phone on the early morning of 5 April 33 AD* you could have recorded it.
So Paul says, you Thessalonians must know this and believe this and this belief must inform your behaviour. Not grieve like the rest of men who have no hope. As today, so then, there was no hope in the face of death. A Greek writer said “hopes are for the living the dead are without hope”
Grief itself is not wrong. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Why should Christians not grieve as others do? In Greek 'Gar' = 'because'. Because Jesus died and rose again. Again and again the resurrection of the dead is linked to resurrection of Christ. We are asked to believe in and base our life and our hope in death on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 
What about if you are a non believer? There is no hope with atheism, none at all. Death is just the end of ineffective DNA. everything is finished. Its grim. Literally hopeless

But the Christian claim is that there is hope beyond the grave. There is here amazing hope. I am offering you now through Jesus Christ eternal life, victory over death, as a free gift. You dont have to get to this hope by being moral, you dont have to do stuff or be religious, you just have to repent and believe in Jesus Christ and seek to follow him. 
Believe what? 
"That Jesus died and rose again”
*That is the most likely date for the resurrection
 1 Thess 4
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words
Categories: Friends

Songs from my childhood 1: Trelawny or 'Song of the Western Men'

Sun, 05/08/2018 - 20:30
As many of us head for holiday, I am reminded of days long gone and my dear late fathers love for old songs. There was no tape or CD player (the latter hadn’t even been invented) or even a radio so to pass the time when bible smuggling or off to the far extremities of the British isles on long journeys, Dad would get all 6 of us jammed into the car to sing ( as loudly as possible)I start therefore a new occasional series about songs from my childhood.This one Dad would sing as we crossed the Tamar into Cornwall. (For those of you not in the UK, this is the farthest part of south western Britain, a county with its own very distinctive culture, landscape and even language, related to Welsh and Breton, which I am glad to see is being revived)

There is something magical and other worldly about Cornwall (once you escape the traffic). As a small boy i can remember almost burrowing through lanes overhung with trees and hedges at the end of a very long day, winding along tiny country lanes, already smelling but not being able to see the sea. Suddenly, there it was, sparkling in the evening sun (in childhood memories it never rains, of course). En route to Porthtowan in approximately 1968 or 69, yes I am that old.  

Its a very appropriate song for anyone going to "God's own county" (which is certainly not Yorkshire). In fact its often called the 'Cornish national anthem'. Its known either as "The Song of the Western Men" or "Trelawny". Like a lot of folk and patriotic songs its origins are somewhat muddled and obscure. The words were written by a highly unusual clergyman, Robert Stephen Hawker, who was vicar from 1834 for over 40 years of the remote parish of Morwenstowe in deepest Cornwall. Hawker probably deserves his own blog. Famously eccentric, some of the stories about him are probably apocryphal such as excommunicating his cat for mousing on Sunday. In many ways he was deeply traditional (and no friend I am afraid to say of the many nonconformists in the area) but he was also very innovative. Harvest festivals and weekly collections were both his idea, so the histories claim.  When he arrived in the parish, this was still an era of wreckers and the coast was notorious for cruel locals who would place fake lights luring ships to their doom on the mighty granite cliffs. “From Hartland Point to Padstow light/Is a watery grave by day or night” went the local rhyme. Deeply compassionate, Hawker would care for dead seamen, as well as stamping out the evil practices that led to their death. Several times he organised or participated in heroic sea rescues. He was a mystic and an antiquarian and above all a poet  This is his most famous poem, written in 1824 in its current version. See you tube clip above for a rousing recent rendition. 
A good sword and a trusty hand!
A merry heart and true!
King James's men shall understand
What Cornish lads can do!
And have they fixed the where and when?
And shall Trelawny die?
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

And shall Trelawny live?
Or shall Trelawny die?
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!
Out spake their Captain brave and bold:
A merry wight was he:
Though London Tower were Michael's hold,
We'll set Trelawny free!
We'll cross the Tamar, land to land:
The Severn is no stay:
With "one and all," and hand in hand;
And who shall bid us nay?

And shall Trelawny live?
Or shall Trelawny die?
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!
And when we come to London Wall,
A pleasant sight to view,
Come forth! come forth! ye cowards all:
Here's men as good as you.
Trelawny he's in keep and hold;
Trelawny he may die:
Here's twenty thousand Cornish bold
Will know the reason why
And shall Trelawny live?
Or shall Trelawny die?
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

The song was based on ancient Cornish folk songs, but unfortunately, it seems the good vicar got his history muddled. He thought it related to Bishop Trelawny who was imprisoned by King James II just before the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688, but it seems it was actually originally about the bishop's grandfather.

Wikipedia elaborates "Hawker...assumed that the Trelawny mentioned in the song was Sir Jonathan Trelawny, the Bishop of Bristol, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London by King James II in 1688. However it is more likely that it referred to his grandfather, Sir John Trelawny, a Cornish Royalist leader who had been imprisoned by parliament in 1628. The people of Cornwall did not actually march to rescue Trelawny, as told in the song. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London for three weeks, then tried and acquitted. According to Cornish historian Robert Morton Nance "The Song of the Western Men" was possibly inspired by the song "Come all ye jolly tinner boys" which was written more than ten years earlier in about 1807, when Napoleon made threats that would affect trade in Cornwall at the time of the invasion of Poland. "Ye jolly tinner boys" contains the line "Why forty thousand Cornish boys shall knawa the reason why." " 
And should that Boney Peartie have forty thousand still 
To make into an army to work his wicked will, 
And try for to invaade us, if he doesn't quickly fly— 
Why forty thousand Cornish boys shall knawa the reason why

Anyway, whatever the history it's a great song, a wonderful tune and celebrates the independent-mindedness and fight for liberty of the rightly proud people of Cornwall. 
Categories: Friends

Book Review: The Grid: establishing leadership training in the local church by Adrian Reynolds (10ofthose July 2018)

Wed, 01/08/2018 - 11:10

Adrian Reynolds is the training director for the FIEC and has written a very good, short and highly readable book on how we should train Christian leaders (of all types). 

The first part of the book covers the biblical case for training and sets out a very practical grid to use by churches to discuss what training is needed. Down one side of the grid you have the qualities and skills needed: Adrian chooses godliness, ministry of the word, knowledge, leadership, evangelism and coaching. Very importantly, Adrian includes the often overlooked pastoral side of word ministry. Then on the other axis he includes all the different types of leadership roles that we see in the Bible - for example pastor-teachers, evangelists, elders, deacons and so on. The grid is designed to promote discussion and arrive at a high level overview. There’s nothing magic about it of course but to my mind it seems a very practical and easy to understand place to start. Key as he stresses is for churches to discuss leadership training using the grid - “where are we, where do we want to go” and “how to we get there/bridge the gap”

Then in the second part he makes some overall comments about the lessons we can draw for today from the grid. He points out for example the over emphasis on ministry of the word compared to all the other leadership skills “we end up making that one skill into everything”. 'Word ministry' also he rightly suggests tends to be defined much too narrowly. Next he points out the confusion often seen between knowledge and word ministry. Perhaps to me the most important point is the next one: the complete lack of emphasis on training for pioneers and evangelists, both in UK and worldwide. This to me is the single biggest weakness we see today in our church. We have many fine bible teachers but only a tiny handful of evangelists. How much time do pastor-teachers (anbd other leaders) really spend on evangelism? And given that 99% of non Christians will never darken the door of our church evangelistic preaching (while good) is not the same thing at all. Finally, Adrian comments on the strange imbalance of training for elders (almost none) vs that available for pastors (a lot) and the  much neglected areas of training in leadership and coaching. 

There are also some very valid and helpful comments for theological colleges. Adrian stresses, surely correctly, that the local church does (or should do) everything and so has the ultimate responsibility for theological college trainees. He suggests that much of the problems arise because churches fail to own the people they send off for training. Seminaries etc are but agents of the local church: however from my experience theological colleges who want to live up to Adrian’s recommendation sometimes struggle to get their church counterparts interested in "owning" theological training.

Adrian has a wonderful overview of the UK situation from his key role at the FIEC, which plays a major role across the evangelical UK Church. His new book is excellent: it’s practical, well written, thoughtful and I hope it stimulates discussion in many local churches about how to train men and women in leadership. Pastors, please buy a copy for all your leaders (10 ofThose as always have great pricing) and get them to read it and discuss it. 
Categories: Friends

Q and A on being a Christian in the workplace: part 2

Sun, 29/07/2018 - 10:39

A good friend sent me the following comments on my previous blog on work.
I have disguised his identity by changing a few things!
He writes

"What most struck me... was that whilst I agree that your advice to a 'new starter' is the 'exam answer' in terms of its noble idealism, in my experience, and unless you have the luxury of choice, it would need to be tempered with a large dose of pragmatism.
Already I can hear you crying "but that's the whole point, you shouldn't be afraid or have to compromise your beliefs". I don't disagree. All I can say is in my world, away from the corporate blue chips, a junior person following your advice would at best be regarded with amused detachment and quickly ostracised (think Tony Blair's "nutters"), or at worst be condemned to a life of drudgery with no prospects of promotion or even interesting work, however talented. Unfair? Of course. Does it still happen in today's workplace? Definitely - I can provide several first-hand example

The survivors, if not the winners, are those who "keep it under their hat" and only when pressed would admit to any form of belief, hastily followed by the apologetic rider that they don't want to ram it down people's throats, before hastily changing the subject. Quite the opposite of evangelism in the workplace.On the ethics front I'm afraid it's even worse - certainly amongst smaller firms everything has become much more short-term in outlook, and ethics is unfortunately one of the first casualties of the battle. Especially on the financial side! Basically "you're either with us or agin us" and for a junior person to even question a management decision purely on the grounds of ethics might be tolerated once (as a rookie mistake), but not twice. 
When I was starting out, the principal ethical debate was whether it was acceptable to work for a (sector of industry). A few said absolutely not, most said yes, but not on actual (part of that sector), others said it was fine. It's actually not that easy to determine where the boundary is in a lot of these systems - more often that not, especially when starting out, you would only see a small part of a much larger whole. My point is that initial idealism is all too easily defeated by the reality of work, which when coupled with a need to fund eating and accommodation is at risk of being lost for good.
I should point out I'm not criticising your points, just throwing in my thoughts for what their worth. Keep posting & blogging!"

Thanks very much for your kind comments and I really and truly appreciate you taking an interest in my blog. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

You are being very honest. We are let's be honest all afraid of what people think of us and we all want to blend in. Its true as you say that its especially tough in a more "blue collar" environment and when you are younger and more junior. 
So, I fully agree its tough to do as I suggested. Yes, it is incredibly idealistic - but the bible itself is idealistic, in the sense that humanly speaking we cant possibly do the things we are called to do. God calls us to ideals which we cant attain. Only with God's help can we succeed. But God promises exactly that if we take him at his word and "confess the name of Jesus" He will be with us. 
Jesus said "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."
Ridicule, laughter and ostracism are much milder than many people experience in the world for their Christian faith. 

Its also freedom of speech to allow our colleagues and friends to poke fun at our beliefs if they want. Why shouldn't they? Free speech cuts both ways. People should be free to say what they think about the church and the Christian faith. A lot of criticism of the church is entirely accurate! 

If we are really blocked in our career for our faith then that's a suffering that's worth while. God can use that suffering for his purposes. When people in the C2 saw Christians being thrown to the lions many of them were struck by this and wondered "why on earth did these people choose to do that when they could have easily escaped?" Some of the watching crowds over time ended up converting to the Christian faith as a result. Little by little the Christian faith spread because people were willing to suffer for what they believed. If we cant even take a little mild bit of ridicule we shouldn't be surprised that our faith in the UK shrinks.  
If we cant manage what I suggested we should say, we can surely manage to say something, however small. Even a timid, frightened witness is infinitely better than nothing.  

we should as Jesus says "be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves". Sometimes people are clearly trying to trick us or wind us up and we should refuse to take the bait. As Jesus did. But sometimes apparently hostile questions mask an underlying curiosity. We need wisdom. We must also love our enemies and bless those who curse us. 
One good thing is that slowly and surely it gets easier. Its hardest when you are the youngest and most junior and newest employee. Its easiest if for example you own the firm or are the CEO. Also as we get older we tend to care less what other people think of us, on average. So other things being equal, assuming no change in the external environment, every day will be very slightly easier than the last to confess Christ. Thats a comforting thought.  
There are important legal protections for Christians. I know there are some cases where Christians have been fired for saying something like "I will pray for you" but those cases are quite often reversed on appeal. Legal help is available through for example Christian Concern and should be taken. Even if the decisions are not overturned, the Eternal Judge will emphatically and publicly reverse them at the Day of Judgement. Its not in the bible but its true "The mills of God grind slowly but they grind exceeding small". 
It all boils down to "who are we more afraid of - God or humans?" The answer to fear of humans is a bigger fear. Think of Jesus asleep in the boat. The disciples are terrified they are going to drown, but when they wake Jesus up he stills the storm. Then in fact they are even more afraid, because it begins to dawn on them who this man actually is. If we are more afraid of a very small storm (a small one as it's not death but ridicule) I suggest thats likely to be because our understanding and knowledge of God is too small. 
I think the ethics issue is somewhat easier

If you have any doubts about a sector, don't go into it in the first place

As far as not doing wrong things I think even humanly speaking 'turning a blind eye'  is usually a poor strategy

Proverbs says 
1. “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1)
We shouldn't cheat or behave unethically firstly because God tells us not to and he watches over everything. Ultimately, justice will be done and sin will be punished. 
2. "The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.” (Proverbs 11:3“)
If a firm is dishonest or pursues sharp practice and ignores or stifle your protests, leave. Not just because its wrong but because "cheats seldom prosper". Dishonest firms (in the long run) often fail. Honesty and integrity is in the long run normally highly valued by others.. Not always of course, but often.
3. "Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.” (Proverbs 16:8)
Even if we lose out for witnessing or standing up for whats right (and we may do) we will still ultimately be better off
Jesus predicted all of the above (and much much worse!) would happen. He says in Matthew
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you....
So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven."

Categories: Friends

Q and A on being a Christian in the work place

Wed, 25/07/2018 - 09:17

A Christian friend who is soon to enter the work force asked me the following questions. I welcome more! 

What should a Christian's attitude be towards work?

Work itself is good. The bible opens with God at work and ends in the same place. All work is if rightly understood imitating Gods act of creating the universe.  We are made in the image of God and this includes being made to work — though “work” doesn’t just mean paid work, it would include all acts of making things, of serving others,  of spending time and energy to produce things (including intangible things like culture). 

This means that work is not something we should minimise or ignore to spend time at "church". All of life that is good, rightly understood, can be service to God. This also means all (lawful) occupations are equally valued. The idea that there is say a three level “pyramid” in work (Christian workers such as pastors as the top, those who are helping others such as nurses in the middle and terrible money making professions such as bankers at the bottom) is wholly unbiblical. We must break down the "Sacred/Secular Divide". 

We should also be thankful for our jobs and seek to do them wholeheartedly and diligently. Many people in the majority world have no job or terrible crushing jobs like scavenging on rubbish tips. In the West we tend to have rewarding and comparatively interesting jobs (not everyone I know but many of us). So we should be thankful, enjoy our work and seek to glorify God by doing it well. When God works he saw “that it was good”. (Unlike it must be said my DIY)

In the same way that God is generous to us in giving (most of us in the West) good jobs we should be generous to others with our time, expertise and money. Stewardship (of which I am a trustee) is a great place to think about this. 

Ken Costa's excellent book "God at work" explores all of the above and lots more.

LICC has many excellent resources which help the Christian in the workplace. Mark Greene's book on the Sacred/Secular Divide in particular is excellent.

How should we deal with unethical decisions? 

It is rare in my experience to come across situations in the workplace where you are expected to make decisions which are clearly unethical. However, if one comes across them, then it would be in the first place best I have found to express the impact of such a decision on the organisation’s image and reputation rather than immediately bring out what is written in the bible. Of course a Christian should base their principles on the bible: the question is how to communicate the principles. 

We should be careful not to be too narrowly  legalistic about ethical issues but rather adhere to the general biblical  principles. We need wisdom above all and we can’t develop a “box ticking” mentality. We are in living a fallen world and we are trying to convince people about Jesus Christ not preach morality. That doesn’t mean we can do as we like but it means we need wisdom. 

Let me explain what i mean by taking an example: pornography. It's I hope obvious that Christians should not work in this or invest in pornographic films, but if a media company  produces 18 rated films such as  “50 shades of grey” among many other decent films, we don’t have to I suggest refuse to work in that company or invest in it. Just as Paul talks about food offered to idols. Otherwise we will have to withdraw from the world and live in caves. But if fro example we are asked to work on that specific film I would argue we should object. How should we object? Look at how Daniel deals with that in Daniel 1 - politely, graciously and firmly. Also worth noting that Daniel nailed his colours (politely) to the mast as early as possible. So should we.  

The major challenges that a Christian might face in the workplace are much more likely to be  I suggest not so much ethical challenges (though there may be some) but more likely the much bigger and much more insidious temptation to be conformed to the culture of the age eg losing our faith, becoming greedy, sexually immoral, gossiping about colleagues, bullying etc... 

Christians must be like salt in their workplace, which implies two things: 

1) Salt shouldn’t lose its saltiness. Salt loses it saltiness gradually just like a boat loosely tied to the shore at night might find itself in the middle of the ocean by morning. Often people don’t realise when they are losing their saltiness unless someone reminds them of how they used to be and compares it to where they are now. Most people who lose their faith do so gradually and imperceptibly.  

2) Salt shouldn’t be just kept in the salter but must be used. Likewise, it’s not sufficient for Christians to be saved :  its  essential that we share the gospel with others as well as seeking to change the world in line with Christian values. See Tim Keller speaking recently at the House of Commons on this

If we honour God he will honour us: if we disdain him he will disdain us (1 Samuel 2:30) 

How to keep salty? One great way is to get plugged into a lunchtime service aimed at people in work which teaches the bible. This was pioneered in the UK by Dick Lucas at St Helen's in the City and they have now spread all over London, including Canary Wharf 

I find them invaluable because you in a very short time (they are all very careful not to go beyond max 30 minutes) get a real "spiritual charge" from the bible to stop your "I-Phone of the heart" running out of "power." 

Q: How to be an Evangelist in the workplace?

A: The first step in sharing the gospel is to ensure that everyone knows that you’re a Christian. If we dont do this then people may just think (I hope anyway) we are "nice people". Its also a clear biblical command to confess the faith we hold. God has no silent children. We must "learn to speak for God without fear or shame" (John Wesley).  

To start, your faith can be brought up in a very casual manner such as mentioning that you went to church when your colleagues ask what you did during the weekend.  Once they know you’re a Christian its can be helpful I have found to take advantage for example of current affairs that everyone discusses. This can be very simple e.g. Brexit? “in our church we have strongly pro and anti Brexit people but our love for Christ transcends our political differences” Trump? “Personally I dont like him (or maybe you do!) but I think Christians shouldn't look for salvation in any politician but in Christ” And so on. Short and simple. Not every time of course - which would suggest your nuts :) - but as and when the Spirit leads you (which He will).  We should also avoid I suggest  getting entangled in arguments that harness the Christian faith to one or another political party — as Jesus said “my kingdom is not of this world”. This doesn’t mean individual Christians can’t hold one political view or another or be politicians - that’s fine - but rather overall the church should avoid a “tribal” political identity. 

Ask your friends and colleagues about their beliefs (everyone has some kind of worldview or beliefs!) and be genuinely interested in what they say. Ask them many questions about their worldview and listen carefully to the replies. You may well learn something ! The most important step in evangelising is to a) pray for our friends that we may be means of blessing to them and b) invest in friendships and genuinely love our friends  - by getting to know them better and through friendship, Service and mutual respect build a “friendship bridge” which enables us to share our convictions with them. 

I have found in general from experience it’s often better to use stories from the bible (especially the gospels) to express different Christian concepts and truths, rather than describing doctrine. It depends on the learning style of the person but generally I prefer stories. I find they work because they draw people in and are memorable and draw people outside of themselves. You are both examining a shared experience rather than you lecturing them. They can then come to their own judgement. For example stories that I like using (and you can tell  them in your own words as shortly as you like) include 

• Prodigal son (forgiveness)  • Woman at the well (other religions)  • Woman taken in adultery (sex) • Nicodemus (“I’m not religious”)  • Pharisee and the tax collector/I have come for the sick not the healthy (Christ not morality)  • Widow of Nain/Lazarus (Christ conquered death ) • Jesus asleep in the storm (fear)  • Rich young ruler (follow Jesus not money)  • Rich fool “tear down my barns”/ "what shall it benefit a man to gain the whole world and lose your soul” (idolatry: our status with God is what matters) • Wedding at Cana (God's generosity) • Doubting Thomas (doubts: Jesus invites us to find him)  • Road to Emmaus (doubts: as we read bible we meet Jesus)  • Job (suffering) • Joseph (God uses evil for good - the cross) • Dying thief  (didn’t know much: knew Christ) • Jesus on the cross "father forgive them" (Forgiveness) • Philippian jailer — (nature of faith)  • Elijah and prophets of Baal (reality of God)  • Abraham and Isaac (atonement)  • Naaman (nature of faith)

Simpler the better. So, for example if a terrible atrocity occurs you might simply say 'I feel so helped at times like this by remembering what Jesus said on the cross "Father forgive them for they know not what they do".'

You see, the point is to plant seed. Seed is small but grows into a mighty plant. Seed in the seed bag is of no use: throw it out and see what happens. Stories may stick in people’s minds and sprout years later. There is an intrinsic and supernatural power in God's word and if we throw it out the seed may fall into a crevice and like plants pushing through cracks in paving stones it will in time bear fruit. “My word shall not return to me empty."

Our job is to throw the seed out of the seed bag as skilfully as we can, after that its up to God.

It’s important to be patient and acknowledge that it’s God who works in our friends hearts, thereby giving us no reason to be discouraged or take pride. The best way to approach I suggest if a question or comment is put forward is often to question the questioner — this being a rabbinic method Jesus often used. For example a statement "I dont like religion" A: "Me neither! What puts you off particularly?" 

All of this means we need to know our stuff so reading the bible (and especially the gospels) plus books by renowned apologists and other Christian authors and using good arguments and stories in your own words is helpful

Finally, we must be careful not to steal time from our employer. Nobody minds a few minutes "coffee machine" discussion but we need to go (much much) deeper when we have more time on a 121 basis. When we see the seed land on good soil it needs to be lovingly and gently cultivated. From experience I have found that the  best way to do that is to invite our friends to chat about the bible using materials such as the Word121 as I have outlined here 

This should be done over a coffee or lunch outside work time. That way its private between us and our friend and we are not "stealing"  our employers time.  

Categories: Friends

The American Invasion of Britain, 22nd April 1778

Sun, 22/07/2018 - 11:30

My thanks to Barry King for drawing my attention to one of the strangest and most farcical episodes in Anglo-American history. With our daughter Naomi's engagement to Max I trust that future relations between our two countries will be more cordial! 
On the evening of April 22nd 1778, the US invaded Britain, for the only time in both our history. Unlike say the War of 1812 which led to the writing of the "Star Spangled Banner" and the burning of the White House, this 'invasion" has been justifiably overlooked by history. Until now! 
The invasion was in reality more of a raid on a small coastal town in what is now Cumbria, Whitehaven. It was led by John Paul Jones, who was born in Scotland but became one of the leading officers in the newly formed US Navy. Jones was a formidable and brave foe, who famously when asked to surrender by a British ship said "Surrender? I have not yet started to fight" and end up capturing his opponent. But Jones was equally ferocious with his own men and was for a while under a cloud after he flogged one of his own men to death. Jones knew Whitehaven very well as it was there that he had first gone to sea and served his apprenticeship. He wanted to use his knowledge of the town to seize the forts guarding the harbour and set fire to as many of the 400 or so merchant ships it contained as possible. As most of them were carrying coal which of course is combustible this should have been straightforward but events conspired otherwise
Things went promisingly when in the dark of night, the USS Ranger, Jones’s ship, dropped off the raiding party and the boat carrying Jones and his Swedish second in command crept up to the fort, climbed ashore and quickly overpowered the stunned soldiers who were too busy warming themselves on what was a cold and miserable night. Jones then "spiked" the cannon which meant hammering a barbed steel spike into the touch hole of the cannon (the place where you placed a match to fire the gunpowder) thus rendering them useless. This act is to this day commemorated by the above statue. 
Unfortunately, from then on things began to go from bad to worse. Many of Jones men were lured by the warmth and light of the local tavern, which was conveniently situated on the Quay. Many proceeded to get drunk. Efforts to set the ships alike were amateurish as the incendiary devices thrown into the ships holds failed to go off or only produced small fires. Even worse, one of the crew, an Irishman called David Freeman went from house to house warning the inhabitants of what was happening. In fact there are indications that much of Jones’s crew was against the whole idea, for one of his own officers wrote that the raid was misguided as it meant “destroying poor people’s property” Soon the townsfolk began not only to operate fire engines to put out the fire but also by the light of the dawn to fire from the remaining cannon at the rapidly retreating American forces. Perhaps fortunately for future Anglo-American relations, their aim was very poor, minimal damage was done and honour was satisfied on both sides. The Americans were happy that they had tweaked the British nose and the British were happy that they had repulsed the pesky pirate Jones. 
The aftermath was also more comedy than tragedy. Jones next decided to try and kidnap Lord Selkirk just up the coast in Kirkcudbright, Scotland. The capture of Selkirk who was the local Lord when Jones was a lad, would he thought be a devastating blow to the King. Unfortunately his plan had three defects. Firstly, nobody in London would have barely even known who Selkirk was, secondly Selkirk was actually strongly pro American, thirdly he wasn't there - he was in fact in England, “taking the waters” in a spa. His heavily pregnant wife greeted Jones and his crew with typical British "sang froid" and in fact even gave them a drink for their troubles. Jones in response stole her sliver teapot (complete with tea) - though in fairness it must be said that he eventually returned the famous tablepiece, his conscience perhaps troubling him.
After some fierce battles on the way south, Jones and his men eventually made it home. Meanwhile, in Whitehaven, all sorts of rumours were circulating, notably that Jones had left letters to a local lady, who was obliged to issue an announcement that this was 'fake news". Jones himself was demonised (see cartoon above) as a gigantic Blackbeard style pirate - in reality he was 5 foot 4. 
Within a few days a letter arrived from north of the border stating "there is great reason to believe that this John Paul Jones is the same person with a John Paul who commanded a brig in the West India trade, belonging to Kirkcudbright, in the years 1769 and 1770, a native of this S[t]ewartry, and the greatest miscreant under the canopy of heaven; the more dangerous indeed because he is a villain of abilities. He has committed two or three murders, for one of which he narrowly escaped the gallows in the West Indies."
We should perhaps in fairness given this savage attack leave the last word to the gallant Captain Jones himself who wrote to his superiors the following report. Certain details perhaps understandably seem to have been omitted!
"At midnight I left the ship with two boats and thirty one volunteers. When we reached the outer pier the day began to dawn. I would not however abandon my enterprize but dispatched one boat under Mr Hall & Lt. Wallingford with the necessary combustibles to set fire to the shipping on the north side of the harbour while I went with the other party to attempt the south side.- I was successful in scaling the walls and spiking up all the cannon on the first fort finding that the centinels were shut up in the guard house we secured them without their being hurt..
On my return from this business I naturally expected to see the fire of the ships on the north side as well as to find my own party with everything in readiness to set fire to the shipping in the south, instead of this I found the boat under Mr. Hill & Mr. Wallingford returned and the party in some confusion their light having burnt out at the instant it became necessary.- On the strangest fatality my own party were in the same situation, the candles being all burnt out:- The day too came on apace, yet I would by no means retreat while any hopes of success remained. Having again placed centinels a light was obtained from an house at a distance from the town and fire was kindled in the steerage of a large ship which was surrounded by at least an hundred & fifty others chiefly from two to four hundred tons burthen and laying side by side aground unsurrounded by the water... The inhabitants began to appear in thousands and individuals ran hastily towards us. I stood between them and the ship on fire with a pistol in my hand and ordered them to retire which they did with precipitation. The flames had already caught the rigging and began to ascend the main-mast- the sun was a full hour above the horizon and as sleep no longer ruled the world it was time to retire- we re-embarked without opposition, having released a number of prisoners as our boats could not carry them- after all my people had embarked I stood upon the pier for a considerable time yet no one advanced- I saw all the eminences around the town covered with amazed inhabitants.....Had it been possible to have landed a few hours sooner my success would have been complete; not a single ship of more than two hundred could have escaped and the whole world would not have been able to save the town. What was done however is sufficient to shew that not all their boasted navy can protect their own coasts, and that the scenes of distress which they have occasioned in America may soon be brought home to their own doors. One of my people was missing and must I fear have fallen into the hands of the enemy after our departure. I was pleased that in this business we neither killed nor wounded- I brought off three prisoners as a sample. We then stood over for the Scotch shore and I landed at noon on St. Mary's Isle with one boat and a very small party, the motives which induced me to land there are explained in the within copy of a letter which I have written to the Countess of Selkirk."
Categories: Friends

Overcoming obstacles to evangelism: a response to John Stevens

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 11:06

John Stevens in his excellent blog has written an article about a small piece of research he has done in the home group at his church in Market Harborough. It was about what makes us reluctant to share our faith. He asked his home group members to write down what prevented them doing this and these were the three groups of answers 
“Fear about what others will think” x3“People won’t like me”“Not knowing how people will react”“Don’t think people are interested” 

“Time” x2“There is always something else that needs to be done”“Lack contacts” x2

“Fear my life won’t live up to the testimony I profess” “Fear I will say something wrong and jump in too quickly”“Knowing what to say”“Hard to initiative conversations” 
I suggest one group is the big issue ('fear'), one is a sad indictment of our priorities and a rebuke from God to us ('time') and one is actually a very good thing ('I don’t know the answers') 
Let me tell my story and see if I can illustrate how to overcome these real issues which let’s be honest we all have. I would say I have struggled with all three and especially the first 

I am not a super evangelist and please don’t take this post as self advertisement. Given the many advantages I have had in life (eg being forced until aged 18 to listen to approximately 6-8 hours of  excellent bible  preaching and teaching per week: my father having family prayers twice a day, preaching three times in Sunday plus bible study!) I should be miles better at sharing my faith than I am. I am a hopeless evangelist and I struggled with this until about three years ago when firstly i was diagnosed with incurable cancer and a short time to live, which gave me a firm kick to get in with it and secondly two close friends repeatedly and persistently suggested that I try 121 bible sharing as the best model. I have done this using these notes which I have found amazing. On one side of the page is John's gospel, on the other side are simple questions and answers explaining the passage. 
This is my story and in the end whatever biblical method works for you is good. For example many people (including me) have found courses such as the excellent new 'Life Explored' to be really helpful. 

What have I found with using 121? 
Asking someone to come to a church service  is a “big ask” for us and for them.  Asking someone “would you like to have a chat about the bible over a coffee” is a very small ask.
Having notes is massively helpful and reduces fear because it is so easy to use and all you have to do (and honestly that’s all I do!) is to ask your friend to read the bible text and the notes to themselves over a coffee and ask them with a friendly smile “do you have any questions?”
 Evangelism is like bouncing on the end of a diving board and looking at the drop and thinking “that’s a long way down”. 121 greatly reduces the “size of the drop” - it makes the the fear factor much less I have found
“Don’t think people are interested”
Some people aren’t interested but many are. My success rate from asking friends if they want to chat about the bible using the notes is about 1 in 2 while globally it’s more like 1 in 5. I am more I think successful than average because of my illness. So if you invite 5 friends to read the bible 121 you should get 1. 
“My friends won’t like me”

That’s not been my experience in the least. People don’t mind being invited at all I have found and I have not the slightest problem or fear  from people who say “no”. It’s the people who say “yes” which worry me! 
“Lack time lack contacts”
That’s the easiest one I suggest. It’s simply a question of priorities. Imagine I told my oncologist “I’m too busy to have chemotherapy”. The idea is utterly laughable. (I am much more likely to say “I am afraid of having chemotherapy” - that’s the point above)
We need I suggest to reorder our priorities (it took cancer to do that for me) and especially so I would say for pastors and church workers. We all tend to race from church meeting to conference from studies to sermon preparation from church building to Christian centres all the time focused on internal stuff. That’s not the Lords priorities. Look at how he tears a strip off the disciples when he is talking to the woman at the well in John 4. They can’t see that the field is white to harvest. See here for how Jesus evangelised The disciples are earthly minded and can’t see what’s important 
Also please allow me to be blunt with pastors and church workers - i wonder how many evangelistic 121s are you doing? As you will understand, to urge your 'flock' to do personal evangelism if you can’t do it yourself is unlikely to be convincing.  Preaching evangelistically is important but it is not the same at all if you are telling your people to evangelise from the safety of your own pulpit. Being able to help your flock do it must mean doing it yourself first. And again forgive my directness but if we are too busy or don’t have non Christian friends then sorry dear friend you may have wrong priorities and are in danger of being in the same position as the disciples in John 4. 
Above all we need genuine and deep friendships with non Christians. We must NEVER view them as evangelistic projects but genuinely care for them and seek in all ways possible to love and help them. If we are stuck in the Christian ghetto and have few if any such relationships may God have mercy on us for that was emphatically not the modus operandi of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was always being criticised by the religious keenies for the amount of time he spent with the non religious of his day  who labelled him a friend of tax collectors and prostitutes. Hardly a danger for many of us!  
“I don’t know the answers” “my life will contradict” “knowing the answers”
These are actually Godly thoughts and are right! We need to feel our uselessness before God will use us because the glory belongs to him
The notes are a great help because in them YOU HAVE THE ANSWERS!  And if you don’t know the answers that’s fine just say as I do very often “great question I will get back to you”. And then go and ask your pastor
I have found our friends look above all for humility and honesty. They don’t want to be patronised or lectured to. Christians can easily appear judgemental or know it all. (There is a judge but we it’s absolutely not us ). Our challenge is to be be open and honest eg “that’s a great question and to be honest I have struggled with that issue ” or “do you know I haven’t the faintest idea let me get back to you "
Starting conversations is relatively easy I find - it’s just practice and the more you do  the easier it gets. Firstly love your friend and LISTEN to them (not one of my strong points!). Ask them lots of questions eg “do you mind me asking - what do you (if anything) believe”? “What puts you off Christianity” “”what do you find attractive about Christianity?” “Have you ever looked at the bible?”
Ultimately friends the question is this - do we believe that God can save people? Always when people say yes to reading the bible I eventually discovered God had been supernaturally at work already in their lives. To protect their privacy I can’t tell the details but just in the last few weeks I have repeatedly had the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when friends I was doing 121 with started telling me what has been happening in their lives both before we started and since. Supernatural stuff. The finger of God! Truly my friends God  is at work yes even now even through fearful, weak, sinful people like me, in England in 2018. Is the arm of the Lord too short to save? Never!! Please, test the Lord out! We are promised are we not "Ask and you will receive seek and you will find knock and the door will be opened to you"?  

For the door of our friends lives can only be opened when we knock  by God who is already working on the inside. All we have to do is knock. But this we must do. And I have found the key former anyway is the word of God in the form of word 12. It has helped me overcome my fears. 
Categories: Friends

On Friendship stronger than Death

Sun, 08/07/2018 - 15:46

JC Ryle was a wonderful C19th writer and bishop (the first Bishop of Liverpool, in fact)

His books are so readable and helpful. 

He writes so movingly about death. I have adapted modernised and expanded his thoughts on Lazarus (John 11). Thank you Richard for drawing this to my attention. 

“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of (Lazarus's) death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”——
How tenderly and kindly the Lord Jesus speaks of the death of his children - those who believe in him! He announces to his followers the news that Lazarus is dead in language of tremendous beauty and gentleness “our friend Lazarus sleeps”

Every Christian has a father and friend in heaven of almighty power and boundless love. 

Every Christian is thought of, cared for, provided for and defended by Gods eternal son. 

Every Christian has an unfailing protector who never slumbers or sleeps and who watches continually over us. 

The unbelieving world may laugh at this but we have no reason to be ashamed. Even our father and mother might throw us out of our home, but the Lord God Almighty, once having taken us into his family, will never reject us. Lazarus is still the friend of Christ even after he is dead. So are we. Death is grim because it stops communication, shatters relations and breaks our friendships: but not our friendship with God. 

Friendship can be fleeting and friends can sometimes disappoint us when our need is most acute: but the friendship of Jesus, the Son of God is far stronger than death itself and continues unchanged and securely through and beyond the grave. The friend of sinners is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. His friendship is unbreakable. Lazarus was just as much his friend in the tomb as at the table. 

The death of Christians is sleep and not the end. Certainly death is a solemn and troubling change but not a change to be regarded with alarm. We need not fear death for death coms through sin and all our sins are forgiven through Christ’s death, if we but lean on him. Death has lost its sting, for the sting of death is sin. He that was perfect and sinless has experienced and defeated death so that we who are broken and sinful can triumph over death through him. Christians have nothing to fear for our bodies in death for they will be changed: we will rise again soon enough wonderfully remade in the image of the Lord.  All of the pains and suffering of life will be gone. The grave itself is defeated. When Jesus called out Lazarus from the grave, death itself  had to give up its prisoner.  So with us: all will hear the voice of Jesus at the end of all things and will be called out of the grave. 

To a non believer who rejected that voice when alive, the voice of Jesus at the end of all things, commanding them to come out, will be a terrible thing. But today the voice of Jesus, which has power over death itself, invites us indeed implores us, to come to him, rather than condemning us to go from him. 

Now is the time to receive the free offer which that voice offers - of eternal life and living friendship with God. Who would not want to be a friend of God? Who would not want to defeat death? Who would not want eternal life?  

As Christians we can say very boldly with Gods help as we face death “in peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Categories: Friends

Book Review: 'Yes to Europe': the 1975 Referendum and 70s Britain by Robert Saunders (CUP March 2018)

Sun, 24/06/2018 - 19:33

I remember it well. In 1975 I was 12 and very interested in politics. There had been two elections the previous year and I was allowed (reluctantly) by my father to help the Liberals, no doubt I made a huge difference to the result in Hemel Hempstead! Hemel was a marginal seat and swung by a narrow margin to Labour in the second election of 1974, due mainly to the Labour candidate, Robin Corbett, successfully squeezing the Liberal vote
The next year to my great joy (much more interesting than school) there was a referendum on our membership of the Common Market (as it was then called). As now I was keen on Europe. So, there I was, plastered with yes stickers,  busy campaigning by handing out leaflets urging Voters to back 'Yes'  in the Marlowes, the main shopping street of Hemel.  Suddenly, who should hove into view, like some mighty battleship ploughing through the waves, than my late father who regarded with me, his only son, with consternation. He was a local minister of religion, who absolutely detested the EU (24th June 2016 would have been one of his happiest days had he been alive) and in short order made it clear that he would reluctantly tolerate me campaigning for the Liberals but certainly drew the line at fighting for the Common Market. Sadly and mournfully I slunk home, only of course to take great glee in getting my filial revenge with the result when it came out a few days later. 
For the outcome of the referendum on Europe were (even despite the no doubt crucial loss of my campaigning contribution) a landslide vote for Europe by 67% to 33%, more than 2:1
This new and comprehensive book covers the critical events. "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently then" was never more true than in my own lifetime. The UK 43 years ago was an economic basket case, the 'sick man of Europe'. Ulster was convulsed by terrorism, bombs were exploding regularly in London. The book opens with an apposite quote from a John le Carré novel of the time "At the bar a florid man in a black suit was  predicting the imminent collapse of the nation. He gave us three months, then curtains". 
Against this background and political parties as now deeply split on Europe, Robert Saunders point out that the decision to hold a referendum was far more revolutionary than 2016. For this was the first national referendum in British history. 
Saunders brings out above all the effectiveness of the 'Yes' campaign compared with the ineffectiveness of the 'No' effort. 'Yes' had a well oiled and well funded machine with what we would now call careful market segmentation of different interest groups, classes and racial groups. Some of this seems not only quaint but laughable 43 years later — for example that women voters were almost exclusively viewed as canny housewives tracking the price of foodstuffs  but with no interest in political concepts that were reserved for men. But quaint as this seems it was very effective! Every conceivable group was covered, there was even a "Christians for Europe" group I am sure to my dear father's great displeasure. Readers of all of the main newspapers were told to vote 'Yes' and the leaders of the 'No' campaign were an ill matched set of bedfellows - Michael Foot and Tony Benn refusing to share a platform with Enoch Powell. 
The party that was deeply split was Labour and Wilson called the election to try and patch up his parties deep divisions. The comparison here and in many places in the book between Wilson and Cameron is well made. Wilson succeeded where Cameron failed I suggest, based on Saunders research, firstly because he secured genuine concessions from Brussels (when he set them out the polls moved sharply and decisively towards Yes) and secondly because  he marshalled a heavyweight team of 'Yes' leaders. These included Roy Jenkins, then Home Secretary and most of the big union leaders as well as the whole massed ranks of British industry (interesting that the barons of industry were notable in the main by their absence in 2016) The Tories were virtually united in being pro Europe including their new leader one Margaret Thatcher most famously in the wonderful photo of her in a jumper composed of European flags.. 
Saunders book ranges far and wide covering for example the campaign across the UK. As in 2016 the fear was that the UK would split — but that England would vote in while Scotland voted out. One of the main “No” campaigners was none other than our old 'friend' the then young Alex Salmond who said memorably as he campaigned hard against Europe “Scotland knows from bitter experience what treatment is in store for a powerless region of the Common Market”. There are many surprising nuggets of research and analysis like that, delivered in an even handed fashion. For example Saunders argues that that the ‘No’ campaign far from being “Little Englanders’ were in many ways more forward looking than their counterparts in 2106. Powell was very far from being nostalgic for the Empire and regarded the Commonwealth as a joke. Some of the 'No campaigners saw much more clearly than their opponents the rise of the rest of the world and the long slow decline of Europe. 
This is generally a thorough objective and very detailed account of a strangely forgotten campaign. In fact if I have one criticism of the book is that the attention to detail on the finer points of some of the campaign issues and personalities may tax the interest of all but the keenest student of recent UK historical politics. 
So, given that the Daily Express (of all papers!) said "Britain's 'Yes to Europe' had rung louder clearer and more unanimous than any decision in peacetime history..that 'decisively' and 'irrevocably' Britain belonged to Europe " how on earth did we end up in 2016 changing our mind? Saunders maintains a pretty even handed approach here. Two major things had changed he points out: the Cold war was over and Britain had regained its mojo. Ironically, the very peace and prosperity (that I believe at least in part) the EU brought emboldened Britain to leave what had been a safe port in a storm in 1975
But by far the biggest impact I would suggest was that Wilson was a much more effective campaigner and politician than Cameron and especially that whereas in 1975 the pro Europe team ran rings round the 'No" campaign, in 2016 it was rather the other way round. Any reader of for example "All Out War" which I consider the best account of the 2016 campaign cannot be struck by the energy and drive of the Brexiteers compared with the complacency of the Remainers. Such are the decisive battles of the UK's future one and lost. I cannot but finish by wondering if some future date (such as 2057) will bring a third such battle. Remoaners must learn from the losers in 1975 who far from giving up, were galvanised and gathered their forces and set to work to change the decision. What happened once can happen again. 
Categories: Friends
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