Blogroll: God Gold and Generals

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Book reviews and comments by Jeremy Marshall on Christian, historical and business themesJeremy Marshallhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/15495729193128994132noreply@blogger.comBlogger352125
Updated: 1 hour 16 min ago

Encouraging Reading Christian Books

Mon, 03/08/2020 - 22:05



How to encourage Christians to read? Most Christians in the U.K. read virtually nothing: in fact, I gather that 95% of Christian books published are read by about 5% of Christians. Garry Williams, wondering about this and in particular why having a short book is seen as a selling point said “ We could do with a graded reading scheme and a clear sense not of 'Yay it's short' but 'This is short so it will be a great start, but you should aim to move along the road to this, which is longer and more difficult but will repay every effort you put into it tenfold'.
Herewith then is my humble suggestion of a “ three course meal“ for reading Christian books: starting with ones that are short and easy (first course) then more advanced (second course) and finishing with some real heavyweights. Ideally, your taste buds develop as you go along and you acquire a taste for the best prime steak plus a glass of chateau Lafite 1984 having started with a sandwich and a Diet Coke! Or if you like here is a ladder with easy steps to climb to start with and each step encourages you to take another. 
Plenty of Christians never read a book but if you have the literacy and resources and time to do that you will find your faith is strengthened. 
I have excluded all commentaries and reference books, statements of faith, catechisms, and specialised books such as those for pastors or on preaching of counselling or families, and so on. 
I appreciate that there are many many books to choose from these of course reflect my interests and theological views! 
Always try and buy through a Christian bookshop (sadly few in number these days ) or an online Christian bookseller such as 10ofthose if you can. 
First course 

1. John Bunyan “The Pilgrims Progress.“
 By far the best selling a Christian book of all time after the Bible. An allegory of the Christian life. Exciting!  
2. CS Lewis: “ Screwtape Letters.” 
We have an enemy, the Devil,  and this is what he is up to
3. John Stott “Basic Christianity” 
What do Christians believe? 
4. Steve Kneale: “Being a Christian.” 
The basics of being a Christian. 
5. Word 121: the apostle John plus notes.
 Great for sharing faith with a friend 
6. Vaughan Roberts: “Gods Big Picture”
What’s the Bible all about? 
7. Tim Keller: “Prodigal God” 
What is God like? Based on the Prodigal Sim
8. JC Ryle: “Expository Thoughts on the Gospels”. 
As with word 121, anything that gets you reading the bible and especially the gospels has got to be good
9 and 10. Corrie Ten Boom “The Hiding Place” and Brother Andrew “God’s Smuggler 
 Biographies are a great way of absorbing truth and these two (both by Dutch writers) are brilliant. 
Second Course
1. JI Packer “Knowing God.” 
What’s the bible‘s teaching about God and our relationship to him? 
2. RC Sproul “The Holiness of God”. 
What’s God like? What does a “holy” God mean? 
3. CH Spurgeon “Morning and Evening”.
 Devotional thoughts from the Bible 
4. John Stott “The Cross of Christ”. 
The cross is the centre of the Christian faith and this book explains it so well. 
5. JC Ryle: “Holiness”. 
How to live as a Christian. So practical and so easy to read: yet so challenging. 
6. Martyn Lloyd Jones “Studies in the sermon on the Mount “ 
This is perhaps the most studied yet least understood passage in the Bible. 
7. Either (or both) Amy Orr-Ewing “Why Trust the Bible” and Pete Williams “Can we Trust the Gospels”. 
This is the central attack today on Christianity and these books explain why it is trustworthy. 
8. John Lennox “Has science buried God?”
 Another key question we need to face 
9. Tim Keller “Reason for God” 
Why being a Christian makes sense 
10. Rico Tice “Honest Evangelism”
How can we share our faith? 
11. Sinclair Ferguson “The Whole Christ”
What does it mean to be united with Christ? 
12. Thomas Boston “The Crook in the Lot” 
An 18th C classic on how to deal with suffering. 
13. Rebecca MacLaughlin “Confronting Christianity” 
A great book to give to the sceptic  
14. Biography: Jonathan Aitken “John Newton” 
An amazing and true story of a slaver who ended up being a central figure in anti-slavery and one of the greatest preachers of the 18thC 
15. Ravi Zacharias:  “Jesus amongst other Gods”. 
What does the Lord have to say to us in our Pluralistic and multi faith world? 
Third course 
I’m conscious here that as a non-pastor non-specialist non-theologian I’m out of my depth. There are many many books one could suggest but it’s first of all  high time for some classics 
1. Augustine “Confessions”. 
A book like no other: the story of a young man coming to faith: written 1700 years ago reads as if it was written yesterday 
2. Augustine “City of God” 
This points the way forward to our heavenly home. Possibly the most important Christian book of all time. 
3. Calvin “institutes of the Christian religion”.
 One of the two most famous books of the Protestant Reformation. Make sure you get a good modern translation. An overview of Christian belief. 
4. Luther “The Bondage of the Will” 
Here is the other equally famous theological work from the Reformation: why we cannot save ourselves 
5. Puritan writers. Others are better placed than me to recommend where to start In detail  reading these giants of the past, but here are some good ideas https://www.beautifulchristianlife.com/blog/10-must-read-books-by-the-puritans-for-christians-today
The Banner of Truth is the “go to” place for these classics. 
6. A systematic theology. 
Others are far better qualified than me to recommend,  but of the modern ones I have particularly enjoyed and found (fairly!) easy to read I suggest Grudem and Letham. Berkhof is slightly older and good. Bavinck is for the ambitious. You can I have found with profit read a ST from cover to cover but maybe not in one go! 
7. JI Packer “Keep in Step with the Spirit”
 In my view a balanced overview of the nature and work of the Holy Spirit. 
8. Pascal “Pensees” 
As with Augustine some of these could have been written yesterday. A profound thinker from the C17th.  
9. Carson and Moo “Overview of the New Testament”. 
What is the NT about and how is is written? 
10. Biography: Iain Murray on Martyn Lloyd Jones (either two-volume or shorter one-volume  combined work) 
The leading figure of the 20th C (with Stott) in U.K. evangelicalism 
11. NT Wright “The Resurrection of the Son of God” 
While Wright has his evangelical critics, especially on justification, this is the “go to “ book on the resurrection. 
12. John Murray: “Redemption Accomplished and Applied” 
How are we saved? What does the atonement mean to us? (Or could choose “From heaven he came and sought her” edited by Gibson and Gibson, which covers some of the same ground) 
13. Francis Schaeffer: 
A major writer of the 20thC on apologetics and philosophy: I would recommend the published trilogy of perhaps his best books : “The God who is there” “Escape from reason” and “He is there and he is not silent”
14.  Something on church history there are many but I suggest Justo Gonzalez “A History of Christianity”. Nick Needham 2000 years of Christ’s Power is also very good. 

Categories: Friends

"Evangelism uber Alles" Round 2.

Mon, 20/07/2020 - 13:09
My dear father used to preach lengthy sermons on the many dangers and errors of the Charismatic Movement. The good folk of his church would nod in agreement and shake their head at his horror stories of the excesses of the Toronto blessing. 

Afterward (provocatively being a teenager) I used to ask him “do you think the danger faced by reformed churches is too much emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit or too little”? Often in fairness, he would (which was I think very unusual and showed his openness to discussion and tolerance of his irritating teenaged son) allow an open debate about this amongst the many people who came in after church to the manse for coffee and cake.

My good friend Steve Kneale has followed up his article “Evangelism Uber Alles” with a second article on the same theme.  I always look forward (I would even say eagerly!) to reading his excellent blogs which are well written and thought-provoking if occasionally provocative. And nothing wrong with that: it would be a dull world if we all agreed on everything. Steve makes you think which is great.

There are a number of things which are very helpful. Steve insists that he didn’t mean and was misunderstood or misquoted (by me I’m sure he meant amongst others ) to have said or implied that  “some people are doing too much evangelism”. That’s not the case. Great.

He explains in more detail that there are places (unspecified but I appreciate he doesn’t want to start getting personal) who “insist that evangelism is the only priority of the church...that the only task is to share the gospel..their services are geared to unbelievers...and any discipleship that takes place centres around what is perceived to be the only task of the church... the church is for reaching the lost and no more”. He points out which I entirely agree with that we are called to “follow him and be faithful to what he asks of us in all areas”. Evangelism without discipleship is unbalanced and unbiblical. We must follow all the commands of Jesus. 

Fully agree.

I am left though with a feeling that something puzzles me in the good "Dr. Kneale's" diagnosis of the disease. It’s if you like that such an illness does exist but that personally, I have never seen it. Steve is insistent that this is a very common occurrence “plenty of churches take this view (that evangelism is the only priority)”. But strangely I have never seen it. Not once. Now Oldham is different from Sevenoaks and one of the fascinating things about the evangelical world is how richly varied it is. But I do spend a lot of time in a huge range of evangelical churches and I have honestly never met a church remotely like that. Not one.  Even more so with the good folk who read EN: I would be amazed if there was such a church whose members regularly read that excellent paper.

The danger I see in our Conservative evangelical churches is rather the exact opposite one:  - which in fairness Steve articulates briefly -  “they (such churches) see no need for evangelism: we just preach the word we insist and He will do the rest”.

So I am puzzled by such a difference in perception. Such is life and this is why it’s always so interesting to read Steve’s wonderful blog as he brings such a fresh and stimulating perspective. We must leave it there I guess short of objective market research as we obviously must move in very different circles. Maybe Oldham and its surrounding environs are peppered with solid bible teaching evangelical churches who behave like this? 

But of this I’m 100% convinced from my experience: that warning the good folk who read EN about prioritization of “evangelism Uber Alles” Is in the same line as my dear father's warnings on the excesses of the Charismatic Movement. In other words that such a danger exists but it’s not the one we face and we face the opposite danger

The danger for conservative evangelicals I believe is precisely on the other side of the warning: giving evangelism too low a priority, not to high. I don't think that's because any such churches don't know or ignore the commands of Jesus. Our churches know their bible and are well taught by faithful pastors.

I suspect it is because we know and try but struggle understandably to carry out that command. We know we should obey it but we don't know how to obey it. So we are tempted to give up. i want to encourage us not to do that.  
Categories: Friends

Funeral eulogy for my father, September 2003.

Sat, 18/07/2020 - 18:12


Many thanks to Andy Murray, the son of my father's biographer, John J Murray. His father recently went to be with the Lord and Andy very thoughtfully sent me all the papers his father used in preparing the book. Among them was my eulogy from September 2003. 

----------------------------------------------------------

Dad's first name was John. There is another John in the Bible, John the evangelist. In his youth, he and his brother were known as "Sons of Thunder", men of strength, leadership, and action. Dad was all of those things. But in his old age, John the evangelist was known as the "Apostle of love". Dad to us all in the family was above all a loving wonderful father. That love came to him, as to his namesake, from God. In John's gospel, we read  "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."

Dad loved his family

Hi family was strongly Christian, loyal and tight-knit, and loving. Dad was born to Joseph William and Amy Loveday Marshall on 18th November 1932. He was brought up with his brother David - also a minister - and his sister Margaret whom we are very glad is here today. From Chingford, where he grew up during the Blitz, he went to national service in the Royal Artillery and to Balliol College Oxford, where he read PPE. He was a highly successful oarsman, including being stroke of the Head of the River Boat. After Balliol, he then read Theology at Mansfield College. More importantly, Oxford was where he met Mum: or to be accurate they met in Plymouth where they were both on a mission with OICCU.  Mum was taken aback when this newcomer, who hadn't bothered to take any of the training courses, started adding material (three points even!) to the perfectly good answer given by the missioner to a question. 

Dad was a loving and caring husband to Mum his entire life. It was literally a "marriage made in heaven" as God it seems to me had designed the two to be together, for they were utterly complementary

Dad was arts, Mum science
Dad was the man at the front, on the stage, Mum supporting him ceaselessly behind the scenes
Dad was pessimistic, Mum optimistic
Dad was slow to make up his mind but utterly (indeed infuriatingly!) immovable once decided. Mum was quick to think and to speak. 
Dad could be reserved while Mum was gregarious. 

It was a wonderful heaven made partnership. Their marriage was 41 extremely happy years. I can honestly say I never heard an angry word.

Dad was extremely protective of Mum - truly like Matthew Henry's comment on Eve's creation which Dad liked to quote "Eve was made not from Adam's head to rule over him, nor from his feet to be trodden down by him, but from under his arm so that he could protect her, and close to his heart to be loved."

They were truly devoted to each other and loved one another's company. Everyday rain or shine they would go for what Dad called "their geriatric stroll" in Gadebridge Park. Dad always valued Mum's opinion and recognized what a great friend and "helpmeet" she was. Mum was equally devoted to Dad, both in sickness and in health. 

Dad was a loving father

His love was unconditional. It was always there no matter what. Dad always had time for his children, even though he was a busy man. The phrase I most associate with him was "the number you are calling knows you are waiting" which was the phrase BT used if your call was engaged in those antique times.  Once you eventually got through you could talk to him about anything. He was never too busy, but always deeply interested in others and what you were doing. 

Dad was a man with strong biblical principles who based his whole life on the Word of God. For example the often quoted "Let not the sun go down on your wrath" meant that we never went to bed without having a dispute or a quarrel (of which there were not a few!) resolved. Dad "trained us up in the way that we should go" but always respected his children's freedom of speech and freedom of belief. "Arguing is the respect the young pay to the old". The Marshall family was built on arguments, but these were loving arguments where Dad let us debate with him and say what we liked as he loved us and wanted to win our hearts and minds. Finally, at all times he was intensely loyal and supportive of the family - "clannish" one might almost say

Dad was a loving grandfather. One of my abiding memories is of him surrounded by his grandchildren watching that classic "Gunga Din" and all cheering together as the British Army arrives just in time over the hill to rescue our beleaguered heroes. Time doesn't allow me to cover other aspects of his character but just to mention a few:-

He loved naughty boys as he once was one

He loved old ladies especially if they plied him with cakes, and best of all with cream-filled meringues.  

He loved his country - GREAT (bold and underlined) Britain and as Iain Murray said he could have been a sea captain under Drake or a Cavalry Colonel under Cromwell

He had a special love and care for those on the outside. I think for example for his support and encouragement for black pastors in London such as Tom Tuitt in Hackney, experiencing racial discrimination.  

He loved gardening and all things green. He used to embarrass us as children by stopping on the hard shoulder of the motorway and then sprinting up the embankment to plant daffodils,  wildflowers and trees. Once a dear brother in the church was on the M25 and he saw Dads car (a Volvo of course) stopped on the hard shoulder. He pulled over next to him but to his surprise found the car empty. Where was John? Looking up the bank he could eventually see Dad crouching down among some bushes "Oh dear" he thought "He must be ill". He called out "are you all right John" to which he got the cheerful reply "Oh yes don't worry I'm just planting some trees". You can still see the results in spring on the M25 near Potters Bar.

Dad loved education and the pursuit of knowledge and this was reflected in how he and Mum bought up their children. He felt there is always more to learn. 

Dad loved his work 

Dad did not want to become a Christian, even though he always believed the Bible to be true. He refused to bow the knee to God, as he did not want to become a minister, which he felt was the calling to which God was summoning him. He would rather go to hell than become a minister. 

He did not want to go to Hemel Hempstead and he certainly did not plan to spend his entire life there. It was a church with absolutely no evangelical tradition. If God hadn't sent him here the building we are in would certainly have been demolished or converted into flats 30 years ago. The reason I am sure of this is that this was exactly what happened with the other church which Dad jointly pastored when he came here, Box Lane Congregational Church.  Dad at times, especially in the first half of his nearly 50 years here, had considerable challenges and considered resigning. Someone once asked him about this and if he had ever thought about quitting, to which he answered: "Yes, once a month for 30 years!"

Despite this constant opposition and challenges, he stayed here because as a good soldier he felt that was where God wanted him to stay. Or to use another biblical analogy, Dad was an ambassador for God and his job was to recommend the KIng of his heavenly country, the Lord Jesus. God must love Hemel Hempstead very much to put one of his best ambassadors here. 

Dad also stayed as he loved the people here. He was a wonderful pastor. The front room of the manse often resembled a GP's waiting room as assorted "patients" waited for the Doctor. One of the last things Dad ever said to me was "Im not worried about the church": this was a very unusual statement as Dad nearly always worried about everything.  The reason he didn't worry was partly the confidence he had in the wonderful eldership (Colin and Les) and diaconate but much more because ultimately it is not Dad's church but God's "and the gates of hell will not prevail against it".

I would like to talk about his wider Christian work. As many of you know, Dad had a great love of things military and naval and one of the favourite pieces of Britsih history he loved to talk and read about was Dunkirk. Any beleaguered, small, struggling pastor or cause with its back to the sea and hard-pressed and seemingly surrounded on all sides by the hosts of darkness, only had to call Dad and he would be on his way, like the captain of a little ship in 1940. He had a tremendous ministry of encouragement to pastors as he himself knew what Dunkirk experiences could be like. If you follow the image of Dad as a buccaneering sea captain then the ship can have no other name than "HMS (that's 'His Majestys Ship' ) Indomitable". For such he was - indomitable, unbeatable, great-hearted. 

But he also commanded a different kind of ship, and that was a lifeboat. Dad wanted to reach others and win them over for his Lord Jesus. So every other Saturday for well over 30 years, without fail, Dad would push out the lifeboat of the gospel in the open air, however fierce the waves of opposition as he preached the good news of the forgiveness of sins, of a way home to God, in Hemel Hempstead market and Trafalgar Square.

Time doesn't allow me to cover all the many other interests that Dad encouraged and led. Two must be mentioned. Firstly his work in Eastern Europe. in July 1974, Dad packed up an Austin 1800 (one of British Leyland's most unreliable products) with a tent, masses of cans of beef stew, Bibles, lots of money to be given away, and finally his wife and four children aged 1-11, and pointed HMS Indomitable east. in the next seven years he visited many churches in Eastern Europe, survived many searches and interrogations by border police, and brought much needed spiritual and practical support to small groups of persecuted Christians.

Secondly, the Banner of Truth. Dad loved being a trustee and poured his energy into promoting its work, especially its international work. He loved the Puritans and was himself a living personification of those Grand Old Men of God, showing that the Puritan spirit was spiritual but also generous, compassionate, warm-hearted with a wonderful sense of humour and joie de vivre.     

Dad's indomitable character made him very reluctant to retire. In one of his last sermons, he complained that "some people" (ie me) "have suggested i should retire and seek a wider ministry: I don't want to retire". He felt he was called to preach and that he never felt God wanted him to retire. Now we can understand that God planned things and summoned him so he could "die in harness" as he would have wanted.

Dad loved the Lord Jesus

Many people have written with various names for Dad from 'Pilgrims Progress':- Mr Holdfast, Mr Greatheart, Mr Valiant for Truth and Mr Standfast. I would like to give you a new name from the same vein. Dad loved illustrations in his preaching. I think the one I remember hearing the most often concerns an old lady in the church, Miss Vercoe. There is a memorial to her brother who was killed in World War I over there on the wall. Miss Vercoe did not know the Lord Jesus when Dad came here, but through her preaching, she came to know him as her Saviour. When she was dying in great pain in hospital Dad went to visit her. She told him "Oh, Mr Marshall, I had a wonderful dream. I dreamt I was in heaven and I was surrounded by thousands and thousands of people. There in the midst of us was the Lord Jesus and we were all singing "Stand up, Stand up for Jesus'. "

That is a wonderful name for Dad - "Mr Stand up for Jesus". There was one old lady who never knew Jesus and his ambassador in Hemel told her about him and won her over to him and now she is with him. Here no doubt in this church are many who never knew the Lord Jesus until Dad told them about him. Whenever and whatever the summons was from heaven, Dad would willingly volunteer to "stand up for Jesus". 
Dad loved and spent his entire life serving the Lord Jesus. Always the Lord Jesus. And would this same Lord ignore the servant who had been so faithfully his ambassador, his sea captain and his lifeboatman? Absolutely not! As Dad lay dying in his hospital bed we asked Ian Hamilton who was with us  "Does God send his angels to fetch his children to him?"

"Oh no," said Ian " When its important family business the Lord Jesus comes himself". I am absolutely sure that as i sat holding Dads hand at just before midnight on the 29th August (2003) the Lord Jesus himself came and called home his faithful servant. That when dad could no longer be Mr Stand Up for Jesus in his illness, as he couldn't stand, that the Lord Jesus himself came and carried him to be with him. 

It wasn't that Dad was a naturally religious or holy person, and in some ways, he was quite the opposite. Like all of us, he had his faults. Rather it was that God reached out in great love and mercy and lived in Dad both in life and death. That same wonderful offer of God's forgiveness for sins and invitation to come home to him, which Dad spoke about, is also freely offered to us today. The faith that supported Dad in his last illness can also be ours. He knew what was ahead and that the only person he could lean on was the Lord Jesus, who would never leave him or forsake him. He was right. Each one of us here today will have to die as Dad did. I pray that for each of us in our dying breath the same thing will happen - that Jesus will come for us.  The Lord Jesus himself speaks personally to each person here today and offers the same wonderful message of forgiveness and reconciliation with God so that we too can stand with Dad and billions of others in heaven and sing "Stand up stand up for Jesus".

Dads whole life was built on the love that the Lord Jesus had, not just for him but also for all of us if we place our trust in God. As John said, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." Dad was an ambassador and ambassadors represent and in a way should typify their countries. If in Dad you ever saw anything you liked, loved or admired, he would want you to look through him to the God who gave him those qualities. Certainly, the love that Dad had for us his children - strong, compassionate, selfless, loyal, speaks to my sisters and I of the love that the Heavenly Father has for us.

Finally, let me leave the last words to Dad himself. For his words, we have by Gods grace. You see, Dad's last newsletter to his church was prophetic. Dad wrote it about a dear friend of his, Ian Childs, who was dying of cancer. Although the words were written about Ian, by God's grace I believe Dad was also writing them about himself. I quote them 

Firstly, he reflects on deaths seriousness. "It is a most solemn thing to sit beside  a man whom one has known in the full vigour of health and usefulness and now his voice is weak, his countenance ashen and he stands at the very gate of eternity...for the Christian, the way to death is not always easy, nor for the Christian minister is the way to death always easy...we may reflect on the terrible predicament of those whose bodies decay and yet themselves have no glorious Saviour to lead them up to the gates of death"

Secondly, he speaks of the Lord "Let us reflect on the glories of our Saviour who never leaves us or forsakes us "Jesus loves me, loves me still when I'm very weak and ill". How glorious is the Christian religion. To know that not a hair falls from our head, nothing shall happen to us, outside his divine purpose. How good as his family and friends looked upon their dying husband, father, pastor that he was 'safe in the arms of Jesus'

Dda loved his family, he loved his wife, he loved their children and their spouses, he loved his grandchildren, he loved us his church and he loved his work, but most of all he was loved by and loved the Lord Jesus. And its on the mighty and everlasting promises of the Lord that we, his family, take our stand and on which I end Here is his promise, recorded by John the evangelist. "Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die."

Categories: Friends

Book Review: Who Chose the Gospels? by CE Hill (OUP 2010)

Mon, 06/07/2020 - 10:15


The idea that the four gospels we have were imposed in a rich diversity of “gospels” by an autocratic church establishment in the fourth century is a staple of popular mythology, notably perhaps the single most unreliable historical novel ever written, the “Da Vinci Code”.

This book takes a careful and analytical look at the question “who chose the gospels?”. It is not a new book but I found it because it’s one of the books recommended in Dr Pete Williams excellent book “can we trust the gospels?” I have read the others he recommends as well and you can read my review of Lydia Mcgrew's book here https://jsjmarshall.blogspot.com/2019/02/book-review-hidden-in-plain-view.html

Hill is very readable on what is quite a technical subject. He points out that Egypt where most “gospels “ were found was the centre of Gnosticism. Making this typical of the early church would be like excavating Utah in a thousand years and declaring that in America the Book of Mormon was as equally valued as the Bible. Many of the “gospels “ date from far later than the four we know and are clearly mythical in character.  Not all of them are heterodox many in fact we’re written by orthodox Christians as an attempt to fill in the gaps in Jesus life. Particularly in Jesus’s early life which was important as many Gnostics were not monotheistic and claimed that Jesus was inhabited at his baptism by the spirit of God (similar to what some sects believe today). This pious fiction (often aimed at children) about Jesus miracles as a child attempted to rebut such views. Some of the “gospels” are blends of the canonical ones with things added or subtracted. Only a minority are outright gnostic and it’s obvious which they are. Iranaeus states the obvious “The ‘Gospel of Truth’ agrees in nothing with the Gospels of the apostles. Not least as they “assume a plurality of Gods with the creator God at the bottom of the hierarchy as the one who had made Gnostic reclamation necessary by his dreadful cosmic blunder”

A central obstacle to the “church imposition” is the Famous declaration by this Iranaeus the bishop of Lyon in the second half of the second century that there are four and only four gospels. He was refuting heretics who denied not only the divinity of Jesus but monotheism and the entire Old Testament. Now the critics of the orthodox position then say Iranaeus was the forerunner of the dictators to come. Most churches had a multiplicity of gospels. But Hill Painstakingly shows by looking at Clement, Serapion, Theophilus, the Muratorian Fragment, and others that the fourfold canon was secure in the church by the end of the second century, in a variety of places and churches. “The four gospels were not foisted in them by Iranaeus or anyone else but has been passed on to them from their forebears in their local community”.

Hill next goes backward from around 200 to look at gospel harmonies (attempts to synthesize the four gospels into one book), apologetics material from people such as Justin Martyr, and from printed evidence. At an early stage, the church switched away from scrolls to something called a codex, the ancestor of the book. In all these media pretty much the only four gospels used and quoted are the ones we know.

In summary, I found this book highly readable and although it cites many academic studies it’s very accessible to the interested reader.  The reliability and selection of the four gospels is under attack then as now from people without the church (which shouldn’t surprise us) and within (which is so sad). This book equips orthodox Christians to understand how we ended up with four. Far from being a late imposition, it was an early recognition of the four gospels handed down from the apostolic church.
Categories: Friends

Guest Blog: ‘The Great Unmentionable’ : The Generosity Project (Matthias Media/Good Book May 2020 by Bri Glenn

Fri, 03/07/2020 - 11:00

The Generosity ProjectThis time six months ago I was working in marketing for one of the world’s largest retail operators. An industry that survives on the materialistic mindset of our generation, and my primary job in it all was to try and get people to buy more ‘stuff’ than they really need. It certainly had its perks, but after 13 years it had begun to grate against my values, to the point where it was time for a change. Fast forward to July 2020 and I’m now working in the world of promoting biblical generosity. You perhaps couldn’t get two worlds more polarised. Whilst a Christian for over 20 years, my main discussions of money were over spreadsheets, building budgets, and setting salaries. I had never really talked much about money with my Christian friends or family, and certainly hadn’t thought too much about life generosity. But why? Why is it that we so often shy away from talking about money and giving when the Bible is simply not afraid of teaching about it? Why is it so awkward? How can we get to the point where we can openly discuss biblical generosity and giving in a way that’s relaxed, honest, and practical? Enter The Generosity Project. I first started reading The Generosity Project, in the final draft, on a PDF, as the resource was headed to the printer in the midst of a global pandemic. Whilst written primarily for small groups, I read it alone, in one sitting, utterly convicted and deeply encouraged, with a renewed understanding of God’s generosity towards me, and a realization that my heart was more aligned to the world than that of God’s purposes. The conviction underlying The Generosity Project is that the culture of generosity is weak in British, Australian, and even some North American churches. We don’t talk about it and we aren’t excited about it. We hear about being a joyful giver, but how do we get to that point where we gladly part with our resources for the sake of the gospel? It is a problem we can and should address— and not just to improve the bottom line of our church budgets. Generosity is a basic fruit of the godly Christian life. It is a glad and joyful response to the grace of God in the gospel. If generosity is weak, then something is weak in the spiritual heart of God’s people. In a nutshell, The Generosity Project is a new six-part teaching resource that stands at the centre of a larger strategy to shift the culture of generosity in our congregations and parachurch ministries. It’s an integrated resource that prayerfully applies the word of God to people’s hearts so that, by God’s power and grace, we might arrive at an obedient and clarified understanding of what generosity is and how it grows; a renewed, generous heart that longs to give to others; and a fresh language for talking about generosity within our congregations. Authored by Tony Payne and Geoff Robson, with contributions from leading Bible teachers including John Stevens (National Director of FIEC), Vaughan Roberts (St Ebbe’s, Oxford) and Jason Roach (The Bridge), The Generosity Project shares a framework of thinking that explores what generosity is; what hinders or blocks it; what facilitates and grows it, and what it means practically for God’s people to reflect his generosity. It models what a culture of generous, joyful giving could mean within churches and Christian organisations, as well as nurturing individual convictions about the joy to be had in giving. I may be biased but I must confess it’s a brilliant, biblically-based resource that comes highly commended by many church and ministry leaders across the country. My hope and prayer is that many will be deeply challenged and encouraged by what the Bible teaches on generosity and giving and not be afraid to talk about it. As Christians, our vision needs to be widened and deepened, starting with a more profound appreciation of God’s generosity to us in Jesus. 
Find out more at https://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/the-generosity-projectAvailable now via 10ofthose.com and The Good Book Company 
Categories: Friends

David Ide 1935-2020 a tribute

Sun, 28/06/2020 - 11:52


About 10 years ago my friend Julian Ide said “I’d like to introduce you to my father, I think you’d get on”. It was one of the best introductions I ever had for David and I got on like the proverbial house on fire. I ended up taking over from him as Chairman of the two charities he founded. David reminded me in some ways of my father (and as I shall explain they were connected). 


David went without warning to be with the Lord on Friday 12th June and this is a personal tribute to a dear brother and a friend 
David Ide was born in 1935 into difficult family situation, he mainly grew up with an absent father though amazingly enough David himself became a father figure to many . Family friends notably the neighbouring family the Snellers helped take care of David. 
David’s family were Exclusive Brethren. As a young man he and a number of others left, and that inflicted painful wounds which lasted all his life. Many people going though that found their faith  damaged or destroyed, but David’s faith was resilient and these troubled early experiences created a warmth and deep humanity about his life. Nothing was too much trouble and he was loving, kind and compassionate  to all and especially those labouring with the difficulties of life,  as I was to find out myself. 
David made his career in building, via his father who had an existing business. For a while  David's office was a Rolls Royce, in which he  used to dictate memos to his secretary. Over time David became more interested in Christian work mainly through his church in East Horsley, Surrey. David was an elder here and was such a help to many, as Roy Proctor and others have said. He was very influenced in his enthusiasm for evangelism by the then pastor, Paul Bassett. 
David met his wife Marion in the brethren, they had  two children, Julian and Joanne and many grandchildren of which David was incredibly proud. Every time we met up he would regale me with their latest escapades. David was devoted to Marion, who passed  away about 5 years ago and was such an encouragement to him, especially in her support for his travelling in Eastern Europe. They lived in a beautiful  converted stables for about 60 years. Christian board meetings were therefore often held (appropriately enough!) in a  stable, which came  complete with a pipe organ and a grand piano (Marion was a fine musician). These meetings were provided with slap up breakfasts with the finest food served on bone china! The home was also used for wonderful hospitality to visiting international students. David was very involved in setting up Friends International in Guildford and he and Marion entertained up to a 100 students at a time at their home.  One Chinese student kept  up correspondence over the years.  In the last few years as a retired government official he finally advised David and Marion that he was now attending a church in Bejing.
Davids enthusiasm and energy for Christian work was boundless. David started taking an interest in Eastern Europe even before the end of communism. As with my father this led to some “buccaneering” visits. On one occasion David took £20,000 in cash with him for humanitarian aid and was detained at the airport in Kiev for many hours. The officials  accused him of being a spy and David after being cross-questioned eventually in  exasperation said “yes I am “ and the policemen laughed, and let him go.
David was involved all over Eastern Europe, visiting Serbia with me many times to help set up a seminary there and also deeply involved in Macedonia. Many of his activities were also linked with a church in Mallorca which was a great retreat for him after the loss of Marion. David was an honorary elder at the church in Palma.  Years ago he was caught in the middle of a furious argument.  He suggested that they all took a break for 5 minutes to calm down.  While the others left the room the one local left said to David: "Would you care for a cigarette?"  This was the only time he said, he had such an offer in an elders' meeting: not quite in line with his strict Brethren upbringing! 
He was particularly passionate about Ukraine which he visited nearly 100 times, his energy and enthusiasm undimmed even at 85! What an example! David would typically on his visits, which lasted for three weeks,   travel for over 4000 km, preaching every single day especially in villages and more out of the way places. David was a wonderful warm hearted preacher and evangelist.  Amazingly enough David was determined in his gospel enthusiasm to visit the front lines of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine -which is still ongoing. David was appointed an honorary chaplain to the Ukrainian Army to enable him to visit and regularly went to the front line to preach and heard shells sailing over head.  Sometimes the two sides would arrange a cease fire while he preached. On one occasion the rebels sent a message saying they knew he was there at the front line, but wouldn’t  fire. Often there was a great spiritual  hunger. At one service such was the power of God that the English pastor accompanying him finally had to say “Stop, David, stop preaching, just  let the Holy Spirit do the work”. 
Another time David was driving with the same pastor and they saw a lady sitting on a doorstep in front of her house in the middle of nowhere, and as they drove  past they both felt they directed by the Spirit that should stop, go back and talk to her. They turned the car around and did so and soon enough a mini impromptu  preaching meeting was taking place. On another occasion a lady came up to David in church and said “do you remember me ?” David had to confess he didn’t, at which she told him she had come drunk to his preaching 7 years before and badly  disrupted the service only to through that event eventually  come to faith .
A Ukrainian friend of David, Svetlana,  writes “When the Crisis began in Ukraine in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, many needs appeared - assistance to refugees, orphans and low-income people. Doors were opened for preaching in : boarding schools, a hospital for war veterans in Kharkov,  educational institutions, the centre for social services for families, children and youth. Also, more people began to come to church to receive help, and many of them opened their hearts to listen to the gospel. David supported the work of the prison mission and the rehabilitation centre for alcoholics and drug addicts. The support of local churches was a special ministry of Brother David. He helped financially and in conducting summer camps for the disabled and children. It is simply amazing how much work was done with the participation of David. He was a special vessel of God and joyfully did what the Lord called him to do. Where David was, life was always "in full swing." He loved people and immediately became “an insider” for his listeners in a variety of places - both for children and adults. He was deeply dedicated to God and at the same time was simple, unpretentious, with a good sense of humour, open to everything new and good.“

Another friend of David, Ruslan Antonov, writes  "I know this title may sound a little unusual for believers in England - Pastor David Ide - but for believers in Ukraine it became a common title to address Brother David. When Brother David started to come to villages of Chudniv and the other districts of Zhitomir region he preached the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ with passion and tears, inviting people to repentance. We recognized a strong gift of evangelism in him as well as spiritual leadership and care. So we decided to ordain Brother David as a pastor. Another pastor adds "David took an active part in my family life and trials. When our oldest son was born with severe disabilities he prayed over him and comforted me and my wife, he prayed a prayer of blessing in our family house. He called us from England, prayed for our family. He was a very positive and optimistic Christian man. He glorified God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in his sermons and it really inspired and built up the saints. "

Back to Ruslan to summarise "Pastor David  had a vision and strategy on how to involve young brothers to the ministry and to work with the older generation. By his own example, he led us to deeper dedication to God and His people. He helped to continue the ministry when we faced difficulties, problems, and frustrations. He was an example of Christian activity, punctuality, leadership, and care.  I would sum our memories and appreciation up with the words of apostle Paul "I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me." It could be fairly applied to our dear Brother and Pastor David!
Space simply doesn’t allow me to cover all the many Christian activities David was involved in. He helped EMF over many years. He  started three different Christian publishing houses in the Ukraine, Germany and Spain, guiding them in their set up and finance. They are all going strong and each of them have produced hundreds of different books. Recently with the help of our dear sister Ksusha (pictured above), David arranged very large scale translations and publishing of both Life Explored and The Word 121 into the Ukrainian language. she wries " David’s dream was to pass the torch to the new generation, he always valued the time, he knew that this was one of his final chapters. David preached a lot of evangelistic sermons, sharing the message of Hope and Love, his favourite illustration was the Royal Gates, how amazing it would be in Heaven with Jesus Christ for those who believe in Him, and how sad it would be to be found on the other side of the gates. With the help of the Word121 and the Christianity Explored we are able to train local Churches to do effectively the evangelism and follow up programs with a total of over 50000 books printed. The opportunities are mind boggling, Ukraine needs Jesus today as never before. I would say that David was willing to "build a way" to the neediest, you can’t even imagine how bad Ukrainian roads are in the regions, but he was willing to go by potholed roads in order to build a bridge to the broken, searching hearts so that Jesus Christ could walk over it and stay forever as their Lord. David was the best "eternity focused project manager" you could imagine, we miss him a lot. The torch that he passed will continue to shine bright in  Ukraine. "


Apart from Ukraine perhaps David’s most important contribution was to found and lead  two “sister” organisations - PTI and CBW. David was originally approached by people who wanted to help train pastors in the majority world. David “fathered” the idea forwarded to birth as a new charity PTI  in 2002, using a mixture  of business people and pastors to get the new charity operational. David was the chairman and provided inspirational leadership. It now under the leadership of Simon Percy provides training throughout the majority world.  Simon comments "I like many others was struck by his father like approach and am very much indebted to David for his support, encouragement and boundless enthsiasm."
As PTI grew the demands for books grew so in a similar way David had a second “child”- CBW, with the other “midwife” being Mike Taylor. David was also chairman of CBW and again humanly speaking with his godly wisdom and drive this also flourished.  From his love of reformed evangelical literature David had a passion to give poor pastors overseas the treasures from which we benefit.  (His passion extended to his hobby to buy rare volumes and first editions. He had his library at Dunsfold built with double depth, so he could make it look as if he had got rid of half his library.)   His passion and strong sense of professionalism made him insist on translations being edited and checked after translation.  CBW was able under his direction to extend into over 30 countries with simple books made available freely to untrained pastors in their heart language.  Added to this work was the distribution of second hand  English books obtained from retiring or promoted to glory pastors here in the UK.  The number of books distributed by these means has nearly reached 700,000.  David's own library has been donated to CBW for distribution or sale.  He was also fully behind the recent major efforts of CBW to develop e books and I’m sad that he never saw its full implementation.
One could see he loved books when visiting his home, as his desk and coffee table were always stacked with volumes he was re-reading or hoping to read. Through his brothers in law Mervyn and Ian Barter, David had great contacts at the Banner of Truth and other Christian publishing houses and he was so grateful (as am I) for all the publishers' ongoing support for the majority world. 
David was as well as a preacher and Christian entrepreneur a larger than  life character. He loved motor racing and was fascinated by not only cars, but also by tanks and aircraft engines. His family had a motor yard where PTI started. Tanks would be hired out (working or not) to many war films. David loved driving and buying vintage cars.  He noted recently with chagrin that he could have bought a vintage Rolls 40 years ago and only failed as he  lacked £100 to close the deal, the car recently sold for over £1m. He even sold a Merlin aircraft engine to a friend who put it into his Rolls Royce. As with Christian matters David’s enthusiasm was infectious. A friend of David’s turned up late on a summer evening when his son Julian was about 7 in a powerful sports car.  David woke Julian up from his bed (to Marion's displeasure) to take him out for a spin, thus giving Julian a lifelong taste for speed! 

What was David like? For many including me he was like a second father. He was says Mike Taylor “Steadfast and righteous in the best sense of the word...he loved the Bible which pervaded his life and which he used as a principle for everything. Everything had to be thoroughly and efficiently done..a man of the highest integrity.“
David was for me always so encouraging and supportive  and always getting alongside people to listen to them and help them achieve more than they realised they could. David was in appearance the epitome of an English gentleman: always very smartly dressed in a dapper suit and armed with his trademark bow tie. Something that as with my father no doubt helped in encounters with bemused Soviet era officialdom who were surprised to find these eccentric immaculately dressed English gentleman wandering around the USSR! 
David like his Lord  was full of kindness and compassion, especially for those at the bottom of the pecking order. He was for example passionate about helping the Roma community throughout Eastern Europe, as well as in the UK. He was also wise and a peace maker. Sometimes Christians can be very annoying, self righteous  and opinionated (though f course I am very agreeable, humble and biddable!) and David was so good and wise at pouring oil on troubled waters. 
We mourn with David’s dear family: we are very grateful for all that with Gods help we experienced from him:  we look forward to seeing him again. “Jesus said I am the resurrection and I am the life”
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Categories: Friends

Devotion 20: Death of Death

Fri, 26/06/2020 - 09:58
Death of Death26th June 2020Audio: We opened this series with three intruders: fear, suffering and death breaking into our "house". One of them of course, death, is inescapable and is going to "get" us sooner or later. Death is the last enemy and it is a terrible enemy. But friends, we have hope for we have one who has conquered death! "Christ being raised from the dead will never die again: death has no dominion over him" (Romans 6:9). Ah, friends - and this is glorious - for there is more - for he has dominion over death "I am the Living One: I was dead and now look I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades" (Revelation 1:18). To have the keys to something like a house or a car is to own it. Yes, the Lord owns death and hell. And what will he do with it?  He will destroy it. This is foretold in Isaiah "On this mountain, he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations: he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces". This is going to happen: "Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14).  So the end is sure - but in the meantime how do we face the last enemy?  Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a famous Welsh preacher of the last century and he said this "We all have to die - that is a fact, it is common sense. But where does Christianity come in? The Christian is not afraid of death because he has the assurance that he will not be left alone.” Then he focused on the parable of Dives and Lazarus, and on the verse "And the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom".  The angels (he said) came! "I believe in the ministry of angels and think of it more and more. Death is not parting only, but more, it is meeting, and though it is an experience we have never passed through we have the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ and that at death we will meet with Him."   He spoke of an old man; Lloyd-Jones was at his death-bed, and the man was at the extremity of life and suddenly he threw up his arms and his face shone, and he was already meeting the Lord before he had gone."We are going to be with Christ... Our greatest trouble is that we really don't believe the Bible... exactly what it says - exceeding great and precious promises. We think we know it, but we do not really appropriate this and actually believe it is true.  Here we have no continuing city.  Our light affliction is but for a moment.  We have to take these statements literally. They are facts, they are not merely ideas."    I end with the words of the Bedford tinker John Bunyan. Each one of us must die and the River Jordan is a hard, hard river to cross. We shall find it deeper or shallower as we believe in the King of the place. But what glory awaits us on the other side! Bunyan's Mr Standfast says this:“I see myself now at the end of my Journey, my toilsome days are ended. I am going now to see that Head that once was crowned with thorns, and that face that was spit upon for me. I have formerly lived by hearsay and faith, but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with him in whose company I delight myself. I have loved to hear my Lord spoken of; and wherever I have seen the print of his shoe on the earth, there I have coveted to set my foot too. His name to me has been a civet-box; yea sweeter than all perfume. His voice to me has been most sweet; and his countenance I have more desired than they that have most desired the light of the sun. His Word I did use to gather for my food, and for antidotes against my faintings. He has held me, and hath kept me from mine iniquities; yea, my steps hath he strengthened in his Way… Glorious it was to see how the open region was filled with horses and chariots, with trumpeters and pipers.. to welcome the pilgrims as they went up, and followed one another in at the Beautiful Gate of the City.”See you in the City. The Lord will never leave us alone on our journey home. If we are his, he will bring us safely to the "other side" and we will see him face to face "and God himself will wipe away every tear". In the meantime let us love to see the print of his shoe and to hear his voice and the sound of his name!Prayer: Almighty God, through your only Son Jesus Christ you have conquered death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: by your grace put good desires into our minds and, in your mercy, help us to bring them to their fulfilment, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Categories: Friends

Devotion 19: The Medicine Chest

Thu, 25/06/2020 - 10:02
The Medicine Chest25th June 2020Audio: Finally, to the "medicine chest" then - what does the Bible have to say about suffering? If there is a God who is loving, why does he allow such suffering? 1. Suffering wasn’t part of God's original plan. 
The world was made by God and it was very good. There was no suffering or death. Suffering results from what Christians call "the fall" - human beings deliberately deciding, when presented with a choice,  to choose evil.2. God allows suffering - bad things happen to good people. The book of Job is a mysterious book that deals head-on with the question of suffering. It shows us that God is in control of everything, including evil.Job’s friends argue like this:"You are suffering
God is fair and gives us what we deserve
Therefore you have done something really wrong" 
Job (whom we know hasn't done anything particularly wrong) is unsurprisingly not impressed by this and replies along similar lines but coming to a different conclusion:"I am suffering
I haven’t done anything really wrong
Therefore God is unfair" 
God eventually answers Job out of the storm, but he only gives him a partial answer. We can see the big picture behind God's 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". Which is, of course, ironically, exactly what did happen.But that wasn't any help to Job at the time and in that sense, 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. But how to live in the meantime? 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.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. Luke 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.’ (Luke 22:42-44).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 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 very 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 straight away 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 sympathizes with us in our suffering. "Jesus wept" at the tomb of Lazarus.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!” (21:4,5)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 toddler's tears. The toddler is comforted and soon stops crying and runs back off to play. This friend 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 that's gone wrong will be made right. Evil itself will be defeated and destroyed. How? Through Jesus's death on the cross.Why?  Because he loves usWhat should our response be?. Trust in the suffering servant  - the Lord Jesus Christ.Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, who in your tender love towards mankind sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature and to suffer death upon the cross so that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility, grant that we may both follow the example of his patience and also have our part in his resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Categories: Friends

Devotion 18: 1 Peter

Wed, 24/06/2020 - 10:48
1 Peter: Suffering for the Faith24th June 2020Audio: When I was a young boy my father (who was a pastor) took us most summers Bible smuggling behind the Iron Curtain. When we visited these persecuted churches I was struck by how vibrant their faith was despite (or perhaps because?) of their suffering. One man in particular, a friend of mine called Simo, was often in prison for his faith and yet even in prison he couldn’t help preaching to his fellow inmates. They were so struck by his example (“why are you in prison?”) that when the exasperated prison authorities stuck him in solitary confinement to shut him up, they demanded he be let out so he could continue to talk to them.So far in this series we have looked at general suffering, but sometimes Christians suffer for being Christians. As the gospel spread in the Roman Empire persecution began to grow and we can see that in 1 Peter. Christians are beginning to face ridicule and this is turning to violence and soon enough even to death. Peter tells his readers (4:12) not to be surprised by suffering. In fact if they are insulted (v14) you are blessed “for the spirit of glory and of God rests on you”. This was what happened to my friend Simo - the glory of God rested on him. My rector at my home church in Sevenoaks, Angus MacLeay, has written on these verses “Rather than suffering clouding the believer’s current experience of God, it is a sign of God’s glorious presence with them.”We must be willing to suffer for Christ “because Christ suffered for you, leaving an example that you should follow in his steps” (2:21).  In many parts of the world today, Christians suffer daily even unto death. And even in England where Christianity has had (exceptionally) a privileged  position this is changing; not of course (yet) prison, but certainly ridicule and discrimination. There are many hundreds of faithful bible teaching Anglican churches in England, such as mine, St Nicholas Sevenoaks. They are both within and without the Church of England (a new movement outside the Church of England, authorised by the Gafcon Primates, called the Anglican Mission in England - AMiE - is growing fast). Such churches, and especially their clergy, often face fierce opposition for their courageous stand for orthodox Christian teaching in general and on human sexuality in particular. Please pray for them, that they would continue to stand faithfully for orthodox belief.To those who persecute us we should return good for evil. Peter tells us we should commit ourselves to God and “continue to do good”. Often the example of Christians’ patient endurance turns the persecutors to Christ. Think of the apostle Paul or think of many Khmer Rouge leaders who beat Christians to death in the killing fields of Cambodia only to find forgiveness In Christ themselves many years later. We also see that suffering for the cause of Christ is brief. How short this life is and how transient are all our travails. For as Peter says, “the God of all grace…after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong firm and steadfast”(5:10). May that be so for us.Prayer: Lord God, you know that we are in the midst of such dangers and that we cannot always stand upright because of the frailty of our nature: grant us strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Categories: Friends

Devotion 17: On the Emmaus Road

Tue, 23/06/2020 - 09:54
Cross: On the Emmaus Road23rd June 2020Audio: How do many of us feel today? Afraid of death? Depressed, even despairing? If we are Christians maybe we have doubts? What is God doing when the world is stricken by a terrible disease? Why doesn't he say something?There was a group of people 2000 years ago who felt exactly the same as we feel today. Jesus' followers when he was arrested were terrified and ran away. They if you like self-isolate in terror not of a virus but of a cruel execution. Death stalks the streets of Jerusalem as they cower behind closed doors. Jesus's followers are silent and hiding.Then after Jesus’ death on the cross (where he says very little) there is silence from God for three days. God says nothing. The disciples burrow down deeper and deeper into terrified self-isolation. There is no voice from God to comfort or help them, only silence. Why is he so terrifyingly silent? Does he care?Then on Sunday morning two of Jesus's disciples in their doubt and fear of death decide to go one step further. Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified is the epicentre of the danger for them, so they decide, like many today,  to escape from the city and go to the country, to a little village called Emmaus about 7 or 8 miles walk from Jerusalem. They are also running away from fellowship with fellow believers - never a good idea.Now as they run away from danger, not surprisingly, they are very depressed and full of doubts. The truth is staring them in the face, but they don't get it. Then something amazing happens (Luke 24) Jesus comes alongside them on the road as they walk along and he speaks to them. They don’t recognize him: their eyes are kept closed as to who he is. Opening up the Hebrew Bible this mysterious stranger explains to them that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die, that there was no other way for humans to get back to God. This is their big blind spot; for them to die on a cross is pointless, indeed the ultimate failure. When eventually they get near to their destination, Jesus acts as if he is going further. Alarmed, they urge him strongly to stay with them. Finally, as he sits down for a meal and breaks bread with them, their eyes are opened and they recognize who he is. He abruptly disappears from their sight.Then they realize who it was talking to them and they say to one another “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They do a U-turn and race back to Jerusalem and find the other disciples and tell them what happened. As they are doing that, Jesus appears again and speaks yet again; he says to them all “peace be with you”.Now the same thing as happened to the disciples can happen to us. God is here and he is not silent. He speaks to us today. He is I believe, very reverently, speaking to you as you read this.He speaks to us today in all our troubles and doubts, through his Word, just like he did to the people on the road. And like the people on the Emmaus Road as the Word is opened then we, perhaps also depressed and suffering,  meet the risen Jesus. The risen Jesus steps off the pages of the Bible and into our lives. What happens when we meet the Risen Lord? We realize that suffering is part of God's plan. Our faith is strengthened and our doubts disappear.  We long to meet again with fellow believers (even though in many countries right now we can’t!). And most of all our cold hearts - which are like the blocks of chicken in the freezer I got out yesterday to cook supper - are thawed out by the Holy Spirit and start to burn within us as we experience the risen Lord Jesus.  What does Jesus offer us today? The same thing as he offered the disciples 2000 years ago - peace. Peace through his death on the cross. Peace with God and peace with each other and peace in ourselves. Peace once we meet the risen Lord.Prayer: Lord God, the unfailing helper and guide of those whom you bring up in your unmovable fear and love, keep us, we pray, under the protection of your good providence and give us a continual reverence and love for your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Categories: Friends

Devotion 16: The Cross

Mon, 22/06/2020 - 10:14
Cross: Psalms 22 & 2322nd June 2020Audio: The order of the Psalms is not random. Someone with a clever eye has carefully arranged them. We must go through the suffering of Psalm 22 to get to the peace and rest of Psalm 23. Not our suffering, but his - Jesus. Psalm 22 opens with the cry of Jesus on the cross “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” He may have recited the entire psalm for it ends with his last words “it is finished”. These is indeed holy ground and we can only look on in awe. Rightly did Martin Luther say, “God forsaken by God - who can understand it?”. Why is he forsaken, alone, his communion with his Father (as to his humanity) interrupted? Because God is of purer eyes than to look on evil. He sees the sin that the Son takes and he turns away. That is our sin. We rightly deserve the consequences of sin and even though, as I have said before, our suffering is often not the direct consequences of our sin, nonetheless the wages of sin is death. But there is also amazing balm here for the suffering and fearful. Because Jesus has stood in our place, rejected and abandoned, we, if we are in his family, have a way out of suffering. We shall look at Psalm 23 in a minute to see this, but looking at Psalm 22 we see that Jesus, still in his utter abandonment, says twice “My God”. And the name of God he invokes is sometimes translated “Mighty God”. Even in his suffering, even when God appears humanly to be far away, he is still our God and he is still mighty to save. He asks questions of God in suffering and so can we. We may often not know why something terrible is happening, but we know that Jesus was abandoned by God so that we will never be abandoned. The cross towers over us casting a mighty light on our way.And where are we going? We are going home. Now let’s look at Psalm 23 which, if you like, we must access through Psalm 22. The entry to our safety is the cross. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever”. This life is oftentimes a dry desert in which we wander, but the Lord has gone ahead to make a home for us and what a place that will be! The Anglican martyr John Bradford who was burnt at the stake under Queen Mary said to the trembling young man being burned with him “Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!"We are on our way to something mind-blowingly “merry” and good. En route, here is more comfort; in fact I would say a verse in the Bible that has been of the greatest help to me and countless others in trouble:  “Yes though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me”. When I am at a medical low that verse has repeatedly impressed itself on my mind like a burning light in the dark valley.Each of us must walk through that valley and it is a valley of shadow. It is dark and I know that. There is evil.  But for there to be a shadow, there must be a light beyond. That light is streaming from the face of Christ. It leads us on and he, the Good Shepherd, is not just ahead holding the door open nor behind on the cross having suffered in our place. No, perhaps most amazingly, dear friends, he is with us right now,  walking with us, talking with us, and he has, if you like, two divine “sheepdogs” with him, one called mercy and one called goodness. Evil has to slink away. So this little party, a sufferer, a saviour and two ministering angels struggles on to glory. Note finally that it is “all the days of my life”. The evil days and the good days, the days of suffering and the days of joy. God in his goodness supplies everything we need in suffering, and his mercy on the cross means we don’t get what we deserve - eternal suffering and separation from God.  Amazingly rather we daily receive a free gift - the presence of the Lord God Almighty all the way home.Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, in mercy look upon our weakness and in all our dangers and necessities stretch out your right hand to help and defend us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Categories: Friends

Devotion 15: The Shadow of Calvary

Fri, 19/06/2020 - 08:55
Gethsemane19th June 2020Audio: We are treading here on very holy ground and we must tread reverently.The Lord Jesus Is like us as he is fearful as to his human nature “Take this cup away from me but let not my will but your will be done” (Luke 22:42). When we are in fear we may recall that the Lord in his humanity faced fear too, fear far worse than any we will ever face.But he is not like us for He has a choice. Even when he says, “I am he” (John 18:5) this invocation of the divine name causes the soldiers to fall on the ground in terror. We have no choice normally in our suffering. The Lord has both the means to escape suffering - one angel is terrifying while a legion would be overwhelming - and the grounds, for he, unlike us, is totally innocent of any wrong-doing. Death has no jurisdiction over him.But He is treated as a criminal. He willingly takes the cup of suffering that we deserve, the cup of God’s judgement on our sin, and he freely drinks it for the love he has for us.“My soul is sorrowful unto death“ (Matthew 26:38). Where does sorrow and suffering come from? From sin. From our sin. Jesus carried our sorrow and our sin to the cross. He is the man of sorrows which means he is acquainted with sorrow.Gethsemane shows that Jesus is a man of prayer. Prayer is a confession of weakness, but Jesus was also God so why did he need to pray? Because as Philippians 2 tells us he humbled himself becoming a servant. I find prayer very hard and although my prayer life has improved a little since I’ve been ill I still feel ashamed at how weak it is. How much we can learn from the Lord and his constant prayer. Are we in trouble in fear and suffering and facing death? Then like the Lord we must ask for help.“Your will be done”, which is of course a phrase from the  Lord’s Prayer; the will of the Father was that Jesus would be the sacrifice for our sins. He alone can pay the bill. We are bankrupt. But how much must we be conformed to him as He prayed that God’s will would be done. He is a man of prayer. His prayer is the prayer of faith and so must ours be. He learned obedience in suffering and so must we. But friends this is very, very, hard to do. I don’t think it’s wrong at all to pray that God would relieve us of our suffering, but it may be that he will not or at least not for a time. And this is very, very, hard to accept. I know from my own experience. I just found out (May 2020) that I have to restart chemotherapy. Praying “let not my will but yours be done” we simply cannot do by ourselves in our suffering, but the Spirit can and will help us. Hugh Martin in his wonderful classic book “The Shadow of Calvary” urges us to join the Lord in Gethsemane “Be in prayer beside the saviour, mingling your crying and tears with his: when Jehovah looks on his anointed, he will lift on you the light of his face.” The way of Christ is the way of the cross -  the way to death. We must go down into the Jordan to come up into the promised land and “Jordan’s river is chilly and wide”. But the Saviour bids us follow in his footsteps. He has paid the bill which was our bill and which we can’t possibly pay, and he has drained our cup of suffering and he will ferry us safely to the other side.Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, who in your tender love towards mankind sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature and to suffer death upon the cross so that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility, grant that we may both follow the example of his patience and also have our part in his resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Categories: Friends

Devotion 14: John 9

Thu, 18/06/2020 - 08:24
John 918th June 2020Audio: We must never treat suffering as an abstract philosophical issue. Jesus’ disciples did this in John 9; when seeing a man born blind, begging, they wonder “who sinned this man or his parents?” Jesus reproves them saying  “neither, but that the works of God might be displayed. As long as it is day we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work” (vv2-4).The Lord here was thinking of his own ministry life and death – remember how John stresses, when Judas leaves to betray Jesus,  “it was night”, - oh what darkness.  But this is also a passage and a verse that has spoken powerfully to me since I’ve been ill. As good old Bishop Ryle says, “there is no work in the grave towards which we are all fast hastening”. The night is coming and this is the day of salvation. Heaven will be amazing, but it will be too late for evangelism and I feel that imperative strongly. Time is short and we must take every opportunity to tell others of Christ.  What I have also found is that God has not only given me motivation, but also practically helped me in this area in two other ways. Firstly that suffering opens up an opportunity to shine out the glory of God (v 3). People often think that Christians believe they are better than everyone else. But when we are struggling along with fear, suffering and death we are demonstrating that we are precisely not like that. We are vulnerable and weak and, interestingly, people often find that accessible. The man born blind, in his troubles, was lying in Jesus' way and so are we. What can we say to others? Well, we can pass on what the blind man was told (v 37) “You have now seen the Son of man, in fact he is the one speaking with you”. Secondly, but how can we then help our friends “see” the Son of Man (as, of course, they too like all of us have been born blind). Five years ago a Christian friend of mine in the City of London convinced me to try inviting my non-Christian friends to have a chat with me about the bible. He had found the Word 121, which is simply John’s gospel with really helpful notes written by Rev William Taylor of St Helen's Bishopsgate alongside each verse. I was nervous about this and was staggered (Oh ye of little faith!) to find that many of my friends were only too willing to chat with me. Word 121 works because the gospel is supernaturally powerful and the notes assist to make each verse so accessible. John’s gospel is littered with people who are suffering in one way or another and whose lives are transformed by meeting the Saviour. That’s what happens in my experience using the Word 121; as we open God's word together, Jesus steps off the page and starts speaking to both me and my friends.  Has your faith become all about you without you realizing it because, to be frank, you have never known how or felt qualified to share the Gospel? Yet doing so is exactly what we are all called to do in the Great Commission, and in using Word 121 I have found the how! It is available free on the web for zoom meetings or in printed book form. So many ordinary untrained Christians throughout the world are discovering that God has prepared the hearts of their friends to agree to just take a look at what the best-selling book of all time actually has to say. Oh what wonderful joy in becoming a page-turner …a bible sharer...as my Saviour does all the work, bringing new life through His Word! You too can become a Word sharer - find out more here at  https://www.theword121.com/ and start asking. I believe you will be amazed at whom God has prepared to say “yes” to looking at His Word!  Prayer: Almighty God, through your only Son Jesus Christ you have conquered death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: by your grace put good desires into our minds and, in your mercy, help us to bring them to their fulfilment, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Categories: Friends

Devotion 13: The Widow of Nain

Wed, 17/06/2020 - 10:19
The Widow of Nain17th June 2020Where do we go for help with fear, suffering and death? The Lord obviously, and what is he like? This is important as the better we know someone, the more we are likely to trust them, assuming, that is, that they are of good character. I have a deep trust in my oncologist because I know him extremely well.What is the Lord Jesus like? This small story (Luke 7:11-17)  is one of my favourites for sharing the gospel. We see first of all that Jesus meets us at just the right time in our grief and sorrow. Jesus starts the long walk from Capernaum to Nain (about 25 miles) when this young boy is still alive. Perhaps his disciples were puzzled  - why go to that small out of the way place? They don’t know, but he does, that this is because the maker of the universe has an appointment with a grieving widow. She doesn’t know who he is, but he knows all about her. So the same with us. However utterly insignificant we are (and the truth is we all are!) the maker of the universe makes a bee line for us in our suffering. Our eyes may be filled with tears and we can’t think of any help, but in fact he is right in front of us, waiting for us.We see how perfect God’s timing is. A few minutes either way and the two processions don’t meet. But at just the right time Jesus is there, standing in the way of death. And the people carrying the dead body stand still as they see this ordinary looking man blocking the procession on its way to dusty death.What kind of roadblock is this man? He is full of compassion. “Don’t cry” he says to the grieving mother, her eyes full of tears. The Greek speaks of Jesus’ intestines being twisted. Yes, friends, the Lord is deeply moved by our suffering. Yes, though we seem to be forsaken and abandoned, he meets us in our grief.  And not just words; there is also touch - he touches the bier. He connects with the dead body.  Something no normal rabbi would do for it makes him ritually unclean. God is not only moved he touches us in our suffering. “I am with you”.But if our God was only compassionate that would, may I say reverently, not be enough. For he has equally a colossal life giving power.  Power over death, for at just one word the dead boy is brought back Immediately to life. What is death? Many things, but it is perhaps separation that is the hardest. The boy comes back to life and starts talking! Jesus turns death round 180 degrees. Nain is on a hill so Death is carrying off his prey downwards,  but Jesus holds the keys of life and death and turns the whole thing around.So it is with us. Death is a terrible enemy but the Lord owns it. Death will one day be carrying off our body and will also meet Jesus standing in the way. “He or she is mine and I am the resurrection and I am the life ” he will say, and Death will have to give up its captives and our bodies will be gloriously resurrected.Friends, in our affliction let us comfort each other with the knowledge of the character of the Lord Jesus and his love for his children. What do we need above all? To know him more and through that to trust him more. What is he like? He meets us at just the right time. He is full of compassion and kindness and he touches us in our infirmities. He has total control over death and will raise us all gloriously.He helped the widow of Nain 2000 years ago. He helps me today. He helps you today and He will help us tomorrow and for all eternity!
Alleluia! What a Saviour!Prayer: Almighty God, through your only Son Jesus Christ you have conquered death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: by your grace put good desires into our minds and, in your mercy, help us to bring them to their fulfilment, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Categories: Friends

10 thoughts on Evangelism in lockdown

Tue, 16/06/2020 - 22:09
  Churches overcome social distancing to continue outreach | United ...

 1. Openness  to the Christian message

Survey after survey shows the very large number of people listening in to church services and Christian webinars. There has never at least in my lifetime been such a time for sharing the gospel as now. Will all of those become Christians? I assume not and actually that’s not our responsibility for only God can open the eyes of the blind (as we all are by nature). What we are responsible for is  transmitting the message as best we can and God has massively widened our audience through his intervention 
2. We must have confidence in the word and make it accessible.
What most Christians do? Without being opportunistic we must take advantage of the wonderful God given conditions we experience. We have I fear to some extent lost confidence in the power of our own message. I’m talking here about evangelicals who should surely believe in the attractiveness of our message and the power of God’s word. We say we do believe but then our lack of actions speak louder than our words. Perhaps we get too caught up in arguing with angry atheists to notice that most people are actually not antagonistic to Christianity but indifferent. We got too caught up in the culture wars too notice that the average person has no particular   interest in them.
Five years of fairly Intensive evangelistic activity have convinced me of two truths
A. The "average" person is not hostile to the  Christian message,  they are indifferent, mainly because they have no clue as to what it is anyway
B.  The average person knows nothing about the Bible. Nothing. And this is in a strange way a good thing because it presents us with a huge opportunity. For there is supernatural power in Gods word.
Yes, the power is in the word and not in us. But how to release it and make it available in an accessible format? The Bible looks daunting to our non Christian friends. It’s a big book and it’s not designed to be read as most books are from beginning to end
As many of you know I’ve been a particular fan of the Word 121 because it makes Gods word available in such an easy format along with such helpful notes, which make the process of sharing the word so conversational. Even if you prefer a different route I think the underlying principle of making the Bible accessible in easy to understand fashion is important. That can include re-telling bible stories in our own words or, if we prefer to, read the passage out. Today we can share a passage online together via zoom etc or in a simple booklet  form rather than asking people to turn up a passage in a huge book they don’t feel comfortable with. In doing so however we really do need to be aware that  these days most people’s bible knowledge is Zero. For example 25% of people in a recent survey thought that Harry Potter is in the bible. This means we may want to think about explaining basic terms (“Old and New Testament”) and being careful about cross references which can be confusing ( for example - who is Isaiah?)

3. Just connect and ask questions and tell stories.
We are too much in our Christian bubble. COVID has burst the bubble andf forced us out. We need to spend time and talk to people outside that and understand where they are “at”. Let them take the conversation where they wish. See how we can help them and love them in practical ways
Here are some great questions
Do you mind me asking do you have any particular beliefs?
Have you ever looked at the Bible?
What puts you off the Christian faith? (Which begs the discussion about what it actually is!)
Would you like to have a chat with me about it?
Can I pray for you? What would you like me to pray for? (If yes to the above) Would you mind if I read you a Psalm ?
There comes a time when it’s appropriate and kind for us to share something about what we believe - you can’t ask questions all the time . Then as Rico Tice says “we must cross the pain barrier”. The pain barrier is being willing to say what the gospel actually is. This includes talking not just about God’s love and hope in the face of death but also addressing our need to get right with God, the issue of sin and evil and the need for repentance
Here are some questions that I have found helpful:-
“I could never have got through x (eg Covid ) without Christ”
“For me I found this (Bible) story so helpful “.

Then tell in your own words a Bible story which one depends on the discussion! I love Jesus in the storm, Lazarus, the widow of Nain, The prodigal son, Gethsemane, the thief on the cross, the empty tomb, the road to Emmaus and many more. If you know them and use them you can almost word for word tell then from the Bible and certain phrases will jump out “when he was still a great way off” “were not our hearts burning within us” “Jesus wept” “don’t you care if we drown” “Father take this cup away from me but let my will but your will be done”
4. Technology
Imagine we were in management in the Premier League and we said to the general public that they can only access our games if you come and watch them at the stadium. No TV or radio or highlights. The same if we owned a Hollywood studio and said “no  availability on Netflix or Amazon Prime, you must always come to the cinema”. In contrast to our old church going ways , using today’s technology there is now no reason why we can’t offer a hybrid model by which people can access services and especially evangelistic events either in person or via the Internet. In retrospect, especially for evangelistic orientated events, isn’t it staggering that we weren’t doing this already?!
Another angle is that clearly today people want to consume information on their own terms and  when they want. I have found when I have done events that once they are loaded up on the web they typically eventually get 5-10 times the number of views than the number of people who attended. This also means we have to think about how to promote such content. One of the best routes is to get church people to share on their social media channels.
We should also Mobilise our youngsters for technology and experimentation. The reality is Evangelical churches can be highly risk averse. We can be always worried about everything.  Sometimes I think we have by mistake adopted by accident Queen Victoria’s saying “change? Why would we want to change? Things are quite bad enough already!”
Especially to reach youngsters we need to let them experiment. I’m not suggesting in any way we depart from the  core truths of the gospel but that the means of communicating that must change.
5. Local church based especially small churches
If we look at the Bible we see no such thing as para church ministries. Only the church which is God’s chosen vehicle to reach the world. I can see a secondary role for para church organisations in evangelism but only if they are supporting (which means genuinely doing  that and not telling local churches  what to do)
What would this look like? I’d see it like a menu in a restaurant where a range of choices are set out for the diner to choose from. The local church must own Evangelism and if it needs para church support it is there to support it, a waiter bringing dishes that have been ordered and determined by the local church.
Part of giving individual  Christians boldness and encouragement is to give them a menu of choices of things that can work. Some may be able to do 121, some to just chat, some to give a book, some to invite. It really doesn’t matter just do whatever God lays on your heart.
In the last few months, people are more attached to their localities and even more to their real friends (who tend to be in the locality). Large churches have staff and resources but small churches need particular encouragement and help. One helpful thing is that on the internet every church is on the same level playing field. The large, medium and small church can all look the same.
Small churches can benefit from technical know-how and advice, for example in producing attractive videos to invite people along. Organisations such as “Go chatter” can help here.
Personally I have a real soft spot for such churches because my father was a pastor of one for just under 50 years and I know what it’s like. But today I think small and local is often more trusted than big and global. The local church (especially in areas with a strong sense of local identity and community has a real advantage in these strange times. . 

6. Iceberg principle and living with normal Christian Joy.
Evangelism is if you like the piece of the iceberg sticking up above the waterline (The visible 1/10th) but it is part of our overall Christian life (the invisible 9/10ths)…and the two are indivisible and inseparable. You can’t have a visible evangelistic “bit” without a discipleship “base” to support it.  Both are needed. Discipleship must involve evnaglism and vuice versa but i feel we tend to major on discipleship and minor on evangelism. 
Christian joy unites the different parts of the iceberh. It is found as we look upward at all that Christ is and all that He has accomplished for us at the Cross. Christian joy is also found as we serve outwards - obeying Jesus and bearing fruit for Him in a world that for the large part rejects Him (John 15:11) It's counter-intuitive but true. My limited experience affirms this - the most joyful Christians seem to be those who are pro-actively reaching out with God's Word. They see God's Word in action. They are at the cutting edge of what He is doing in the world. They have discovered a small part in His great gospel project for the ages. They feel both the thrill of seeing spiritual eyes opened and the sting of rejection which takes them ever closer to their Master's experience. They know Him in His power and in His sufferings. It's not about God blessing their work or their life. It's about them finding a small part to play in what God is up to in the world today. It is a thrilling privilege and an adventure. And it is in my opinion a much neglected part of the discipleship experience of the majority of Christians in the Western world. John 4:34: "My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me" and this is part of his will

7. Journeying
In my experience, both in general and especially in a culture that has very little inherent understanding of the Christian faith and Christian culture, nearly all people coming to faith have a Christian friend or a pastor or a church worker who helps them along. This can be someone encouraging them to go further, for example giving them books to read, but above all I believe this means answering their questions when they read the Bible.Ideally we read the Bible 121 with them. The Bible for our culture is not an intuitive book to read - for example that you don’t simply read it cover to cover. Even the gospels require a lot of explanation and people have all kinds of baggage to shed. I think of the Ethiopian eunuch saying “I need someone to explain this to me”.
8. Think of non Christians and what they feel …….And don’t cheat!
We often organise things for our own benefit at a time and place that suits us. I can assure you that’s not how the world works. When I was starting out in banking if I’d asked a prospect to come and see me at my office at a time that suited me I’d have been given “short shrift”.
Non-Christians understandably feel nervous about coming to a church building because it’s an alien experience. We would feel the same if a friend invited us to a mosque (or a betting shop!). We should find accessible time and  places to meet which suit them and not us.
This is not to say that we should give up inviting people to church or to guest services but that our first thought should be to present them with invites to accessible, appealing and convenient venues for our friends ….and not just somewhere where we feel comfortable with what is going on!
This it seems is also highly biblical - yes the apostles taught sometimes in synagogues but, if we look at the book of Acts, the large majority are simply wherever people can be gathered. In the early church Christians would not let non-Christians even come to church.
When inviting, we must be very clear that this is a Christian event. There is nothing worse than deceiving people who are taken aback once they discover what they have signed up for. Also, even if our invite is clear as to the purpose of the event ,  we shouldn’t inflict things which will make them uncomfortable. Loads of singing is one obvious example!
9. Pastor: You don’t have to do everything
In our church, St Nicholas Sevenoaks, we recently launched an initiative called “2020 vision” which encouraged people to take their own initiative and “let 100 flowers bloom”. I felt it was a great success because it unleashed the creative energies of the congregation. For example one person did a murder mystery over dinner in their house with a short talk from me afterwards on “The greatest mystery of all time – did Jesus Rise from the dead?”. Others did other equally original events. The clergy are often very busy and it makes sense to let people try things within the overall guidance provided by the church.
...But you do have to model it! If there was one thing that I would put my finger on it’s to really encourage full time Christian workers to do more personal evangelism and not just discipleship training. I realise that this can be difficult for them because often they have no or few non-Christian friends. But that’s a function of how they and we allocate time. Most pastors and vicars I know are very hard working, so something has to give. If we really value evangelism as we should, then some other church activities are going to have to be reduced.
The reason it’s important is that it’s hard to encourage others in personal evangelism if you don’t do it , and be seen to do it, yourself.
10. Clear follow up
This is absolutely vital in my experience and is often the weakest link. What next? This should be very clear. At the end of the event what’s the next step if people are interested in going further?  Try making the offer of looking at what the bible actually says  a natural outcome of having created some interest in Christ through an event! After all – it’s always been about Jesus and His Word, and it always will be.



Categories: Friends

Devotion 12: Lazarus

Tue, 16/06/2020 - 12:11
Lazarus (John 11:1-44)16th June 2020Audio: The writings of that godly man the first Bishop of Liverpool JC Ryle have been a great source of help to me in suffering. Here I share his reflections on Lazarus in italics and my thoughts below. 1. True Christians may be sick and die.Lazarus gets sick and dies. Why does God allow sickness and death to happen to some people and not to others? I simply don’t know. But this we do know; that “it’s given to man once to die and after that the judgement” (Hebrews 9:27). Being a Christian is no “get out of jail free card” we can play against suffering and death. What he promises us is not a bypass round suffering but his presence as we go through it. 2. Sickness is no sign that God is displeased with us. Nor is there normally a link between suffering and sin. What is important is that suffering can be redemptive (have value) if our hope is in Christ.3. Christ is the Christian’s best friend. The sisters brought it to his attention. He loves us as well, does he not! None can help like him. Oh, how slow I am to do as the sisters did. “None can help like him”. Yes the creator and ruler of the entire universe knows who we are and, if we are his, loves us with an everlasting and unbreakable love. The sisters bring it to his attention and how wise they are to do that. They don’t tell or ask him to do x or y. They "bring it to his attention" Why? Because "he is the one that he loves". And as Ryle wonderfully notes “so are we.”4.  Jesus doesn’t say that Lazarus will die and I will raise him again. He says enough to stir up hope and faith and prayer, but not enough so that they wouldn’t seek God. Suffering is always hard and sometimes it crushes us. Why doesn’t God act? Why does he give us half answers or sometimes no answers? There is no final answer to that this side of the grave, but we may say gently that one partial answer may be because he is working his purposes out so that we may know him better and see his glory (see how amazing he is). 5. The pain of a few is for the benefit of many. Had Jesus just said the word (of healing) none of this would  have happened.  The pain of one, gloriously, is for the benefit of all (the cross).Let us always look at the cross. Whoever and wherever  and whenever we are in the dark valley of suffering the light of the cross shines out. God had a plan to rescue poor, sinful, lost and abandoned humanity and it is a plan which involves suffering. Lazarus’s suffering and death prefigures and points us to the cross in the same way that Lazarus’s resurrection prefigures and points to Jesus’s resurrection. As the master so the servant - we are all called to take up our cross daily and follow Him. And God can use our suffering for his glory as he used His Son's suffering. 6. How tenderly Christ speaks of the death of believers! “Our friend Lazarus sleeps says the Lord”. Every Christian has a friend in heaven of almighty power and boundless love. Lazarus is the friend of Christ even when he is dead. Death is a solemn and miraculous change, but the Christian has nothing to fear. Let us never forget that the grave is the place where the Lord himself lay and that as he rose again triumphant from that cold bed so also shall all his people. We can boldly say, “I will lay me down in peace and sleep for you Lord alone make me dwell in safety."Friends this is simply breathtakingly true. Death is a terrible enemy, but it has been utterly defeated. It is owned by the Lord God Almighty who holds the keys of death. Then finally death itself will be emptied and death itself will be swallowed up and death in the end will be no more. So what of us? Shall anything separate us from the owner of life and death? Never! We are as much Jesus’ friends in death as in life - in fact far more so because in death we will be with him and see him face to face. 7. Martha and Mary are very much like us: they had mixed emotions. Certainly they believed, but they were also troubled and needed to see Jesus more clearly. Jesus draws out these two women’s faith. He fans into flame the smouldering embers of the sisters faith. Martha has good theology, but it’s not enough. She needs more of Christ. It is promised in the Old Testament that God does not put out a smouldering and feeble flame (Isaiah 42:3). That is so encouraging, for that is what we are even as Christians; a weak faith and labouring slowly with many doubts and fears. Martha has good theological understanding, but she needs much more and so do we. We need to know Christ and his resurrection power.Prayer: Almighty God, through your only Son Jesus Christ you have conquered death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: by your grace put good desires into our minds and, in your mercy, help us to bring them to their fulfilment, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Categories: Friends

Devotion 12: Lazarus

Tue, 16/06/2020 - 09:50


Lazarus (John 11:1-44)16th June 2020Audio: The writings of that godly man the first Bishop of Liverpool JC Ryle have been a great source of help to me in suffering. Here I share his reflections on Lazarus in italics and my thoughts below. 1. True Christians may be sick and die.Lazarus gets sick and dies. Why does God allow sickness and death to happen to some people and not to others? I simply don’t know. But this we do know; that “it’s given to man once to die and after that the judgement” (Hebrews 9:27). Being a Christian is no “get out of jail free card” we can play against suffering and death. What he promises us is not a bypass round suffering but his presence as we go through it. 2. Sickness is no sign that God is displeased with us. Nor is there normally a link between suffering and sin. What is important is that suffering can be redemptive (have value) if our hope is in Christ.3. Christ is the Christian’s best friend. The sisters brought it to his attention. He loves us as well, does he not! None can help like him. Oh, how slow I am to do as the sisters did. “None can help like him”. Yes the creator and ruler of the entire universe knows who we are and, if we are his, loves us with an everlasting and unbreakable love. The sisters bring it to his attention and how wise they are to do that. They don’t tell or ask him to do x or y. They "bring it to his attention" Why? Because "he is the one that he loves". And as Ryle wonderfully notes “so are we.”4.  Jesus doesn’t say that Lazarus will die and I will raise him again. He says enough to stir up hope and faith and prayer, but not enough so that they wouldn’t seek God. Suffering is always hard and sometimes it crushes us. Why doesn’t God act? Why does he give us half answers or sometimes no answers? There is no final answer to that this side of the grave, but we may say gently that one partial answer may be because he is working his purposes out so that we may know him better and see his glory (see how amazing he is). 5. The pain of a few is for the benefit of many. Had Jesus just said the word (of healing) none of this would  have happened.  The pain of one, gloriously, is for the benefit of all (the cross).Let us always look at the cross. Whoever and wherever  and whenever we are in the dark valley of suffering the light of the cross shines out. God had a plan to rescue poor, sinful, lost and abandoned humanity and it is a plan which involves suffering. Lazarus’s suffering and death prefigures and points us to the cross in the same way that Lazarus’s resurrection prefigures and points to Jesus’s resurrection. As the master so the servant - we are all called to take up our cross daily and follow Him. And God can use our suffering for his glory as he used His Son's suffering. 6. How tenderly Christ speaks of the death of believers! “Our friend Lazarus sleeps says the Lord”. Every Christian has a friend in heaven of almighty power and boundless love. Lazarus is the friend of Christ even when he is dead. Death is a solemn and miraculous change, but the Christian has nothing to fear. Let us never forget that the grave is the place where the Lord himself lay and that as he rose again triumphant from that cold bed so also shall all his people. We can boldly say, “I will lay me down in peace and sleep for you Lord alone make me dwell in safety."Friends this is simply breathtakingly true. Death is a terrible enemy, but it has been utterly defeated. It is owned by the Lord God Almighty who holds the keys of death. Then finally death itself will be emptied and death itself will be swallowed up and death in the end will be no more. So what of us? Shall anything separate us from the owner of life and death? Never! We are as much Jesus’ friends in death as in life - in fact far more so because in death we will be with him and see him face to face. 7. Martha and Mary are very much like us: they had mixed emotions. Certainly they believed, but they were also troubled and needed to see Jesus more clearly. Jesus draws out these two women’s faith. He fans into flame the smouldering embers of the sisters faith. Martha has good theology, but it’s not enough. She needs more of Christ. It is promised in the Old Testament that God does not put out a smouldering and feeble flame (Isaiah 42:3). That is so encouraging, for that is what we are even as Christians; a weak faith and labouring slowly with many doubts and fears. Martha has good theological understanding, but she needs much more and so do we. We need to know Christ and his resurrection power.Prayer: Almighty God, through your only Son Jesus Christ you have conquered death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: by your grace put good desires into our minds and, in your mercy, help us to bring them to their fulfilment, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.Recent Devotionals
Categories: Friends

Devotion 11|: Jesus in the storm

Mon, 15/06/2020 - 14:05
Jesus in the Storm (Mark 4:35-41)15th June 2020What's our biggest problem as Christians? I suggest it is this: that we don't know God enough, we don't trust him enough, we don't love him enough and that we don't pray to him enough. But this is not a new problem and in a strange way, we should find that encouraging. For another group of Christians had the same problem - Jesus's disciples. Remember they were with the Lord himself for three years and their general slowness should encourage us that God is patient and loving and always seeking to draw us nearer to Himself.  Jesus knew exactly what was coming - he knew there was going to be a storm. He deliberately placed his followers in harm's way. Being close to the Lord is no guarantee of a trouble-free life - rather the reverse. God may lead us into suffering so that he may show us more of himself. As I put it in my own case "the cancer cells meant it for harm, but God meant it for good".  The uncertainty, difficulties for my family, pain, frustrations, and fear, are all there, but the joy of being involved in the Lord’s work, of seeing him at work in those I’ve been able to introduce to Christ has been really wonderful. In fact, I have had more opportunities to share my faith in the last 7 years than the previous 50 combined.Where's the ultimate place we see evil turned to good ? When we stand at the foot of the cross. The devil and all the forces of hell meant it for evil, but God used it for our good.I am sure the disciples did all the things that experienced sailors would do - turn the boat into the wind, trim the sails, head for shore, bail out the water. But they didn't do the one blindingly obvious thing they should have done - ask the incarnate God who was right at hand for help. Even when they do in desperation do it it's very rough: They say, "Don't you care?" (v38). How hard it is for them to pray! How small is their faith!  How hard it is for us to pray and how small is our faith! Corrie Ten Boom said "When a Christian shuns fellowship with other Christians, the devil smiles. When he stops studying the Bible, the devil laughs. When he stops praying, the devil shouts for joy."But let us be encouraged to pray, for how kindly the Lord is towards the disciples, how patient; yes he reproves them, but he is always doing so out of deep love. God is so kind and patient towards us despite all our serious shortcomings. Psalm 103 v13 says "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those that fear him." God sees all the things that are wrong with us - our laziness, our weak faith, our lack of love, our secret sins, our cold hearts and our prayerlessness, and what does he do?  He is full of what the bible calls in Hebrew 'Chesed' which the Reformers of the sixteenth century  translated as "loving-kindness".Out of this loving-kindness comes amazing divine power! Billions and billions of molecules are rearranged and suddenly there is a dead calm. Winds may drop but a storm-tossed body of water takes a long time to drop. In a second all is quiet, all is still. Such is the power of the divine word. It utterly transforms their circumstances.What is their reaction? They are even more afraid! What's the answer to fear? More fear! "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). It begins to dawn on them who this ordinary-looking man asleep in the boat is. When they left the boat they knew him more than when they got in. Isn't that what we need? To know the Lord more, to love him more, and to pray to him more. For as the good old Puritan preacher Thomas Goodwin says, "The person who knows Christ best is the person who will pray best."Prayer: Lord God, you know that we are in the midst of such dangers and that we cannot always stand upright because of the frailty of our nature: grant us strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Categories: Friends

Devotion 10: Psalm 61: A Rock

Sat, 13/06/2020 - 10:10
Psalm 6112th June 2020Audio: I’m writing this devotional looking down from on high into the historic streets of London which are now eerily deserted. Unfortunately this is not my home, but a famous London cancer hospital, the Royal Marsden. About 5 days ago (early May 2020) I started feeling ill with a fever and chest tightness, classic Coronavirus symptoms plus some other non-typical ones around my heart. After tests and several weeks later the doctors decided I had pericarditis, which is inflammation of the area around the heart.One constant I have found in trying to cope with suffering, fear and death is that God speaks to me at my low points personally through his Word. Now this can be overdone and, especially in the individualistic West, we can easily take everything in Scripture as being about us, when the big topic of the Bible is God, not us. Nonetheless, I believe we sometimes, in fear of this, go to the opposite error, which is to treat the a Bible as a theological textbook. It is not. It is a living, breathing, supernatural book of books,  which speaks powerfully and personally this very day to each one of us.Every time I have been in trouble in my illnesses it’s as if the lights suddenly go out and you notice intense light streaming out of the darkness. The light - Gods word -  was there all along but the darkness makes it shine and the darker the night the brighter the light. We must delight in this light, for it will lead us in this dark world and indeed we are explicitly commanded  so to do for as the Psalmist begins the mighty 150 chapters of the Psalms with “Blessed is the man...who delights in the law of the Lord.” (Psalm 1,1,2).Many of those moments of delight have come in this very hospital. Radiotherapy treatment is long and tedious and every day you must lie without moving so I decided to learn Psalm 34 by heart. I was going through it in my mind to memorise it while being treated and came to verse 5 “those who look to him are radiant” which I suddenly realised is literally what was happening to me. I started laughing only to get ticked off by the radiotherapist for moving!This week, as I worried about my strange illness, a friend mentioned Psalm 61 and another verse suddenly launched itself off the pages. “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint: lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (v2). This again struck me so personally with great delight: I laughed to myself as this is exactly my new issue - problems with my faint heart!But even if you don’t have literal heart issues, our spiritual heart goes faint because we are so weak. Let us cry (like a tiny baby wanting its mother) from wherever we are to God. We may cry from anywhere - even from the ends of the earth for God hears our cry! What must we cry? We must pray to be led to the Rock. Who masterminds this? The Father. Who leads us? The Holy Spirit. Who is the Rock? Jesus Christ.He is our rock and he is in charge of the universe.  We see that at the end of the Psalm: The God-man is ruling the universe, enthroned and seated at the right hand of the Father. What kind of Rock do we need? We need one who is infinitely higher than us, who, as we like shipwrecked, drowning sailors are tossed around in the storms of suffering, fear and death, can haul us out of our sea of troubles.Oh blessed Holy Spirit, we cry to you - lead us to the Rock that is higher than us!Prayer: Lord God, the unfailing helper and guide of those whom you bring up in your unmovable fear and love, keep us, we pray, under the protection of your good providence and give us a continual reverence and love for your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Categories: Friends

Devotion 9: Psalm 34

Thu, 11/06/2020 - 10:09
Psalm 3411th June 2020Audio: Psalm 34 was written when David was desperate. It helped me when I was desperate. The key thing in starting to know God is a sense of our need for God. This need is itself planted by God in our hearts, often, though not always, through suffering and pain. When we realise our own desperate situation then we turn and look to God. If we think everything is fine then why bother? All of this I find extremely useful because when you are seriously ill the ultimate "fallback" is God. I don’t understand why God allowed my illness to happen, but nonetheless I must and I will trust in the Father that he knows best.Where must we start in suffering? We must  never forget to say, "thank you" and tell others of God.  Look at verse 1  "I will extol the Lord at all times": at all times, but most of all in times of great suffering and trial. We Christians must also tell others how God has helped us - tell others how great God is! Note the words David uses "“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears"(v4), "This poor man called and the Lord heard him" (v6), "The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.”(v15)God is like a parent straining to hear a crying baby: he is highly attentive to our prayers. Both His eyes and his ears are attuned to us! God is not as we are, who fall asleep and forget things. I am easily distracted and once even lost a friend’s young son on a busy beach! But the Lord God Almighty is not like us. Ceaselessly, unwaveringly, every second of our life, his eyes are on us and his ears are listening to our cries. What must we do when we are in trouble? We must cry to him for help (prayer) and hear his voice, the Bible. JM Boice says of Psalm 34 "David's circumstances did not change. He was still a fugitive, still in danger, still alone. But God had preserved his life...prayer does not mean God will change every difficult thing, but he will preserve you as long as he has work for you to do and will transform the most difficult circumstances by his presence". He has done that for me.This true and certain hope will deliver us from our fears. I am not ashamed to say I was and am afraid, as was David. But God is with us if we trust in him.  "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.“ (v7)Many Christians (though I don’t think we can be absolute about this) argue that appearances of the angel of the Lord were manifestations of Jesus before His incarnation. Whatever the case, it is clear that the angel of the Lord promises to stay with us, actually to camp with us and around us and be with us every day of our life. This promise is renewed directly by the Lord in the New Testament “look I am with you always even to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28.20) This verse reminds us of the story of Elisha in Dothan in 2 Kings chapter 6. His terrified servant, full of fear and  surrounded by enemies,  has his eyes opened  and sees the hills around him  full of the armies of the Lord. “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v16). May our eyes too be opened to the way in which the angel of the Lord daily encamps around us on all sides. Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, in mercy look upon our weakness and in all our dangers and necessities stretch out your right hand to help and defend us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Categories: Friends

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