Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Why Music is Important at Christmas

It is hard to underestimate the importance and power of music.  Why is that?

1. Music (and poetry) is the language of the heart, the emotions.  God wants to touch us in these areas, not just the intellect.  About a third of the Bible is written in poetry.  Music is a powerful way of opening the heart.

2. It is easier to retain words and truths that have been put to music.  This has been proven, and a good teacher will have music and poetry as part of their armoury.  Profound truth is frequently expressed in Poetry by prophets and teachers alike in scripture.

3. Music is a huge part of popular culture and a multi £billion industry.

So even though verse is less common in the New Testament, there is plenty of bursting into song at the time Jesus is born!

Firstly, we have Mary spontaneously proclaiming:

"My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
For He has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed..."

Luke 1:46ff

Then, when Zechariah's tongue is loosed, he prophesies:

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
For he has visited and redeemed his people
and he has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the throne of his servant David,,,

Luke 1:67ff

Then, amazingly, a host of angels get in on the act in the fields outside of Bethlehem:

"Glory to God in the Highest
and on earth, peace among
those with whom he is pleased"

Luke 2:14

Then we have Simeon the prophet, when..

"he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
  “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
  for my eyes have seen your salvation
  that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
  a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

The incarnation, the time time of Jesus' first arrival on earth as a human being was a time of great rejoicing in heaven and on earth among those who knew the significance of what was happening.

For Christmas 2015, I though I would share with you a You Tube clip.  This is a Christmas flash mob visit to a shopping centre in Beirut, Lebanon.

I chose this for several reasons, not least because I love the peoples of the Middle East and rejoice to see the Gospel proclaimed there in any form at all.  The carol, "God rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is one I like, because even though Christ was not actually 'born on Christmas Day' as we have it, there is a powerful gospel message in the song which I like:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Sunday, 14 December 2014

A sad day

This is a sad Christmas in some ways for Sunderland.

Bridge Books and Music is closing for good.

There is now no Christian bookshop in the City of Sunderland.

I realise that times change and people largely use Amazon and download books onto their kindles.  But there's no substitute for browsing... or exchanging secondhand books... or chatting away to Dave or Lynne.

We need places like this.

Bridge Books is not just a bookshop.  It's a safe place.  Somewhere to get fellowship, talk and pray over a coffee through the day.  When the churches are shut and locked up for around six days a week, Lynne's shop is there.  But not any more.  Where do we go now?

Thanks for all your faithful years Lynne.  And everyone else involved in the shop.

Anyone want to open a Christian bookshop or coffee shop?

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Spirit of Rehoboam: We've forgotten our heritage

It will disappoint many Mackems (Sunderland people*) to know that the real city crest is not made up of vertical red and white stripes and black cats.  This is what it really looks like.  If you don't believe me, look up high on the wall of the city library on Fawcett Street.

Whoever thought up that Latin motto didn't realise how timely these words would be in the early 21st Century.  The small remnant of believing Christians in the city need to shake off despair and honour the God who saved them.

A A Boddy
A hundred years ago, Sunderland was the biggest shipbuilding port in the world.  Also, it was well known by Christians too.  Alexander Boddy, the Vicar of a Parish church in Roker, has the reputation of being the founder of Pentecostalism in the UK.  Not only did he do the Sunday Services, parish visiting, Baptisms, Marriages and funerals that any good parish priest would.  He also held yearly Pentecostal conferences in his church!  The leading lights in the 20th Century
Pentecostal movement such as Smith Wigglesworth and the Jeffries brothers came, along with others from throughout Europe and North America.  In addition, he edited and distributed 'Confidence', the earliest magazine of the British pentecostal movement.

Graham Scroggie
A the same time, Graham Scroggie preached at Bethesda Baptist church.  Scroggie was known nationally for his Bible correspondence courses and was one of the best known preachers at that time, going on later to minister at Charlotte Chapel and Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.  Among Scroggie's books was 'The Baptism of the Spirit and Speaking with Tongues' in which he took an opposite view to his Anglican contemporary north of the River Wear.  However, it appears that there was some mutual respect between the two, as Scroggie delivered a series of Sermons at Boddy's parish church in 1909.  Bethesda Church went on to produce numerous leaders, evangelists and missionaries over the following century.  It remains to this day and is still one of the more effective churches in Sunderland.

This is not to mention, of course, the Methodist camp meetings in Sunderland and Seaham and the great impact of the Salvation Army in the 19th Century - before which William and Catherine Booth ran their 'Converting Shop' in Gateshead - a very successful church linked to the Methodists before the Army was founded.

So, why all this nostalgia?

I put to you that I'm not being nostalgic!

Let me quote you a scripture:

The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1 ESV)

Now let me ask you a question.  When Nehemiah prayed that prayer and resolved to restore the walls of Jerusalem, how long ago had the city been destroyed?  Five years?  Ten years?  Twenty or thirty perhaps?

Nope.  150 years - yes one hundred and fifty!

Like Nehemiah, we should look back, and then grieve over what has happened to our city.  Then we should be crying out to him to forgive the city of its' sins and visit Sunderland powerfully again.  Nehemiah was just one man.  But he left his secure, prestigious job to make it his business to do his part in restoring Jerusalem with a small remnant of people.  Can some of us follow his example?

*A Mackem is a native of Sunderland.  The phrase "Mak 'em and tak 'em" (the Wearside pronunciation of "Make them and take them") probably refers to the ships that were manufactured here.  A Geordie, in contrast is from Tyneside or Newcastle further North.  'Geordie' is a Scottish nickname for a man named George.  The folks of Newcastle were staunch supporters of King George II during the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, and the term stuck.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Spirit of Rehoboam: Marginalising the Old Folks

Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king.  And as soon as Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt.  And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam,  “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.”  He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?”  And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants for ever.”  But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him.  And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?”  And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us’, thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father's thighs. And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”....
And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.” So Israel went to their tents.  But Rehoboam reigned over the people of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah.  Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labour, and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And King Rehoboam hurried to mount his chariot to flee to Jerusalem.  So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.  And when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was none that followed the house of David but the tribe of Judah only.1Kings 12:1-11, 16-20

We need to stop marginalising and ignoring the old folks in our churches.  I'm not trying to be sympathetic.  I'm simply being practical.  Why wouldn't you take advantage of such a tremendous resource?  On average, they pray more than our young folk.  They have more experience and wisdom.  They've seen more.  They have a more rounded view of life, including our mortality and the brevity of this life.  They have practical skills and the time to use them.  I even think that on average they have more evangelistic zeal and are more willing to go into the streets with the Gospel.

A healthy church has a good range of ages, I think.  So why do so many churches do what Rehoboam did and focus almost entirely on the 'Yoof'?

  • Is it because the church is in the world?  Money-centred and image-conscious marketing people and employers are interested in young people, and we can easily absorb these attitudes.
  • Is it because young people like louder, trendier music and we're not prepared to turn the sound down?
  • Is it because younger people as a generation are more self-absorbed than ever before and we don't even think of what it's like to be over 30 or 40?
  • Is it because our society divides families up by age group?  The old folks stay in homes, the little children go to nursery, twenty-somethings live together and few households have more than 2 generations living in them?  So even Christians don't know how to co-exist with older folks?
  • Is it because they have illnesses and die more often, and we don't want to be reminded that this body is a temporary one?
  • Has it got something to do with the overall decline in respect for the elderly in our society?
  • Is it because a generation of young leaders want to experiment with the latest fad, or do what they want to do and they don't want advice?
  • Is it because young people are easier for leaders to manipulate, ask fewer questions and do what we want them to do?
I fear for churches that, maybe even unwittingly, overlook those with more experience in life.  I don't think I have ever heard anyone in church quote the scripture below:

You shall stand up before the grey head and honour the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
Leviticus 19:32

Is that because it speaks of something so foreign to our present culture?  I believe the commandment:

“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Exodus 20:12

Doesn't just refer to to our natural parents.  Surely it also refers to our fathers and mothers in the faith.  I honestly believe that our trendy mono-generational churches are doomed to be a flash in the pan.  We need to welcome and involve our older folks.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Where are the Christian Families? Is this you?

Indulge me while I put finger to keyboard and show a bit of vulnerability.  This is the cry of my heart right now.

I know something of what Elijah felt when he said:

'I am the only one left and they're trying to kill me too!'  1Kings 19:10

Alright.  Nobody's trying to kill me, as far as I know.  But it's worse in a way.  There's an Enemy who is trying to destroy the Christian family.  And he knows very well, that if he destroys the Christian family, he's effectively destroyed the church.  I believe it's as simple as that.  And my wife and I get lonely.  Will anyone join us in fighting this battle for the family?  It can be done, but we'll win it more easily if we fight together!

Forgive me if I am being judgemental, but I despair of finding a well functioning Christian family anywhere.  Maybe someone will prove me wrong.  Granted, there are a few.  All the ones I know are a good drive away from here though.

So let me ask you something.  Is this you?

  • You are married with children.  Both of you love the Lord, pray and read the Bible most days both separately and together. Okay, lets throw in single parents. You have an ongoing walk with the Lord. It is the most important relationship you have.
  • You take the Bible very seriously. It really is the final word.
  • You take your children to church. You teach your faith to your children through regular organised bible studies and prayer at home, casual discussion and setting an example. You don't leave it to the church to do all of that for you.
  • Your children (even the teenagers) are relatively well behaved and do not have a wild or rebellious spirit.
  • Dad - you play your part as the head. You are ultimately responsible for teaching and disciplining the children and you take this seriously. Having said that, both of you work as a team in this respect. Single mam - you work at this also, leaning on the Father to the Fatherless (Psalm 68:5) and teaming up with other families in the church seeking good male role models.
  • You show lots of love and affection to your children, (try really hard, by God's grace, to) stay even tempered and build a strong bond of love them.
  • You prayerfully and carefully consider issues such as your children's education, the media they are exposed to, the holidays they go on, the friends they spend time with, the chores they do and their interests. Without stifling them, you develop healthy interests and activities in their children.
  • You prayerfully guide your children towards good jobs and suitable marriage partners, protecting them from sexual predators as they grow older and finding suitable social activities where they can make the right friends.
  • You live in (or very near) Sunderland.
  • You have time to make new friends.
If so, let's join together in the Lord, for the sake of the next generation.  We may be only a tiny remnant, but God has the habit of raising up small remnants to fulfill His purposes!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

William Booth on Spiritual Warfare

I will finish this series by looking at how the Army would deal with opposition and turn enemies into friends.  In an age where the church does not look much like an army, where it is largely despised and struggles to be a triumphant, respected, feared body of brave, loving, believing servants, I find this passage deeply challenging and encouraging too.  If they could do this over 100 years ago, why can't we now?

Consider, moreover, through what opposition the Salvation Army has ever had to make its way.

In each country it has to face universal prejudice, distrust, and contempt, and often stronger antipathy still. This opposition has generally found expression in systematic, Governmental, and Police restriction, followed in too many cases by imprisonment, and by the condemnatory outpourings of Bishops, Clergy, Pressmen and others, naturally followed in too many instances by the oaths and curses, the blows and insults of the populace. Through all this, in country after country, the Army makes its way to the position of universal respect, that respect, at any rate, which is shown to those who have conquered.

And of what material has this conquering host been made?

Wherever the Army goes it gathers into its meetings, in the first instance, a crowd of the most debased, brutal, blasphemous elements that can be found who, if permitted, interrupt the services, and if they see the slightest sign of police tolerance for their misconduct, frequently fall upon the Army officers or their property with violence. Yet a couple of Officers face such an audience with the absolute certainty of recruiting out of it an Army Corps.

Many thousands of those who are now most prominent in the ranks of the Army never knew what it was to pray before they attended its services; and large numbers of them had settled into a profound conviction that everything connected with religion was utterly false. It is out of such material that God has constructed what is admitted to be one of the most fervid bodies of believers ever seen on the face of the earth.

Monday, 6 October 2014

William Booth on Riches and Poverty

Firstly, we dare not withhold the Gospel from the very worst of people.

As Christ came to call not the saints but sinners to repentance, so the New Message of Temporal Salvation, of salvation from pinching poverty, from rags and misery, must be offered to all.

They may reject it, of course. But we who call ourselves by the name of Christ are not worthy to profess to be His disciples until we have set an open door before the least and worst of these who are now apparently imprisoned for life in a horrible dungeon of misery and despair. The responsibility for its rejection must be theirs, not ours. We all know the prayer, "Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with food convenient for me"--and for every child of man on this planet, thank God the prayer of Agur, the son of Jakeh, may be fulfilled.

This sad passage explains how respectable girls can become more entrapped than streetwise ones.  The story continues today, via the evils of sex-trafficking.

A girl was some time ago discharged from a city hospital after an illness. She was homeless and friendless, an orphan, and obliged to work for her living. Walking down the street and wondering what she should do next, she met a girl, who came up to her in a most friendly fashion and speedily won her confidence. "Discharged ill, and nowhere to go, are you?" said her new friend. "Well, come home to my mother's; she will lodge you, and we'll go to work together, when you are quite strong."  The girl consented gladly, but found herself conducted to the very lowest part of Woolwich and ushered into a brothel; there was no mother in the case. She was hoaxed, and powerless to resist. Her protestations were too late to save her, and having had her character forced from her she became hopeless, and stayed on to live the life of her false friend.

There is no need for me to go into the details of the way in which men and women, whose whole livelihood depends upon their success in disarming the suspicions of their victims and luring them to their doom, contrive to overcome the reluctance of the young girl without parents, friends, or helpers to enter their toils. What fraud fails to accomplish, a little force succeeds in effecting; and a girl who has been guilty of nothing but imprudence finds herself an outcast for life. The very innocence of a girl tells against her. A woman of the world, once entrapped, would have all her wits about her to extricate herself from the position in which she found herself. A perfectly virtuous girl is often so overcome with shame and horror that there seems nothing in life worth struggling for. She accepts her doom without further struggle, and treads the long and torturing path-way of "the streets" to the grave.

How poor people almost invariably become far more effective givers and 'fighters' than the rich.

How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the Kingdom of Heaven! It is easier to make a hundred poor men sacrifice their lives than it is to induce one rich man to sacrifice his fortune, or even a portion of it, to a cause in which, in his half-hearted fashion, he seems to believe. When I look over the roll of men and women who have given up friends, parents, home prospects, and everything they possess in order to walk bare-footed beneath a burning sun in distant India, to live on a handful of rice, and die in the midst of the dark heathen for God and the Salvation Army, I sometimes marvel how it is that they should be so eager to give up all, even life itself, in a cause which has not power enough in it to induce any reasonable number of wealthy men to give to it the mere superfluities and luxuries of their existence. From those to whom much is given much is expected; but, alas, alas, how little is realised! It is still the widow who casts her all into the Lord's treasury--the wealthy deem it a preposterous suggestion when we allude to the Lord's tithe, and count it boredom when we ask only for the crumbs that fall from their tables.

Monday, 22 September 2014

William Booth on Christian Community

It's not good enough to see people who have lived lives of vice and serious sin saved in church only expect them to be respectable 'Sunday Christians' like us, sending them 'home' to places of temptation until our next church meeting.  If we are to see people grow strong in the faith we need to set up structures that enable people to be protected.  This involves personal sacrifice.  Such as?
  • Opening our homes, taking in single people and being a family to them
  • Setting up 'safe houses'
  • Christian households purposely living in close proximity and spending mealtimes with each other
  • Adopting children
  • Caring for sick, elderly and disabled people among us.

Here are some of Booth's thoughts on these things...

Secondly: The remedy, to be effectual, must change the circumstances of the individual when they are the cause of his wretched condition, and lie beyond his control. Among those who have arrived at their present evil plight through faults of self-indulgence or some defect in their moral character, how many are there who would have been very differently placed to-day had their surroundings been otherwise?

The Army's Founder was able to testify that these methods were effective:

And here let me say that it is a great delusion to imagine that in the riffraff and waste of the labour market there are no workmen to be had except those that are worthless. Worthless under the present conditions, exposed to constant temptations to intemperance no doubt they are, but some of the brightest men in London, with some of the smartest pairs of hands, and the cleverest brains, are at the present moment weltering helplessly in the sludge from which we propose to rescue them.
I am not speaking without book in this matter. Some of my best Officers to-day have been even such as they. There is an infinite potentiality of capacity lying latent in our Provincial Tap-rooms and the City Gin Palaces if you can but get them soundly saved, and even short of that, if you can place them in conditions where they would no longer be liable to be sucked back into their old disastrous habits, you may do great things with them.

On befriending unlovable and friendless people:

If we are we to bring back the sense of brotherhood to the world, we must confront this difficulty. God, it was said in old time, setteth the desolate in families; but somehow, in our time, the desolate wander alone in the midst of a careless and unsympathising world. "There is no-one who cares for my soul. There is no creature loves me, and if I die no one will pity me," is surely one of the bitterest cries that can burst from a breaking heart. One of the secrets of the success of the Salvation Army is, that the friendless of the world find friends in it. There is not one sinner in the world-- no matter how degraded and dirty he may be--whom my people will not rejoice to take by the hand and pray with, and labour for, if thereby they can but snatch him as a brand from the burning. Now, we want to make more use of this, to make the Salvation Army the nucleus of a great agency for bringing comfort and counsel to those who are at their wits' end, feeling as if in the whole world there was no one to whom they could go.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

William Booth on Education

How should I educate my children?

This is a very relevant, urgent, current question for all Christian parents.  I find it interesting therefore that William Booth had comments to make on this.  When Booth wrote this, we had moved to compulsary education for all children between 5 and 10 years of age.  The 'Board Schools' were set up to 'fill in the gaps' where church schooling was not available.

Both of these quotes question the quality and relevance of the education that children receive.  They also deal with the issue that can be best raised by posing a question:

If you put a well behaved child together with a badly behaved child, what happens?  Does the bad child become good or does the good child become bad?  I'll leave you to decide what Booth's conclusion is!

But, it will be said, the child of to-day has the inestimable advantage of Education. No; he has not. Educated the children are not. They are pressed through "standards," which exact a certain acquaintance with A B C and pothooks and figures, but educated they are not in the sense of the development of their latent capacities so as to make them capable for the discharge of their duties in life. The new generation can read, no doubt. Otherwise, where would be the sale of "Sixteen String Jack," "Dick Turpin," and the like? But take the girls. Who can pretend that the girls whom our schools are now turning out are half as well educated for the work of life as their grandmothers were at the same age? How many of all these mothers of the future know how to bake a loaf or wash their clothes? Except minding the baby--a task that cannot be evaded--what domestic training have they received to qualify them for being in the future the mothers of babies themselves?

And even the schooling, such as it is, at what an expense is it often imparted! The rakings of the human cesspool are brought into the school-room and mixed up with your children. Your little ones, who never heard a foul word and who are not only innocent, but ignorant, of all the horrors of vice and sin, sit for hours side by side with little ones whose parents are habitually drunk, and play with others whose ideas of merriment are gained from the familiar spectacle of the nightly debauch by which their mothers earn the family bread.

It is good, no doubt, to learn the ABC, but it is not so good that in acquiring these indispensable rudiments, your children should also acquire the vocabulary of the harlot and the corner boy. I speak only of what I know, and of that which has been brought home to me as a matter of repeated complaint by my Officers, when I say that the obscenity of the talk of many of the children of some of our public schools could hardly be outdone even in Sodom and Gomorrha. Childish innocence is very beautiful; but the bloom is soon destroyed, and it is a cruel awakening for a mother to discover that her tenderly nurtured boy, or her carefully guarded daughter, has been initiated by a companion into the mysteries of abomination that are concealed in the phrase--a house of ill-fame.

The second quote also deals with the effect schools have on the labour market, often resulting in unemployment and unrealistic expectations.  Again, a relevant issue for today.

No one but a fool would say a word against school teaching. By all means let us have our children educated. But when we have passed them through the Board School Mill we have enough experience to see that they do not emerge the renovated and regenerated beings whose advent was expected by those who passed the Education Act. The "scuttlers" who knife inoffensive persons in Lancashire, the fighting gangs of the West of London, belong to the generation that has enjoyed the advantage of Compulsory Education. Education, book-learning and schooling will not solve the difficulty. It helps, no doubt. But in some ways it aggravates it. The common school to which the children of thieves and harlots and drunkards are driven, to sit side by side with our little ones, is often by no means a temple of all the virtues.
It is sometimes a university of all the vices. The bad infect the good, and your boy and girl come back reeking with the contamination of bad associates, and familiar with the coarsest obscenity of the slum. Another great evil is the extent to which our Education tends to overstock the labour market with material for quill-drivers and shopmen, and gives our youth a distaste for sturdy labour. Many of the most hopeless cases in our Shelters are men of considerable education.  Our schools help to enable a starving man to tell his story in more grammatical language than that which his father could have employed, but they do not feed him, or teach him where to go to get fed. So far from doing this they increase the tendency to drift into those channels where food is least secure, because employment is most uncertain, and the market most overstocked.

Friday, 5 September 2014

William Booth on the Gospel

I want to put it to you that the original Salvation Army was thoroughly Gospel-centred.

I say this simply because there is a strong emphasis on a form of outreach that is centred on 'Social Action' first and foremost, and I believe that many Salvationists focus on this and forget about the power of the gospel to change hearts, focusing on changing peoples' outward conditions.

The acid test:

The supreme test of any scheme for benefiting humanity lies in the answer to the question, What does it make of the individual? Does it quicken his conscience, does it soften his heart, does it enlighten his mind, does it, in short, make more of a true man of him, because only by such influences can he be enabled to lead a human life? Among the denizens of Darkest England there are many who have found their way thither by defects of character which would under the most favourable circumstances relegate them to the same position. Hence, unless you can change their character your labour will be lost. You may clothe the drunkard, fill his purse with gold, establish him in a well-furnished home, and in three, or six, or twelve months he will once more be on the Embankment, haunted by delirium tremens, dirty, squalid, and ragged. Hence, in all cases where a man's own character and defects constitute the reasons for his fall, that character must be changed and that conduct altered if any permanent beneficial results are to be attained. If he is a drunkard, he must be made sober; if idle, he must be made industrious; if criminal, he must be made honest; if impure, he must be made clean; and if he be so deep down in vice, and has been there so long that he has lost all heart, and hope, and power to help himself, and absolutely refuses to move, he must be inspired with hope and have created within him the ambition to rise; otherwise he will never get out of the horrible pit.

Food banks, take note:

The thing to be noted in all these cases is that it was not the mere feeding which effected the result; it was the combination of the feeding with the personal labour for the individual soul. Still, if we had not fed them, we should never have come near enough to gain any hold upon their hearts. If we had merely fed them, they would have gone away next day to resume, with increased energy, the predatory and vagrant life which they had been leading. But when our feeding and Shelter Depots brought them to close quarters, our officers were literally able to put their arms round their necks and plead with them as brethren who had gone astray. We told them that their sins and sorrows had not shut them out from the love of the Everlasting Father, who had sent us to them to help them with all the power of our strong Organisation, of the Divine authority of which we never feel so sure as when it is going forth to seek and to save the lost.

The work of the gospel:

1. The foundation of all the Army's success, looked at apart from its divine source of strength, is its continued direct attack upon those whom it seeks to bring under the influence of the Gospel. The Salvation Army Officer, instead of standing upon some dignified pedestal, to describe the fallen condition of his fellow men, in the hope that though far from him, they may thus, by some mysterious process, come to a better life, goes down into the street, and from door to door, and from room to room, lays his hands on those who are spiritually sick, and leads them to the Almighty Healer. In its forms of speech and writing the Army constantly exhibits this same characteristic. Instead of propounding religious theories or pretending to teach a system of theology, it speaks much after the fashion of the old Prophet or Apostle, to each individual, about his or her sin and duty, thus bringing to bear upon each heart and conscience the light and power from heaven, by which alone the world can be transformed.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

William Booth on Discipline

I don't advocate making the church into a regiment with military titles like 'General' and 'Captain'.  However, when I read these quotes it suggests to me that the church has lost it's sense of militancy.  What has happened to discipline?

We are in a battle, not a game of charades.

A man who has been in the Queen's Army is a man who has learnt to obey. He is further a man who has been taught in the roughest of rough schools to be handy and smart, to make the best of the roughest fare, and not to consider himself a martyr if he is sent on a forlorn hope. I often say if we could only get Christians to have one-half of the practical devotion and sense of duty that animates even the commonest Tommy Atkins what a change would be brought about in the world!

Another quote:

The ordinary operations of the Army have already effected most wonderful changes in the conditions of the poorest and worst. Multitudes of slaves of vice in every form have been delivered not only from these habits, but from the destitution and misery which they even produce. Instances have been given. Any number more can be produced. Our experience, which has been almost world-wide, has ever shown that not only does the criminal become honest, the drunkard sober, the harlot chaste, but that poverty of the most abject and helpless type vanishes away. Our fourth credential is that our Organisation alone of England's religious bodies is founded upon the principle of implicit obedience. For Discipline I can answer. The Salvation Army, largely recruited from among the poorest of the poor, is often reproached by its enemies on account of the severity of its rule. It is the only religious body founded in our time that is based upon the principle of voluntary subjection to an absolute authority. No one is bound to remain in the Army a day longer than he pleases. While he remains there he is bound by the conditions of the Service. The first condition of that Service is implicit, unquestioning obedience. The Salvationist is taught to obey as is the soldier on the field of battle.

Food for thought.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

William Booth on Prison

I recently read a book [don't you just love Kindle!] entitled 'In Darkest England' by William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army.

You may still see a few Salvationists around our cities and towns, especially at Christmas playing carols with their brass instruments, and you may even wonder what they're all about.  In the words of an old Cliff Richard song:

'And I thought, "If that's an army, it's a funny way to fight!"'

But I have to impress on you this one thing.  With due respect (there are still some great people in that movement), they are a pale shadow of the powerful, militant movement they once were.  They are an odd group in some ways [a military structure, no baptism or communion], but it is hard to argue with the huge success they had through the Gospel in Victorian and Edwardian England among the poorest and vice-ridden underclass.

I found it such an interesting book, that I collected a number of quotes which I still believe are pertinent for the church today and I am going to reproduce them over the next few days and weeks.

This is what Booth said about Prison:

The Salvation Army has at least one great qualification for dealing with this question I believe I am in the proud position of being at the head of the only religious body which has always some of its members in gaol for conscience' sake. We are also one of the few religious bodies which can boast that many of those who are in our ranks have gone through terms of penal servitude. We, therefore, know the prison at both ends. Some men go to gaol because they are better than their neighbours, most men because they are worse. Martyrs, patriots, reformers of all kinds belong to the first category.

No great cause has ever achieved a triumph before it has furnished a certain quota to the prison population. The repeal of an unjust law is seldom carried until a certain number of those who are labouring for the reform have experienced in their own persons the hardships of fine and imprisonment. Christianity itself would never have triumphed over the Paganism of ancient Rome had the early Christians not been enabled to testify from the dungeon and the arena as to the sincerity and serenity of soul with which they could confront their persecutors, and from that time down to the successful struggles of our people for the right of public meeting at Whitchurch and elsewhere, the Christian religion and the liberties of men have never failed to demand their quota of martyrs for the faith.

I love how Booth does not lament the fact that his people are imprisoned, but takes it as a badge of honour.

Without doubt, some of the freedoms we have today to preach the Gospel in the streets were won for us by the Salvation Army.  They managed to get these freedoms enshrined in our law by the House of Lords during a time when many local Magistrates [often on cahoots with the owners of pubs] opposed them bitterly and many Salvationists were sent by them to prison for preaching the Gospel.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Back to the Gospel 7: Hell's Best Kept Secret

I can't recommend this enough.  It revolutionised my personal witness and I point as many other people as I can to this.
Listen to Ray Comfort's sermon 'Hell's best kept secret'
I also encourage you to look at the 'Way of the Master' http://www.wayofthemaster.com/ website and look through their witnessing clips and TV programmes. They explain things far better than I ever could. You can even do a course with them if you want.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Back to the Gospel 6: Is 'Friendship Evangelism' Creepy?

My books and churches taught me this:
The key to evangelism is to make lots of non-Christian friends, spend time with them, earn your right to speak and invite them along to church activities, from barbecues to guest services, from Alpha courses to baptisms.
I had problems with this.
1. I'm an introvert!!! I only make a few friends.

2. I'm really busy!!! If I build friendships, I neglect my work, family etc.

3. I want to share the gospel with people. It had a powerful effect on my life. But nobody's shown me how! When I open my mouth, it sounds weak and pathetic or too condemning or 'heavy'.

4. Making friends so that I could share the gospel later feels ‘creepy’ to me. I'm not really being buddies because I want to be with them. I'm just softening 'em up so that after a few hours/weeks/months I can invite them to church! It’s a bit like dating a girl and waiting till you’ve really got them hooked before you tell them you have a criminal record or are tens of thousands in debt or have some shameful habit!!!
Do we see any really solid models of ‘friendship evangelism’ in scripture? There are two passages that are commonly quoted by advocates of friendship evangelism.
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23
If this is Paul’s manifesto for friendship evangelism, a quick look at what he says just beforehand presents a challenge:
Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

2Corinthians 9:16
So... Paul’s first priority is to preach the Gospel. He is not spending hours, weeks or months priming people up to ‘earn the right’ to say something.
Secondly, this passage gets used:
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.

1Thessalonians 2:8
Interesting that Paul again mentions sharing the gospel before he talks about sharing his life. But again, a look at the context is very significant. Look at Paul says just before this.
We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.

1Thessalonians 2:2-6
Nor are we trying to trick you’!!!! I told you I found ‘friendship evangelism’ creepy! I think Paul would have too.
On occasion, the Bible actually tells us not to make friends with certain people:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.

2Corinthians 6:14-16
Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.

Psalm 1:1
He who walks with the wise grows wise, 
 but a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20
Do we just not bother with these people? Or do we go with them to pub crawls and nightclubs and trust that we won’t be drawn in to sin?
I’m going to say something that some people won’t like.
In the Bible, there was no such thing as ‘friendship evangelism’ as it is defined today.
The early Christians used what I will call proclamation evangelism. And that is what we are commanded to use!
The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.

1Thessalonians 1:8
How effective is proclamation evangelism compared with friendship evangelism?
I have no scientific studies, but I would like to quote from a UK evangelist called Korky Davey, who is a big believer in ‘proclamation’ in the streets, in parks and in schools. I recommend his free e-book 'Biblical Patterns of Evangelism'...
Experience in Spain and Portugal shows that it takes about 15-20 years to establish a fellowship of about 25 people when personal evangelism is the only method employed. Bill Wooten, a missionary in Portugal, told me that his reliance on personal evangelism had meant that building a relationship with a Portuguese family to the point where he could share the Gospel with them took about a year. Most of those he got to know ultimately proved not to be interested in the Gospel. The Operation Mobilisation strategy for Italy was for each of their families to evangelise one Italian family each year. On that basis it would take thousands of years to reach the population - yet for some extraordinary reason many of those involved in missions regard friendship evangelism as the only responsible and effective way to do the job. Many of them seem to be hung up on the idea that one needs to earn the right to speak. Fortunately the Apostles did not suffer from these sort of hang-ups and regarded the preaching of the Gospel as their prime function in every town.
He says the following about ‘proclamation’ evangelism...
Around about 800 people passed through our training programme over the last thirty years with the result that we have experience first hand in about 17 countries. In Albania, a very unlikely couple have over the last 15 years established 36 new fellowships across the south of the country with 9,000 converts - mainly through mobilising and training local evangelists. The potential is enormous, pretty well everywhere. Various other teams have successfully got similar ministry patterns going on the streets in Europe.
Vienna, Austria - Better than an Alpha Supper!

Aluche, Spain - Better than a Guest Service!

Conclusion. Don’t spend countless hours ‘befriending’ before you say anything. Learn how to proclaim the gospel early. Real friends are 'upfront' with people!!! Be 'upfront' with the Gospel. Like Jesus, the apostles and the most effective Christians throughout the ages.