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' 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.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Back to the Gospel 5: The Preaching Workshop

A while ago, I attended preaching workshop. A number of young aspiring leaders were there. 'Workshops' involve doing something. So I was looking forward to seeing what would happen. Were we going to preach? And what was meant by preaching here? Were we going to hit the town and share the gospel with passers by?
I was slightly disappointed, but not really surprised by what actually happened. The speaker quoted extensively from two great books:
- Preaching and Preachers by Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones*

- I Believe in Preaching by John Stott.
I don't know how and when it has happened, but whoever began to call 'teaching' 'preaching' has done us a great disservice.
I find it breathtaking and amazing that two of our most noted Christian leaders* have written entire books on 'preaching', which are regarded as classics, taking it to mean speaking from church pulpits. Didn't they even bother to look the word up?
I am not just being picky here. This is a serious error. It means that church leaders can kid themselves that they are doing the work of the Gospel by preparing a sermon every Sunday. The truth is, when you're in that pulpit, everyone is sat listening politely in rows. Nobody heckles, shouts, interrupts – except perhaps with an 'Amen'. It is not even customary to ask questions at the end**. Few people dare to challenge you afterwards or say anything discouraging, and hopefully you will get the odd bouquet.
We live in an era when fewer people than ever go outside the walls of a church to preach even though the need is at its greatest. We should not be put off by those who do it badly - it can be done very effectively. Most people in the UK, especially the North, will not normally go into a church. The old method of taking someone to hear a preacher at church or an evangelistic crusade will not do it. It may help, but the real need today is to send people out to preach. Let me quote for another book still, 'Lectures to my Students' by CH Spurgeon, who unlike Jones and Stott, devotes a chapter to open air preaching.
No sort of defense is needed for preaching out-of-doors; but it would need very potent arguments to prove that a man had done his duty who has never preached beyond the walls of his meetinghouse. A defense is required rather for services within buildings than for worship outside of them. Apologies are certainly wanted for architects who pile up brick and stone into the skies when there is so much need for preaching rooms among poor sinners down below.... no defense whatever is wanted for using the Heavenly Father's vast audience chamber, which is in every way so well fitted for the proclamation of a Gospel so free, so full, so expansive, so sublime.
The great benefit of open-air preaching is that we get so many newcomers to hear the Gospel who otherwise would never hear it. The Gospel command is, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," but it is so little obeyed that one would imagine that it ran thus, "Go into your own place of worship and preach the Gospel to the few creatures who will come inside."
We ought actually to go into the streets and lanes and highways, for there are lurkers in the hedges, tramps on the highways, street-walkers and lane-haunters, whom we shall never reach unless we pursue them into their own domains. Sportsmen must not stop at home and wait for the birds to come and be shot at, neither must fishermen throw their nets inside their boats and hope to take many fish. Traders go to the markets; they follow their customers and go out after business if it will not come to them; and so must we. Some of our brethren are prosing on and on to empty pews and musty hassocks, while they might be conferring lasting benefit upon hundreds by quitting the old walls for a while, and seeking living stones for Jesus.
* I need to make it clear that I hold Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones in high regard – do read his books or listen to his sermons. I may do whole post on him in the near future. Alas, I disagree with John Stott on so many fundamental issues, and I cannot recommend him.
** Actually, in my view it should be. I may explain why one day

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Back to the Gospel 4: You and I are all called to Preach!

Why don't we preach anymore?grayconfused.gif
"Our church does!', I hear you say, "our pastor preaches great sermons to our church every Sunday!':yes:

You didn't hear me right did you? I said preach!

Didn't you hear me right?? I said PREACH!

Let me give you a clue!
Now let me give you the 2 Greek words that are translated as 'Preach' in the New Testament:
kerysso – to proclaim, announce (news)
euangelizo- to announce the Good News
Please check me out! The word 'preach' consistently means to share the good news of Jesus with unbelievers.
A Scripture quote:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
2Timothy 4:1-5
I am not just being picky here. This is a serious error. Not only were the apostles expected to preach the Gospel. It was taken for granted that other church leaders and members would as well.
And I'll put this to you as well.
We are ALL commanded to preach!
He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on people who are ill, and they will get well.’
After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Mark 16:15-20
But only some are commanded to teach.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
James 3:1
This distinction is important. More on this later!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Back to the Gospel 3: Gouging out our eyes!

I will begin with two scripture quotes.
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? Or 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. As God has said: 
“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”
“Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.” And,
“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.” 

2 Corinthians 6:14-18
Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh Gilead. And all the men of Jabesh said to him, “Make a treaty with us, and we will be subject to you.”
But Nahash the Ammonite replied, “I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel.”
The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days so we can send messengers throughout Israel; if no one comes to rescue us, we will surrender to you.”
When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and reported these terms to the people, they all wept aloud. Just then Saul was returning from the fields, behind his oxen, and he asked, “What is wrong with everyone? Why are they weeping?” Then they repeated to him what the men of Jabesh had said.
When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger. 

1Samuel 11:1-6
A word of explanation is needed about the latter passage. Why did Nahash want to gouge out the right eye in particular? Well, according to commentators, the fighting men would carry their weapons with their right hand and their shield in their left. They would then look over the shield with their right eye. So effectively, by removing the right eye, they were rendering the people of the city powerless, unable to fight effectively in battle.
The relationship between government and church is complex and beyond the scope of this post, but I want to put a few points to you.

  1. We are to respect those in political power, pay our taxes and realise that they are put in place under God's ultimate authority (Romans 13, Acts 23:5)
  2. Having said that, government (if it ever did) no longer seeks the Lord for direction and guidance. The main political ideologies are humanistic.
  3. We are not yet suffering active state persecution of the church, as some countries are, but there is a large degree of low level opposition to the gospel.

  4. Government will happily tolerate and even financially support churches and Christian organisations that do good works, particularly if it fits with their agenda. But they will rarely support the preaching of the gospel.

Point 4 doesn't worry me. We do not live in a theocracy! And even in Old Testament Israel, prophets often lived on the edges of society, either earning their own living or relying on sympathetic supporters to feed and accommodate them. Jesus himself had 'nowhere to rest his head'. As a Christian, I want liberty (1Timothy 2:1-4), but I don't want a subsidy (Genesis 23:1-16).
I've seen it so many times. Churches and para-church organisations fall over themselves to get a grant, a subsidy or a service level agreement. It happens like this:
  • Some enthusiastic Christians set up a successful project. It combines caring for physical needs with sharing the gospel.
It succeeds spectacularly!

  • Either (a) it runs short of money, (b) they want it to expand or (c) a government agency becomes interested.
  • They apply for funding.
  • There is a clause in the contract which says that they cannot preach an effective gospel message.
  • They get lots of money!

  • It loses its effectiveness!

In other words.. Nahash has gouged our eyes out!
Let me quote from 'Revolution in World Missions'.
As much as we want to see hundreds and thousands of new missionaries go into all the dark places, if they don’t know what they are there to do, the result will be fatal. We must send soldiers into battle with the right weapons and understanding of the enemy’s tactics. If we intend to answer man’s greatest problem—his separation from the eternal God—with rice handouts, then we are throwing a drowning man a board instead of helping him out of the water. A spiritual battle fought with spiritual weapons will produce eternal victories. This is why we insist upon restoring a right balance to Gospel outreach. The accent must first and always be on evangelism and discipleship.
 P 109

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Back to the Gospel 2: The 'Rice Christians'

In the 1980s I was inspired by Clive Calver, the then leader of the UK Evangelical Alliance who challenged churches to get involved in their communities through a whole host of 'good works' ministries as a means of winning friends, changing hearts and showing unbelievers that Christians care and don't just want to convert them.
And so it is that churches up and down the land are spending precious time, money, energy, skill, effort, blood, sweat, tears and toil doing good deeds for unbelievers. Lets call it Social Action.
Is this all wrong? No. There are schools, orphanages, drug rehabilitation centres, food distribution programmes, homeless shelters that are very much gospel centred, and people are coming to Christ as a result. Praise the Lord for this.
But there are also many that have long ago stopped preaching the gospel and they really are ineffective. Well-meaning Christians are working hard making sinners more comfortable, well fed, skilled and educated without turning them from their sins and eternal damnation.
Some Christian churches involve themselves in good works ministries for decades, who haven't seen a single person saved through their efforts.
I want to suggest that these ministries are a waste of time if:
  • We are neglecting our families

  • We are neglecting our own brethren

  • We are neglecting the gospel

These ministries particularly attract people who:
  1. Don't really know how to share their faith, how to guide a conversation, how to articulate the gospel
  2. Don't want to upset people and want everyone to like them
  3. Want to get state funding for their schemes

I have a lot of sympathy with the first of these groups - that was me! If it's you, get onto the Way of the Master website and start learning from them and using their materials! Our primary calling in relation to unbelievers is to preach the gospel.
I have a couple of scriptures for the second category:
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets. Luke 6:26
If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes with the holy angels. Mark 8:38

Some people are simply ashamed of Jesus' words - and don't want to use them!
We need to repent of being people pleasers! Trying to win people to Christ with good deeds but no words is a subtle form of bribery!
Let me quote from KP Yohannan's book Revolution in World Missions*, P.135.
Several years ago, 40 Indian villages, once considered Christian, turned back to Hinduism. Could it be that whole villages that had experienced the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ would turn back into the bondage of Satan?
No. These villages were called 'Christian' only because they had been 'converted' by missionaries who used hospitals, material goods and other incentives to attract them to Christianity... In missionary terms they were 'rice Christians'. They never understood the true gospel of the Bible. After all the effort, these people were as lost as ever.
*This book is, in my view, one of the most important ones written in the last 50 years, and I will quote from this several times.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Back to the Real Gospel 1: The Dirty Pond

I'm at a Day Conference for leaders. I'm looking forward to the two main sessions. :-) The titles of the talks are something like:
- The decline in church attendance in the last 30 years
- What we can do to reverse it
The first talk was lengthy and predictably bleak. Ageing congregations, surplus buildings, alienated youth, church closures, graphs pointing south.  It made the next session all the more eagerly awaited.
Well Mr Speaker. What is the solution? Here is the gist of Session 2.

- Get involved in the community
- Mix with the locals
- Participate in the neighbourhood.

I was disheartened. Why?  I had been part of churches for years that took this approach at the cost of much money, labour, sweat, tears and toil but with little real fruit. Never mind. Listen on. Perhaps he'll say something about the gospel.
He went on to tell the story of a Church of England parish in a large city which encompassed both a prosperous area and a poor area, a Council Estate. The congregation all came from the 'well off' side. They decided to make a serious attempt to reach the people from the Estate. They employed a young couple from Australia to live there for a year. They were very friendly and soon became liked by the local folks. Then they set up a few projects to bless the people. One of the most enjoyable was cleaning out the pond. There was a dirty, neglected pool of water, full of beer cans, bags and shopping trolleys near the shops in the middle of the estate. So a group of local parishioners decided to spend a few days with the nearby residents cleaning it up and getting rid of all the rubbish.
Inspiring stuff! Some of the neighbours even came along to church once or twice! The church is being relevant at last – showing that they care!
Our Aussie friends left.
The seminar was near it's end. The question was burning within me! I'd have liked to have had the guts to ask. I didn't need to. Someone else did. “What was the lasting fruit? How many were saved? How many joined the church from the local estate?”
The answer? The speaker had to admit that there was none. Not one. Zilch.
So there we have it! Three hours sitting through seminars on – what should have been - winning people to Christ, but all we got was what I had been seeing for some years now. Evangelical Christians losing confidence in the power of the Gospel preached in the power of the Spirit and going for social action instead in the hope that it will make people like us. But no results!
The harvest is past, the Summer is ended and we are not saved. Jeremiah 8:20.
Conclusion. The 'social gospel' on its own, without the preaching of the Gospel, does not work.

Monday, 4 August 2014


Aaaargh! Men!
We need you - but where are you?

Ey! Men!
The Gospel is for you, you know!

Eh? Men?
Are there any real ones left in our churches?

Are Men?
Fit for the Kingdom?

A - Men
Fellas - follow Jesus - join the A-Team

Ah! Men!!
Let's have real men bringing in the Kingdom of God



Men For God: The Christian Soldier

Where the fighting is the fiercest
In the Battlefield of Life

There you'll find the Christian Soldier...
Represented by his wife

Heard once in a sermon.