Monday, May 31, 2010

They shall come from the East and move to the West and preach the Kingdom of God…

On Saturday our family was entertained in the home of some delightful Officers from India who are currently serving on IHQ. We had a quite exceptional day and the hospitality we enjoyed was of the highest standard. These quiet and unassuming Officers left Tracey and myself feeling incredibly humbled. Their willingness to step out of their comfort zone, to embrace another culture and language, to expose their vulnerable daughter to western fashions and values and their readiness to be tied to desks when their hearts long for frontline mission and opportunities to evangelise was truly overwhelming. Indeed it left our own (hitherto considered enthusiastic) passion in the shade.

It was an inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

I asked these Officers (both first generation Christians) if they had been disappointed with the Salvation Army in the west, no doubt they had travelled to London – the birthplace of the Army – with a degree of expectancy – had their expectations been met? Why I asked this question I'm not sure, it's was a bit like an adolescent asking a girl (who is way out of his league) to go out with him when in his heart he knows the best response he is going to get is 'I think you're really nice but I like you like a brother - let's just be friends.' There was an impending sense of pessimism as the Major paused before he confirmed my fears. Of course they had been disappointed. His innate graciousness forbade him from amplifying his answer but it was all there in his eyes. Where was the fire, the vision? Where were the new converts and soldiers? Where was the passion, that burning desire to 'save the sheep'?

In Dartford we have two ministers who are running Methodist churches in the area, both of these gentlemen hail from countries in what we once patronisingly called the third world (i.e. countries that had no political alignment with either capitalism or communism). Post cold-war we often use the adjective 'developing' to describe these countries. A hundred years earlier these areas often attracted the prefix 'dark' or 'darkest' a reference to their unchristianised status. We sent missionaries to these countries to illuminate their apparent darkness with the light of the gospel. Now they are returning the favour; as Africans, Indians, South Americans and Asians answer the call to venture into the remotest reaches of the heathen west preaching the kingdom of God as they go.

Fortunately the simple faith we passed to them they have preserved and now offer back to us, they see (with great sadness) our weary apostate and liberal state and offer the healing balm and energetic tonic of the gospel.

Thank God for their willing obedience, their readiness to sacrifice themselves. May their faith be rewarded with a revival in the west, maybe (God willing) starting in 'Heathen England' – let it be!

As Railton once said 'Courage comrades, it is still the will of God to save our nation.'

Grace and peace

Friday, May 21, 2010

A contemporary holiness testimony

I have had the most remarkable week!

After fifteen years of searching for holiness I think I have finally discovered the truth that 'set's us free'. Any regular reader of my blog will appreciate how intense this battle has been and how vacillating my own moral performance has been during this time. My dithering and indecisive pilgrimage has seen me swing between the extremes of puritanical asceticism to liberal moral abandonment.

Last week somehow – I'm still not quite sure how it happened everything seemed to fall into place.

The stumbling block for me has always been the 'doubtful things' – identifying, exposing and rejecting the sinful things in my life has always been relatively straightforward – but when it comes to the doubtful things it has always been more complicated. Of course the problem is that a refusal to surrender what is 'doubtful' will always leave us quite incapable of surrendering what is sinful. Achan's sin – hiding those things which ought to be devoted to God among our own possessions – is, I am quite certain the curse of the contemporary church. It is our inability to settle the holiness question that holds us in our current state of fear, confusion and impotency. In short, our own version of Achan's sin leaves us 'obligated to defeat'.

Last Friday I finally got to the point where I was willing to surrender all. God's grace had put me in a position where I was willing to make a consecration that was "both entire and real" as the old doctrine book says.

" To be entire it must include the body, with all its members and powers; the mind, with all its faculties; the heart, with all its capacities; also goods, money, family, influence, reputation, time, ability, life, indeed everything. To be real it must be not in imagination or sentiment merely, but everything must henceforth actually be used as belonging to God and not to ourselves." (SA Doctrine Book 1923)

Having got to a point where I was willing to make such an absolute surrender I had a moment that within the context of my own personal struggle was Abrahamic in its immensity. With my arm raised, ceremonial dagger poised over coffee, football, crosswords, TV and the myriad of other distractions that make up my own collection of doubtful things – God held my hand! I felt; genuinely felt that in the face of my sincere willingness to surrender all God actually gave me some of it back. God didn't want me to surrender half of the things on my list but what he did want to know was whether I was willing to give them up.

At the end of the day as Samuel taught "to obey is better than sacrifice'. When it comes to holiness the one – possibly the only – condition that God sets before us is our genuine acknowledgement that he is first in our life. Keith Green puts it succinctly in his classic song:

To obey is better than sacrifice,
I don't need your money, I want your life.
And I hear you say that I'm coming back soon,
But you act like I'll never return.
To obey is better than sacrifice.
I want more than Sunday and Wednesday nights,
Cause if you can't come to me every day,
Then don't bother coming at all.
Holiness is about giving God our lives, placing him first, and having a relationship with him. It's not about what we do or even about what he does – it is about us dying and him living in our place. I'm not a huge fan of 'The Message' as an Englishman some bits of it are too American for me but there are some passages that are really quite brilliant. One such passage is Peterson's paraphrase of Romans 12:1-3

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."

If the proof of the pudding really is in the tasting then God with infinite patience has finally enabled me to experience holiness. This week has been the most positive, peaceful, effective week I have had since the early days of my conversion. The phrase used to describe a section in the old song book keeps on coming back to me ''holiness enjoyed' and yes, I have watched TV, drunk the occasional cup of coffee and completed the Telegraph cryptic crossword!

This week I have enjoyed a ''career of uninterrupted victory over sin', I have enjoyed 'maintaining contact with the life giver', I have enjoyed 'the peace of God' and I have found beauty in the simplest of things, this week I have enjoyed singing the following words with the confidence that only grace can give:

"Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue,
Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o'erflow,
Flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am his and he is mine."

The impact of this new life has been evident not only in my own heart and actions but evident in the life of my family. An atmosphere of domestic organisation and calm seems to have descended over our home.

After so many years of struggle and confusion I think that this is actually holiness – and the most amazing thing is that I didn't actually discover it at all – it was (like salvation) the free gift of God, he gave it to me last Friday, no angel voices, no tongues of fire, no trumpet blast - not even a 'still small voice' - he just dropped it into my heart almost unnoticed.

"Thank you Lord for saving my soul,
Thank you Lord for making me whole,
Thank you Lord for giving to me
Thy great Salvation so rich and free."

Much grace and peace, Andrew.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

It could be you…

On a Tuesday morning when I sell the War Cry at Dartford station I stand next to a sign advertising the National Lottery. It's never really crossed my mind until this morning that we both stand there advertising hope. The inanimate sign with its fingers-crossed logo and me in my Army cap.

'It could be you' is the catchphrase of the UK national lottery and if ever a slogan made spurious claims then this one does! Of course there is a possibility that it 'might be you' but the odds are incredibly slim. Indeed, if an apparently healthy man of 40 goes into a newsagents on Monday morning and buys a lottery ticket he is 40 times more likely to die of natural causes by the following Saturday than he is to win the jackpot. If the same man went into a casino and placed £1 on no 7 and won and decided to leave his winnings on number 7 for six more spins and won every time – that feat (statistically speaking) is 12 times more likely than winning the National Lottery jackpot.

People don't play the lottery to win they play it to hope. As long as they have a valid ticket in their pocket then there is always a possibility that it might be them. As long as that hope remains alive then they can dream. They can fall asleep working out how they will spend their money. They can make fantastic plans and there need be no limit to their imaginations. If, when the National Lottery began in 1995, you've bought a ticket for every draw (and never won) you will have spent over £1500!

If you spent £1,000 each week buying lottery tickets you would, on average, match all six numbers about once every 270 years.

And if you do want to play the lottery - please don't select the numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6. Camelot has reported that 30,000 people pick those numbers each week.

In reality, not playing the lottery and saving £2 every week, would probably (with investment) give most punters a greater financial return.

Gambling is a mug's game and yet the number of the gamblers in the UK is increasing at an alarming rate.

One of the most popular methods of betting at the moment, especially among young people is playing 'Fixed Odds Betting Machines' (FOBs). These are the "virtual roulette" machines you find in high street bookmakers, and although they have been specifically designed (and the software written) to take punter's money and make bookmakers a profit they are still incredibly popular. The bookmakers love these machines. They account for a huge part of their profits nowadays. They have been described as the crack cocaine of gambling, and, as with real roulette, gamblers have no chance of beating the odds. Over time, the machine always wins. Also a gambler can bet up to £100 on one spin.

Why do people insist on putting their money into schemes that (in reality) offer nothing but bankruptcy and despair? Because there is always an outside chance, a very slim hope that it just 'might be you'.

Of course I know that real hope can only be found in Jesus Christ and that's why I stand at the station every week with the War Cry.

Peter encourages us to be "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."

As I stood by the lottery sign this morning, even though it couldn't think or speak, I was aware that it was without doubt a more effective witness than I was. To be an effective and innovative evangelist takes effort and thought – standing outside the station with the War Cry is certainly better than nothing but if I'm going to be a real threat to the sign I stand next to every Tuesday (and defeat the evil it represents) I need to do a lot better!