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Sunday, 11 June 2017

Do You Love People Enough to Tell Them the Truth?

"I've always said that I don't respect people who don't proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn't proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn't believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.” Penn Jillette (atheist) 

It's funny, or maybe a sad indictment, that a challenge like this should come from the mouth of a prominent atheist rather than a Christian. Ten years ago, I was “convicted into mission” by a similar quote from an anonymous atheist. We may not like reading the words of those who don’t share our beliefs—the authors may even be working against our fundamental convictions about life, faith and everything else, but the real question is: do they have a point?

I have just returned from my first week-long mission with the Open-Air Mission—we were based in London, arriving on the morning of the most recent terrorist atrocity. I thought it might be useful to give you a flavour of my experiences during the week and a reminder of the viewpoints that are prevalent in society today. 

Our team started each day with a short Bible study and prayer for the contacts from the previous day. We then hit popular tourist spots including Speaker’s Corner, Leicester Square, the National Gallery and Covent Garden. The men diligently carried the bulky display board and poles everywhere we went. Establishing ourselves in each location for several hours, the preachers took turns sharing the Gospel. 

The presentations were varied: the most memorable, from my perspective, was a simple statement posted in large letters: “Your sin will find you out!” The preacher then passionately exhorted people to ensure they were ready to stand before God when the time came. Others displays were more detailed and attempted to draw people in with cultural relevancy: posting pictures of famous people and asking the audience if they are good or bad people then explaining why none of us are good in the sight of God.

Regardless the style or words used, all the messages were Gospel centred and sought to make people think about eternal matters. Indeed, if people only paid attention to the first part of one message: STOP AND THINK, then that would be real progress in a world of never-ending distractions. 

On a slight side note, Christians often approached to encourage us and regularly commented that they hadn’t realised we were even allowed to do this. Christians take note that as long as you don’t block access routes, you can set up displays and preach the Gospel in any public space. Free speech is still protected, for now.

I attended the mission as a supporter. My role was to stand in the crowd and observe those who were listening. If they began to drift away during the talk, I was to move with them and attempt to get them into conversation about what they had heard or, if that failed, at least try to give them literature to take away. I could also give out Gospel tracts to passers-by.

I wanted to include details of the people I met during the week here, I have shortened their names to avoid identification:

  • D, male, late 50’s or early 60’s. Background as an evangelical Christian but switched to Russian Orthodox several decades ago. He planned to attend a Baptist church that afternoon with his wife. D seemed to find the message of salvation too easy and wanted to add something to it through mysticism or rituals that take place in church. He struggled with those who call themselves Christians but after conversion continue living worldly lives.
  • M, 82, Asian man. Didn’t believe in an afterlife and thought we would all just stay in the ground. Had lost his wife in recent years.
  • Refused name, man in his 50’s or 60’s. Militant Catholic wanting to go into all the history of the faith in minute detail and debate and argue with Evangelicals.
  • L, female, young Filipino student serving in a coffee shop that we used. Catholic without assurance of eternal destination. Stated that she hoped she would get to heaven.
  • Very old Jewish lady. Stated that her greatest need was health and that she didn’t believe Jesus even existed. Became angry and ended conversation.
  • C, female, 19, American student. Discovered after an hour of conversation that she was high on LSD. She admitted that she takes drugs because she feels empty inside and is searching for meaning in life.
  • L, male, 30’s, American but lives here. Turned away from faith due to serious problems in life—divorce, partner having abortions, debt and drug abuse. Was shaking throughout conversation. Stated that he would return to his Christian faith one day as he knew he needed to sort things out.
  • J, male, 30’s or 40’s, American just visiting. Part of a cult teaching the writings of Alice Bailey. Explained that he thought that faith needed to be more complex for people with greater intellectual capacity.
  • K, female, 40’s. American living in London. Appeared to be Christian on the surface but had significant doubts and had been investigating other religions. Possibly struggles with mental health problems as she started talking about sensing that she would be talking to random people later that evening.
  • J, female, 20’s. Lives in London with lesbian partner. Angry about the focus that Christians tend to place on homosexuality as the greatest sin. Lots of good questions about suffering, God, the Bible etc. Described herself as agnostic.
  • E, female, 50’s or 60’s. Living abroad and working as a doctor although schooled in England. Sceptical about the afterlife—had seen the uplifting effect of faith in those who are dying or suffering trials. Wanted to believe and felt the weight of her sin as she tried to reach God through good works/morality. Knew deep inside that it wasn’t enough and struggled everyday as she searched for peace.
  • A, male, 40’s, Muslim man working for prominent organisation. Wanted to chat for longer but on his way to work. Worried about lack of assurance of heaven and feels the weight of his sin. Trying to reach heaven through good works.
  • C, female, 20’s, Catholic lacking assurance of heaven and wanting to stay in contact.
  • Jewish couple, 40’s. Trying to rush off as wanting to photograph everything during their visit. Didn’t believe Jesus is Messiah and trying to get to heaven through good works.

These are most of the contacts that I had during the week. I haven’t included how I dealt with each person: what I said to them or how I tried to resolve their issues or questions. I hope instead that reading their basic details will cause you to think about how you might respond if confronted with these situations. 

You can see that the issues are wide ranging but that few people are confident in their atheism. Romans chapter 1 tells us that God created us with knowledge that He exists and the external evidence is in creation for all to see, that is why we are without excuse if we ignore Him and suppress that knowledge.

The majority of the people I spoke to took literature after the Gospel was explained. One person asked me “Why do Christians do this? Why do they go out on the street and try to persuade people of their viewpoint?” My simple answer was “Because I care about you.” There is no other answer—we are volunteers—we are not paid anything and give our time freely. We are not people who enjoy winning arguments for the sake of it or people who enjoy getting into awkward conflict. We are not rewarded for adding members to the church. We are not asking for donations or selling books. We love people enough to tell them the truth that unless they respond to the message of hope in Jesus, they are facing a lost eternity in hell, forever.

None of the people we spoke to made professions of faith on the spot—it may sound odd but I actually found it refreshing that we didn’t have any reported conversions during the week. Genuine conversion is a work of the Holy Spirit that takes place in the heart. It is rare that someone is ready to surrender their life to Jesus at the point when we first meet them. The Bible makes it clear that a person should count the cost before making the decision and that their understanding should not be in doubt. Our role is to plant the seed, we are not responsible for the growth.

My most profound moment was not during a conversation and may not seem to be significant at all. A few of our team had set up at a location that had not been tried before—just outside the Embankment tube station. A preacher was faithfully sharing the Gospel on the street corner. I was standing across the street listening and watching. People were milling around and heading in all directions. They mostly seemed to be in a hurry. Some were rushing in and out of shops or grabbing a coffee, others were hastening to catch a train or heading back to work. The preacher was ignored in the main with the odd grimace by some as they heard the name of Jesus or were reminded of their sin.

I was suddenly struck by the meaninglessness of the frenetic activity that was going on around me. People scurrying like ants in a whirlwind cycle of purposelessness—they obviously believed whatever they were doing was important. They had missed the fact that the only really important information was coming from the lone street preacher standing on the corner passionately proclaiming the truth about life and eternity. However, most of the people had probably dismissed him in their minds as another religious nutcase and didn’t give the incident another thought.

I wonder how many people will stand before God on Judgement Day pleading ignorance of the way of salvation when they had a clear opportunity to listen to that faithful preacher on the streets of London. I’m sure at this moment whatever it was that kept them so busily occupied will be a source of eternal regret. How tragic to be so caught up in trivial worldly things that don’t last when taking a few moments to STOP AND THINK may have saved your soul.

Although I quoted an atheist earlier, I prefer to make the message positive. Rather than asking how much we have to hate a person not to evangelise, my question to you is: Do you love people enough to tell them the truth?

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Why Western Countries Cannot Defeat Terrorism

I tend to get in trouble when I write political posts, but I hope you will see that in essence this is a Christian message, rather than a political one. That is actually the main reason that current Western governments cannot defeat Islamic terrorists—they fail to acknowledge that the battle is ultimately spiritual. 
I’m sure Christians around the world share in the sadness and frustration when yet another terrorist blows up innocent people, and our governments respond with condolences and extra security. If only they recognised that they are fighting a spiritual battle and turned instead to God in prayer, things could be so different.

I had thought that the arrival of Mrs May to the Prime Ministerial position in England and the appointment of Vice President Pence in America might signal some form of change in tactics. Maybe even a collective humbling and a seeking God, as they both profess to be Evangelical Christians.

However, events of the last few days indicate that there will be no sudden reversal of policy in our respective nations, or calls to prayer. This despite the fact that current protocols are clearly failing and nothing else has worked. In England, the threat level is at critical, the highest possible: armed police and military are patrolling the streets to protect us, and yet still we are defiant.

Important people appear on TV to offer their heartfelt sympathies to the families of the victims. Then there are promises that this will never be allowed to happen again. Followed by the guarantees to learn the lessons for the future. Next, the endless discussions about what has happened, how and why it happened, who was involved. Sadly predictable. Only this time, I’m noticing that people are starting to admit that they don’t have the answers.

These things have their place, of course. It is right that we mourn the victims and seek to help the families of those injured or killed. Any of us could find ourselves in this situation and we should remember that it is only by God’s grace that we are not. We can also try to investigate what has happened and try to prevent it happening again. But, with anything else in life, a thorough investigation would look at every possible angle. This is where the authorities seem to be falling short, as they refuse to believe that spiritual warfare should be a serious consideration.

For the first time today, I actually heard some politicians and commentators dare to suggest that Islamist ideology is the problem. They were immediately shut down with the usual reminders that mainstream Muslims don’t share the extremist’s views. We do need to be careful here, at the risk of alienating a growing percentage of our populations. We need Muslims on-board to root out the terrorists in their midst.

The problem is that certain interpretations of the Muslim’s Holy Book, the Quran, do lead to extreme behaviour. Within the Quran are the encouragements for a violent Holy War (Jihad) against all those who resist the Islamic faith (infidels.) (I’m not going to quote the verses here, a simple Google search will reveal them for those that care to look into it.) These instructions come with a promise of eternal life in heaven as an enticement. 

This is a serious temptation—Muslims cannot gain assurance that they will be saved without committing Jihad. They are reliant on the will of Allah at the entry point to heaven, in the same way that Catholics believe their fate will be determined in a place called Purgatory. According to their respective teachings, their good and bad deeds will be weighed and their afterlife destination decided at the point of death and not prior to this, but Jihad is a free entry pass.

With this in mind, we should consider it a blessing that the vast majority of Muslims choose to interpret the Quran in a peaceful way. Not to acknowledge the potential of the Islamic Holy Book to incite violence, however, is a serious error. Political correctness should not stand in the way of a proper investigation into the ideology that leads to these crimes.

Our governments cannot fight extremism with human weapons because they are fighting the devil himself. He is present in the minds and hearts of extremists and he lures people to extremism. He cannot be stopped with conventional methods—only using spiritual ones.

Our leaders may say that their thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. How many of them are actually praying, rather than just offering the assurance that they are? How many of them even believe in the God they claim to be praying to? How many believe that it will make a difference? How many are trusting Jesus for their eternal salvation and therefore have the assurance that God will actually hear them?

It’s time for our governments to stop talking about learning the lessons and increasing security. Our leaders need to stop relying on themselves and earthly capabilities. It’s time for them to humble themselves and call our nations back to prayer. Then we will see what God can do with nations who once again are trusting in and relying on Him instead of leaving Him on the side-lines or relegating Him to a dark corner.

This message may seem hopeless—we cannot defeat terrorism, and it will continue. The opposite is actually true for a Christian. We can know that whatever happens, God is in control and has a plan. Even when evil seems to prevail and terrorists blow themselves up, we can know that there will be justice one day. 

Unlike other faiths, Christianity assures us that we can know now where we will spend eternity. We don’t need to wait for a distant deity to decide or for karma to kick in. The Bible tells us in Romans 10 vs 9 “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, YOU WILL BE SAVED.”
The Bible assures us that all of the events on earth, good and bad, are recorded carefully by a Holy, Perfect, Righteous, Just, Good, God. Jesus will one day return to earth and gather all those who believe in Him for their eternal reward. All who have rejected Him will sadly be lost to hell, forever. 

Let us remember that this is a spiritual battle and let us have hope as we pray for Jesus’ return.

Friday, 19 May 2017

The Consequence of a Wrong View of God

In a previous post, we looked at the folly of those who convince themselves that God doesn’t exist. However, those of us that do believe in God often make a mistake that is just as dangerous—we think of God as a human, and try to understand Him on that level. Maybe we allow Him some extra powers and abilities, or think of Him as a bigger version of ourselves, but we still make this fundamental error which affects everything that we do.
Volunteering for Chatnow, a Christian live-chat organisation taking calls from people all over the world, I can see that this flawed way of thinking is at the root of most of our problems. We don’t really understand what God is like or Who He is, or we choose to ignore what the Bible tells us about Him.

Sadly, I have spoken to people who believe that God exists, but who have decided to reject Him because of His failure to do what they perceive to be right. People who believe that a good God wouldn’t allow suffering in the world or “send” anyone to hell. They label God as “unfair” and determine that He is either indifferent to things here on earth or is lacking compassion. Worse, there are some who decide that He is cruel or vengeful based on their assessments of His activity or failure to act.

When I point out that suffering is caused by sin that entered the world originally through people, it usually falls on deaf ears. When I comment that God doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell, and that He has provided an escape through Jesus, for those who choose it, they don’t want to know. When I suggest that an indifferent or aloof God would hardly go to the lengths of sacrificing His Son to restore the broken relationship with them, they scoff. When I warn that in rejecting His offer, they are choosing the broad path to Hell, they don’t believe it.

There are also people who believe that God exists, but reject Him the minute He fails to deliver something they have demanded.  They treat Him as a genie or good luck charm to be called upon when they have a financial, material or relational need. They quote out of context verses about health, wealth and well-being and conveniently overlook passages about cross-bearing and counting the cost of following Jesus. Again, these attitudes come back to a wrong view of God.

Some of these erroneous views have come about due to the “God is our friend” theology. The Bible does speak of God as our Father and Jesus as a friend to sinners, but this should not be taken in a casual manner. God is not our chum, buddy or mate, He is worthy of our respect and total devotion, and should be approached through Jesus with reverence due to His holiness.  We need to remember Who God is according to the Bible, when we approach Him.

Try to imagine the earth (and humans) from God’s perspective—He created it (and us), He sustains it and He is in control. Now, imagine God looking down at a load of tiny, ant-sized people, marching around the earth, shaking their fists at Him, refusing to acknowledge Him in one way or another, and seeking to rebel against His authority. 

If this seems ridiculous, it really is, but it is a good analogy in terms of our comparative insignificance. This life is short. We are just a vapour that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4 vs 14.) It is incredible that God pays attention to us at all, let alone watches over us with the kind of love and care that the Bible describes.

All of us suffer from this wrong perspective or wrong view of God, to some extent—we fail to consistently give Him the worship He deserves and we fail to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We reduce Him to a god of our own making or try to put Him in a box of our own understanding. We relegate Him to a small corner of our lives and often only pay attention to Him when we are in trouble.

As soon as we start asking “Why?” questions of or about God, we need to be careful—there are a lot of things about God that He has chosen not to reveal to us, and others that our tiny human minds cannot comprehend. The bottom line, is that God is God and He can do whatever He wants. The fact that He chooses to involve us through prayer is a privilege not a right.

We read in Isaiah 55 vs 8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

It can be difficult to use these verses when trying to help a Christian struggling with trials. They want God to explain Himself and feel that His failure to do so is due to inability or inadequacy on His part. They don’t consider that their perception may be completely wrong. 

In the Bible, Job made this mistake. He endured a lot more than most of us will ever have to deal with. He refused to curse God during his terrible suffering, even when his wife told him to! However, he did eventually ask God to explain Himself. He wanted a reason. He asked God, “why?” We all behave like Job, we want to know why bad things happen to “good” people and why things we see as unjust or unfair are allowed to continue.

We might expect that God would explain Himself to Job after all he had suffered. But, He doesn’t. He reminds Job of his comparative minuteness. God asks him whether he (Job) has the right to question the Creator of the universe and the One who sustains everything. He rebukes Job for his presumption. He details His power and greatness and makes it clear that Job is the creature and He the Creator, Job the clay and He the Potter (Job 38)

At this point, Job doesn’t say, “But you still haven’t explained yourself” or “How could you allow me to suffer in this way and not do anything about it?” or “I don’t like the decisions that you made, I’m going to serve a different god.” Unfortunately, that is how a lot of us respond when faced with trials and difficulties. We think that by walking away from or rejecting God, we can win the battle for supremacy, or somehow hurt God with our lack of allegiance or through sinful behaviour.

Pride is at the root of our rebellion, and Job, recognising this, humbled himself. In one of the most famous passages of the Bible which tells us more about Who God really is, he said, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore, I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42 vs 5-6) Job was a faithful and righteous man, but he had had a wrong view of God. He tried to reason with God on a human level and ended up in serious difficulty. 

When God revealed Himself to Job, his immediate response was repentance and humility. His view of God had been dramatically altered and it affected everything. Job’s only concern was to correct his earlier mistake, there was no longer any discussion of the suffering that Job had had to endure. He had seen who the God of the Bible really is and dared not question Him or suggest He was anything other than perfectly Holy.

As Christians, we must start with the right premise. We must believe what the Bible tells us about God. We must believe that everything He does is perfect, including allowing suffering on earth and creating a place called Hell. We must accept that God is perfectly just and that He cannot lie, that He doesn’t change His mind like humans do. God has many other attributes (for a fuller discussion read The Attributes of God by A.W.Tozer,) and all of them are consistent with His nature and character.

When our mind starts to ask why something is happening, let’s make the decision straight away to trust God.  If our brain begins to consider that maybe God has got something wrong. Let’s dismiss this immediately knowing that it cannot be true because God doesn’t make mistakes. If we wonder whether God is aware of something or whether He has forgotten us. Let’s remember the promises in Scripture—that He knows everything that is happening and that He will never leave nor forsake us.

We can be confident that all things are being worked out according to God’s sovereign purpose and that His plans are for our good. There will be many things about God that we can’t understand but we need to learn to trust Him anyway, because He is faithful. 

Let’s make sure that we have the right, Biblical view of God. It is best to assume that where there are question marks in our minds, it is either due to sin, or due to our finite minds being unable to fully comprehend a perfectly holy and omnipotent God.

Romans 11 vs 33-35
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”

Numbers 23 vs 19
"God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”