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Monday, 24 July 2017

From Chester to Llandudno

The only positive aspect of having to be at home between 0800-1300 whilst awaiting a Sky engineer (or more likely a BT engineer on behalf of Sky,) is that I finally have some time to write something. It’s been a busy few weeks as I took part in a week long mission to Chester, moved house immediately on my return and then headed off again for another mission in Llandudno, North Wales. Both open-air missions were with United Beach Missions (UBM) under the sub-category Christian Answers.

Having been involved in a mission to London with the Open Air Mission recently, I thought I knew what to expect. However, I’m quickly learning that these teams are far from predictable due to the range of characters that turn up and form them.

In Chester we had a children’s entertainer who managed to keep us amused during our down-time and a potter who used his skill to share his testimony whilst making pots on the wheel. The Christian town crier was a definite bonus although it is sad that people are more interested in history and culture than in God. Also in our team was a young female convert from Islam which proved especially useful when a man attempted to dismiss Christianity on the basis that we had all been brainwashed by the religion we had been brought up to believe.

It did seem that God was leading the right members of our team to the specific people they could relate to. One man’s comment that he believed in science rather than religion was swiftly rebutted by our cook for the week. It turned out that her day-job was in the exact same, extremely narrow, scientific field as our friend with the strong opinions.

My most profitable conversation appeared to be with a girl in her twenties who had stopped to listen to one of the messages for a few seconds. She became quite emotional when I approached her and then confided that she had just bought a Bible having been wandering from God for a number of years. She had arrived in Chester pretty randomly having never been to the city before and was only alone because a friend had decided not to accompany her. Recognising that God was at work we spent several hours chatting over coffee discovering that our life stories were very similar. Later, having made a decision to recommit her life to God, she was put in touch with Christians in her area.

The men’s Gospel presentations were pretty varied ranging from the simple Bible verse, to philosophical arguments, to interactive discussions about where famous people should be placed on a “Goodness Scale.” My favourite for the week was entitled “What’s your end of life strategy?” The preacher highlights the fact that people buy car or house insurance without even knowing that they will crash or that their house will be burgled. Yet many make little or no preparation for death despite knowing with 100% certainty that they will die.

In Chester, we faced the usual range of reactions; people too busy shopping or heading to the races to pay much attention, people annoyed by our presence and people wanting to argue or debate. There were also some odd cults around, some had a leaflet with a list of items that they think should be included in “Satan’s Tool Box.” After reading the list which included Disney films, Christmas and the NIV Bible, I could totally understand why people think that anyone standing in the streets in the name of religion must be at least slightly mad.

Moving on to Llandudno, the team was smaller and the environment different due to it technically being the start of the beach missions for the summer, although the children had yet to break up from school. We started each day with a Bible study in James which had been faithfully prepared, and was well delivered, by our team leader who doubles as a Pastor.

Then, we were instructed to head down to the promenade in twos and engage people in Gospel conversations without props. This aspect of evangelism, that most people find extremely awkward, became even more difficult when local rules meant that we could no longer use leaflets as a conversation opener. We had to hook the fish without the bait.

Imagine the scene: an elderly couple on holiday, sitting on a bench, admiring the sea-view, are suddenly aware that they are sitting in the shadow of two comparatively young people. These people are introducing themselves, something about a mission of some sort, then asking them what they think about God! Not really something to be discussed with random strangers whilst relaxing on holiday…..especially not young ones with no life experience.

Thankfully, not all our conversations headed in this direction and we did have some profitable ones. I think we were all grateful, though, to see the presentation board up so that the focal point could be moved away from us in our clumsiness and inadequacy. I had to keep reminding myself that God uses us in our weakness so that He can get the glory.

The evenings were devoted to community hymn singing interspersed with preaching and testimonies. I was amazed by the number of non-believers willing to sing about what Jesus has done without acknowledging that He has done it for them. We met a fair number of church-goers who on closer acquaintance, sadly, were not yet saved. Most of these were willing to take leaflets and one lady said that she had a lot of thinking to do as a result of our discussion.

Only God ultimately knows the hearts that will be moved, but we had a long chat with an elderly couple one evening. The youngest member of our team, at sixteen, and I, had initially met them during our “cold calling” session earlier in the day. We were thrilled when they turned up for the singing that evening. The husband had devoted his whole life to religious activity and the wife was suffering as a result of his absence. Yet, the dear man admitted that he wasn’t fully able to trust the promises of Jesus for himself although he desperately wanted to. He pointed to a line in the famous hymn “To God be the Glory,” recognising that he was a vile sinner in God’s eyes but being unable to get beyond that. We spent a lot of time with this couple and I pray that their eyes may have been fully opened and their hearts awakened to God’s mercy and forgiveness.

I also spoke to a number of Roman Catholics including a couple from Malta. Then, I was forced to exercise my rusty Tagalog in a lengthy chat with a lonely Filipino lady having been summonsed by a fellow team member. I don’t know how much she actually understood as Filipinos tend to be extremely polite to foreigners!

Being involved in open-air work, apathy and indifference are definitely my biggest frustration. People seem to be gambling on the assumption that if they don’t think about something it won’t happen to them. Many have not even considered where they will go when they die, and others refuse to believe in an afterlife when God has made it plain to them both in their hearts and through creation that He exists.

Others are relying on safety in numbers. This means that a cultural trend away from God sweeps people along the broad path to Hell with little or no thought that the people surrounding them might also be in peril. The sheep following each other off a cliff analogy is relevant here or even the old computer game of Lemmings. I don’t intend to make light of this, it is tragic.

You might be wondering why we even bother with open-air evangelism in these days of such apathy and indifference. Isn’t forcing our beliefs on other people arrogant and intolerant? There is a simple reason, God gives us a clear command to tell people the truth before it is too late. Even if there had been no clear direction, could any of us that really believe the Bible’s teachings on the afterlife stand idly by and watch others heading to a place of eternal torment and unimaginable suffering?

Besides, for every ten or so people that reject the message, ignore us or get angry, there is one that shows a flicker of interest or accepts a Gospel leaflet. Then, there is the one in fifty or a hundred who is willing to stop and have a conversation, however brief it might be.

Some of the conversations lasted hours as people wrestled with God having been confronted with some uncomfortable truths. The results of these weeks may not be known until eternity, but we were encouraged when we heard that at least one person had returned a Chester leaflet having ticked all of the boxes on the back,( I have become a Christian, please send me more information etc….)

I enjoyed both missions and am looking forward to further opportunities in London with UBM in August, then Oxford, Manchester and Lincoln later in the year with OAM. Please remember to pray for the work or consider joining a team! If you are a Christian and are interested in getting involved for a week here and there or even just a few days then I’m happy to give you further details or you can visit the website for United Beach Missions.

 “The Gospel is only good news if it gets there in time”   Carl Henry

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.