I’m back out in Burundi with a team of supporters for a week of introducing them to our various wonderful partners. As I knew would happen, the team members are blown away at the calibre, integrity and commitment of these Kingdom warriors. As Justin noted, the repeated story is that almost all of them had the chance to take the easier option and leave for whichever affluent peaceful country, but they chose to stay and make a costly difference here, in beautiful but broken Burundi.
Ephraim shared how he’d fled to the Congo during the war, but after a few years felt convicted to return to bless his nation. As he was on his way back, he was taken by militia who beat him to (half) death, tried to dump him down a latrine (he didn’t fit through the hole), and then hanged him from a tree. He said to them that they couldn’t kill him because God had told him he would go back to Burundi to preach healing and forgiveness in Jesus. They carried on beating him up. He was bleeding from his nose and ears and left in a crumpled heap. His last words to them were (as with Stephen in Acts when he was stoned): “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing!”
As he carried on sharing, he broke down in tears. It’s very rare to see a Burundian man cry. As the proverb goes: “Amosozi y’umugabo atemba aja mu nda” (‘A Burundian man’s tears fall inside in his stomach’). His passion and compassion for his countrymen, coupled no doubt with the pressures of daily living and looking out for others, led to the dam of emotion breaking within him, and there was a holy release. The team sensitively reached out, laid hands on him and prayed, as our tears merged with his.
There is so much weariness, despair and crushing poverty in this the poorest nation in the world. But there are also many Ephraims and Lyduines (his wife) exhibiting truly remarkable and vibrant resilience coupled with incredible vision, fruitfulness and lasting transformation. As I’ve often said, some of God’s best troops are in Burundi. It’s a privilege to serve them.
I have exciting news! My publishers have kindly agreed for me to share the award-winning devotional Choose Life 365 for free in 2023!
So I invite you to sign up for either a daily or a weekly email from me in 2023, helping you to choose faith over fear, love over legalism and gratitude over grumbling!
There’s no denying that times are really tough for many of us. Personally, we’ve experienced some real sucker punches over the past couple of months in our family, so more than ever, we need to press into God and pursue Him each and every day. I hope this will help you to do just that!
Check out this promo video I recorded recently in Burundi:
I’ve been journeying through it weekly with a bunch of folks for two years now, and I’ve been encouraged by some of the stories of impact people have sent through, so I’m excited to be able to share it with you for 2023!
If you find it helpful, I’d be so grateful if you could forward it to friends and family, or get them to sign up at chooselife.org.uk
If you want to buy the book for yourself, I’d encourage you to support our friends at St Andrew’s Bookshop or your local Christian bookshop, rather than the usual titans of the bookselling world!
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Look at Gloria’s glorious smile! Her life has been totally transformed.
She was trafficked to the Middle East and spent ten years in prostitution. Hers was a truly hopeless and miserable life. But when she managed to escape back to Burundi, our Ephraim tracked her down and found her living in total poverty.
He rescued her, trained her to be a tailor, got her a sewing machine, and now she’s able to make a living and provide for her daughter. Listen to her in this short film…
What I love is that with just £25/$30, we can help a vulnerable lady like Gloria start a business. And that’s what we want to do this Christmas. Could you help one such precious life, or two, or ten? Do click through to make a donation here…
We have many such beautiful stories of transformation on the back of very small (to us) monetary interventions. Alida was desperate to avoid the last resort of selling her body, but the temptation was there. She tried to make ends meet by cutting hair. We then gave her a £7 loan to buy ladies’ hair products. That was a game-changer, because now she had more customers and made greater margins, so she was able to provide for herself. From her profits she’s now even bought herself a pig! And what I love is that the whole community now honours her for having resisted taking the prostitution route.
It blows my mind that a £7 loan changed Alida’s destiny…
What’s Alida’s next step? Setting up her own salon!
It’s a bit early, but I wish you all a very happy Christmas, and here’s to making it all the happier for some of the last, the lost and the least on the planet!
This talk was given at my local church, St Andrew’s Community Church, as part of their sermon series on 1 Samuel. Below are a few quotes and notes from it for your perusal:
Samuel Chadwick: ‘It is a wonder what God can do with a broken heart, if He gets all the pieces.’
“Until we give God our heart, we give him nothing at all.” J.C.Ryle
Dmitri was a Russian factory worker imprisoned after the house church he pastored grew to 150 people. He was sent 1,000 miles away to a hardened criminal facility full of 1,500 prisoners. As far as he knew he was the only believer.
Every morning he would get up, face the east, raise his hands, and sing songs of praise to God. As he sang the other prisoners would bang their cups along their cell bars, curse him, and throw their food and human waste at him. All he had to do to be released was sign a piece of paper recanting his faith in Jesus.
For 17 years he refused to sign, but after they convinced him they had killed his wife and had custody of his sons he agreed so sign the paper the next morning. That night his family sensed something was wrong and started praying for Dmitri. Dmitri said the Holy Spirit opened his ears so he could hear his family praying. He knew his wife was still alive, and they were all together! He refused to sign the document.
Several weeks later the guards decided to execute him. As they were dragging him out of his cell to his execution, the prisoners stood up, faced the east, raised their hands, and sang “O God Give Me Strength!” The fear of God came upon those guards, and they were terrified. They asked Dmitri, “who are you?” He looked them right in the eyes and said “I am a son of the living God and His name is Jesus Christ.”
He was released shortly after. Eventually, his son became the chaplain of that prison.
You see, we march to the beat of a different drum. This is not our home. As Peter wrote, we are ‘aliens and strangers’. Worldly kings or regimes have different allegiances. It will be costly.
“You can endure a lot of suffering when your heart is set on a purpose, but if your heart is set on comfort – or if you have a wayward heart – you cannot endure any suffering at all.” David Wilkerson
This was my parting quote and challenge, which got cut off by the recording, unfortunately:
“To belong to God is to belong to His heart. If we respond to the call of Jesus to leave everything and follow Him, then there is a voice within us crying out. ‘Fight for the heart of your King!’ Yet Christianity over the past two thousand years has moved from a tribe of renegades to a religion of conformists. Those who choose to follow Jesus become participants in an insurrection. To claim we believe is simply not enough. The call of Jesus is one that demands action” (Erwin Raphael McManus, The Barbarian Way).
Below are some profoundly challenging stories and quotes to stir your faith and mull over:
There’s a certain type of bamboo in Asia which grows to prodigious heights and at prodigious speeds – sometimes as much as 60 feet in six weeks. However, before that growth spurt, the seed lies in the dark beneath the ground for up to five years. Those farmers who make a profitable living from the bamboo would have given up long ago and changed crops if they didn’t know that plenty was going on beneath the surface despite the fact that there was no visible sign to encourage their perseverance. Every bit of watering and waiting is worthwhile. No prayer is wasted.
Might you be growing weary or discouraged in some earnest prayer request you’ve been lifting up to the Lord for quite some time, perhaps even a very long time? If so, here’s some timely encouragement from the remarkable example of George Muller, a man mighty in faith and prayer:
Muller is best known for the large faith-based orphan ministry he carried out in Bristol, England, in the nineteenth century. He was also a diligent, disciplined man of prayer. He kept an ongoing prayer notebook in which he recorded his requests on one page and the answer to each of those petitions on the facing page. By this means, he persevered in praying till he received answers to thousands of specific requests.
Once while ministering in Dusseldorf, Germany, Muller was approached by a missionary to that city who was distressed because his six sons remained unconverted, though he had been praying for them many years. To the father’s query about what he should do Muller responded, “Continue to pray for your sons, and expect an answer to your prayer, and you will have to praise God.”
Six years later, in August of 1882, Muller again returned to minister in Dusseldorf. This time he was delighted to be greeted by the same missionary who testified that he had resolved to follow Muller’s advice and had given himself more earnestly to prayer for the spiritual well-being of his sons. The happy results were that two months after Muller had left in 1876, five of the man’s sons had come to faith in Christ, and the sixth was now also thinking seriously about making that commitment.
Muller himself interceded for more than half a century for the salvation of a small group of men. He once wrote: “In November 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land or on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two.
“These two remain unconverted. The man to whom God in the riches of His grace has given tens of thousands of answers to prayer in the self-same hour or day in which they were offered has been praying day by day for nearly thirty-six years for the conversion of these individuals, and yet they remain unconverted. But I hope in God, I pray on, and look yet for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be.”
Those two men, sons of a friend of Muller’s youth, were still unconverted when he died in 1897, after having prayed daily for their salvation for fifty-two years. His prayers were answered, however, when both those men came to faith in Christ a few years after the great intercessor’s death.
After forty years of faithful service to the Lord as a missionary to Africa, Henry Morrison and his wife were returning to New York. As the ship neared the dock, Henry said to his wife, “Look at that crowd. They haven’t forgotten about us”. However, unknown to Henry, the ship also carried President Teddy Roosevelt, returning from a big game hunting trip in Africa. Roosevelt stepped from the boat, with great fanfare, as people were cheering, flags were waving, bands were playing, and reporters waiting for his comment, Henry and his wife slowly walked away unnoticed. They hailed a cab, which took them to the one-bedroom apartment which had been provided by the mission board.
Over the next few weeks, Henry tried, but failed to put the incident behind him. He was sinking deeper into depression when one evening, he said to his wife, “This is all wrong. This man comes back from a hunting trip, and everybody throws a big party. We give our lives in faithful service to God for all these many years, but no one seems to care.”
His wife cautioned him that he should not feel this way. Henry replied “I know you’re right, but I just can’t help it. It just isn’t right.”
His wife then said, “Henry, you know God doesn’t mind if we honestly question Him. You need to tell this to the Lord and get this settled now. You’ll be useless in His ministry until you do.”
Henry Morrison then went to his bedroom, got down on his knees and, shades of Habakkuk, began pouring out his heart to the Lord. “Lord, you know our situation and what’s troubling me. We gladly served you faithfully for years without complaining. But now God, I just can’t get this incident out of my mind…”
After about ten minutes of fervent prayer, Henry returned to the living room with a peaceful look on his face. His wife said “It looks like you’ve resolved the matter. What happened?”
Henry replied, “The Lord settled it for me. I told Him how bitter I was that the President received this tremendous homecoming, but no one even met us as we returned home. When I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put His hand on my shoulder and simply said, ‘But Henry, you are not home yet!’”
In 1908, a young Liberian called Jasper Toe cried out, “If there is a God in heaven, help me find you.” He heard an unknown voice reply, “Go to Garraway Beach. You will see a box on the water with smoke coming out of it. And from that box on the water will come some people in a smaller box. These people in the small box will tell you how to find me.” He duly walked seven days to the seaside. Meanwhile, John Perkins and his wife were rounding the coast of Liberia on a steamboat. They knew they had been called by God, but they didn’t yet know where God wanted them exactly! Suddenly, they felt the Holy Spirit say to them, “This is where I want you. You need to disembark right now!” The ship’s captain initially refused as it was cannibal country, but such was their insistence he eventually relented, and they rowed ashore in a canoe with all their meagre worldly belongings. Jasper Toe was waiting for them. He took them home, taught them the language, became their first convert, and in time planted hundreds of churches throughout Liberia!
Oh that we all received such extraordinary, obviously supernatural guidance! Yet maybe, just maybe, we do. Both Perkins and Toe could easily have ignored the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Perkins could have played it safe and stayed on the ship. Toe could have ignored the crazy instructions he received. But through their obedience, God in his mercy engineered a beautiful breakthrough for the glory of his name.
God is speaking all the time. Are we still enough, quiet enough, attentive enough to listen? Could that person who springs to mind that we quickly dismiss be God’s prompt for us to get in touch with them? Could that creative idea for a new initiative that we quash be an exciting opportunity for him to use us? Listen up!
This man failed in his first attempt at business. He then tried politics and within only one year failed there also. He went back to business for yet another try, and failed again. Three failures in three years. He asked his fiancée to marry him after four years of courtship, but she said no. Later, another sweetheart died. He struggled for the next two years and suffered a nervous breakdown. After taking two years to recover, he tried once again in the political works and was defeated in his bid to be elected as Speaker of the House. Two years later he sought to be appointed as the Elector and again defeated. Three years after this, he ran for a seat in Congress and was defeated. He waited another five years to run for office again, and was defeated. It was during this time that his four-year-old son died. He spent the next seven years in relative obscurity and then ran again for a political office, this time in the Senate. Again he was defeated. The following year, he was nominated by his party to be the candidate for Vice-President, but was defeated along with his running mate in the general election. After two more years he tried again for the Senate seat, but was defeated. Then, another two years later, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States of America – 24 years of sheer patience and endurance!
“God can never make me wine if I object to the fingers He uses to crush me. If God would only crush me with His fingers, and say ‘Now my son, I am going to make you broken bread and poured out wine in a particular way and everyone will know what I am doing.’ But when He uses someone who is not a Christian, or someone I particularly dislike, or some set of circumstances I said I would never submit to, and begins to make these crushers, I object.
I must never choose the scene of my martyrdom, nor must I choose the things God will use in order to make me broken bread and poured out wine. His own Son did not choose. God chose for His Son that He should have a devil in His company for three years. We say: ‘I want angels; I want people better than myself; I want everything to be significantly from God, otherwise I cannot live the life, or do the thing properly; I always want to be gilt-edged.’ Let God do as he likes. If you are ever going to be wine to drink, you must be crushed; grapes cannot be drunk; grapes are only wine when they are crushed. I wonder what kind of coarse finger and thumb God has been using to squeeze you, and you have been like a marble and escaped? You are not ripe yet, and if God had squeezed you, the wine that came out would have been remarkably bitter. Let God go on with His crushing, because it will work out His purpose in the end.” (Oswald Chambers)
“Patience is love for the long haul; it is bearing up under difficult circumstances, without giving up or giving in to bitterness. Patience means working when gratification is delayed. It means taking what life offers—even if it means suffering—without lashing out. And when you’re in a situation that you’re troubled over or when there’s a delay or pressure on you or something’s not happening that you want to happen, there’s always a temptation to come to the end of your patience. You may well have lost your patience before you’re even aware of it.” (Tim Keller)
“Patience is a hard discipline. It is not just waiting until something happens over which we have no control: the arrival of the bus, the end of the rain, the return of a friend, the resolution of a conflict. Patience is not a waiting passivity until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.” Henri Nouwen, worth re-reading a few times, if you have the patience…
I love these stories! We get bombarded with so much bad news in general, that all the more I see it as part of our job at GLO to tell inspiring tales of overcoming. Meet Divine:
She was an orphan living in Nyanza lac in the South of Burundi. She was married young to a boy who mistreated her, indeed whose family rejected her and maligned her such that she preferred to flee to the streets. She was left with no apparent options other than to sell her body to survive.
That was five years ago.
Just a few months back, she came across the work of our partner Together for Development (TfD). She got trained up in sewing. She discovered that she had value, that God loved her, and wanted a healthy pure relationship with her.
What a transformation!
She is such a dynamo that she now organises a self-help group of 30 ladies. She’s led 15 of them to Jesus, and 12 of them out of prostitution. Each Wednesday she meets with them to share God’s Word and encourage them through life’s trials.
Ephraim, leader of TfD, visited her two weeks ago, and she said to him: “I don’t have any family – no brother, no sister – you became my family, don’t abandon me.” He won’t, and in the meantime gave her a chicken! Here he is filming her and translating some of her testimony.
Below are some funny/moving stories and anecdotes, and some juicy quotes to mull over:
On a flight from Johannesburg, a middle-aged, well-off white South African lady had found herself sitting next to an African man. She called the cabin crew attendant over to complain about her seating. “What seems to be the problem Madam?” asked the attendant.
“Can’t you see?” she said. “You’ve sat me next to a kaffir. I can’t possibly sit next to this disgusting human. Find me another seat!” “Please calm down Madam.” the stewardess replied. “The flight is very full today, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll go and check to see if we have any seats available in club or first class.” The woman cocked a snooty look at the outraged black man beside her (not to mention at many of the surrounding passengers also).
A few minutes later the stewardess returned with the good news, which she delivered to the lady, who could not help but look at the people around her with a smug and self-satisfied grin: “Madam, unfortunately, as I suspected, economy is full. I’ve spoken to the cabin services director, and club is also full. However, we do have one seat in first class”.
Before the lady had a chance to answer, the stewardess continued, “It is most extraordinary to make this kind of upgrade, however, and I had to get special permission from the captain. But, given the circumstances, the captain felt that it was outrageous that someone be forced to sit next to such an obnoxious person as yourself.” With which, she turned to the African man sitting next to her, and said: “So if you’d like to get your things, Sir, I have your seat ready for you in first class up at the front…” At which point, apparently the surrounding passengers stood and gave a standing ovation while the African guy walked up to first class in the front of the plane.
I love that story, because it’s someone else’s pride, not mine!
The problem with pride is, as C.S. Lewis writes: “The more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike in in others. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” Someone has said, “The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your full height before some higher nature that will show you how small your greatness is.” William Law (1686-1761) ‘Pride must die in us or Christ cannot live in us.’
George Muller of Bristol (the man who cared for so many orphans in the nineteenth century) one day was urged to share what he considered to be the power behind his ministry. He surprised his questioner by talking about his “secret death”. “There was a day,” he said, “when I died; utterly died.” As he spoke, he bent lower until he almost touched the floor. Then he continued, “I died to George Muller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends; and since then I have studied only to show myself approved of God.
This man was born in a gypsy tent, of humble origins, and yet ended up being invited to the White House by two presidents. Rodney ‘Gypsy’ Smith came into the world in 1860 in Epping Forest, just outside London. Forty five times he crossed the Atlantic to preach the gospel to millions of people on both sides. His passion was almost unparalleled, and there was great fruit in what he did. What was his secret? Humble private prayer. His praying was even more powerful than his preaching.
A delegation once came to him to enquire how they might experience personal and mass revival as he had. They wanted to be used the way Gypsy was. Without hesitating, he said: “Go home. Lock yourself in your room. Kneel down in the middle of the floor, and with a piece of chalk draw a circle round yourself. There, on your knees, pray fervently and brokenly that God would start a revival within that chalk circle.”
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Tim Keller wrote: “The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”
“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” Søren Kierkegaard
A water-bearer in India had two large pots, both hung on the ends of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years, this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pot-fulls of water to his house.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water-bearer one day by the stream:
“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologise to you. I have been able to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts”, the pot said.
The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”
An old legend tells how a man was once lost for days in a dark forest and stumbled across an imposing barn. He sought shelter inside it because of the howling winds. His eyes grew quickly accustomed to the dark, and he was amazed to discover that this barn was where the devil kept his storehouse of seeds. These were the seeds that were sown in the hearts of humans. He lit a match and looked at all the different types of seeds. Most of them, surprisingly, were labelled ‘Seeds of Discouragement’. Just then one of the devil’s helpers arrived to pick up a new load of seeds. The man asked him, “Why so many discouragement seeds?” The helper laughed and replied, “Because they’re so effective and they take root so quickly.” “Do they grow everywhere?” the man asked, to which the helper suddenly grimaced back at him and said in disgust, “No. They never seem to grow in the heart of a grateful person.”
Well-known pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski’s concert in New York had been sold out for six months. On the night of the concert, those who came were dressed in tuxedos and fancy dresses. A mother brought her nine-year-old son because he was beginning to complain about his piano lessons, and she thought hearing a great pianist might motivate him to keep practicing.
You can dress a nine-year-old in a tuxedo, but he’s still nine. Restless and impatient, he continually had to go to the bathroom and, much to the irritation of those sitting by them, kept walking back and forth. Finally, the mother became exasperated, grabbed her son by the shoulders and sat him down hard in his seat. “Now stay there and don’t move!” she said sternly. But a few minutes later, while the mother was distracted by the person on the other side of her, the boy slipped out to the aisle. The mother turned to see her son walking toward the stage, where a huge Steinway piano was standing. Panicky, she yelled at him to come back. Startled the little boy panicked, ran toward the stage, ran up the stairs straight to the piano, sat down, and began to play “Chopsticks.” People in the audience were furious.
“Get that kid off the stage!”
“This is an outrage!”
“What is this boy doing here!”
As the startled ushers began moving toward the young boy, Paderewski heard the commotion and looked out of his dressing room. He saw the boy playing “Chopsticks”. He quickly grabbed his tuxedo jacket, walked to the edge of the backstage area, and then stepped into full view of the audience. There was a collective hush. Everyone wondered what the great pianist would do. The boy, oblivious to what was happening, continued to play. Paderewski came up behind him, went down on his knee, and whispered in the little boy’s ear, “Don’t stop. Keep on playing. You’re doing great.” While the boy continued to play, the great pianist put his arms around the boy and began to play a concerto based on the tune of “Chopsticks.” While the two played, Paderewski kept saying to the boy, “Don’t stop. Keep on playing.”
As you look at your life, as you contemplate embracing the faith of a little child, as you wonder what difference your bumbling, flawed life will make, I hope you have heard God’s whispering voice, “Don’t stop. Keep on playing. You’re doing great.”
One day we shall all be gathered in that great concert hall of God, and we will hear the glorious beauty of the concerto God was playing while you and I plunked out our childlike version of “Chopsticks.”
This is the second of five talks given at Lee Abbey in the summer (first talk here). Do take a listen or download it here:
Below are some notes from my talk:
A vicar was too busy to help a homeless lady who was needing help, so he fobbed her off with a promise to pray for her, and then continued on his way. She wrote the following poem and gave it to a local Shelter officer:
I was hungry, and you formed a humanities group to discuss my hunger. I was imprisoned, and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release. I was naked, and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I was sick, and you knelt and thanked God for your health. I was homeless, and you preached a sermon on the spiritual shelter of the love of God. I was lonely, and you left me alone to pray for me.
You seem so holy, so close to God But I am still very hungry – and lonely – and cold.
Brennan Manning wrote: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world, simply finds unbelievable.”
Problem is, we can all relate to that situation with the vicar. We’ve all been caught in such a scenario. In fact, I got death threats from a guy to whom I said I was too busy, and he subsequently came to my house with a grenade to blow me up, that’s another story! So the challenge in this talk is to being encouraged to act and not be guilt-tripped or feel shame and a sense of failure. Let’s listen to James:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
This true incident happened to Tony Campolo a number of years ago. Tony is a professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University:
A few years ago Tony flew to Hawaii to speak at a conference. The way he tells it, he checks into his hotel and tries to get some sleep. Unfortunately, his internal clock wakes him at 3:00 a.m. The night is dark, the streets are silent, the world is asleep, but Tony is wide awake and his stomach is growling. He gets up and prowls the streets looking for a place to get some bacon and eggs for an early breakfast. Everything is closed except for a grungy dive in an alley. He goes in and sits down at the counter. The fat guy behind the counter comes over and asks, “What d’ya want?” Well, Tony isn’t so hungry anymore so eying some donuts under a plastic cover he says, “I’ll have a donut and black coffee.”
As he sits there munching on his donut and sipping his coffee at 3:30, in walk eight or nine provocative, loud prostitutes just finished with their night’s work. They plop down at the counter and Tony finds himself uncomfortably surrounded by this group of smoking, swearing ladies of the night. He gulps his coffee, planning to make a quick getaway. Then the woman next to him says to her friend, “You know what? Tomorrow’s my birthday. I’m gonna be 39.” To which her friend nastily replies, “So what d’ya want from me? A birthday party? Huh? You want me to get a cake, and sing happy birthday to you?” The first woman says, “Aw, come on, why do you have to be so mean? Why do you have to put me down? I’m just sayin’ it’s my birthday. I don’t want anything from you. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?”
Well, when Tony Campolo heard that, he said he made a decision. He sat and waited until the women left, and then he asked the fat guy at the counter, “Do they come in here every night?” “Yeah,” he answered. “The one right next to me,” he asked, “she comes in every night?”
“Yeah,” he said, “that’s Agnes. Yeah, she’s here every night. She’s been comin’ here for years. Why do you want to know?”
“Because she just said that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you think? Do you think we could maybe throw a little birthday party for her right here in the diner?”
A cute kind of smile crept over the fat man’s chubby cheeks. “That’s great,” he says, “yeah, that’s great. I like it.” He turns to the kitchen and shouts to his wife, “Hey, come on out here. This guy’s got a great idea. Tomorrow is Agnes’ birthday and he wants to throw a party for her right here.” His wife comes out. “That’s terrific,” she says. “You know, Agnes is really nice. She’s always trying to help other people and nobody does anything nice for her.”
So they make their plans. Tony says he’ll be back at 2:30 the next morning with some decorations and the man, whose name turns out to be Harry, says he’ll make a cake.
At 2:30 the next morning, Tony is back. He has crepe paper and other decorations and a sign made of big pieces of cardboard that says, “Happy Birthday, Agnes!” They decorate the place from one end to the other and get it looking great. Harry had gotten the word out on the streets about the party and by 3:15 it seemed that every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. There were hookers wall to wall. At 3:30 on the dot, the door swings open and in walks Agnes and her friend. Tony has everybody ready. They all shout and scream “Happy Birthday, Agnes!” Agnes is absolutely flabbergasted. She’s stunned, her mouth falls open, her knees started to buckle, and she almost falls over.
And when the birthday cake with all the candles is carried out, that’s when she totally loses it. Now she’s sobbing and crying. Harry, who’s not used to seeing a prostitute cry, gruffly mumbles, “Blow out the candles, Agnes. Cut the cake.”
So she pulls herself together and blows them out. Everyone cheers and yells, “Cut the cake, Agnes, cut the cake!” But Agnes looks down at the cake and, without taking her eyes off it, slowly and softly says, “Look, Harry, is it all right with you if…I mean, if I don’t…I mean, what I want to ask, is it OK if I keep the cake a little while? Is it all right if we don’t eat it right away?” Harry doesn’t know what to say so he shrugs and says, “Sure, if that’s what you want to do. Keep the cake. Take it home if you want.” “Oh, could I?” she asks. Looking at Tony she says, “I live just down the street a couple of doors; I want to take the cake home, is that okay? I’ll be right back, honest.”
She gets off her stool, picks up the cake, and carries it high in front of her like it was the Holy Grail. Everybody watches in stunned silence and when the door closes behind her, nobody seems to know what to do. They look at each other. They look at Tony.
So Tony gets up on a chair and says, “What do you say that we pray together?” And there they are in a hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon, half the prostitutes in Honolulu, at 3:30 a.m. listening to Tony Campolo as he prays for Agnes, for her life, her health, and her salvation. Tony recalls, “I prayed that her life would be changed, and that God would be good to her.”
When he’s finished, Harry leans over, and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he says, “Hey, you never told me you was a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to anyway?”
In one of those moments when just the right words came, Tony answers him quietly, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”
Harry thinks for a moment, and in a mocking way says, “No you don’t. There ain’t no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. Yep, I’d join a church like that.”
Mahatma Gandhi’s comment on the Bible to a group of missionaries rings as equally challenging today as it did back then: “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.”
The Rev. Pattison, a respected friend of Gandhi, recounted how one Sunday morning Gandhi decided to visit one of the Christian churches in Calcutta. As he tried to enter the church sanctuary, the ushers blocked his path. They told him he wasn’t welcome, nor would he ever be allowed to attend this particular church because it was only for high-caste Indians and whites. He was neither high caste, nor white. As a result of that single event, Gandhi rejected the Christian faith, and never again considered the claims of Christ. He was turned off by the sin of segregation that was practiced by the church, and that experience of rejection prompted his declaration: “I’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians.”
Mother Teresa was 85-years-old when she was invited to address the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. This frail old lady, dressed as ever in her simple cheap clothing, passionately and eloquently called on the powerful luminaries gathered around her to enshrine the protection of unborn babies in law. She pleaded for compassion on behalf of the ‘little ones’: “How can we speak out against violence, when we are the most brutal with the most defenceless?”
It was obviously a controversial and sensitive subject, and many of the media elite spoke of that awkward moment for the President Clinton, Vice-President Gore, and their wives as this humble diminutive lady spoke with such conviction. As she stood down, the audience gave a roaring standing ovation. However, a number of people, who were seated on the stage, very ostentatiously chose not to stand up, in obvious disagreement with what she’d said.
Afterwards, President Clinton was asked in an interview what he thought of Mother Teresa’s pointed message. He paused and said only this: “It is very difficult to argue against a life so beautifully lived.” He was wise to keep his words to a minimum, because he recognized that all the arguments supporting his opinion about her words were irrelevant at that time. Anything he said would only reflect his attitude toward Mother Teresa the person; and in the presence of a life well lived, he was no longer responding to an issue at hand, but to a person in front of him.
This is the first of five talks given at Lee Abbey in the summer, do take a listen here:
Have you had a bad day recently? Rebecca Dudley, editor of News Tribune, wrote:
“Paul Johnson, 37, a mechanic from Maitland, had a day to forget last Tuesday. During the morning, he pushed his motorcycle from the patio into his living room, where he began to clean the engine with some rags and a bowl of petrol. When he finished, he sat on the motorcycle and decided to start it to make sure everything was still OK. Unfortunately, the bike started in gear, and crashed through the glass patio door with him still clinging to the handlebars. His wife had been working in the kitchen. She came running at the noise, and found him crumpled on the patio, badly cut from the shards of broken glass. She called the emergency services, and the paramedics transported Paul to the emergency room.
Later that afternoon, after many stitches had pulled her husband back together, the wife brought him home and put him to bed. She cleaned up the mess in the living room, and dumped the bowl of petrol in the toilet. Shortly thereafter, her husband woke up, lit a cigarette, and went into the bathroom. He sat down and tossed the cigarette into the toilet, which promptly exploded because the wife had not flushed the petrol away. The explosion blew Mr. Johnson through the bathroom door. The wife heard the explosion and her husband’s screams. She ran into the hall and found him lying on the floor with his trousers blown away and burns on his buttocks.
She again ran to the phone and called for an ambulance. The same two paramedics were dispatched to the scene. They loaded Paul on the stretcher and began carrying him to the street. One of them asked the wife how the injury had occurred. When she told them, they began laughing so hard that they dropped the stretcher, and broke the Mr. Johnson’s collarbone.”
Has it been a tough year? When going through difficult or challenging seasons of life, I take comfort from Oswald Chambers words: “Trials are God’s vote of confidence in us!” He’s rooting for us, and believes we can get through them, so we need to believe it too. In any case, would life really be better if everything always went according to plan and we never faced any battles?
One day, a man sat observing a cocoon slowly opening as the butterfly inside struggled to force its body through the little hole. After several hours, progress came to a halt. Apparently, it would get no further. So the man decided to intervene and help the butterfly by making a shortcut – literally – as he snipped the end of the cocoon with a pair of scissors. The butterfly emerged without any further struggle, but its body was swollen and its wings were shrivelled. The man expected the butterfly to expand and fly away, little realizing that his “kindness” had signed the butterfly’s death warrant. The restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. In the verses above, James makes clear that life’s trials develop perseverance in us, which leads ultimately to maturity. If God allowed us to go through our lives without any obstacles or trials, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as we could have been. We could never fly.
Eldredge’s ‘Wild at Heart’: “Until we are broken, our life will be self-centred, self-reliant; our strength will be our own. So long as you think you are really something in and of yourself, what will you need God for? I don’t trust a man who hasn’t suffered.” Chinese underground church pastor to my friend: “Be careful, don’t be too wowed by this promising young man. Yes, he has potential, but he hasn’t been to prison for his faith yet. All the rest of us in this room have had at least a 3-year jail sentence. That was our Bible school.”
“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume–it is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.” Vance Havner
William Carey is often attributed the title “father of modern missions”. He was born into a desperately poor family and consequently obtained a poor education. He was apprenticed as a shoemaker but simply didn’t make the grade. He tried his hand at running a school, but it was a flop. His marriage was an unhappy one, during which his daughter died early – an event which left him bald for life. He was a deeply committed believer, but his subsequent attempt at pastoring a small church lessened his chances of ordination, because by common consent his sermons were too boring for words!
Despite such an apparently flawed track record, Carey formed a missionary society, with himself as the first candidate setting sail to India. This feeble individual translated the Bible into Bengali, Oriya, Marathi, Hindi, Assamese, and Sanskrit, as well as portions into twenty-nine other languages. At one stage, he lost ten years’ translation work in a fire. What did he do? He just started again. Then there were his contributions to literature, education, literacy, agriculture, getting infanticide outlawed, and more. This man’s obedience and perseverance were used to impact the lives of literally millions of people.
Before dying, knowing that one of his supporters wanted to write about his life, Carey conveyed his wishes: “If one should think it worth his while to write my life, I will give you a criterion by which you may judge of its correctness. If he gives me credit for being a plodder, he will describe me justly. Anything beyond this will be too much. I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”
Adoniram Judson of Burma. When proposed to his wife, “Give me your hand to go with me to the jungles of Asian, and there die with me in the cause of Christ.” Reached Rangoon in 1813, 6 years language learning before preached first sermon, 7 years before first convert. 20 years to translate whole Bible. Twice widowed, lost 6 kids in lifetime. Illness, 2 years in prison camps during the Anglo-Burmese war. One return to USA in 37 years there. Then 7000 baptised Karen people in 63 churches, now 3 million.
“The reason for the growth of the church in China and for the outbreak of genuine spiritual revival in many areas is inextricably linked to the whole theology of the cross… the stark message of the Chinese church is that God used suffering and the preaching of a crucified Christ to pour out revival and build his church. Are we in the West still willing to hear? The Chinese church has walked the way of the cross. The lives and death of the martyrs of the 1950s and 1960s have borne rich fruit.” Tony Lambert