Jim Wallis writes: “The danger of secular fundamentalism is its allergy to spirituality and disdain for anything religious. Prophetic religion is the antidote to bad religion. Prophetic faith is not the battle between secularism and faith, but rather between cynicism and hope. Prophets begin in judgment, social critique of status quo, but end in hope – that those realities can be changed. It’s a spiritual choice. Ultimately, cynicism protects you from commitment. If things are not really going to change, why try so hard to make a difference? And if you have middle-class economic security (as many cynics do), things don’t have to change for you to remain secure. That is not intended to sound harsh, just realistic. Cynics are finally free just to look after themselves… Perhaps the only people who view the world realistically are the cynics and the saints. Everybody else may be living in some kind of denial about what is really going on and how things really are. And the only difference between the cynics and the saints is the presence, power, and possibility of hope… Hope is not a feeling; it is a decision. And the decision for hope is based on what you believe at the deepest levels. You choose hope, not as a naïve wish, but as a choice, with your eyes wide open to the reality of the world – just like the cynics who have not made the decision for hope.”
Remember if we want to receive the Kingdom of God, we HAVE to be child-like (not childish). The stakes are high…
Here’s a little checklist for you to assess how you’re getting on.:
Needy and dependent v self-sufficient and independent
Humble and teachable v proud and having the answers
Have you ever had a love bite?! No, I’m not talking about the hickey variety…
Below is last Sunday’s sermon from St Mark’s Battersea Rise as part of their series ‘Love Justice’. After so long in lockdown, it was lovely to be back preaching in the flesh. Have a listen, it’s challenging stuff:
Here are some quotes that I shared:
Anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Edmund Burke: “All that it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing.”
The Reverend Martin Niemöller, a pastor in the German Confessing Church who spent seven years in a concentration camp: “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the labor leaders, and I did not speak out because I was not a labor leader. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.
A harried vicar was too busy to help a homeless lady needing help. He fobbed her off with a promise to pray for her. She subsequently 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.”
An extraordinary phenomenon has taken place over the last few years in Iran – or, to give it its full title, the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the context of the strict application of Shariah Law and in a climate of severe persecution for anyone who converts to Christianity, a steady stream of people are risking life and limb in their declaration of allegiance to the way of Jesus. To become an apostate of Islam is extremely costly, and there are plenty of documented cases of rape, imprisonment and torture of those brave enough to follow their convictions. Yet the Church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world.
So when an Iranian Christian couple managed to emigrate to the USA, it was their ticket to safety in the ‘land of the free’. Of course, they seized the opportunity. Unsurprisingly. Yet what was surprising, was that after living in the USA for a while, the wife said to her husband: “Please, take me back to Iran. There is a satanic lullaby in this nation. All the Christians are asleep, and I feel myself falling asleep.”
Here was a woman who had escaped the very real probability of sexual violence, loss of income and separation from loved ones through incarceration or worse, and yet she was saying that that risk was worth taking because of the greater danger to her very soul of the insidious and deathly lies she was (and we are) being steadily drip-fed in the Western world.
Think about that for a minute.
A satanic lullaby… can you hear it?
. . .
A church leader in London asked me to give this prickly sermon before lockdown, addressing some key cultural issues that most steer clear of. So I’ve just re-recorded it, if you fancy a listen.
Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich was asked whether it was more effective to change society through violent revolution or gradual reform. He replied: ‘Neither. If you want to change society, you must tell an alternative story.’
Here’s to telling the best alternative story in the world!
The world we are living in is nuts, and only getting more nuts. Most people, however intelligent, are seeking rational explanations. But the truth is, there aren’t any. I genuinely think most of us in the West are so blind to spiritual realities that we have an awful lot to learn from other worldviews. I was cleaning up my computer and came across this talk given in 2017. I’d never posted it. But I found that all the more after a short time of living back in the West I needed to hear it. I think it’ll do you some good as well. Do take a listen.
“We are at war, and the bloody battle is over our hearts. I am astounded how few Christians see this, how little they protect their hearts. We act as though we live in a sleepy little town during peacetime. We don’t. We live in the spiritual equivalent of Bosnia or Beirut. Act like it. Watch over your heart. Don’t let just anything in; don’t let it go just anywhere. What’s this going to do to my heart? is a question that I ask in every situation. “ (John Eldredge)
John Piper highlights the critical issue as follows: “Probably the number one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that we try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for… But what have millions of Christians done? We have stopped believing that we are in a war. No urgency, no watching, no vigilance. No strategic planning. Just easy peace and prosperity. And what did we do with the walkie-talkie? We tried to rig it up as an intercom in our houses – not to call in fire power for conflict with a mortal enemy, but to ask for more comforts in the den…
…Most people show by their priorities and casual approaches to spiritual things that they believe we’re in peace, not in wartime… In wartime we’re on the alert. We’re armed. We’re vigilant. In wartime we spend money differently, because there are more strategic ways to maximise our resources. The war effort touches everybody. We all cut back. The luxury liner becomes a troop carrier… Who considers that the casualties of this war don’t merely lose an arm or an eye or an earthly life, but lose everything, even their own soul, and enter a hell of everlasting torment?”
‘Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.’ (Habakkuk 3:2)
Sunday’s sermon at Holy Trinity Cheltenham can be viewed below. The covid limitations and seating restrictions were a little strange, but it was good to be back in a church, and we had a powerful time.
Below is some of what I shared:
A few years ago I flew to the Hebrides to speak at a number of meetings. It was great to go to places I’d read about from the 1949-52 revival there, and even talk to a surviving old man and ask him questions.
The revival was steeped in prayer. Seven men and two old ladies had decided to pray and not stop until God visited them in a powerful way. One night, at a prayer meeting held in a barn, one of them said, “It seems to me just so much sentimental humbug to be praying as we are praying, to be waiting as we are waiting here, if we ourselves are not rightly related to God.” He asked God to reveal if his own hands were clean and his own heart was pure. Suddenly God’s awesome presence swept the barn. They came to see that there was a direct correlation between revival and holiness. A power was let loose that night that shook the island. A man arrived and felt compelled to go to church and get right with God. People had visions in their own homes.
Duncan Campbell had been preaching at a conference in Bangor, Northern Ireland. He was due to stand up and preach when the Lord told him to leave immediately and go to Lewis. He told the man who had invited him that he simply had to go. Arriving as soon as he could in Lewis, he found that they were all waiting for him! The stories are truly extraordinary.
Campbell shares: “Over 100 young people were at the dance in the parish hall and they weren’t thinking of God or eternity. They were there to have a good night when suddenly the power of God fell upon the dance. The music ceased and in a matter of minutes, the hall was empty. They fled from the hall as a man fleeing from a plague. And they made for the church. They are now standing outside. Oh, yes – they saw lights in the church. That was a house of God and they were going to it and they went. Men and women who had gone to bed rose, dressed, and made for the church.
At another meeting, “suddenly, the power of God fell upon the congregation. Of course in Lewis and in other islands of the Hebrides, they stand to pray, they sit to sing. And now, one side of the church threw their hands up like this. Threw their heads back and you would almost declare that they were in an epileptic fit, but they were not. Oh, I can’t explain it. And the other side they slumped on top of each other. But God, the Holy Ghost moved. Those who had their hands like this stayed that way for two hours. Now you try to remain like that with your hands up for a few minutes and you will find it hard – but you would break their hands before you could take them down. Now, I can’t explain it – this is what happened. But the most remarkable thing that night was what took place in a village seven miles away from the church. There wasn’t a single person from that village in the church. Not one single person. Seven miles away, the power of God swept through the village. Swept through the village and I know it to be a fact that there wasn’t a single house in the village that hadn’t a soul saved in it.”
The stories go on: “A schoolmaster that night looking over his papers 15 miles away from this island on the mainland suddenly was gripped by the fear of God. And he said to his wife, “Wife, I don’t know what’s drawing me to Barvas, but I must go.” His wife said, “But it’s nearly 10 o’clock and you’re thinking of going to Barvas. I know what’s on your mind, I know that you are going out to drink and you are not leaving this house tonight!” That was what she said to him – he was a hard drinker. And he said to his wife, “I may be mistaken, oh, I maybe mistaken, but if I know anything at all about my own heart and mind, I say to you now that drink will never touch my lips again.” And she said to him, “Well, John, if that’s your mind, then go to Barvas.” And he got someone to take him to the ferry, someone to ferry him across, and I was conducting a meeting in a farmhouse at midnight and this schoolmaster came to the door and they made room for him and in a matter of minutes he was praising God for salvation. Now that’s miracle. I mean you cannot explain it in any other way.”
Campbell came for ten days but stayed for two years.
“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalms 85:6)
“My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, “I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,” that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, “It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,” it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real-really real. (Anne Lamott)
Here’s a talk on Psalm 13, in which David gets really real with God. Be encouraged whatever you’re going through…
William Booth’s last speech to the Salvation Army ended with this: “While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight. While little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight. While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight. While there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end!”
The above and below are a few of the stories I shared in this talk from the New Wine National Leaders Convention, just before lockdown kicked in. Seems like a long time ago now. There’s lots of juicy material in there, worth a listen!
Amy Carmichael was someone who knew the meaning of suffering, and yet continued in sacrificial service, for many years rescuing young girls from temple prostitution in Hindu temples in India. She spent her last two decades mostly bed-ridden, using the time to write at least 35 books of meditations and reflections. When she died, in accordance with her wishes, no headstone was erected. Instead, the thousands of girls she had rescued placed a bird bath over her grave, inscribed with the word Amma which means ‘Mother’ in Tamil.
This is the poem she wrote about the suffering involved in being obedient to the gospel call.
Have you no scar? No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand? I hear you sung as mighty in the land; I hear them hail your bright, ascendant star. Have you no scar? Have you no wound? Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent, Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned. Have you no wound? No wound? No scar? Yet, as the Master shall the servant be, And piercèd are the feet that follow Me. But yours are whole; can he have followed far Who has no wound or scar?
She said: “We profess to be strangers and pilgrims, seeking after a country of our own, yet we settle down in the most un-stranger-like fashion, exactly as if we were quite at home and meant to stay as long as we could. I don’t wonder apostolic miracles have died. Apostolic living certainly has.”
A certain mission society in South Africa once wrote to David Livingstone, “Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to send other men to join you.”
Livingstone replied, “If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them.”
He later wrote in his journal on one occasion concerning his “selfless” life:
“People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice, which is simply paying back a small part of the great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice, which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind and a bright hope of glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege.”
My life motto is John 10:10 where Jesus says: “I have come that you might have life, and life to the full.”
This talk on the Adventure of Calling was given a few months ago in North Carolina. It definitely applies to all of us, and is worth a listen. Below I’ll paste a few quotes that I included:
If you want the adventure of calling, you have to COME:
Claim God’s promises Obey God’s instructions Maintain faith in God’s leading Embrace risks for God’s glory
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” Thomas Merton
Two Cornell psychologists (Gilovic and Medvec) did lots of research, found time key factor in regrets. Tend to regret our actions in short term, but long term regret inactions. Study found that in an average week, action regrets slightly greater than inaction regrets – 53% to 47%. But people looking back at end of lives, inaction 84% to action 16%. So end of lives we may have made a few mistakes but our biggest regrets will be risks we didn’t take. Anticipating future regret, Mark Twain warns us, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Oswald: “If you abandon everything to Jesus, and come when He says, “Come,” then He will continue to say, “Come,” through you. You will go out into the world reproducing the echo of Christ’s “Come,” That is the result in every soul who has abandoned all and come to Jesus. Have I come to Him? Will I come now?”