Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Do I Have to be Attracted to Jesus to be Saved?

An alternative title might be: Is Fear of Hell a Legitimate Reason for Coming to Faith?

Growing up, I was clearly taught that Christians went to Heaven and those who didn’t believe went to Hell. As a teenager, my mindset was definitely that I had to be living a life that was pleasing to God otherwise I would end up in Hell. I was terrified of this possibility. Whenever my life was on track I had a sense of peace and believed I was on the path to Heaven but when I was living in sin feared I would end up in Hell.

When I came to true faith at the age of 23, it was in large part motivated by my fear of going to Hell. I knew that I had been living a sinful lifestyle for a number of years and believed this had separated me from God. I realised the things I had been taught as a child were true and that I needed to turn away from my sinful life putting my whole faith and trust in Jesus’ death on the cross to get me to Heaven one day.

At this point my life changed dramatically and the vices I had been unable to shake off fell away and became mere temptations, in certain circumstances, rather than things that I felt I couldn’t live without. It was only later that I understood what had actually happened when I had asked God for forgiveness of my sin and help to lead a new life: that He had exchanged my sinful life for the perfect life of Jesus once and for all. That this was something that could never be undone or changed and that I was now guaranteed eternal life in Heaven.

I was (and am) immensely grateful to God for sending Jesus to the cross and thankful that Jesus willingly submitted to the will of His Father. I determined to serve Him with my life and to try to live a life that pleased Him knowing that when I inevitably failed, my sin had already been dealt with. I'm not talking here about earning my salvation or trying to pay God back. I wanted my life to be a testimony of what God had done for me in sending Jesus. I had been saved for good works not by them.

Obviously, there were emotions and feelings involved at various stages in this process but the reason I became a Christian was because I realised the Bible was true, I believed the warnings about rejecting God, and I wanted to go to Heaven one day. The Bible detailed how God had provided a way of escape from the “wrath to come”. and I wanted to take it. I had a healthy fear of God. I responded trusting that if I confessed Jesus as my Lord and believed in my heart that God raised Him from the dead I would be saved (Romans 10 vs 9). 

Now, I constantly find that I’m being confronted with sermons, and conversations with Christians, suggesting that if I don’t feel certain things towards God, or the person of Jesus, I cannot be saved. That coming to faith due to a fear of Hell or a desire to be in Heaven is not a legitimate reason and not enough to save. That I have to be attracted to the person of Christ and not just to the stuff He offers including eternal life. Books like Desiring God by John Piper also contain this idea.

My question to those suggesting this is, what if I don’t have these feelings? Should I attempt to manufacture them? My conversion had little to do with being attracted to Jesus and everything to do with believing His instructions to repent. I feared the consequences if I didn’t obey!

We are frequently told not to rely on our feelings because they will lead us astray. Attraction and desire are both things that are subjective and therefore subject to change. Personalities and temperaments can be very different. I may not be a particularly emotional character and I may not feel certain emotions towards God. Does this make me less of a Christian than someone who is more emotional?

We are clearly told that we should love God and seek to follow Jesus. Some have turned this into a sentimental love where Jesus becomes almost like some kind of divine romancer. I’m guessing this comes from the Scriptures about Christians being the Bride of Christ. However, this isn’t speaking about individual Christians but the church as a whole, and it represents a sacrificial love that gives itself for the other party not a romantic love.  

For those who, like me, struggle with the modern move towards a more emotional relationship with God. I find myself coming back to Jesus’ words in several places in John’s Gospel:

“If you love Me, keep my commands.” (John 14 vs 15)
“Whoever has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me.” (John 14 vs 21)

There is nothing here about attraction, desire or feelings. We are also told that we will recognise Christians by the fruit of their lives. Someone may appear to have a very close walk with God due to their visible emotions but their lifestyle may contradict their proclamation.

I discovered that my life only changed when I truly repented of my sin and trusted Jesus. This is one of the reasons I know my salvation is genuine as I couldn’t sort my life out myself. It was only when I recognised that my sin had created a barrier between me and God and that this needed to be dealt with by Jesus that my life changed permanently.

Let’s make sure that we aren’t adding requirements to salvation and remember that:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3 vs 16)


Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Are we Maintaining an Eternal Perspective?

“Our biggest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding in things that in the light of eternity don’t really matter.” (D. L. Moody)


The sharp eyed amongst you will notice that I’ve started and finished with the same quote and poem as last time. Sorry if that bores anyone, although it really shouldn’t in light of the content. I’ve been challenged recently by both. Interestingly, the poem was quoted at both the OAM Supporter’s Conference and the UBM Christian Answer weekend in London by different speakers.

It’s so easy to get distracted in a world full of enticements. There are the obvious vices that most Christians actively seek to avoid as excesses would be classed as sin. However, generally, it is not these that are taking up our time, consuming our thoughts, exhausting our emotional and physical strength and just distracting us from the work of evangelism.

We were reminded at a UBM mission in Llandudno about the need to avoid allowing things to become idols. An idol can be anything that becomes too much of a priority in our lives taking the place of God. Those listed included; money or the things money can buy, ambition, career, success, power, relationships, fame, sport, hobbies, (even knitting for the benefit of the many ladies enthusiastically making jumpers.) If we keep an eternal perspective, things will not become idols because they are passing away and only our souls will live on. We will remember that this life is short and eternity in either Heaven or Hell beckons, not just for us, but for those all around us.

Last weekend, I was on another UBM mission in London. During one session, a panel of men with decades of experience in both living the Christian life and, more specifically, in evangelism, were asked questions submitted by team members. Several questions related to the issue of burnout: how to balance service with rest, church commitments with leisure time etc. Like most, I was expecting a cautious, measured response…

One speaker said that the issue of burnout had more to do with the fact that people have effectively become lazy and expect to have more rest/leisure time. They are training their minds and bodies to become accustomed to playing computer games, watching movies and wasting time in ways that prevent them being ready for work. When the time comes, they feel exhausted quickly as they have not prepared adequately for the mission.

Another reminded us of the terrible fate that awaits those who may not even have heard the Gospel. He spoke about the spiritual battle and the need to remind ourselves constantly that we are in it! Materialism and consumerism were also touched on. The oldest panel member then quoted the poem mentioned already.

There was a deathly silence as the, mostly young, people listening absorbed what had been said. The challenge had been issued but what would be the response?

The interviewer then asked a follow up question about those who are so conscientious that they will make themselves ill by trying to do too much. They will then experience mental or physical burnout which prevents them from doing anything. The answer offered was that this might be God’s way of slowing them down for a period until they are ready for service again. Obviously, if they become ill then they cannot work so are forced to take a rest.

It was mentioned that we have been created for six days of labour and one of rest. A lot of people who burnout are not ensuring they have one day of rest set aside to worship God.

I was surprised to hear these answers but it was definitely an encouragement to press on. God has ways of slowing us down when necessary, and excessive concern about resting and/or experiencing burnout may hinder us in our service.

I have personally had times where I have been forced to rest due to ill health, and also times where I have decided to continue the work despite my health problems and just to do what I can. My health in recent months has recovered dramatically and I’m able to do a lot more. Should I be limiting myself in case I burnout or get ill again?

There are two important considerations. The first is that God knows our minds and bodies better than we do. He has work for us to do and He knows our limitations. Providing our motivation is to serve and glorify Him primarily rather than something else, we should give everything we have to this cause. Worrying about burnout doesn’t help avoid it and may even be a sin as it is failing to trust God with our lives. God has ways of stopping us if we aren’t being wise. We aren’t going to be rebuked for trying to do too much for Him, providing we are only labouring six days a week…

The second consideration refers back to the title of this post. Maintaining an eternal perspective is no easy task. We have to remind ourselves of this daily, or even hourly, as we are prone to forget and other things crowd in. It is the key to fighting idols and distractions of all kinds. We need to be asking ourselves whether the things we are involved in, and giving our time and energies to, are really important in the light of eternity.

Let’s remember that we are in a spiritual battle for souls and that the task of evangelism is a direct command from Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Let’s give everything we have to the task and if we burnout so be it!

 

When I am dying how glad I shall be
That the lamp of my life has been blazed out for Thee.
I shall be glad in whatever I gave,
Labour, or money, one sinner to save;

I shall not mind that the path has been rough,
That Thy dear feet led the way is enough.
When I am dying how glad I shall be,
That the lamp of my life has been blazed out for Thee!

Author unknown


Thursday, 7 March 2019

Open Air Mission Supporter’s Conference 2019 #oamission #oam

“Our biggest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding in things that in the light of eternity don’t really matter.” (D. L. Moody)

Some of you will know that I don’t usually go to conferences. I’m just someone who would rather be doing something than listening to people talk about doing something. I’m not really into training days either as I’ve found that the best training is on the job where you can learn from your mistakes!

However, I am a big fan of the Open Air Mission (OAM) and have been to several of their one-day events over the last few years. I was in two minds about this event as it was over three days, a little pricey (everything seems expensive after living in the Philippines,) and it would involve forfeiting the usual outreach I’m involved in. (This ended up being cancelled due to the weather anyway but I couldn't have predicted this as, being up north where it always rains, we tend to brave most weather conditions.)

My mind was made up just a few days prior to the start of the conference on hearing the very sad news that a former missioner, Geoff Cox, had died after an accident in his garden. I’m not sure I’d actually met Geoff although I may have seen him at OAM team events. I knew his name very well though because of his regular activity on social media and ongoing links to OAM.

Having been made aware of the book table outreach that myself and several others are involved in, he asked to receive my newsletters and subsequently sent me a cheerful email requesting that I enlarge the print as he couldn’t read it. I had mistakenly assumed that everyone would now be reading it on their phones or computers and would therefore be able to zoom in and had therefore set the font to size 7 to try and squash everything onto the one page!

Geoff’s reason for contacting me wasn’t only to gently point out that the font was ridiculously small. It was to tell me that he and his wife, Ruth, were printing off my newsletters and praying specifically for the things mentioned. He also requested details of times and places for the weekly outreach so that they could pray when we were out. I was humbled, and grateful, that someone who I wasn’t even sure I had met would have such an interest in the work that they would be this faithful in prayer.  

So, I decided to go the conference in the hope of encouraging people there by being one of the handful of people under the age of 60. The timing of the conference also fitted in with a visit down South to my family who have recently moved to Reading.

Arriving, there were many familiar faces which was an immediate encouragement. Having been on a number of the OAM team events, it’s always interesting to see the full-timers smarten up, and get serious, as they give their reports. There tends to be a lot of banter and laughter on the teams which keeps things enjoyable. We all know that the work is serious but people aren’t going to be attracted to Christianity if there is no life, passion or obvious conviction in the messengers.

On this occasion, however, the mission had chosen several men who were able to highlight the humour in the various situations they found themselves in. One London based missioner told us about his unplanned ministry to taxi and bus drivers, and to passengers on the tubes. It seemed people were curious about his work and by extension keen to read his Gospels of John which he was only too happy to give to them even when they were in the process of navigating a bend whilst driving a bus and he had been standing on the pavement. He had specially adapted his open-air board to sit on specialist skateboard wheels purchased from a “surfer dude” type shop in New Quay. This man is one of the 60 pluses (at least I hope so…) and has a grey beard. He was asked where he planned to use the skateboard and gave the name of the area where the skaters congregate as this happens to be where the open airs are held. You can imagine the bemusement as the board was handed over.

He also relayed a story from the very busy tube. Missioners end up carrying a lot of stuff around. Most of the time this is okay as there are regular supporters who can help bear the load but this isn’t always the case. For some reason, this missioner was pushing a trolley of literature whilst simultaneously attempting to manoeuvre on open air board through the crowds in London’s tube stations. He managed to get halfway onto a train as the doors started to close on his literature which began falling out of the trolley. The passengers grabbed him and pulled him in as he battled with the doors. The trolley landed on a woman’s feet and he crashed into someone else. Then, as he was apologising profusely, a group of younger people asked if he could show them his “art”. He started to explain that he wasn’t an artist and didn’t have a painting. They wanted to see what he was doing anyway, so he opened the board and gave them a Gospel presentation on the tube!

We also heard stories of divine appointments; people happening to walk past an open air having recently been bereaved, a Chinese man who had just bought an expensive Bible and was encouraged to continue investigating the faith, people looking for churches, and many with questions looking for answers. These contacts tend to roll into one especially when added to our own local outreach contacts. However, it’s always encouraging to hear how God is at work in different places and how the missioners keep going day by day. All those reporting back had an obvious, and contagious, enthusiasm for the work even though we are talking about the ones and twos--what can be more important than one soul and its eternal destination?

The conference was also a good opportunity to catch up with people and share outreach ideas. It was a real blessing to see the committee chair, David Fielding, looking so well after his recent operation. He gave a talk on the life of John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress. He told me that his church in Derby had recently run something akin to a beach mission in the town centre complete with pirate and Smuggler’s Trail, and that the local police had ended up getting involved in the tug of war! The church backs onto a new council development so they are taking the opportunity to reach the community with some “outside the box” thinking.

In terms of outreach ideas, DF also told me about a slightly more charismatic church than our circles that had ended up taking over a large community centre for £1 a year as no one else wanted the responsibility. As part of the deal they undertook to continue providing various community services, but the building is completely controlled and managed by the church. This brings them into contact with large swathes of the community using their facilities in a completely natural environment. I have been sceptical about this type of social enterprise in the past because even with the best intentions, the community aspect tends to trump the Gospel purpose over time. However, this was something different as the church had complete control and there had been no deception at any level; people know the building is part of the church and run by Christians.  Church members had been informed that this was their outreach as a church and everyone was expected to be involved!

I also had opportunity to chat with a retired pastor local to me whose church had blitzed their town with a thousand copies of Ultimate Questions by John Blanchard one year and who was planning a distribution of Mark’s Gospels on the doors, if people would agree to read them. Lower key, they are encouraging church members to agree to put leaflets through doors a few times a year in areas that they pass on their usual journeys. It’s such an encouragement to meet people who are always thinking of ways to get the Gospel to those still in darkness in our towns and cities. 

Towards the end of the conference we learned that we were being spied on by a missioner based in Scotland. Snap shots of him undertaking activities such as drinking, eating and stretching as he watched the proceedings live had been captured, no doubt without his knowledge, and were posted on the big screen for our entertainment.

I'll conclude with the notes I took during the preaching ministry, but summing up, it was a great conference, full of life and inspirational ideas and I especially enjoyed the hearty singing rather than people mumbling into their hymn books!

Mike Mellor expounded several chapters in Exodus under the banner, the making of a servant of God, obviously referring to Moses. He paralleled the situation in Egypt with today’s society. The Egyptians no longer recognised what a blessing it was to have the people of God in their midst. Egypt was a place of self-reliance which made the people greedy and ultimately sick. Prosperity deadens the heart to spiritual things. We tend to look for approval in all the wrong places when we should be looking to God in a godless age.

We should have compassion for people in their emptiness. People around us are hopeless and helpless. The masses are living lives of quiet desperation. But, God’s timing is perfect. He was bringing the people to the end of their tether so they would feel the bitterness of sin and desire to escape it. The darkest hour is just before the dawn. Pharaoh’s actions exemplify the futility of fighting against God. When Pharaoh was doing his worst, God was about to do his best. What will it take to awaken the church in Britain?

Persecution serves only to strengthen the people of God. It’s prosperity not persecution that will kill us. You can’t bind the church or silence the Gospel. We shouldn’t be praying for an easier life but to be strong men and women of God. We need to be people of courage and confidence not cowering in a corner. God says He will honour those who honour Him.

The trials in our lives are not wasted (Romans 8 vs 28). God had to chisel away at Moses so that his power could be displayed through him rather than him being self reliant. It was a lesson in vulnerability when the bottom dropped out of his life. God has ways of bringing us down to size especially through our families. When things happen that we don’t understand we must trust the nature of God. There are no short-cuts in the work of God. God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Men have no taste for God’s power until they have need of it (Calvin). The place of failure will eventually be the place of victory.

When we are groaning, suddenly God breaks through. Moses had been in the desert with no hope and no sense of God for 40 long years. Then, he sees the burning bush in the middle of another dreary day and his whole life changes. Fire brings light into a dark world; the burning wrath of God and the blazing love of God.

He finished with a challenging quotation (and the poem at the end):

I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! 
(John Wesley)



Prayer Points for the Open Air Mission

1. More full-time workers, particularly young(er) men but also the right men who will remain in the mission.
2. Large areas of the country have no associates and no open air work. The Gospel needs to be taken to the streets everywhere.
3. For more churches to partner in the open air work and catch the vision for it. There are some areas where churches have been able to take over the work of a missioner freeing them up to go elsewhere. However, there are still churches/church leaders who dont see the need for/dont agree with this work.
4. For more supporters to join teams and the missioners on their daily patches.
5. For wisdom in appointing a new General Secretary for the office.
6. For the ongoing work of OAM; their current workers, families, regular open airs, team events, beach missions and Bible exhibitions.



When I am dying how glad I shall be
That the lamp of my life has been blazed out for Thee.
I shall be glad in whatever I gave,
Labour, or money, one sinner to save;

I shall not mind that the path has been rough,
That Thy dear feet led the way is enough.
When I am dying how glad I shall be,
That the lamp of my life has been blazed out for Thee!

Author unknown

Friday, 8 February 2019

Are we Practical and Compassionate?

I’m currently reading Amazing Conversions: John Ashworth and His Strange Tales. This book is being heavily plugged in a neighbouring church by one of the members and, as it relates to the history of the local area, I thought it was worth a look.

So far, (I’m about half way through), it reminds me of Streets Paved with Gold which tells the story of the London City Mission. The terrible poverty and desperation of the many people documented in both books tugs at the heart strings even though the events have long since passed.

John Ashworth, spent vast sums of personal money coming to the aid of people without food, clothing or shelter as he ministered to the people of Rochdale. Many of these were involuntarily unemployed and living in squalor with a large number of mouths to feed. Some may question his methods as he often drew a promise to attend his Christian meetings in exchange for practical help. However, he never failed to tell everyone that crossed his path of sin, judgement and the need to get right with God whether they attended his meetings or not! He spoke directly, and in some cases, practically begged people to consider their souls as he gave material help to the desperate. His ministry is a good example of using help to facilitate offering hope in Jesus.

Its easy to throw money at situations or even give time without allowing oneself to become emotionally involved in the lives of others, but its something very different to experience the pain as you walk through a situation with people. To experience their hopelessness and lostness and to become overwhelmed by the great needs. John Ashworth got his hands dirty as he moved from one home to another. At times, he was conned and cheated, but he was persistent and kept his focus on the Gospel message and the saving power of Jesus because of his love for the people of Rochdale and his sincere belief that he had the real answer to their problems. Theres something compelling about a person who keeps going despite numerous setbacks. People are watching how Christians respond to trials to see if their faith is genuine and whether it works!

I’m not sure that, here in Britain, any of us experience anything like the material hardship prior generations had to deal with. However, whatever the source, pain and suffering abounds and none of us are immune.

Yesterday, in Halifax, I met a dear old man, Rodney. I handed him one of the church leaflets which happens to be about finding hope in the midst of great pain. He took it meekly and pushed it into his carrier bag. He hesitated as I asked if he was a Christian. He mumbled something and moved past me, but it wasn’t the usual brush off. Moments later as I watched him leave, he turned back and with tears in his eyes said, “I’ve just lost my wife….”

My heart went out to him as I offered condolences and asked how long they had been married. He wandered back towards me looking lost and broken. “54 years and she died on January the fourth” was the answer. He then proceeded to tell me all about meeting his wife, their life together and her funeral. During our discussion, I told him that I had lost my younger brother in a car accident at 18. I wasn’t  looking for sympathy. I wanted him to know that I understood the pain of the loss of a loved one, although I quickly added that I knew it was nothing like the suffering he was experiencing having been with his wife for so many years.

I was astonished when Rodney began singing one of the funeral songs, more so because he knew the lyrics word for word.

"We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love."

Not knowing what else to do during this very personal moment, I joined in the song. So, there we were singing to each other in the street; an old man broken by life and a young(ish) woman wanting desperately for this stranger to know the meaning of the song that had meant so much to his late wife, although from what had been said, sadly, I dont think either of them were believers.

Grasping at straws, I repeated the last line and spoke briefly about the love of the Saviour, Jesus, and how God could offer comfort even in the midst of great pain. Rodney then said that he would be looking to God for help in prayer. He said that he had enjoyed talking to me about his wife, and, having promised to read the church leaflet containing the Gospel, he went on his way.

Afterwards, I reflected on the way the conversation had gone. I had been in direct mode, ready to challenge people about their need of forgiveness, or make them think about where they will spend eternity. However, I had been thrown by Rodneys understandable emotion. The natural thing to do was to listen and comfort him. Sometimes, thats what is needed. It helped that I knew he was taking the Gospel away in a leaflet that he had promised to read. 

Im reading in Exodus at the moment and today I was struck by the care God took over the Israelites when giving their daily living instructions. In particular this passage in Chapter 23 vs 10-11 in relation to Sabbath laws:

For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave.

These verses are just one example of the multiple provisions God made for the destitute, and even the wild animals, demonstrating His great care for all of His creation. There are many passages in the New Testament reflecting the same compassion as God deals with people.

We meet people in many different situations and at different stages in life. We may have no idea what they are going through. We wont always have the right words or be using the most successful evangelistic methods, but we can all show empathy and compassion as we communicate the Gospel.

Sometimes, as in the case of John Ashworth and the people of Rochdale, the compassionate thing to do is to put your money where your mouth isand meet immediate practical needs whilst urging people to seek the Saviour for their greater eternal needs.

At other times, it is offering a listening ear and being gentle with someone in pain. We can offer to pray for a person who is struggling and/or encourage them to seek God themselves. People can see whether we really believe what we are advising and whether we genuinely care. They can also see when we are just doing a job, or task, or following a script.

Let's offer genuine compassion to those we meet, not holding back our emotions to protect ourselves, or worrying about getting too involved, or being taken for a ride. Inevitably, we will be cheated at times, but that shouldnt stop us being willing to help. God sees when we do something for Him even when others dont appreciate it. 

Let's also make sure that we actually communicate the Gospel. All of the kindness in the world can't save whether it's genuine or not. There are plenty of non-Christians around who are extremely kind and compassionate. If we have genuine concern for others, a natural outworking will be that we want them to find hope in Jesus for themselves. Telling someone how to get right with God and secure eternal life in Heaven is surely the most loving thing one person can do for another...



Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Top 10 Christian Books Read in 2018

It’s time for my (belated) Christian book recommendations for 2018. My Goodreads 2018 Challenge lists 77 books. I missed my target of 100 by a long way due to other things going on...beach missions, open air missions, moving house, job and area etc.

For those that missed them, you can also see my 2016 and 2017 selections.

In compiling my list, I have again tried to cover a range of genres and sub-genres which is quite tricky as I read a lot more biographies, (especially by or about missionaries), than anything else. I prefer books with a clear Gospel message and Christian purpose in writing.

The majority of the books I recommend here are clean—no bad language or sexual content and limited graphic violence. Where there is slight deviation I have commented in my review so you should know what to expect. You can read my Goodreads reviews by clicking on the title link. The books appear in the order I read them in 2018.

1. The Hiding Place- Every Christian should read this book about the determined efforts of one family to harbour Jewish refugees during the Nazi occupation. This is probably one of my favourite books. 

2. Through Gates of Splendor- Possibly the most well known missionary biography of modern times. Relays the story of Jim Elliot and his companions in the Auca jungles. 

3. Heaven and Hell- Absolutely terrifying but focuses the mind on eternal realities. 

4. Don't Let the Goats Eat the Loquat Trees-
Gets the award for most intriguing title but this missionary biography is also laced with humour.

5. Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship- Apart from the cheesy title, this book is pretty good. I wasn't expecting much and am surprised to be recommending it! 

6. This Little Church Went to Market- Some much needed insights on what happens when the church becomes like the world.

7. The Pursuit of Holiness- This had to appear as no book list is complete without something by Jerry Bridges. This is one of his best.

8. Darwin and Darwinism 150 Years Later- I don't read many books about science but this was simple enough for me to follow! It provides compelling evidence to debunk the popular theory of evolution using Darwin's own statements.

9. The Pursuit: The Work of the Holy Spirit in Evangelism-
This is helpful as it encourages sharing the Gospel whilst remembering that God is responsible for any success. 

10. The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence- I particularly liked this book as the author takes the opposite approach to many engaged in this vital work. Instead of developing new methods/ways of reaching Muslims believing they somehow need a different approach, he suggests we stick to the tried and tested by beginning and ending with the truths contained in the Bible.

I hope you will find some new recommendations to add to your shelves. Let me know your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree!

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

New Year in Oldham

Somehow, I ended up with a lot of this week off work. For most people, this would be good news; a time to rest, relax, socialise or even take a holiday. I, on the other hand, don’t do so well with big blocks of empty time. Fortunately, I discovered Meetup some time ago, so when the restlessness gets unbearable, I can just go and meet a bunch of strangers for an event of some sort. It can also be a good opportunity to share the Gospel.
So, not being one to do things by halves, I booked half a dozen Meetups over the next week or so. The first was a curry in Oldham on Saturday evening. This went well; I met some new people, (one person I already knew from a previous group), and had some good conversations. Yesterday, I went on a longish walk and had a good chat with a girl from Canada. I was a tad perturbed that nobody else really spoke to me, but some groups are friendlier than others!
I wasn’t especially looking forward to the third event on my list; a New Year’s Eve party in a pub in central Manchester. However, as the churches I’m involved with weren’t doing anything and I’m still relatively new to the area, I decided that the prospect of spending New Year alone in my house (my housemates are away) was too depressing. Pretty tired from the walk, I forced myself to get ready and braved the cold weather for the second time to walk the twenty minutes to the tram stop. This was where the first slightly irritating thing happened. Both my cards declined in the ticket machine for no apparent reason so the tram I wanted to catch arrived and departed whilst I was still trying to buy a ticket. Never mind, I thought, as I patiently waited for the next one whilst wondering how on earth the group of girls wearing virtually nothing standing next to me weren’t freezing to death, these things happen.
Changing trams in Manchester, a dishevelled drunk man complimented the lady in front of him on her general appearance. He then turned to me and seeming to believe that I might be offended by his oversight advised me that I also looked good and he particularly liked my hair. Seeing my expression, he then apologised if what he had said had been offensive before staggering further down the tram. The onlookers seemed amused.
I reached the pub safely, chatted with a few people and tried to avoid making eye contact with a few of the guys who were circling the group like hawks. After a few hours, some drunken dancing began and I decided I really didn’t want to be there anymore. I left with another girl, said goodbye as she lives in the city, and walked the few hundred feet to the tram stop. This was when the already mediocre night deteriorated.
It was only 10pm and I had thought it would be the perfect time to make the hour’s journey home before all the New Year chaos. However, examining the sign boards, there appeared to be no trams at all running on the Rochdale line. I approached one of the yellow jackets to enquire about this because, being New Year’s Eve, they were meant to be running until 1am. They pointed to a flashing orange sign which began, “Due to a police incident at Manchester Victoria…..” Not knowing that it was serious I asked how long the delay was likely to be. Then, the man told me that several people including a police officer had been stabbed. I asked if it was terrorist related and he said that this had been mentioned. Not wanting to bother the man further, I headed off towards a line of waiting taxis. At this point, I was feeling pretty unsafe. I don’t often feel like that having lived in some comparatively dangerous places. But, there were groups of youths roaming around looking for trouble and smoking drugs, as well as some really odd looking people, who I'm sure only venture out in public once a year, emerging from various shadows, and obviously there were a lot of drunk people everywhere.
Realising I had no cash, I searched in vain for an ATM pushing through crowds of people queuing for the clubs. There was no nostalgia and I had absolutely no desire to be amongst them. I was by this point freezing, even with a coat, and just wanted to get home. Eventually, I found an ATM, with a queue, got my money and started to attempt to use Uber on my phone. The rates kept going up as I was trying to book and when it went to over £30 I just couldn’t bring myself to pay that much despite my predicament. I checked with a random cabbie who quoted £40.
Thinking the tram situation might change, I wandered back up to the tram stop and was relieved to see Victoria listed as a stop once more and a tram expected in a few minutes. A guard then informed me that this was an error and there were still no trams. He also said there were no replacement buses as people had refused to work on New Year’s Eve….He advised that the only option was to walk to Monsall which might take about an hour. His colleague immediately shook his head and pointed out that the walk went through a number of very rough areas. A girl later said she wouldn’t even do the walk in the daytime! I declined.
Every so often people were coming onto the platform to ask about the Rochdale line and the guard suggested we group together to get a taxi to Monsall. After a few failed attempts, I finally found a young couple who had already booked a taxi to Failsworth which seemed ideal. The taxi took ages due to the traffic deadlock and the police everywhere. Then the driver couldn’t find us and we couldn’t understand him due to his accent. We finally found him in one of those ridiculous scenes where two people are on the phone to each other and only realise it when they are literally eye to eye. He had turned up in a mini bus but that was the least of our worries and we were just grateful to be in the warm.
After giving the couple £10 for my part of the journey, we sat in traffic for a further period watching the clock ticking towards midnight. It struck whilst we were still on the way to Failsworth tram stop, so I celebrated the turn of the year in a mini bus, with three strangers, dodging fireworks that were being set off dangerously close to the main road, and navigating the smoke that had descended.
At Failsworth tram stop, I thanked the young couple and the driver, then ran up the large number of steps to the platform. Again, I felt slightly scared to be alone and wondered why there were no other people around. On the deserted platform in the middle of nowhere, I saw something orange flashing on the announcement screens and started to panic.
The sign began with the now familiar words, “Due to a police incident in Oldham town centre…..” At first I thought all the trams had been cancelled and I was going to spend the night bedded down in a doorway somewhere. Getting another taxi at this point would have been virtually impossible as the world and his wife were doing the same thing and my phone was extremely slow and nearly dead. Reading the screen more carefully and rationally, there were some trams running between Failsworth and Freehold. I waited for one of these thinking that maybe I could walk the rest of the way home. When it arrived, it was actually labelled Westwood which took me one stop closer to my destination. The driver advised us all to start walking as he kicked us out at Westwood. Having initially said we could walk along the tram lines, he then changed his mind as his health and safety training kicked in and he pointed us towards the main road with some vague directions.
There were only a few other people around who mostly seemed drunk, and to be trying to get to Rochdale, but even so, I was grateful not to be completely alone. I headed off following my phone GPS which said it would take 36 minutes to walk home. Some lads said something to me as they passed and I ended up having to follow them through some dark alleys. When another group of lads appeared I felt very nervous but they too passed on by. It was now heading towards 1am and fireworks were still exploding here, there and everywhere.
Walking hastily past some strange sights in Oldham town, I saw a fancy dress party with a nun standing outside a pub, she looked at me as if to say “what are you looking at?” Then a drunk man shouted to ask if I had a cigarette. The celebrations were in full swing and it was all a bit disconcerting. It’s weird that things which used to be my world are now so alien.
I finally saw what all the fuss had been about when I reached the junction of Waterloo Street in Oldham. A vehicle was on its side in the road partially obscuring the tram line. There were the usual array of flashing lights and yellow jackets around and a crowd of spectators, of course. I toyed with asking the police whether they were aware that the tram had been stopped several stops too early resulting in people, like me, having to walk a very long way unnecessarily. I thought if I told them people were being advised to walk along the tram lines, something might be done….
However, knowing that the police don't generally like being told how to do their jobs, especially by ex-officers and that they were probably upset about what had happened at Victoria, I thought better of it. I walked the rest of the way home noting that there were several cars full of men driving around aimlessly and I seemed to be attracting a fair bit of attention. Shivering and breathing a sigh of relief, once safely inside my house, I locked both doors.  
Happy New Year, I hope yours was better than this…..