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…..

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Is it Really Evangelism?

I have just moved to Oldham in Manchester and, as one person put it, become a “northerner”. I’ve moved here to help Oldham Bethel Church with their outreach, responding to a number of heartfelt pleas in the Pastor’s blog. Arriving, I found that several key people were away for the week so took the opportunity to join the “Reaching Rochdale” outreach week with a neighbouring church in Milnrow.

I was forced straight out of my comfort zone when, on day one, I found myself volunteering to do door to door evangelism in a predominantly Muslim area. Somehow, I then felt compelled to continue this work believing it would get easier with practice. I’m not sure that it got any easier, but I became slightly less afraid and more willing as the week went on. Given the choice, I still prefer open-air work and reverted to that when it was taking place. But, my experience was definitely valuable and will be useful for the future.

Back in Oldham, I've been tasked with surveying the area for a few months to see what is already going on and, hopefully in the process, noting any opportunities for additional outreach work. Spending a number of hours researching things today, it's immediately tempting to focus on the social needs of the area as there are plenty of requests for volunteers for all sorts of things. I'm sure I could get stuck in and happily fill my time with these things as the needs are great, but I have to keep bringing it back to whether there would ever be opportunities to share the Gospel with people in each role/organisation. If not, I need to move on and not become distracted. 

The enemy loves to keep us busy with work that appears to be Gospel centred but in reality is not much different to social work. I find that I'm back to my motto from the Logos Hope ship; help and hope must go hand in hand. I can't be offering help without hope as it's the ultimate tragedy; when I've made someone that bit more comfortable on their journey to a lost eternity.

I’ve taken part in a number of week long missions this year with the Open Air Mission and United Beach Missions. I highly recommend both organisations. Discussions about effective methods of evangelism have arisen frequently. It’s perhaps not surprising that if you throw a bunch of people interested in evangelism together for a week that they will have strong, and differing, views on the subject. What is concerning, though, is that there are some who think they are evangelising when they are not.

Jesus’ Great Commission tells us to:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16 vs 15-16)

If we take the plain, everyday, meaning of the text, it follows that when we are not proclaiming the Gospel to people, we are not evangelising. We may well be facilitating other peoples efforts or serving God in other ways, but it is not evangelism.

Ive heard people come up with all sorts of things that they class as evangelism. Is it evangelism to attend a meeting at your church where someone is giving their testimony? How about if you invite your non-Christian friend along to hear the speaker? What about painting a childs face, or giving them a balloon, and talking to their parent about the history of beach missions? What if you give them a big smile, will the joy of the Lord somehow be conveyed to them? What if you pray for them as they walk past?

Of course, some of you know that these things arent evangelism, but there are others who are offended by my comments. Its worth reiterating that these things may well be good things to do, they may provide a platform for someone else to share the Gospel. In Gods providence, they may lead to profitable conversations later down the line. God may even be gracious and the person may actually ask you one of those questions we all hope for; How did you become a Christian? Why do you do this?Or even, What must I do to be saved!?But, most of the time, the person passes by and we wish we had made more of the opportunity.

In my experience, its much more difficult to get to these most important issues of the heart if we either dress the Gospel message up by entertaining people, or seek to dumb it down, or hide what we are really doing, when we first meet them. They arent stupid and most prefer honesty rather than being duped into something, then feeling deceived later.

We also need to remember that the Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1 vs 18.) If we hide the true Gospel to avoid offence, we are not attracting those who would be drawn to the Message, as well as not challenging those who will ultimately reject it.

Sometimes, I think we need to ask ourselves what were afraid of. Is it not just the enemy raising our anxiety levels and causing us to stumble? In the past, when I needed to force myself to do something that could be awkward or uncomfortable, I would think of the tag line from the Dr Pepper advert, Whats the worst that could happen?For those that remember the adverts, its never going to be as humiliating as that! Someone might slam a door in your face, or laugh at you, or belittle you (as happened to me recently.) You might even lose a friendship over it, but at least they have now heard the truth and you have done the loving thing in warning them. Ultimately, they are rejecting God and we should fear for them.

I appreciate that in open-air and door to door work greater risks can be taken; these people are probably strangers that you wont see again. However, what is the point of developing friendships with people either over a week, on a beach mission, or over a lengthier period if they are colleagues, relatives, friends and neighbours, if we never actually share the Gospel with them. It wont get easier to share if we wait indefinitely and none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

In the Philippines, I had the terrible experience of twice hearing of the deaths of people that I had met just once and had not shared the Gospel with, one was a child. I cant carry that guilt because God is sovereign and I was later reassured that they had heard from other sources. What was it that had stopped me sharing directly during those first meetings; complacency and the belief that I had time to build relationships with them which would then make it easier to share the Gospel. That was a tough and painful lesson, and a reminder of the urgency of the work we are called to.

We were reminded recently that everything that happens in the life of a non-believer is completely meaningless. I certainly experienced that when I was back-sliding. Lets not allow our church events, friendships and conversations to end up adding to the futility of a life lived without God because we never get round to offering people what they really need. Dont leave it too late to tell someone that they need to repent and ask God for forgiveness through Jesus.

Lets make sure that we prioritise actual evangelism so that we can all be involved in fulfilling the Great Commission and seeing souls saved.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Inside the Mind of a Prodigal

In Christian circles most, if not all, people know the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke chapter 15. This story is especially useful in our current day. It proves that the Bible is not only relevant but can be applied directly to people’s lives thousands of years after it was written. This could only be possible if the Bible was written by a God who knew the future.

The story also proves that humanity, with all its celebrated progress, doesn’t change. We are still the same weak creatures falling victim to the same temptations over and over again. The devil doesn’t need to change his strategy because we still succumb to his original one.

In brief, the prodigal son demanded, then squandered, his inheritance on wild living until he reached the point where he was penniless and desperate to eat pig food because of the gnawing hunger. Eventually, he came to his senses and returned to his father requesting a position as a household servant. Instead, his father forgave and reinstated him. The story is a picture of God’s patience as we wallow in our sin, and His mercy and forgiveness when we reach the point of repentance.

You may think the idol here was money, but it was actually the things and experiences money could buy. The son was dissatisfied with his life and thought the grass would be greener on the other side. He thought he could find satisfaction in the pleasures of the world, and he probably did, for a while. His happiness, though, was always going to be temporary because our sinful appetites are never satisfied.

I love the NIV rendering of the key verse and turning point in this parable: “When he came to his senses….” This verse tells us that all that had gone before was senseless but it had taken a crisis point in the young man’s life for him to realise it. He had his head buried in the sand as he languished in the consequences of his sin, but there came what we might call a “light-bulb moment”.

I was a prodigal, once. I don’t recommend it. Prodigals are tortured souls.

The difference between those who have made professions of faith and wandered away from the truth, and those who have never heard the truth is stark.

The ever present knowledge that God exists and that one day you will appear before Him as Judge. The restlessness of knowing you can never be completely happy without God and that you will have to return to Him…one day. The desperate search for satisfaction in all manner of things to prove that life without God is possible, and preferable. The desire to enjoy worldly experiences without that nagging twinge of conscience. The gradual distancing from Christian family, friends and church, due to guilt. The anger when people presume to judge your lifestyle. The terror of going to a very real place called Hell, forever.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Romans 1 tells us that everyone knows that God exists because He has created them with that knowledge and they can see it in creation. The difference for a prodigal is that they know that they know. They can’t find safety in the crowds of agnostics and atheists because they know that they are lying to themselves. Perhaps, they refuse to talk about religion and avoid the subject altogether, for a limited time. A prodigal is consciously suppressing the truth about God which leads to a lack of peace and turmoil in the soul.  

Maybe, if no one prayed for you, God would leave you alone. Unlikely, because God cares for you much more than the prayer warriors. It’s one thing, though, that you can’t stop people doing, and trust me when I say that they will be doing it. Your parents, relatives and former church friends are praying, and will continue to pray, until you come to your senses and return to the Father who is patiently waiting for you.

Looking back, I can’t believe I spent those six years attempting to run from God. It was all so empty and meaningless. I shudder now at the risks I took each day as I gambled with my life and presumed upon God’s patience and grace. I could have lost my life many times either through recklessness, or through one of the many accidental tragedies that occur every day around the world, one of which took my younger brother during my period of backsliding. Then, where would I be? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

When I came to my senses, the overwhelming feeling was of gratitude and relief; I was grateful that I was no longer carrying my many sins because Jesus had paid for them on the cross, and relieved that I was finally at peace with God. I was no longer at risk of a lost eternity in Hell but had Heaven to look forward to.

Are you a prodigal? Are the brief and passing attractions of the world really worth risking your eternal soul?


Mark 8 vs 36

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?