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Saturday, 23 April 2016

C.T. Studd--Passionate, Single-minded, Dedicated....Neglectful?

I received this recommendation C.T. Studd; Cricketer and Pioneer via this blog post of top 10 missionary biographies which is worth checking out;

I enjoyed this book which gives a great amount of detail about the practical ministry experiences of C.T. Studd on the field. I appreciated this as sometimes these biographies go off on tangents about various personal spiritual experiences that the reader cannot relate to.

C.T. was a cricketer and pioneer missionary. His father, the wealthy E. Studd had been converted later in life dramatically giving up his racing business and everything else to evangelise before his death just two years later. C.T recalls the change in his father after his conversion;

“Then all at once I had the good fortune to meet a real live play-the game Christian. It was my own father. But it did make one’s hair stand on end. Everyone in the house had a dog’s life of it until they were converted. I was not altogether pleased with him. He used to come into my room at night and ask if I was converted. After a time I used to sham sleep when I saw the door open, and in the day I crept round the other side of the house when I saw him coming.”

Despite his father’s efforts it was a family friend, a Mr W, who was finally successful after just as forcefully confronting CT about his soul. After Mr W had quoted a Bible verse;

CT “No, I don’t believe that.”

W “Now, don’t you see that your statement contradicts God? Either God or you is not speaking the truth, for you contradict one another. Which is it? Do you think that God is a liar?”

CT “No”

W “Well then, aren’t you inconsistent, believing one half of the verse and not the other half?
CT “I suppose I am”

W “Are you always going to be inconsistent?”

CT “No, I suppose not always”

W “Will you be consistent now?”

I saw that I was cornered and I began to think, if I go out of this room inconsistent I won’t carry very much self-respect

CT “Yes I will be consistent”

W “Well don’t you see that eternal life is a gift? When someone gives you a present at Christmas what do you do?”

CT “I take it and say thankyou”

W “Will you say thankyou to God for this gift?”

Then I got down on my knees and I did say thankyou to God. And right then and there joy and peace came into my soul. I knew then what it was to be “born again” and the Bible, which had been so dry to me before, became everything.”
CT became an excellent cricketer and no doubt could have made this his long –term career.

“CT never regretted that he played cricket (although he did regret allowing it to become an idol,) for by applying himself to the game he learned lessons of courage, self-denial and endurance, which, after his life had been fully consecrated to Christ, were used in His service.”

But after a six year period of backsliding, he chose to forsake everything and head to the mission field after being convicted and hearing the call of God through a tract written by an atheist (It was this same quote which also partly challenged me (the writer) into mission.)

“If I firmly believed, as millions say they do, that the knowledge of a practice of religion in this life influences destiny in another, then religion would mean to me everything. I would cast away earthly enjoyments as dross, earthly thoughts and feelings as vanity. Religion would be my first waking thought and my last image before sleep sank me into unconsciousness. I should labor in its cause alone. I would take thought for the marrow of eternity alone. I would esteem one soul gained for heaven worth a life of suffering. Earthly consequences would never stay in my head or seal my lips. Earth, its joys and its griefs, would occupy no moment of my thoughts. I would strive to look upon eternity alone, and on the immortal souls around me, soon to be everlastingly happy or everlastingly miserable. I would go forth to the world and preach to it in season and out of season, and my text would be, "What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul”

CT married fellow missionary Priscilla Stewart. Together they operated the “living by faith” principle, giving all of their money away. They first were called to China where they saw some remarkable conversions particularly amongst opium addicts and later to India (partly to honour the dying wish of his father.)

“I am a murderer, an adulterer, I have broken all the laws of God and man again and again. I am also a confirmed opium smoker. He cannot save me.” This man was soundly converted and later said “I must go to the town where I have done all this evil and sin and in that very place tell the good tidings.” He gathered crowds, was brought before the mandarin, and was ordered 2000 strokes with the bamboo, till his back was one mass of red jelly, and he himself was thought to be dead. He was taken to hospital and nursed, till he was at last, able to sit up and said “I must go back again to …… and preach this Gospel.”

CT often used unorthodox methods of evangelism, this conversation with a Mrs Thomas;

“What an awful thing you said this afternoon, Charlie, comparing religion to smallpox. I thought it disgusting.” This led to a long talk….later she made him a cup of cocoa and handed it to him as he sat on the sofa. But he went on talking, while she stood there holding the cup. She spoke to him but he still ignored it. Then she naturally got annoyed. “Well” he said “That is exactly how you are treating God. Who is holding out Eternal Life to you.” The arrow pierced right home. She went to her room and accepted Christ later sending a telegram “Got the smallpox badly.”

But due to the harsh and primitive conditions both CT and his wife were plagued by ill-health and returned to England, now with four daughters in tow.

In 1908 CT saw an advertisement for missionaries to go to the unreached cannibals in Africa and decided to set out alone as his wife was too ill to accompany him and did not at first agree with his call. She later became his most ardent supporter and worked tirelessly to support him by raising the profile of the campaign. (CT went alone after a mission agency and a doctor advised him against it.)  CT and his wife spent the best part of the next 20 years apart (during the last 13 years of his life he saw his wife for just two weeks when she paid him a visit on the field.) CT continued to have remarkable success in his ministry with many more conversions amongst this previously unreached group of Africans. He also translated parts of the Bible into a generic tribal language that is still used today. He heard news of his wife’s death and died himself not long after, having suffered ill health for a long time.

On finishing this compelling book there were many questions in my mind. It was challenging to read of a man so single minded, so determined, so sold-out for God that he literally sacrificed everything for Him. Indeed some of his most famous quotes are;

“How could I spend the best years of my life in living for the honours of this world, when thousands of souls are perishing every day?”

“If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.”

“Only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

In our apathetic and indifferent day it is exciting and inspiring to read of missionaries willing to go to this extent. But the biggest question that needs to be asked is whether that was what God was really calling CT and others like him to do. Did God really want him to make the sacrifices he personally made? Did God want him to leave his family in England, to be an absent father and to force his wife to raise their children effectively as a single parent? Did the fact that conversions continued to make the ministry successful mean that God was blessing CT or was God just being gracious to him and working things out for His own purpose?

I’ve no doubt that CT himself believed that he was obeying God’s call by going alone to Africa but there are parts of his story that give cause for concern. His prayer life and personal discipline are admirable; rising every day at the crack of dawn to spend time with God, often going without sleep, delivering lengthy sermons where many people made professions and this despite on-going poor health. But refusing to take furloughs, rest days, vacations or participate in any type of recreation and forcing his staff to abide by these rules when they joined him? Didn’t God give us a six day week pattern with a rest day as an example for us to follow?

There came a time when everybody was clamouring for CT to return home but he refused believing that he was obeying the verse in Luke 14 vs 26;

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple.”

But what of the many verses about husbands and fathers and their roles and responsibilities? Why did CT marry in the first place if he was going to neglect his wife and children to that extent? I believe CT had misinterpreted this verse and taken it to an extreme as it is really about priorities. All of us should always seek to put God first in order to be a true disciple but should we place “ministry” above our other God-given responsibilities to our families?

CT used strong language to convey his contempt for those who remained in England even during the war. He believed that every person needed to go to foreign lands and be part of the missionary programme sacrificing all material things for the sake of the work. At one point he is faced with a clear decision about whether or not to return home but in the end he cannot do it as he sees multitudes perishing and going to a lost eternity in his absence. But this is where I believe he is doing things in his own strength. If CT had gone home God would have provided another to reach those that he has elected for salvation. CT seemed to fall into the trap of believing that he was the only one capable of performing this service for God and being used by Him and that in some way God needed him to do the work. God doesn’t need any of us, it is a privilege to be used by God.

I also felt that there were times when CT seemed to be seeking hardship/trials by failing to look after himself and again by demanding the same standards of those who worked with him. Many left the field as a result of this, but CT’s role surely should have been to inspire, encourage and strengthen these aspiring missionaries with less life experience than himself not to put them through things that might crush even the strongest and most determined Christian. There is also a place where some of his converts are imprisoned and the rest of them are demanding to be imprisoned also in order to suffer for the sake of Christ and receive a blessing. It is not Biblical to seek persecution, only to be prepared to deal with it when it comes.

There were also various dreams and visions mentioned to confirm callings/movements which in my view can be dangerous unless they are received through Scripture and tested by a discerning mind. He  seems in places to advocate a baptism of the Spirit after conversion (referring to the book of Acts.) I believe the Holy Spirit enters all true believers at conversion and that there is no second baptism although we can pray to be filled with the Spirit at any time; eg to be strengthened for a specific task…

My conclusion is that no missionary (or other person) is perfect and there will be things in each of our lives as Christians that we get wrong.  A lot can be learned from CT Studd’s journey; his dedication, his single-mindedness, his tireless commitment, his living completely by faith, his willingness to give up everything and his passion for souls. I would encourage Christians to read his story and to be inspired and encouraged by the much good work that was done. But personally I believe he either should not have married or he should not have gone to Africa leaving his wife and children behind. He should not have judged those who did not receive a call into mission and he should have recognised the commitments of others at home. It was a sad ending for me of a life of consecration, made more so by the fact that CT undoubtedly believed he was following the will of God in making these sacrifices.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Have YOU Counted the Cost of Coming to Christ?

I finished reading yet another book late last night; Captive in Iran.  I realised that for the third time this month I had been challenged in an area of Christian life that is rarely spoken about in the West; the persecution of Christians. This was also the subject of the books Tortured for Christ  and The Hidden Altar. I have been thinking about this subject as it is rarely the focus of our Sunday messages, most likely because we don't tend to suffer the same type of persecution that is highlighted in these books. But how would we respond as individuals if God allowed these situations into our lives or the lives of our families and friends?

"Captive in Iran" tells the story of Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh, two women born into Muslim families in Iran that converted to Christianity in their later teens. Both relay similar stories of dissatisfaction with Islam, a growing sense of emptiness and a sincere desire to know the truth about life, faith and God resulting in their eventual conversions. Although their sisters are mentioned frequently in the book, their parents are not. I'm guessing this was one of the consequences of their individual decisions to follow Christ. The two women, strangers at this stage but having had similar experiences already, met during a Theological Training course in Turkey with "Elam."

The organisation supplied them with a large quantity of New Testaments in the Farsi language. Bravely these women brought these to Iran, where it was and is illegal to "spread the Christian faith" ( especially amongst Muslims (the majority religion.) Over a 3 year period they covertly placed 20,000 of these Bibles in the hands of people they had conversations with in the street or in restaurants and left them in other public places. They each carried in their backpacks 10/15 Bibles for giving away whenever they went out. They marked the areas covered on a map which is featured in the book and shows extensive activity. They relay almost being stopped by security police at a checkpoint when they had 3000 Bibles in their vehicle but due to a commotion further up  the line (and after desperate prayer) they passed right through. What these two women did is incredible and likely reached countless souls for Christ in a country where Christian Bibles are not easily accessible and the "gospel of Barnabas" (conforms to the Islamic interpretation of Christian origins and contradicts the New Testament teachings of Christianity,) creates confusion for many (

In the end, the inevitable happened and these two courageous women were arrested by the Iranian secret police. They were detained on charges that were never officially and clearly relayed to them in writing but the gist of it was two fold; promoting the Christian faith and apostasy (converting from Islam to Christianity which if proven carries the death penalty.) You might think the story would end at this point but the bulk of the book is about their evangelistic witness whilst in prison! Shortly after their detention, in terrible conditions that most of us would not even want to dream about, they came to believe that God brought them into prison for the purpose of reaching those within the walls.

"Though I had no way to give her a Bible, her request was another reminder of how easy it was to witness behind bars compared to the work we had done on the outside. Maryam and I didn't have to look for prospects or sneak New Testaments into their mailboxes. We could talk to them openly, rather than hiding behind closed doors or in basements. Our fellow prisoners were hungry for the truth. Desperate for it. The guilty ones felt the weight of sin for their crimes and believed Islam condemned them to punishment or death. They had lost all hope until they heard the good news of the true God. On the surface the prison environment seemed to be a dead end. At the same time, the truth of Jesus, His love for sinners, and His atonement for their sins, was a miracle to these inmates , a balm for even the oldest and most painful wounds in their souls. Most of these women had lost all hope of salvation....... And because we were already in prison for promoting Christianity, we figured we might as well shout the good news of Jesus Christ from the rafters."

During their 9 month detention, they actively shared with prisoners, guards, officials and even judges. They did this with few (if any) material resources and often whilst suffering from chronic illness due to the harsh conditions

"As I carried the box to the trash, I looked through it, just in case. Even trash might have some value in prison. To my surprise I found a pocket-size Gospel of Luke mixed in with the scraps and castoffs. "God has answered your prayers," I said, handing it over. "Now you can read a portion of the authentic Bible you've always wanted. As word got around, many, many prisoners wanted to read it. Before long, dozens of women had their first look at the true Christian Scriptures, reading the little volume signed by one of the most powerful men in the church (Archbishop Ramsey- Former Archbishop of Canterbury,) who had died more than twenty years before and whose little pocket Gospel had miraculously turned up under a bed in a women's prison in the middle of Islamic Iran."

Their case began to be highlighted internationally and people around the world  campaigned for their release. This created an embarrassing situation for the Iranian authorities who needed the girls to apologise or at least to distance themselves from their bold statements about their faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour and Lord. This from one such frustrated Judge during the proceedings;

"Of course, you are aware that I am allowed by our religious law to cut you in half with a sword right now," he fumed at them , his voice rising. Then he regained control of himself. "But I prefer to leave it to the law to decide."

I'm not going to spoil this very readable story by relaying any further detail here suffice to say that I would recommend this book for adults. It is clean in terms of language, except for one use of God's name in vain early on, there is some violence and sexual content but it is not in graphic detail.

I am reluctant to place a health warning here but it is necessary especially for less mature Christians who may be confused by some of the content. These women speak of charismatic type subjective experiences (tongues, prohecy, healing etc) that led to their conversion to Christianity. They mention dreams of Jesus and at times prophetic dreams leading them to confidently assert that several prisoners will be released within a certain time frame. Indeed a man involved in their eventual release states that Jesus appeared to him personally in a dream and "ordered" him to help them out of their situation. This man is described as a non-religious figure who "can connect to all the prophets." Later one of the women gets into an argument with an official figure about whether or not she has actually heard the audible voice of God. Although this is not a main theme in the book it could be dangerous for readers to place too much/any emphasis on these type of experiences especially as none of them seem to happen as a result of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word of God. The Bible also makes it clear that there will be no new revelation as it is sufficient for all situations/circumstances here on earth.

Despite the health warning, I believe that this book, the others I have mentioned and others on the subject of the persecution of Christians in various parts of the world, written both contemporararily and historically should be examined and considered carefully by sincere Christians. When reading these books and others I have been greatly encouraged by those who took a stand for their faith,  but this has also been mixed with a tinge of fear. Some of the experiences these writers have gone through are truly terrible in terms of living conditions, chronic illness, loss of liberty, physical punishment (even torture,) loss of family members and the list goes on. This not mentioning the emotional impact of all of these things over time.

What if God required this or something worse of you or me? Christians are keen to quote verses reminding us that God won't allow us more than we can bear but how much could we really handle? What about Paul and Job, what was their breaking point? Are we anywhere near our limits of endurance when facing the often trivial things that we moan and complain about every day? Have we truly counted the cost of following Jesus as these fellow believers did? Would we be able to maintain our behavioural witness whilst in prison and suffering for it? What if we were languishing there knowing that an apology and partial recantation would result in immediate release? What if our family members were not saved and were desperate for us to take this course? What if we were sentenced to die and only had to amend our public statement of faith slightly to avoid execution? Would we waver? How soon will it be before we are faced with these choices in the West? Are we prepared? Have we even thought about it?

Finally, What are we doing to help those persecuted Christians around the world in terms of prayer and financial support? Could we do more to help them? Are we called to go to these countries ourselves? Are we resisting that call due to fear?

"And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you"  Luke 14 vs 27-29

"And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me." Mark 8 vs 34

"So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions." Luke 14 vs 33

"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ" Philippians 3 vs 7-8

"If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Luke 14 vs 26

"Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."  2 Timothy 3 vs 12

"Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved." Matthew 24 vs 12-13