Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Word for warriors

There's a saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. When you are faced with your own mortality you begin to ask the big questions about life, death and God. It looks like something along those lines that are prompting growing numbers of young British soldiers to turn to the Bible as they face the dangers of serving in Afghanistan.

According to the Bible Society about 25,000 camouflage-edition New Testaments are given each year to new recruits and frontline soldiers by the Naval, Military and Air force bible Society. These are specially produced for them by the Bible Society.

When interviewed by the Bible Society the military charity's Executive Director Richard Prendergast said: "It's no longer seen as a source of ridicule for soldiers to get out their New Testaments and read them in public. Many turn up for Bible studies carrying them."

The version being used is the CEV (Contemporary English version) New Testaments which are easy to understand and ideal for first-time Bible readers. Editions bearing the regimental badge are treasured and seen as 'part of their kit.'

Forces chaplains report it's common for soldiers going out on foot patrol to dig out a New Testament and pray through a psalm for protection.

A chaplain at a Forward Operating Base in helmand said a staff sergeant had been using the New Testament for daily studies with his troop - though none of them was a professing Christian. 'I gathered the guys around and read a bit from the Bible,' said the sergeant, 'and we all just talked about what we thought it meant."
(From the Bible Society)

Friday, 29 July 2011

Celebrating the Life and Ministry of John Stott

In one of many tributes being made in memory of John Stott I would like to quote from one by Pastor and author Mel Lawrenz. In his reflection he quotes New York Times columnist David Brooks who wrote a piece called “Who Is John Stott?” Brooks was bemoaning the fact that the media always choose the wrong people to represent evangelical Christianity, putting the microphone in front of people who are, in his opinion, “buffoons.” If reporters were smart, Brooks said, they’d look to John R. W. Stott as the voice of evangelical Christianity. It is a voice that is “friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic.” Brooks went on to reflect on why this evangelical preacher is so compelling to him, a Jew. It has to do with Stott’s uncompromising “thoughtful allegiance to scripture.” Brooks concluded: “most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed.”

Lawrenz goes on to write: "John Stott was a pastor in London for many years and gradually became a friend to dozens of countries he visited in his itinerant speaking ministry. He never tried to invent something new, but was driven by his conviction that the truth of God in Christ is at the core of the mission that believers share. He never flaunted the fact that he served as chaplain to the Queen of England, or basked in the multitudes of accolades he received. He lived as simply as possible, writing books in a simple cabin in Wales, never married, called “Uncle John” by hundreds of younger people to whom he was mentor.

Stott always stood erect at the podium from which he spoke, turning small-sized pages in a notebook to march steadily through his talk. He did not walk around. Hardly gestured. But in his voice was a firm conviction that punctuated the words and phrases that really mattered. Sacrifice, truth, crucifixion, mission, world, redemption—and especially, Christ. He did not arrest your attention with fancy illustrations, but with the substance of the truth. He did not speak on topics, but about reality. The orderliness of his analysis showed respect toward his listeners. An authentic longing to help people. And underlying it all was an irenic spirit. He was polite not because he was an Englishman, but because the grace of Christ required it. Grace and peace—the keywords of Pauline salutations—were the values that opened the door of credibility to untold thousands of people." (See Biblegateway Blog 27th July 2011)

Lawrenz continues: "The core elements of Stott’s leadership-by-truth-telling are within our grasp immediately, and Stott would probably be the first to say so. We must…
* Make personal devotion to God in Christ our highest priority.
* Live consistently, with integrity. Resist the temptation to develop a public persona.
* Develop core disciplines like Scripture reading and mediation, prayer, work and rest.
* Trust in the unchangeable truth of Scripture. Go deep in our study of it.
* Prepare public talks with a focus on substance. Look for the connections and orders of our ideas.
* Value relationships with other leaders.
* Be a mentor without having to be called a mentor. Follow natural patterns.
* Don’t turn discipleship into a program.

Lawrenz ends: “Read” the truth of God written in the natural world. Stott was an avid ornithologist. His cumulative knowledge made him a world expert. This was both an avocation and an act of worship. Like many other Christian leaders, Stott practiced a full awareness of God’s presence and work, and that included participating in the Creation with a developing sense of awe and wonder. Rest in peace, John Stott.

John Stotts Memorial page can be found here.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

John Stott - a personal tribute

John Stott has had a huge influence on my Christian walk and will go down as a key 20th figure in the Christian Faith let alone that branch of the Church known as Evangelicalism.

My contact with John Stott goes back to my conversion in 1981. I had joined a small Bible Study group as we slowly went through the Letter to the Romans. At some point the penny dropped and I gave my life to Christ. But that was only the beginning. As a new born baby Christian I needed to grow and my friends who had run the Bible Study group began to feed me with various books to help me develop as a disciple of Jesus Christ. John Stott's books became my food and drink and over the years I wolfed down Basic Christianity, Understanding the Bible and later The Cross of Christ and Issues Facing Christians Today.

Reflecting now on those books, and the many that followed, what was it that drew me to this man?

First, his depth of biblical knowledge which was more than merely intellectual but something which had somehow seeped into and become one with his DNA. In other words John Stott was more than merely a scholar. I say 'merely' because knowledge on its won puffs up, and that certainly wasn't the case with him. Which brings me to the second thing, humility. John Stott was always someone who lived under the Word and as a servant to God through it. You never got the impression from his writing or his speaking that he was talking down to you, but always as someone who drew alongside and turned the pages with you so that master and pupil became two pupils wondering together over the text.

Thirdly, there was Stott's graciousness. I remember reading somewhere that he prayed through the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) every single day of his life, asking God to grow them in His life, which He did. As a result God poured out His grace on John so that He exuded God's love, grace and humility in all that he said, did and wrote.

Lastly, for now, is the fact that John Stott always remained faithful to his Christian Faith as it expressed itself through Anglicanism, and as an Anglican who gets more than a little fed up and exasperated at the Church from time to time, that was significant to me as it kept me in the denomination in which I grew up and was ordained into, at times when I could cheerfully have left in search of a more consistently orthodox denomination. John's commitment to Anglicanism was inspiring and I am sure had the same effect on other disgruntled brothers and sisters over the years.

I am saddened by the news, but only as one who, for the short term, has lost a good and faithful friend, mentor and teacher. For I know, God-willing, that I will see him again.

Rest in peace, John, and rise in glory

'Architect of 20th century evangelicalism' John Stott dies at 90

The following is from a triubute printed in Inspire Magazine. I have no idea if it is copyrighted.

Former vicar of All Souls Langham Place in London, and a key leader among evangelicals worldwide, John Stott died at 3.15pm yesterday (27 July) in his retirement home at St Barnabas College.

He was with close friends, reading the Scriptures and listening to Handel's Messiah when he died peacefully. A memorial service is being planned for St Paul's Cathedral and details will be announced shortly.

The obituary in Christianity Today described him as "an architect of 20th-century evangelicalism [that] shaped the faith of a generation", and staff at All Souls have made their own tributes here.

Rev Hugh Palmer, Rector at All Souls, said: "John Stott was a very remarkable Christian leader with an international reputation but his church home was here at All Souls for nearly all his life, so his death will be felt by us at a very personal level.

"John came to the church as a child, and I can well remember him telling our family of his first visits to the Rectory as a member of the Sunday School. He was to spend more than 50 years as Curate, Rector and then Rector Emeritus in a remarkable ministry here. In every sense he was one of the church family, so his death leaves us with a real sense of loss as well as the confidence that he is with his Lord and ours."

Richard Bewes, Rector at All Souls from 1983-2004, commented: "John Stott was, under God, my 'insurance policy' against anything going wrong. I had known him ever since I was 13 years of age, when he drove me to the Scripture Union houseparty at which I made my teenage decision for Christ. Ever since, I thought of him as always 'there' to befriend, guide and inspire ... his works will follow him into all eternity."

And Michael Baughen, vicar then Rector of All Souls from 1970-82, added: "Vast numbers of us, all over the world, from the African village to the American penthouse feel we have lost a father, a brother, a counsellor, a friend, a model, a teacher, a strategist, though deeply thankful we have had the privilege of knowing this holy man of God, this faithful servant of Christ."

Doug Birdsall, executive chairman of the Lausanne Movement, put his global influence in context: "John Stott impacted the church around the world in many ways.  Perhaps his greatest contribution was to articulate clearly and to defend robustly the evangelical faith which he always understood to be biblical faith, grounded in the New Testament.  Evangelicalism was to Stott an expression of historic, orthodox Christianity.

"The Cross of Christ was central to the message. Stott preached the Cross as the sole means by which men and women could be made right with God.

"The resurrection of Christ was the great hope of his life, as it is for all mankind, and the hope for life beyond death. This is the great reality he is now experiencing as the reward and vindication for all he preached and for which he lived during the many years of his ministry in London and around the world.

"Perhaps more than any other person in the last century, John Stott restored confidence in the authority of God’s Word and in the centrality of biblical preaching and teaching. He inspired many evangelicals around the world to make a robust and clear affirmation of biblical truth while at the same time emphasising that this must be backed up with a distinctive, godly Christian life.

"He was able to hold together, in constructive biblical tension, a passionate commitment to evangelism along with a profound commitment to ministering to the needs of people in the context of suffering and brokenness. This is best expressed in The Lausanne Covenant, of which he is the chief author, and which is seen as the defining evangelical document of the 20th Century.

"Everywhere John Stott travelled to teach, he encouraged 'double listening'. This was a listening to the voice of the Spirit of God through his Word, and listening to the voice and the needs of our broken world.

"Stott was known for his love for the Majority World and for students. He gave himself tirelessly to assisting and encouraging pastors and students in Africa, Latin America, Asia, the South Pacific and the Middle East. He leaves friends everywhere."

Steve Clifford, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance, said: “John Stott’s life, writing and teaching had a profound impact on the 20th century Church.

“He will be remembered as a generous evangelical, committed to a gospel of truth packed with grace which could with confidence be communicated to a lost world. He will go on to be remembered as one of the leaders of the evangelical movement and will continue to have an impact for generations to come. While we mourn the loss of our brother in Christ, we rejoice that he has gone to be with the Lord he so loved.”

Converted at Rugby School in 1938 after hearing a sermon from Rev Eric 'Bash' Nash, Stott received crucial mentoring from Nash before studying at Cambridge, and going on to train for the ministry. Ordained in 1945, he became a curate at All Souls before serving as Rector from 1950-75.

John Stott played a vital role as a leader of evangelicalism within the Church of England and famously opposed a call from Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones for evangelicals to leave their denominations and unite together as an evangelical community, made at the National Assembly of Evangelicals in 1966. This rejection of a separatist approach for evangelicals was hugely influential in the path taken by UK evangelicals for decades to come.

His views on hell attracted criticism from some evangelicals. Stott leaned towards annihilationism, seeing hell as incineration into non-existence, rather than eternal conscious torment, the more traditional evangelical approach.

A prolific author, Stott founded the Langham Partnership International in 1974 and the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity in 1982, of which he remained honorary president.

He was appointed chaplain to the Queen in 1959, and Extra Chaplain on his retirement in 1991. He received the CBE in the 2006 New Year's Honours list. In 2005, Time magazine ranked him as among the 100 most influential people in the world.

He remained single throughout his life, and said: "The gift of singleness is more a vocation than an empowerment, although to be sure God is faithful in supporting those he calls" (Albert Hsu, Singles At The Crossroads, IVP, 1997).

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Kingdom of heaven

What is the kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven? Lots of people think it is where Christians go when they die, but this is a common misunderstanding which can have dire consequences on an individual's Christian life as well as the life of the Church. Let me quote Tom Wright formerly Bishop of Durham in his excellent book "For all the Saints" which I have just finished reading:

"Jesus taught his pray that God's Kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. The phrase always refers, in the New Testament, not to a place but to a fact: not to the place ('heaven') where God rules, but to teh fact that God rules as King. This Kingdom - perhaps Kingship would be a better word for it - was longed for by many Jews of Jesus' day, not in the way that some people long 'to die and go to heaven', but in the way that people long to get rid of a bullying tyrant and be ruled by a wise, just, caring government. 'God's Kingdom' was the new fact about teh world, the 'age to come' that would break into 'the present age' and innaugurate a new world, not far away in a disembodied 'heaven' but right here on this earth, which God always claimed as its creator and which, one day, he would reclaim as its Lord.

The early Christians all believed that this new age had begun decisively with Jesus. The Kingdom was really present where he was: 'If I by God's finger cast out demons,' he had said, 'then God's Kingdom has come upon you!' (Luke 11:20). His death and resurrection had completed this work of inauguration, in answer to the prayer he himself had taught his followers. 'All authority,' said the risen Jesus in Matthew 28:18, 'has been given to me in heaven and on earth'. Throughout the New Testament the whole point of God's Kingdom is that it is God's future reality intended not simply for 'heaven' but also for 'earth'". (pages 58-59)

Pray As You Go

For all you busy bees who feel that life is just too hectic because you are always on the go, there is a wonderful website that will help you give a few moments each day to re-focussing on the Divine. It's very appropriately called "Pray as you go" and it's run by the Jesuits. It includes some appropriate music, a short bible passage, a few reflections to help apply that passage to your life and a short paryer at the end. In all it takes up to about ten minutes and is ideal for a short car journey, waiting at the bus stop, or ten minutes in between household chores.

You can access the site by clicking here. You can eiether click on each individual day and listen to it on your computer or download the week and do the same or save to your ipod, iphone or MP3 player.

The Whispering God

"The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper." 1 Kings 19:11-13

The volume of the TV seems to go up mysteriously during commercial breaks. The advertisers want our attention, and being loud does the trick. The fact is that our lives are loud, metaphorically and literally. Only the loudest, the flashiest, the urgent, the shocking, gets our attention. There is barely quiet time in our lives. In fact, we have grown uncomfortble and even afraid of silence. We tend to look for God in the loud moments of our lives; in a particularly difficult moment, when we suffer a loss, or when we feel lost. And we do well in talking, in praying to God at these times. We wish that God would answer us in an even louder way. We want God to be a strong wind to blow away our problem or an earthquake to shatter our pain. But often it is in a gentle breeze that God mankes himself present. A few minutes of quiet prayer and reflection, perhaps at the end of our day, will allow us to embrace the silence and hear in it the tiny whispering sound of God active in our lives.

In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity

There is an old religious joke that has been doing the rounds for years which goes like this:`` I was walking across a bridge one day, and ...