‘RESIST’ the pressure to ‘CHANGE’ the MESSAGE

Someone once asked me,

“Do you ever feel like giving up?” “Yes,” I said, “sometimes I do feel like giving up because it at times it gets too difficult and to carry on seems impossible.” Then I said, “But then, it’s really not about giving up, but about ‘giving it over to God’.”  It would seem easier to ‘compromise’ over certain things. It would seem easier to ‘conform’ to what conventional wisdom calls reasonable for 21st century ‘Christians’. It would seem easier to ‘change’ like the wind every time some ‘new teaching’ becomes ‘popular’. But then we’d be ‘giving up’ when we should be ‘giving it over to God’, to test it against His revealed Word in the Bible.” [Read Galatians 2: 1-10]. Read more…



It’s all about asking the right question

As I scanned the titles of the books on my book shelves and one title asked a question:

“What do YOU want Lord?” Then, as I typed the date at the top of this page, I realised that this was a significant date in my life. It was this month, on the 17th

of June 1992 I resigned from my job after fifteen and a half years. So what was so significant, after all people resign from jobs every day, even after a long time?
 
It was significant because my resignation came as a result of God answering this same question;

“What do YOU want Lord?” Read more…



Buckle up and “Fight the good fight with all your might”

[Hymn: Words by John Samuel Bewley Monsell 1811-75. Music by William Boyd 1847-1928].

Easter is over for another year, but as always, it was a reminder of what it cost our Lord Jesus to accomplish our salvation; the reconciliation of our relationship with God, fractured by your sin and mine. Last month, on April 27th, was the 48th anniversary of that reconciliation in my own life. Lately I have been increasingly aware of the battle we are in as Christians, against a world determined to undermine the faith which we profess. I would like to encourage you, and myself, to keep on fighting, and not be tempted to give ground in that battle. Here’s something I found in my “STUFF” from 2009:

“Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester is hard to ignore. He announced recently that he is to retire early; the Church of England will be the poorer for it. Born in Karachi to parents who converted to Christianity from Islam, he was the first non-white diocesan bishop in Britain and…he knew about fighting for your faith…

He has lamented “the long withdrawing roar of the sea of faith . . . nurses cannot pray, the creed cannot be recited at Christian services for fear of offending non-believers”. Bishop Nazir-Ali spoke out against the soggy, “anything goes”, political correctness that characterises the modern Church of England. Sometimes his conservative views got him into trouble… Other times they chimed with the attitudes of many conservatives in the church. People will have different views on some issues but there is no doubt that conservatives in the Church of England have lost their most outspoken champion.

Now Bishop Nazir-Ali intends to take up the cause of persecuted Christian minorities in the Middle East, Pakistan and places like Orissa in India. It is a worthwhile mission.

His departure will leave a gap, both in public debate and the church. It takes a brave person to stand up against the tide of fashionable opinion and he was prepared to do so repeatedly. At this time of great flux many are reconsidering their values. It could be that the church rediscovers a more courageous defence of its own beliefs. If that were to happen, Bishop Nazir-Ali’s own brave stand will not have been in vain.”

[Adapted from an unattributed article: “A troublesome priest in a timid church”; in The Sunday Times of March 29th 2009].

I want us to think about the following statements in this article and consider what the Bible says about these things:

  • “He knew about fighting for your faith.” – 1Timothy 6:11-16; 2Timothy 1:5-7.
  • “He has lamented “the long withdrawing roar of the sea of faith . . . nurses cannot pray, the creed cannot be recited at Christian services for fear of offending non-believers”. – 1Peter 3:13-18.
  • “Bishop Nazir-Ali spoke out against the soggy “anything goes” political correctness that characterises the modern Church of England. Sometimes his conservative views got him into trouble…” – 2Timothy 4:1-5.
  • “It takes a brave person to stand up against the tide of fashionable opinion and he was prepared to do so repeatedly.” – Hebrews 10:32-39.

Brothers and Sisters, let’s be willing to “Buckle Up” and take the ‘good fight of the faith’ into the world and not wither under its attack, nor timidly give ground to accommodate its ever-changing opinions, however ‘fashionable’? [See 2Corinthians 10:1-5].  

So let’s you and I be ‘hard to ignore’ in that fight and, may our God strengthen us all in it.

Pastor Frank.



Easter – Have you made the connection?

I first shared this a few years ago at our 128th Church Anniversary and I’d like to share it with you all on our website as we join together this month to celebrate Easter.
 
There is a theory that there are a maximum of six degrees of separation between us and any other person in the world. The theory is that a chain can be made in six or less steps to connect any two people.

Read more…



Aliens and Strangers

I have sometimes thought, somewhat longingly I confess, of some of the places I have been privileged to visit in my life. I thought about the great cities I’d visited, like Paris, London, Rome, San Francisco, Copenhagen, Singapore, Hong Kong and many others. In every place I visited, even in the cities with which I felt a greater affinity, such as London and Hong Kong, I was a stranger.  

 To see something of what I mean, please allow me to share with you something from Andrew Bonar’s memoirs of his friend and fellow-minister, Robert Murray McCheyne. They are about to sail from Genoa to the Holy Land via Egypt and McCheyne writes home before they depart:

“A foreign land draws us nearer to God. He is the only one whom we know here. We go to him as one we know; all else is strange. Every step I take, and every new country I see, makes me feel more that there is nothing real, nothing true, but what is everlasting.… One thing I know, that I am in the hands of my Father in heaven, who is all love to me—not for what I am in myself, but for the beauty he sees in Immanuel” [Slightly adapted from Bonar, Andrew. “Robert Murray McCheyne”, p. 107. First published 1844. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust. Italics mine].   

Friends, in this world where we are, as Peter reminds us, we are “aliens and strangers”, [1 Peter 2:11, NIV]. So, more and more you and I must draw nearer to God. We must go to Him whom we know, for as the world in rebellion against God becomes more and more of an alien environment, it becomes increasingly strange. It does not fit with the reality of the everlasting kingdom of God and we do not fit with it. But though that is the case now, it wasn’t always so and I was reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians 2: 11-13: “Therefore, remember you who are Gentiles by birth… remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ” [NIV].  

As I read this, despite being a stranger to that world now, I feel a certain affinity with those who are “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship of God’s kingdom, the ones who are foreigners to God’s covenant of love, without hope and without God in the world.” It’s not that I long to be back there, but that I long that they were where I am; not “far away but brought near through the blood of Christ”.

McCheyne feels that too, as he sits resting under a palm tree at Balteen, a small village in Egypt. Andrew Bonar recalls that: “he was excited to deep emotion… at the sight of a row of poor wretched Egyptians, who gathered round us. “O that I could speak their language and tell them of salvation!”  [Ibid, p. 109].

As Christians we know that we are in the hands of our Father in heaven – not for what we are in ourselves, but for the beauty he sees in Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.  We look at our friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues and we see on the outside people just like us. We may need to look with new eyes and see them as ‘poor, and wretched’ just like we were. ‘We can speak their language! We can tell them of salvation!’ This is why we’re here after all.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

‘This world is not our home – TRUE!’ We are just passing through – TRUE!’ But on our way home we cannot pass by those without hope and without God along the way. Remember we were once like them.’

Reaching out together,

Pastor Frank.



Sharing our Faith

As I thought about what our focus for 2017 and beyond ought to be [I like that better than ‘theme’, but then again that’s just me], I was reminded of an incident that happened some years ago while we were living in Hong Kong.

It was getting toward Christmas and on our day off Ruth and I spent part of it buying Christmas gifts at Stanley Market for family and friends back in Australia. As we came out from the train station, there was a bus just about to leave for Stanley and so we hurried to catch it. When we boarded there were only a few seats left, so we couldn’t sit together. As I settled in my seat I noticed that the lady next to me was busy looking around as we drove along and was obviously interested in all she could see. I guessed correctly that she wasn’t a HK resident but someone on her first visit. As we talked, I found that she was from Sydney and was here with her husband who was attending a Conference. Read more…



Encounter on Any Street

Encounter on Any Street

You are sitting in a local café having a coffee, and gazing a bit unthinkingly out of the window. A person is walking up the street toward you. There is nothing very unusual about the fact that they should be on that particular street, just at the moment you are gazing out of that particular window. They stop and seem to be searching their pockets for something that they hope they’ve brought with them. They glance up and see you sitting in the café. Your eyes meet and you both seem to hesitate for a brief moment. There is recognition and puzzlement mixed together for both of you. Your body language says to one another; “I know we’ve met one another before”. You both understand that something about each other clicks and yet, somehow it doesn’t? The truth is that we don’t know who the other person really is. They quickly move on and continue whatever mission they were engaged in. You return to your coffee and dismiss them just as quickly from your thoughts.

Read more…



A Tale of Two Christmases

A Tale of Two Christmases

Here are a couple of contrasting stories about how people see Christmas. I shared them some time ago but can’t remember where I first came upon them, so peace be upon you if you recognize them as being yours. The first is a sad but all too familiar story in a parody of the words of Luke’s Christmas narrative and the real version which we will be looking at over the next few weeks at Islington.

‘And there were in the same country children keeping watch over their stockings by the fireplace. And, Lo! Santa Claus came upon them, and they were terrified. And Santa said to them: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you great news of great joy which is for all people who can afford them. For to you will be given great feasts of turkey, dressing and pudding; and many presents; and this will be a sign for you, you shall find the presents, wrapped in bright paper, lying under a tree, decorated with tinsel, coloured balls and bells and lights. And suddenly, there will be with you a multitude of relatives and friends, praising you and saying, ‘Thank you so much, it was just what I wanted.’ And it shall come to pass as friends and relatives have gone away into their own homes, the parents shall say to one another, ‘What a mess to clean up! I’m tired, let’s go to bed and pick it up tomorrow. Thank goodness, Christmas only comes once a year.’ And they go with haste to their cold bed and find their desired rest.’

The second story reminds us of the true story of Christmas when God breaks into our lives to give us a gift that is beyond any other. It is a gift we don’t deserve; a gift of grace from God.

“The story is told of Shah Abbis, a Persian monarch who loved his people very much. To know and understand them better, he would mingle with his subjects in various disguises. One day he went as a poor man to the public baths and in a tiny cellar sat beside the fireman who tended the furnace. When it was mealtime the monarch shared his coarse food and talked with his lonely subject as a friend. Again and again he visited and the man grew to love him as a friend. One day the Shah told him who he was, expecting the man to ask him for some gift. But the fireman sat gazing with wonder and love at his ruler, then he spoke at last, “You left your palace and your glory to sit with me in this dark place, to eat of my coarse food, to care whether my heart is glad or sad. You may give rich presents to others, but to me you have given yourself, and it only remains for me to pray that you never withdraw the gift of your friendship.”

This beautiful story reminds us the Christ, whose birth we celebrate this month. He is Jesus, the One who left the glories of heaven in order to share Himself with us [see Philippians 2:1-11]. His gift of love and fellowship will never be withdrawn from us who belong to Him. He chose us to be His brothers and sisters forever. What a privilege! What a gift!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

 ‘Christmas comes but once a year,

Then Santa, well he disappears!

But Christ he stays around all year,

In hearts that trust and need not fear,

Because He’s with us, always near.’

 May you have a blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with joy in service for the Saviour.

In His love,

Pastor Frank.

 



Parallel Lives

This month marks the tenth anniversary of my dad’s death. Recently I was reminiscing on family and connected things and events I remembered. They were ordinary things; simply pieces which played a part in building up the montage that is the picture of our family life. It’s something that as Christians we ought to think about too. How would our life be summed up? Here in shortened form is how two lives were summed up some years ago in the Obituary pages of a leading UK broadsheet:

“Ron Cunningham, who has died aged 92, was an escapologist… specialising in such feats as eating light bulbs and removing a straight-jacket while hanging upside down with his trousers on fire. The Great Omani, as he was known to his public began in the 1950s… His career reached a high point in 1977 when, to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, he performed a handstand on the cliff edge at Beachy Head with a Union flag between his toes…”

“Countess Andree de Jongh, who died in Brussels aged 90, founded and organised the Comet Escape Line, the route from Belgium through France to Spain used by hundreds of Allied airmen to escape from Nazi-occupied Europe. She was known to all simple as “Dedee”, Andree de Jongh began her resistance work as soon as the Germans advanced into Belgium in May 1940. At the time she was a 24-year-old commercial artist and Belgian Red Cross volunteer, but she gave up her work in order to nurse wounded soldiers; once they were able to walk, she found them safe houses and recruited her friends to help…

Dedee de Jongh made more than 30 double crossings and escorted 116 evaders, including more than 80 aircrew. But on the night of January 15 1943 she was sheltering at Urrungne with three RAF evaders when she was betrayed. The house was stormed and she was captured. When interrogated under torture by the Gestapo, in order to save others she admitted being the leader of Le Reseau Comete. The Gestapo however, refused to believe that such a young and innocent girl could be in charge… The escape line survived and by the time the Allies invaded France in June 1944 more than 500 men had passed down the line to safety. The “helpers” both men and women had paid a great price; many were executed, including Dedee’s own father, Frederic, who faced a firing squad in 1944.

Dedee de Jongh was sent to Mauthausen and Ravensbruck concentration camps. Although she survived, she had become gravely ill and undernourished when freed by the Allies in April 1945… In 1946 she was awarded the George Medal, Britain’s highest award for bravery honouring a civilian. After the war she returned to nursing, spending many years as a sister at a leper colony in the Belgian Congo before moving to Ethiopia where she was a matron.”

Both of those obituaries appeared on the same page of

‘The Weekly Telegraph, Issue 848 Wed Oct 24 – Tue Oct 30 2007.

Here were two lives lived pretty much in parallel over a period of 90 years, yet, and with no disrespect to Ron Cunningham, each life could hardly have been more different.

As I reflect on almost 48 years of my Christian life, I see how at times that it’s possible to live a similar kind of parallel life, the sum of which could hardly be different. On the one hand I have seen how it’s possible to live a life lived concerned with the trivialities, the peripheral and the superficial; acting out the pretence that something worthwhile has occurred, only to find a deafening silence from God after the empty applause of men has faded away.  On the other hand, I see the reality of a different life.

It’s a life where we give up working for the goals of the other life to ‘nurse the wounded souls’, and help them to walk again and, with the help of others, provide a place where they might be prepared for the sometimes hazardous journey ahead. 

This place should be within the community of the people of God, the church.  In that community let’s make every effort to avoid being concerned with the trivialities, the peripheral and the superficial. Rather, let’s be a community in which the life and priorities of the Father take precedence. Life within this community is about listening for the voice of our heavenly Father so that we can follow His direction. Yes, this direction will take us through enemy territory, where there will be the possibility of betrayal, even by those whom we thought we could rely on. The road will be a road well-travelled, where the sacrifice of others will be evident and their sacrifice will be a powerful witness to encourage us to keep going. Spiritual danger will be our constant companion on this road and so we must be vigilant for our own lives and the lives of others. However, as we look back, we will see how God by His “grace has brought us safe thus far” and be strengthened by the knowledge that this same God by that same “grace will lead us home”.

 ‘Like parallel lines, parallel lives can never come together.’[See Ephesians 4:17-5:1].

It’s something worth reflecting on don’t you think?

Blessings,

Pastor Frank.

 



God’s Plan

In wondering what I should write this month, I got to thinking about the matter of
‘journeys’; who we meet along the way and how both the journey and the people leave their mark on our lives and vice versa.

Returning temporarily to visit people and places you know, even after a relatively short absence, creates a mixture of strangeness and familiarity. The strangeness is created by the knowledge that here are people and places that were once a part of your daily life, but are no longer. The familiarity is created by a sense of somehow still belonging, being held by the threads of relationship that still bind you to those people and places.

Ruth and I have discovered something of this for ourselves over the past twenty-four years of moving around the world in ministry. I remember this most vividly as we returned to visit you at Islington at various times during this period. On a couple of occasions we were asked to share for a few minutes about life and ministry wherever we were serving at the time. I remember that as I looked down at the congregation there were many familiar faces and some whom we didn’t know. But as I looked down, I recognised those who, over a long period, had left their mark on my spiritual life. I was grateful to God that as part of my latest journey He reminded me of how much they meant to me, and how influential they had been. I remember that it somehow felt strange to be there and yet, during our time here I had this sense of still belonging.

It was ten years ago on February 2nd 2006 that we returned from Hong Kong to Australia and a few days later to Islington. It still felt strange yet familiar but this time we didn’t know how long our stay might be. This, as it has been for all of life and especially during the past twenty-four years, was firmly in God’s hands. Well He has, as always, proved faithful and it has been our privilege to serve Him and you since May of that year. The thread of relationship that tied us to you in the past remains strong in the present and our sense of belonging are confirmed in so many ways as we minister among you. Some of those familiar faces have now gone to be with the Lord but still live on in our memories.
 
I think of Paul’s words when writing about the Church in Romans 12:5,
“so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Here, do you see, in Christ, is the unbreakable thread of relationship that binds us together as Christians no matter where are? We may only be part of each other’s daily lives temporarily, but whilst we are, let’s be seeking to have a positive spiritual influence on the lives of our brothers and sisters [See Colossians 3:1-17; Hebrews 10:23-25]. Alongside that, let’s be thankful for the positive spiritual influence of our brothers and sisters on our own lives [See Philippians 1:3-11]. May we all strive to be as one on this journey in which our God has ‘given to each one the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ [1 Corinthians 12: 7].

‘God’s plan is what’s happening, while we are planning something else.’ [See, Jeremiah 29:11].

Bound in Him together,

Pastor Frank.