People of Courage

An article that I wrote for Changing London Magazine (Spring 2015) – the magazine of London City Mission

People of courage

A foundation of faith

Over the last twelve months we have – rightly – seen numerous references to ‘men of valour’ and heard of innumerable acts of courage during commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.

Courage takes many forms, however. The Bible narrative which speaks most clearly of a courageous life is that of Caleb, son of Jephunneh, who we read about in just a few passages of scripture – primarily Numbers 13-14 and Joshua 14. The
life of Caleb is marked out as one of courageous perseverance in the face of hardship as he lived a life of radical obedience to God. This life was built on a foundation of faith, enabling Caleb to stand firm for God and push through, whatever the cost – so
much so that God says of him, ‘Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly’ (Numbers 14:24). Caleb’s trust in God was a foundation stone for all he did, and proved to be a marker for a life which was exceptional in many ways.

Standing firm

Caleb knew what it meant to stand firm for the word of God. He was among the spies sent out into the Promised Land. After forty days in a foreign land, the spies came back with stories of a land flowing with milk and honey but
inhabited by giants. Of the spies, it was Caleb who saw the difficulty but recognised the hand of God and honoured God’s word that the people of Israel would take the land. The stand he took with Joshua almost led to their death by stoning, and the Lord had
to intervene. Caleb stood firm and exhorted the people to not rebel against the Lord (Numbers 14:9). People of courage stand firm for the truth: they hold on to the word of the Lord, and they are immovable in this.

One example of this in London City Mission can be seen at Forest Gate. Our old centre is next door to a beautifully modern Sikh temple and just a few doors away from a well-attended mosque. On a daily basis, we have seen the staff here
stand firm for truth in the midst of hostility and misunderstanding. It takes courage to work here, but we have a God who stands with us as we act as salt and light in the community.

Pushing through

The result of Caleb’s courage? Forty years of ‘ordinary’. The people of Israel walked the desert for forty years, and all of Caleb’s friends and peer group (except Joshua) died. For forty years, Caleb was not heard of within
the people of Israel’s narrative, apart from a few references to his faithfulness; he walked, toiled and laboured along with his fellow countryfolk. He lived on a diet of manna and quail, but knew first-hand of the fruit of the land which was so close. Caleb
had been in the Promised Land, he had walked its paths and tasted its fruit, yet, we hear no word of complaint or bitterness from him as he waits forty years for the promises of God to be fulfilled. His life was ordinary within the context of the people, but
the foundation of faith remained strong. Faithful in the daily routine, plodding on through the desert years, waiting for God’s moment. This is courageous perseverance in the extreme.

We recently heard the story of a man, S, who first came into contact with the Mission twenty years ago. For twenty years one of our missionaries prayed for him. Last year, this man came to faith in Jesus. For twenty years, the ordinary
life remained trusting in God, in prayer, before a wonderful transformation was seen. Praise the Lord!

Whatever the cost

At the end of the narrative, Caleb comes to Joshua and reminds him of the word of the Lord from the previous generation. Caleb is still eager to do battle in his old age, still willing to take the difficult land and still recognising
it is God’s will he is serving. This was the last of the conquest; Caleb had sacrificed his own agenda for the sake of God and the people; he was willing to pay any price to see God’s name honoured and glorified.

Caleb’s life story is one of costly forbearance, where he risks stoning, faces forty years of ‘ordinary’, battles for others before himself and puts aside his own agenda to serve God.

Mission work is costly for the individuals who serve. I am regularly astounded by the work of our staff team at London City Mission as they give themselves for the sake of the Lord, so that they may share the gospel with others. It is not
just the staff members but their families, too, who share in this ministry: children taunted at school because they are part of the ‘God squad’; spouses who have to cope with ‘all hours ministry’; the list is endless. Yet we have a team of dedicated people
who serve consistently with courage and perseverance, whatever the cost.

So Caleb’s story helps us to see what it means to be people of courage – people who will stand firm, push through, whatever the cost, for the sake of Christ and the gospel.

Such courage can be found daily in the streets and on the estates of London. The men and women of London City Mission, whose stories often remain untold, supporting vulnerable people as they seek to survive each day, coming alongside local
estate residents who share their harrowing life stories, sacrificing the ‘good life’ – a career in a well-paid profession, a comfortable life in a beloved home town – so they may tell of the transforming love of Jesus to London’s least reached communities.

We are grateful for those who stand with us in this not-so-glamorous ministry to the least reached of London. Thank you for partnering with us in this gospel outreach. 

Assurance of salvation

latest facebook devotional for Emmanuel Beach Team

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
1 John 5:11-12 (NIV)

If you were to buy an autograph or an artefact, it is likely to come with a certificate of authenticity. This is the guarantee that what has been bought is genuine and it ensures that the buyer can have confidence in the item being bought. We often want to know that the results of our work our good, we want to know our destination.

So it is with our faith, how can we know that we are saved? How can we know that we have eternal life? Our certificate of authenticity is Jesus. He guarantees our life, ensures life and it is all assured- Jesus certificate is sealed with his blood and cannot be rescinded. How wonderful a thing this is.

If you have Jesus, you have life. Guaranteed!

Lay down your life

Latest short devotion for the Team

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16 (NIV)

The search for love and the desire to be wanted is within us all. Think of all the love songs, the films and the tragedies of life that are centred around the need to ‘love and be loved’. This verse tells us of the greatest love of all and the response that it should invoke in each and every one of us.

The greatest sacrifice known to man is shown in those willing to sacrifice their own life for another. We have recently celebrated the 100 Anniversary of the First World War and many tributes have been paid to those who gave their lives for our freedom. We have also celebrated the birth of a baby, whose whole purpose in life was to face death so that we may have true life. This is love beyond measure – Almighty God chose to reveal himself in Christ Jesus, as an infant so that through His life, death and subsequent resurrection, that we may have life.

The life of Jesus demands a response – if we accept it, it tells us what we ought to do as well. Are you willing to sacrifice your own desires, dreams and riches for the sake of others? The Christian life requires that willingness, this is no easy thing, a willingness to lay down our own lives for others.

Walk as Jesus Did

Another reflection for the facebook wall of Emmanuel Beach Team:

“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6 NIV)

People copy others all the time, don’t they? The latest fashions, the latest trends, the latest styles – the flavours tend to change with the seasons but it is amazing how much we love to be a copy of others. The book of 1John has started with a pronouncement of witnessing to Jesus, the need to walk a Holy life and then mentions that “if we love Him, we will obey His commands”. Then we have the modern day conundrum – copy someone, but make it Jesus. Walk as Jesus walked – in close communion with the Father, in the light of His goodness knowing freedom from sin because of Christ.

We need to live our lives as Jesus did, abandoned to the Father and pointing to Him with our lives. It is no easy task but we have Jesus and we have each other – this is the community of faith, this is the Church.

Loving one another in the online world

After being a little absent on the social networks these last few weeks, it has been interesting to review things that are happening and seeing the responses of people. One of the things that has caught my eye is the amount of vitriol that can come from the keypads of Christians when somebody appears to step on some of their own strongly held doctrinal viewpoints, or another ‘champion of faith’ is brought into question.
It is right that we contend for our faith and that we are careful to guard our doctrine but too often we have allowed ourselves to slip in to a barrage of abusive behaviours to others. Disagreement is a part of life, differences of opinion are to be expected but the line is surely crossed when we begin personal attacks that are, at best, abusive.
“By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” is the verse that springs to mind – words that Jesus used as he predicted his betrayal and just before his conversation with Peter regarding Peters own denial of Jesus. In the darkest moments, love one another….it is the thing that marks out God’s people from others. Surely if we are to make an impact for the gospel, we should bear this in mind in the way we communicate with one another….even more so in the public forums that are available to us. Recently, many have gone beyond saying ‘You fool!’ (see Matthew 5:21) and that leads to destruction – let’s be people who are strong, yet loving, courageous, yet gentle and let’s love one another so that we may see many more enter the Kingdom of Heaven as a result of our witness.

More advent reflections on Joseph

Thrown into this prison cell
Through no fault of my own
Honouring my master
Yet from him no mercy shown
What can I do? what’s next for me?
The answers yet unknown.

It’s possible to languish
In this dark and painful place
Or try and make it bearable
And provide for hope a space

The seeds of promise have been sown
Helping others in their pain
Alas sorrows continue
And still in solitude I remain

Driving on and moving forward, Where is God in this?
Have I been long forgotten and are my cries a silent wish?

Longing and waiting, for there must be better days
But they are hidden from us, they are God’s mysterious ways.

Help me from my prison cell, dear God that is my desire
Rekindle the dying embers
Make a spark, a roaring fire.
There’s more than this, there’s more to see, tell me God what you require

Bible Verses that Sting Me (Part 3)

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self condemned.”  Titus 3:10-11

 

Ok, so this verse does not sting me in quite the same as the previous verses in this little series, rather, it troubles me. How can I have nothing to do with somebody? What happened to the forgiving 70 times 7 in Matthew 18:22? If I was to follow this through, how can the love of God be found in me?  When I have tried to act upon this verse it is not long before there is a need to act ‘in love’ and with forgiveness…..am I then being untrue to the Word of God?

This verse really troubles me, I want to understand it, in fact I have tried to get beneath each individual word and see if there is something obvious that is missing but it continually comes around to seeming contradictions. AGGGGHHHHH! The context does not help dramatically but what it does share with me, is the truth that there are times when you have to ‘stop playing ball’ with some people. That truth does sting me….sure, there are some folk who I would rather avoid forever, but this does not sit with Matthew 6:14ff for me. I guess the real issues to address are;

1) What is love? Yes, you can love and hate at the same time….our issue is our interpretation of love.

2) What is forgiveness?

3) What does it mean to be ‘divisive’?

4) Can even a divisive person know God’s mercy? Should we, therefore, reciprocate?

It is not my favourite couple of verses but they are some verses that I will keep mulling over and I will trust the Holy Spirit to illuminate my own thinking in that time.