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. 

What happened to our missionary vision?

Have we lost our missionary vision? In the Evangelical world, it can sometimes feel that we have lost the same heart and passion for seeing ‘souls saved’ in order that we can see ‘communities transformed’. It is true that one can lead to the other but the reversal of priority order is problematic for the evangelical movement.
It is exciting to see the people fed, sanitation restored, lifestyles improved, the poor cared for and these things should be mightily applauded but if the cost is an eternity in hell rather than heaven, are we selling ourselves and our faith short? Are we becoming satisfied with 2nd best?
In Numbers 32, we see the Reubenites and the Gadites seeking land that was not a part of the promise. Yes, they helped the promised land to be taken but they settled in an area on the wrong side of the Jordan – they forsook the promise for 2nd best.
As evangelicals it is my contention that we get the order right in our mission – souls saved and communities transformed. The former must take priority and the consequences will benefit all of society, otherwise we may fail to take hold of all that God has promised….that would be a shame.

Gone soft in our evangelism?

I wonder if the rise of courses like Alpha and Christianity Explored have encouraged Christian evangelists to lose some of their cutting edge in ministry? Before these courses, and others like them, it was not uncommon to hear those involved in evangelism make a direct call to either accept or reject Christ. Whether in the open air or from a church pulpit, there was a time when a call to stand, move forward or collect a tract would demand a physical and public response to the message of salvation that had been preached. Today, it appears that this is less likely and that there is usually an invitation to a course or a conversation, rather than a direct challenge to make a decision immediately.
This summer a question was asked of me; “have we gone soft in our evangelism?” The question was directly related to the lack of direct response when people shared the gospel of Jesus with others and the perceived reluctance to ‘seal a deal’ when talking to those interested in salvation. Salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit but there may be occasions when we have held back from asking for a response that would help underline the Spirits work. This may be down to a host of reasons such as fear, nerves, uncertainty and so on, but does it point to a loss of cutting edge? Does it suggest that we have ‘gone soft’?
Personally, I do not believe that we have gone soft but I do believe that we have sometimes taken an easier path by allowing courses (and their leaders) to do the work that we could be involved in. If we are truly unashamed of the Gospel of Christ then we would not be nervous of a negative response to the question, “do you accept Christ?” Asking such a question of others should be the responsibility of every christian and not just a select few, we must not abdicate our responsibility to be witnesses and we should not fear the responses we may receive from others by asking such a direct question.
This said, it is not always easy to be direct in a multi-faith and multi-cultural environment that requires sensitivity and political correctness but if we live for truth we can accommodate this and still be direct with others.
My experience tells me that people are far more open than we believe, more willing to listen than we have been told and happy to give an answer to the questions that we have. Let’s not be afraid but full of courage.
Finally, let me ask you, Do you follow Christ?

Being Christ to our neighbour

There are so many discussions/arguments amongst folk at present on ‘gospel ministry’, ‘mercy ministry’, ‘good works’ etc. etc. etc. To call it a battle ground would be to give these discussions too much credit but they are having an impact on the work of the Church and its people, particularly in respect to its evangelistic endeavours. Much of the debate seems to centre on De Young and Gilberts book, What is the Mission of the Church? which has drawn a position that ‘mercy ministry’ is something we may do rather than what we must do – it is not an equal partner with evangelism and disciple making.

Whilst I understand this viewpoint, I see things in a slightly different way. My hand gets cold in winter and so I wear a glove……if I didn’t, I may get frostbite and then my hand would not function well, the glove enables me to maintain health and to function well. The glove on its own is very nice but remains a glove. So it is with ‘mercy ministry’ – anyone can do it, you don’t need to be a Christian, but when the church engages with it – everything begins to function as it ought and people then begin to see Christ and the Church as it was intended. My conservative evangelical friends will say that I am being oversimplistic but my reading of the Scriptures forces me to share the gospel in word and deed, in every situation and as Luther said;

“It is the duty of every Christian to be Christ to his neighbour”.