Challenges of Christian Leadership (book review)


CHALLENGES OF CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIPChallenges of Christian Leadership
By John Stott
IVP. 94 pages. £6.99
ISBN 978 1 783 590 889

(view original article here)

Just when we thought we had received everything God had to give us through John Stott’s ministry, IVP publishes this little gem of a book that has previously only been available in Spanish.

It originates from four addresses from 1985 that Stott gave at a staff conference for IFES in Latin America. The subjects he chose face the challenges of discouragement (teaching us to persevere under pressure), self-discipline (maintaining spiritual freshness), relationships (treating all people with respect), and youth (how to be a leader when comparatively young).

Stott’s characteristic gentle tone pervades the book. Each chapter is both simple and down-to-earth, yet profound. His biblical and practical insights offer realistic hope of growth in facing each challenge. But be warned. It would be very easy to read it too quickly without the prayerful self-examination the subject calls for.

Closing the book are reminiscences from two of Stott’s former study assistants, further illustrating the man’s teaching with the way he lived. An appendix of quotations from Stott’s other books about leadership is also included.

Peter Newton,
Shepherd Drive Baptist Church, Ipswich

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe for monthly updates

Enjoy your prayer life


Enjoy your prayer life(view original article here)

Mike Reeves stimulates our desires to spend time with God as he reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s work

Prayer is enjoying that the Father really is our Father.

But what exactly does it mean that God is a Father? First, it means he is eternally begetting his Son. Always he is giving life to and lavishing his love on his Son. So, as Father, he is the source of all life, love and blessing. And what does it mean to be the Son? Eternally, the Son is characterised by receiving from the Father.

Now if that’s the relationship we’ve been brought into, then praising the Father as Jesus did, asking the Father for things as Jesus did and depending on the Father as Jesus did are going to be staple parts of our communion with him. By thanking him and praising him, we acknowledge his kindness and greatness, that he is good and that all good truly comes from him. By asking him for things, we exercise our belief that he really is the fountain of all good and that without him we can do nothing that is actually good.

Receiving, asking, depending

If God was a single, independent person, independence would be the godly thing. That would be how to be like him. But as the Son always depends on the Father, that is the nature of Christian godliness. Being a Christian is first and foremost all about receiving, asking and depending. It’s when you don’t feel needy (and so when you don’t pray much) that you lose your grip on reality and think or act in an unchristian manner. In fact, as you grow as a Christian, you should feel not more self-sufficient but ever more needy. If you don’t, I’m not sure you’re growing spiritually. If you really feel your need to depend on God, though, prayer will simply flow from this.

Prayer, then, is enjoying the care of a powerful Father, instead of being left to a frightening loneliness where everything is all down to you. Prayer is the antithesis of self-dependence. It is our ‘no’ to independence and our ‘no’ to personal ambition. It is the exercise of faith – that you need God and are a needy receiver. With this in mind, instead of chasing the idol of our own productivity, let’s be dependent children – and let the busyness that could keep us from prayer drive us to prayer. Only then – like the Son – can we actually be fruitful.

The Spirit helps us to pray

The Son has brought us to be with him – in him – before his Father. That’s what we enjoy in prayer. But what about the role of the Spirit? Well, the Son does all that he does in the power of the Spirit. In creation, the word of God goes out on the Spirit or breath of God. So we read in Genesis that the Spirit hovers (Genesis 1.2), and in his power God’s word goes out, for example with the command ‘Let there be light!’ (Genesis 1.3). Jesus starts his ministry at his baptism by being sent out into the wilderness by the Spirit. He expels demons by the power of the Spirit. The Spirit is also the one who stirs up the Son to commune with the Father. For example, Luke records that ‘Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father”’ (Luke 10.21). That is the Spirit’s work in the Son, and that is his work in the children of God.

The same principle is explained in Romans. ‘For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba! Father”. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children’ (Romans 8.14 -16, my emphasis). The Spirit drives the Scripture-taught truth of our adoption by God into our hearts so we know that we are his children, and thus we cry, ‘Abba!’ The Spirit is the wind in the sails of our prayer as he catches us up into the Son’s love for the Father. Making us know we too are loved, he causes us to love as the Son loves. Prayer, then, is not actually a one-way conversation, us to God. No, in prayer God speaks through us to God.

We’re brought into the divine fellowship. The Spirit of the Son cries to the Father through us.

Paul then goes on: ‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans’ (Romans 8.26). That’s an enormously helpful verse if you’re interested in genuine communion with God. The Spirit knows that we’re weak, that we struggle to pray and that we often don’t know what to pray – and his desire is to help us. This means that we don’t need to pretend to be giants in prayer or make resolutions that are out of our league. Since the Spirit knows our weakness, we can be real with our Father, accepting how babyish we are in our faith, and simply stammer out what’s on our hearts. In fact, that’s just the way to grow in our relationship with God. True intimacy is an acquired thing, something that develops – but it only develops with honesty. So if your prayer life is a bit ropey, I suggest starting again by stammering like a child to a Father. Cry for help. Don’t try to be impressive.

Christ-like as we pray

Another thing the Spirit does is to transform us to be like Christ. He helps us to be dependent and prayerful, and by bringing us into the Father–Son relationship he brings us to share God’s life and purpose. Our desires start echoing God’s, his passions become ours, and so we begin to share his love and compassion for his people and his world. Consequently, we become intercessors and priests, like our great high priest Jesus who is constantly interceding. The Spirit works to make us like Christ in that respect. There’s an interesting little moment in Matthew 9 that struck me recently. ‘When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field”’ (Matthew 9.36–38). Now, why did Jesus ask his disciples to pray this? Surely he could do that? He was the one feeling the compassion, and wouldn’t one prayer of his be more effective than all of theirs? But he wants them to join in with him, to be co-workers and participants in the divine, compassionate, outgoing, missional life he shares with his Father in the Spirit.

Fellowship in prayer

There is one more point to make about the Spirit: he is the Spirit of fellowship. He stirs up the love the Father and the Son have for each other, and he brings together a family for the Father. As there is fellowship in heaven, so there is on earth. Now at every point we’ve seen that prayer is simply embracing Christian reality: that we are needy, that we are children of God and so on. But because of the nature of our God, the Spirit doesn’t just bring us in Christ to the Father – he brings us together to him as the Father’s family. Therefore we also pray together with Christ as brothers and sisters before our Father.

Communal prayer, then, is the Christian life in a nutshell – the family of the Father coming together to him to share his concerns. This is why in some ways the prayer meeting is such a battle of flesh against Spirit: will you bludgeon your brothers and sisters with your impressive prayers and actually ignore God, or will you truly go to your Father and seek blessing for them? It can be a formality, a chance to compete with each other – or it can wonderfully foster unity.

This applies both to praying for someone and praying with someone. If you pray for someone who winds you up, you will find that it’s much harder to cherish anger, resentment, suspicion or hatred when you pray for them. Praying with someone can also be a powerful experience. When friends decide to pray sincerely together, perhaps spontaneously, through it you often get to sense an extraordinary, familial closeness with each other. You are being family together. Prayer for each other is sharing our Father’s compassion. Prayer with each other is being family, and it fosters the unity our God loves.

This article is an extract from Enjoy your prayer life by Mike Reeves. Published by 10ofThose. Mike Reeves is Theologian-at-large with WEST.

 

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: My moment with the PM


Unapologetic Christianity

(view original article here)

David Cameron ruffled some feathers this Easter.

This time they were those of a few of the New Atheists, with his public declaration that we live in a Christian country and that the Lord is ‘our saviour’. During April he held an Easter reception in Downing Street and subsequently wrote an article for the Church Times. It included the remarkable call to be ‘more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives’. In the article, he described his own personal faith experience and membership of the Church of England.

Christianity causes division?

Atheists were riled. 55 of them wrote an open letter to the Daily Telegraph complaining that his words were causing division. I do not remember any of them ever writing in complaint when Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband confessed to being atheists. Perhaps our secular intellectuals cannot imagine that atheism could ever be divisive, they see that as purely a Christian ailment!

Christians raised some probing questions. John Stevens, National Director of the FIEC, wrote his own letter (unpublished) to the Daily Telegraph asking how a nation where less than 10% of the population regularly attend church can seriously be considered Christian. In the light of the erosion of Christian values through national policies, Stevens wrote, ‘May God have mercy upon us again, and raise up faithful preachers like Whitefield and Wesley, who will declare the good news of the gospel, which can alone bring forgiveness of our sins, renewal of our churches and transformation of our nation’.

Is our nation a Christian nation or not? In the 2011 census nearly 60% of the population described themselves as Christian. The shared English language developed alongside the translation of the Bible. Many of our cultural references are owed to biblical phrases and vocabulary. Our moral values and ethical system are clearly rooted in the Judeo-Christian worldview. Harry Cole, writing in the Spectator, reminded the critics that the first word of our national anthem is ‘God’ and when atheist politician Nye Bevan formed the NHS, he described it as ‘a little piece of Christianity.’

David Cameron’s words remind us that all is far from lost. The bedrock of our nation remains founded on Christian values and concepts. Most of the population do not have personal faith in Christ but they remain saturated in the Christian worldview. This is encouraging for evangelism. The doors are still open for the gospel.

Encounter in Bethlehem

I met David Cameron in March. It was not so much a meeting as a passing encounter. I was staying at a hotel in Bethlehem where Cameron happened to be having a conference with the Palestinian president, Mahmood Abbas. As it was a low-key visit with little armed presence I decided to wait in the relatively empty lobby and greet him on arrival. I would only have a moment to say anything so I prayed to God and asked what I should say.

At that moment my phone buzzed with a text message from a teacher friend suggesting ‘Tell him to sack Michael Gove’. I decided against it, and as he walked past me all I could find to say was ‘God bless you, David!’. It was hardly my finest evangelistic moment but clearly the words would have still meant something to him.

While most people are not Christians, the significant influence of the Christian world-view provides countless points of contact for evangelism and opportunities for even a brief gospel word. And, whatever the motives of our politicians and the impact of their policies, we do still pray that God may bless them with wisdom to do the right thing (1 Timothy 2:2).

 

Chris is lecturer at Moorlands College and pastor of Alderholt Chapel. His books include Confident Christianity and Time Travel to the Old Testament published by IVP. (Editor’s note: No more name dropping please, Chris!)

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to EN for monthly updates.

FREE Francis Schaeffer audio book… and some other great links.


Links Worth A Look

Enjoy the following links!

Proclamation Trust – Blogging through Martyn Lloyd-Jones preaching and preachers

The Long Defeat – Theology 101: How?

Christian Audio – FREE audio book ‘How then shall we live?’ by Francis Schaeffer

Eric Geiger – A tale of two Mars Hills

Desiring God – God’s beauty for the bored, busy and depressed

Paris in the springtime


Evangelism on the steps of the Sacré Coeur

Evangelism on the steps of the Sacré Coeur

(view original article here)

E.M. Hicham gives news of a recent week of outreach in the Paris area

This third annual week of outreach in Paris was organised by a local evangelical church in partnership with La Voix des Prophètes (French branch of Word of Hope Ministries).

Once again the Lord showered us with blessing. Here are ten reasons to give thanks:

About 70 people (most aged 18-25) were on the team, from all over France. This was a very encouraging number considering that the week was not during the Paris school holidays and therefore many students could not participate. Half the team were present for the first time and had never witnessed to Muslims before. They came enthusiastic to serve and learn and with a sound grasp of biblical teaching, a great spirit of prayer and an incredible motivation to spread the gospel. This gives us hope for the future of the church in France.

Training and opportunities

The week had two aims: reach out to the local ethnic minority community and train the team members through seminars. The seminars were open to anyone. About 80 were present at the evening sessions. The aim was to help those in attendance to overcome fear and give them practical tips.

1,300 Bibles were distributed during the week. These were taken gladly by people (including Muslims) who came to us asking for one. A Muslim lady took a Bible and later returned to ask for the CD of testimonies of Christians from a Muslim background. A Frenchman said that he had never read the Bible or had contact with Christians, but was curious to read it and find out more.

The team had more than 500 significant conversations, particularly with people from Yemen, North Africa and much of West Africa. The had good opportunities with a rabbi, Salafists, a young Catholic couple from Germany, a Bulgarian family and a number of Pakistanis.

I had a two-hour discussion with Younes, a young Algerian man. You could tell from his beard and clothes that he was a serious, practising Muslim. As we went through the classic objections, we read passages of Scripture together. One typical misconception Muslims have is that Jesus prophesied Muhammed’s coming in John 14 and 16. So I opened the Bible and asked Younes to read the chapters himself and tell me if the descriptions of the Comforter could fit a finite human being. Having read them his answer was: ‘Okay, I see, this is talking about the angel Gabriel’ (Muslims believe that the Holy Spirit is Gabriel!). He finally asked why I left Islam and became a Christian – a great question! This gave me a further opportunity to share the gospel of grace.

Lev is a Jewish man who was spoken to at length. The most encouraging thing was that a teammate read lots of Scriptures with him, including Isaiah 53. At the end he was offered a Bible, but refused to take it, saying: ‘If I take it, it will shake my faith and my family will be very unhappy’. What a sad thing.

Witnessing at Montmartre

On the Wednesday afternoon we were able to share the gospel on the stairs in front of the Sacré Coeur. A teammate gave an explanation of the history of Montmartre (Mount of Martyrs, from the beheading of St Denis, c.250AD) and many people stopped to listen. As the historical presentation finished, team members loudly asked questions such as: What is the gospel message? Can we trust the Bible? What can one do to be saved? So the gospel was preached in a friendly way. Bibles were offered afterwards. Literally every team-member had an opportunity to share the gospel.

Reaching the Malians

There are about 40,000 people from Mali living in the Paris area, making it the town with the second largest Malian population, after Bamako. Many of them live in a group of buildings owned by the council and most are illiterate. Every morning a team went to visit them, sharing Bible stories using audio/visual resources. Last year five of these Malians were converted and baptised following the week of outreach. They are going on well with the Lord.

A final evangelistic evening was held. The church room was so crowded that we had to subtly ask the Christians present to leave in order to make space for the numerous Muslims who had come.

One room was full of Christians praying for the salvation of those listening in the main room. At least 35 non-Christians (probably more), had responded to our invitation to the evening meeting entitled ‘How can we find forgiveness from a holy and merciful God?’ The vast majority of them were from a Muslim background. The team could hardly believe their eyes. We stayed talking with the visitors until midnight.

So beautiful

A veiled Muslim lady had a long conversation with one of the girls on the team. Another female Muslim student asked serious questions and I was then called over to speak to her. She said: ‘I was very moved by the message. It is so beautiful that I can hardly believe it can be true’. We encouraged her to pray and ask God to help her. She went home with a New Testament and other resources.

As far as we know two conversions took place. Soumya, a North African girl, works as a bank adviser. She had been witnessed to by a Christian colleague who is now a missionary. She attended the Friday meeting and immediately after I had finished speaking she came straight to me with a smile to say, ‘I want to tell you that I’ve been struggling with many questions and tonight God has given me the answers. I know where to find forgiveness now’. I asked her, ‘Do you think you can say that your sins are forgiven tonight?’. ‘I can say that with all my heart, now that I understand that only through Jesus forgiveness is given from the holy and loving God.’ Soumya took my details and we are seeking to put her in contact with a local church.

Boubaker, a Muslim from Benin, seems to have given his life to the Lord after the meeting. After a long conversation he asked if someone could pray with him. He was back at the church on Sunday morning, as well as some others contacted during the week. What an encouragement.

Prayer points

Please pray that the Bibles and other resources distributed will all be read and not shelved. Also, pray for Z, a Tunisian man contacted last year. He kept in touch with a team member and came to see us this year. He had lunch with us nearly every day. He is not far from the kingdom. He lives near the church and a church leader has begun Bible studies with him.

Pray too for the young people who were on the team and who no doubt feel a sense of anticlimax after such an intense week. Pray that the Lord will guard, keep and guide them, so that they will be able to make the most of what they learned during the week.

One of our goals is multiplication. Our hope is that those who participated in the outreach will take the vision back with them and share it with the leaders of their home churches. So far, there are six weeks like this one running in France and Belgium. Pray that this type of week of outreach will be repeated in many other places.

As a result of last year’s outreach week, we started a Facebook group called atteindre (reach), through which team members can stay in touch and inform each other of the evangelistic opportunities. The group now has about 1500 members.

For more information see www.word-of-hope.net and www.Jesus-Islam.org

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Crossing the culture from Rachel Thorpe: Shock, paper, scissors


Crossing the Culture

(view original article here)

The Snail. Blue Nude. Icarus. The Dance.

Matisse’s works are some of the most recognisable images in modern art. Now Tate Modern in London is hosting an exhibition devoted to his cut-outs, which he made during the final 17 years of his life.

Master of colour

Henri Matisse (1869–1954) was born in a cloth-making town in northern France. He worked in the courts until a bout of appendicitis left him bedridden. His mother bought him a set of art supplies to keep him amused, and he soon became fanatical about painting. He gained traditional technical skills by copying the works of the great masters in the Louvre, but it was a visit to southern France that inspired his unique, colourful style.

His shocking paintings were dismissed by the establishment, who called him a madman and a Fauve (wild beast). However, he soon became friends with Picasso, Braque and Gertrude Stein. He began painting popular images of nude women and in the 1930s he received his largest ever commission: to create a mural for the Barnes Foundation. This project allowed him to develop fully the distinctive style that characterised all of the works that followed. By the end of the 1940s he was acclaimed as the master of colour, and one of the greatest modern artists.

Painting with scissors

However, Matisse’s health was sharply declining. Although he was elderly, tired and frail, his final years were a period of determined creativity. No longer able to paint, he turned instead to paper collages, known as gouaches découpés. Confined to a wheelchair or sometimes to his ‘taxi bed’, Matisse began to ‘paint with scissors’ – as he put it – in order to ‘cut directly into colour’. He used large shears and painted paper, working quickly and intensely. The works too are vibrant and energetic. Matisse himself described the dazzling cut-outs as being most akin to stained glass, saying: ‘I cut out these gouache sheets the way you cut glass: only here they’re organised to reflect light, whereas in a stained-glass window they have to be arranged differently because light shines through them’. At the time, he did not realise the significance of the comparison.

During this period Matisse developed a close friendship with Sister Jacques-Marie, who had earlier been his nurse and model. Although a staunch atheist, Matisse recognised something of himself in her life at the convent, saying to her: ‘I live with my forces directed towards that same spiritual horizon. My effort differs from yours only in appearance’. Sister Jacques approached him to ask for advice about the design of a stained-glass window, but soon Matisse had taken on the project of designing an entire Dominican Chapel.

His work on the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence is shown in Room 7 of the Tate’s exhibition. The project took him four years to complete. He designed everything from his bed, using paper cut-outs that he stuck all around his room. As well as the luminous stained glass, he also created huge images of the Virgin, the Stations of the Cross and St Dominic. He planned every detail, from the crucifix on the altar to the priest’s garments. When he had finished, he declared the chapel was his masterpiece and called it ‘the result of all my active life’.

All art is religious

With the Chapel of the Rosary, Matisse had finally managed to use light not just as his inspiration, but as his material. He had always been fascinated by this idea, claiming: ‘the artist or the poet possesses an interior light which transforms objects to make a new world of them … which is in itself an infallible sign of the Divinity, a reflection of Divinity’. What might an atheist artist mean when he speaks of Divinity? Matisse explained: ‘All art worthy of the name is religious. Be it a creation of lines, or colours: if it is not religious, it does not exist’.

In fact, Matisse has been described as ‘instinctively religious’ and he repeatedly used the language of spirituality when speaking about his work. Through painting, cut-outs and stained glass, he was able to express what he called his ‘almost religious awe towards life’.

Of painting, he once claimed: ‘The essential thing is to put myself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer’. By comparison, the frame of mind that he wished to create for viewers was one of ‘balance, purity and calmness’. Through art, he said: ‘I wish to create a spiritual remedy … which provides relaxation from physical fatigue’.

Such comments led essayist W.S. Di Piero to claim: ‘Matisse’s career was the most sustained and variegated exercise of religious imagination of our time’. Even the Tate exhibition booklet states that Matisse’s work ‘conveys the spirit of religious expression without explicitly addressing religious subject matter’. What would the atheist Matisse make of this interpretation? ‘Do I believe in God?’, he asked. ‘Yes, when I work’.

 

Rachel Thorpe writes the ‘Crossing the culture’ column for EN and works as an events planner and freelance writer in Cambridge. More of her articles can be found at www.rachelthorpe.com

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates

God’s Not Dead (movie review)


GOD’S NOT DEADGod's not dead
Director Harold Cronk
Cert. PG, 113 mins.

(view original article here)

God’s Not Dead is a book by Rice Broocks which is a defence of the faith. It is now also a film, premiered on April 11 at the Coronet cinema in Notting Hill.

The film is a drama which follows a number of people whose interconnectedness becomes apparent during the film as they travel from their various standpoints to a living relationship with Jesus. The makers are hoping that the film will encourage Christians in their faith and particularly in the realm of apologetics.

One strand of the plot tackles New Atheists head on; others the pursuit of wealth, Islam, suffering and so on. There are few people who will not find that some of the situations speak to them directly.

Big questions

The viewer is confronted with the big questions of life and many will no doubt be asking themselves how they would answer them. I certainly was. It is an absorbing drama and well made. As en went to press, the film was being shown in about 40 cinemas up and down the country. People are encouraged to see it because the more who go the greater will be its future distribution. It was in the top five box office films in the USA for three consecutive weeks. For this reviewer, there was much too high a ‘cheese’ level and some very shallow and unfair characterisation of unbelievers. So, for example, when the atheist college professor suffers a fatal injury in a road accident there just happens to be an evangelical minister near to lead him to the Lord as he dies.

The makers are currently working on a project to film Esther. They are very committed, and see themselves as reclaiming the cinema for Christ. There is a lot about this film which could have been done much better, but, as G.K. Chesterton said, ‘If a thing is worth doing, its worth doing badly’.

See www.godsnotdeadthemovie.com/uk to see more details.

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe for monthly updates