Draw your sword with Psalm 66:16-20

‘Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!’

Psalm 66:16-20

Links worth a look!

As ever – enjoy the following links!

9 Marks – Younger pastors discipling older men

The Gospel Coalition – Know your evangelicals – William Wilberforce

Above every name – Prayerful parents – a reflection from Don Carson

A Faith To Live By – Mark Dever and Al Mohler discuss gay marriage at the T4G conference

Good Book Company – Introducing….

What’s coming up in the May issue of EN

Will marriage be redefined?

Probably it will.

In March the coalition government began its nationwide consultation concerning moves to redefine marriage in order to include gay relationships. The Marriage Coalition has organised a petition to encourage them to stick with the traditional definition. But my gut feeling is that, apart from divine intervention, sadly the change will happen. Churches need to brace themselves for the consequences.

Why will marriage be redefined? It will not be because conventional heterosexual marriage is obsolete. Male / female marriage has been enshrined in law because it is the natural building block of society. Furthermore, even in the contemporary fallen world, it proves by every measure generally good for men, women and children. As Christians we know that is because marriage is not a human construct, but was given to us by our loving Creator. No, the first reason why the argument will be lost is because of our society’s deification of self and of ‘choice’. ‘People should be allowed to do what they want so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.’ That’s the theory. In fact in a modern society there are few choices which don’t affect others. Recently Guy Brandon1 of the Jubilee Centre has argued that the direct cost of promiscuity through treating sexually transmitted diseases on the NHS is £1 billion per year. This is not to mention the human costs of adultery and divorce as they impact children, and grandparents lose access to grandchildren. There is also the shocking loss of life in aborted children, highlighted recently by the Daily Telegraph’s uncovering of abortions being given simply because the baby’s gender is wrong. Unfettered sexual choice which doesn’t involve others is a myth. In banking crisis Britain, financial considerations dominate public dialogue. We are bombarded with the costs to the nation’s health bill of obesity, drink, red meat and smoking. Weirdly little is said about the cost of sexual ‘freedom’. Changing the definition of marriage is only likely to add to the nation’s bill. Gay couples cannot have children naturally and so add to the future work force to help to pay for their pensions and old age care. And how else will lesbian couples proceed who decide they want children, other than by looking to the state to help them through costly IVF, etc.? But pursuing the secular idea of freedom has set us on a slippery slope from which, apart from God stepping in, there is no turning back.

The second reason why marriage is likely to be redefined is political. David Cameron has chided the Conservatives for being ‘the nasty party’. This was the soubriquet foisted on them for opposing the teaching of gay sex in schools through Section 28. In coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Prime Minister is hardly likely to refuse the gay lobby what they want. And the Liberals are unlikely to let him simply forget the idea. But then also there are politics in the church, specifically the Church of England. Some Anglicans see the redefinition of marriage as a trap set by secularists who are keen to see the disestablishment of the Church. If the bishops vote against the redefinition it will be used to fuel the idea that the Church stands in the way of ‘progress’ and therefore should have no place in public life or the House of Lords. For that reason there are likely to be professing Christians standing on both sides of the redefinition argument and therefore no clear direction given. So marriage will be redefined. But let’s pray and stand for truth. Who knows what God can do?

1. Free Sex: Who Pays? Moral hazard and sexual ethics by Guy Brandon, Cambridge Papers, December 2011.

Links worth a look!

Enjoy the following links!

9 Marks – Is there an office for pastors’ wives?

Together for the Gospel –  “This may have been the most powerful missions message I’ve ever heard. I needed to be quiet with God.” – John Piper on Twitter after hearing this message at the T4G conference this month

Gospel Coalition – A few observations on this months T4G conference by Thabiti Anyabwile (Look out for EN’s reports in the May issue of the paper)

Jason Ramasami – The cartoonist featuring in EN shares the gospel message through video

Above every name – John Stott the Napper!

A Faith To Live By – Neil Powell from City Church B-ham reports on the pressures of church planting on spouses

London City Mission – Time to talk

‘Everyday church’

Mission by being good neighbours
By Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
IVP. 188 pages. £9.99
ISBN 978 1 844 745 203

If you only read one book this year, read this one!

Those who have read books by Steve and Tim before will expect to be challenged by a clear, straightforward application of the Bible and they will not be disappointed. Using 1 Peter, the authors show that the New Testament churches, and specifically those Peter addressed, faced a very similar challenge to churches in the West today. Christianity is increasingly marginalised and the vast majority of the population are unfamiliar with the claims of Christ and, indeed, prejudiced against them.

So how do we reach the UK where 70% of the population have no intention of going to church? The authors challenge the amount of time and effort that churches devote to putting on better and better services and events or simply expecting that people will come to church if we just pray enough. While at times the author’s generalisations about churches in the UK seem a little harsh, their outline of the false assumptions that many churches make is very timely and helpful.

Many books and courses speak of the need for ‘friendship evangelism’, so what is different about this one? Perhaps the most helpful thing is the way that the authors work through 1 Peter, allowing the text to set the agenda and the expectations. In keeping with Peter’s letter, the book is basically encouraging, pointing out that the 1st-century church flourished in the same context as our own. However, the book pulls no punches with its radical, yet helpful, challenge that the Bible views evangelism as a corporate activity and not merely the task of some gifted individuals in the church. The biblical model is not of attractive events but attractive communities. The need is not only for Christians to meet the unchurched where they are, in the context of everyday life, but to draw them into a community in which they will see as well hear the message of the gospel.

Read this book, pass it on to a few other Christians in your church and then set about putting it into action. Peter’s challenge is not merely that we know that we are ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God’, but that we declare it, together, through our good deeds and hope-filled answers.

David Sprouse, 
Cuckfield Baptist Church, West Sussex

Links worth a look!

Here are a handful of links to check-out & enjoy over the weekend as we walk to the foot of the cross… and then celebrate the empty tomb! Hallelujah – He is Risen!

9 Marks – Preach to the Non-Christian, Christian and church member

Gospel Coalition – God created the world for Good Friday

The Good Book Company -Discipleship Explored DVD

Easter: Life to Death – Good Friday video clip
Easter: Death to Life – Easter Sunday video clip

Above every name – Justified by Faith

Why the Cross? – An interview with John Blanchard

John Blanchard has brought out an evangelistic booklet. He talked to EN about the cross in the run-up to Easter.

EN: You have a new booklet out entitled Why the Cross? What would you say is the great attraction of the cross for needy sinners?

JB: From one angle it is no attraction at all. The cross is hateful to unbelievers as it strikes an unacceptable blow at their pride, making all their supposed goodness — even their religious ideas and practices — worthless, while they fondly imagine that these will prepare them for eternity. One of my golfing partners was a humanist (with a small ‘h’) and at his funeral service the word ‘God’ was never used, yet ironically another member of our golf club assured the congregation that Fred (not his real name) was now safely in heaven. Any suggestion to the contrary would have caused offence.

The real attraction of the cross (or, rather, what should be seen as its attraction) is that it is the only place where God’s justice, wrath and mercy meet to provide a way of salvation. It was there that Jesus died, ‘the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God’. The cross is what C.H. Spurgeon called ‘the world’s one and only remedy’.

Is evangelism hard?
EN: You have been an evangelist for many years. Would you say it is harder or easier now to present the message of the cross to non-Christians? And what is your reasoning?

JB: In one way, it is harder because we live in an increasingly ‘thing centred’ world. Advertising techniques have developed with such speed and subtlety that millions of people are marinated in materialism, with their lives so dominated by their possessions that they have little or no time for spiritual issues, let alone for the core message of the Christian faith.

The apostle Paul said that the preaching of the cross was ‘foolishness’ to most people of his day. The Greeks and Romans, for example, would have ridiculed the idea that their pantheons of deities were non-existent, that there was only one God and that the only way to get right with him was through the death of a 30-something man — and a Jew at that! The growth of a multi-faith culture in the UK is gradually pushing people to think the same way. Christianity is not only being reduced to the same level as man-made religions, it is now being marginalised to the point at which those who claim that it offers the only solution to man’s deepest needs are being dismissed as fundamentalist bigots. This makes it increasingly difficult to focus people’s attention on the basic truths of the Christian faith, let alone on the event that lies at its very heart.

On the other hand, the outrageous trumpeting of New Atheism’s cheerleader Richard Dawkins may have done more than all the country’s preachers combined to make people think about God. This has at least given Christians a starting point when talking to their friends and contacts and from there they have an opportunity to steer the conversation towards Christ and Calvary.

EN: Is the cross still as central in the life of the evangelical church in this country as it ought to be?

JB: Sadly, it may not be. We should be thankful for hundreds of churches that preach a clear, unadulterated gospel, but there are countless others where this is not the case and in which the trend has been towards a ‘softer’ approach which presents Jesus as a role model rather than as a Redeemer. But Jesus came into the world ‘to save sinners’, not merely to provide us with a moral benchmark. Discussing modern trends with Geoff Thomas some time ago, he drew dismayed attention to some of the things that were being taught and done by some churches and added: ‘John, all we have to offer is a crucified and risen Saviour’. He was right. Paul said: ‘Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’, but too many churches fall short of this, whatever their outward appearance.

I wonder whether the reason for this is that churches are shying away from what makes the message of the cross so inescapably important and urgent. When did the average churchgoer in this country last hear a series (or a single sermon) on the subject of hell? When doing research for my book Whatever happened to Hell? I asked an evangelical pastor with a library of 4,000 books how many he had on the subject of hell and he replied: ‘I did have one, but I seem to have mislaid it’. Yet if hell is not real, why did Jesus die? The cross makes no sense until it is seen in the light of God’s utter holiness, his zero tolerance of sin and his clear warning that as far as heaven is concerned ‘nothing unclean will ever enter it’.

Church programmes that help to meet local needs in society among the young, the elderly, the disadvantaged and the poor have an important part to play. The Christian church has often been a worthy example of compassion and care, but unless these programmes are in some way geared to the cross they fall short of the church’s commission, which is to ‘preach the gospel’.

Another hindrance to the centrality of the cross in church life is that its true message does not fit comfortably into the Christian entertainment industry, with the result that the message often has to be watered down to accommodate the method. The holiness and sovereignty of God, the depravity of man, the substitutionary death of Christ, the need for genuine repentance and the call to personal godliness are not easily conveyed by much of what is being offered as ‘worship’. Framing a genuinely biblical gospel in some formats is like trying to send War and Peace by Twitter.

The wonder of the cross
EN: Tell us about your own conversion and how you first saw the wonder of what Jesus achieved at the cross.

JB: I was born in Guernsey, evacuated to the Hebrides during the German occupation, returned in 1945 and joined my stepmother in attending an evangelical Anglican church. I soon became a card-carrying religious hypocrite, heavily involved in the church but a stranger to God’s saving grace. After leaving school I joined the Guernsey Civil Service and after several years was transferred to the Attorney General’s office. Sharing a room was the loveliest girl I had ever come across and in October 1954 she invited me to a mission being held by a visiting American evangelist, Paul Cantelon. I kept turning down her invitations to attend, but eventually went simply because she would be there. At first, I disliked the whole thing, but eventually found myself convicted of sin, not least the sin of thinking that my religion could make me right with God. The glory of what Jesus accomplished on the cross suddenly became wonderfully real to me and at the end of one meeting I became a Christian by singing (and meaning) the words: ‘Pass me not, O gentle Saviour; hear my humble cry. While on others you are calling, do not pass me by’. The rest is history — and I did marry the girl! A year ago I tearfully laid her in her grave — but I rejoice in the text on its headstone which reads: ‘With Christ, which is far better’. Even after my body is laid there I will be able to give my testimony to all who pass by!

Advice for rookies
EN: What advice would you give to young evangelists today just starting out on their path in ministry?

JB: First and foremost, make your personal walk with God a priority — though this is not my advice; it simply applies Paul’s word to Timothy to ‘Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching’. As to advice, I don’t feel qualified to give any, but these (not in any significant order) are some things that have proved helpful to me.

• Firstly, master the biblical basics. Knowing the words of the evangel is not the same as understanding their meaning. Keep meditating on the salvation doctrines.
• Secondly, read as if your life depended on it; read, read, read!
• Thirdly, read for sustenance and not just for sermons. A young evangelist once rang me to ask: ‘John, what are you reading for the good of your soul?’ Always be ready to give a good answer to that question!
• Fourthly, be disciplined; don’t spend time, invest it.
• Fifthly, set goals, aim high and do everything you can to get there.
• Sixthly, get out of bed early! Any active hours invested before 8.00 am are worth double. This kind of discipline is sometimes difficult when away from home and you need to consider your hosts, but at home there is no excuse for being sloppy.
• Seventhly, develop a prayer support team and keep it up to date with your news.
• Eighthly, never stop praying for ‘wisdom from above’, especially as your ministry develops and you have ever-increasing calls on your time and gifts.