Galatians for you


Galations for you

Galatians is a letter that is full of doctrinal truth, but is no theological treatise.

It is a letter from a man who deeply loves the men and women he is writing to. 6.11-18 is his last appeal, his last invitation to keep trusting the gospel for salvation and living it out day by day, and he decides to ‘write to you with my own hand!’ (v.11).

Internal not external

First, he wants to convince them that real Christianity is a matter of inward change, not external observance. It is substantial, not superficial. Again, he focuses on the motives of the false teachers. They ‘want to make a good impression outwardly’ (v.12).

Paul has already said that the preaching of the gospel is terribly offensive to the human heart (5.11-12). People find it insulting to be told that they are too weak and sinful to do anything to contribute to their salvation. The gospel is offensive to liberal-minded people, who charge the gospel with intolerance, because it states that the only way to be saved is through the cross. The gospel is offensive to conservative-minded people, because it states that, without the cross, ‘good’ people are in as much trouble as ‘bad’ people. Ultimately, the gospel is offensive because the cross stands against all schemes of self-salvation. So people who love the cross are ‘persecuted’ (v.12).

False saviours

If someone understands the cross, it is either the greatest thing in their life, or it is repugnant to them. If it is neither of those two things, they haven’t understood it.

The false saviour that the Judaizers are worshiping is approval. That’s what is going on under their legalistic teaching. ‘The only reason they [teach what they do] is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ’ (v.12). They want to ‘boast’ (v.13). They got into religion for the fame, prestige and honour it can bring them in the world. Their ministry, as in 4.17-18, is a form of self-salvation.

As a result of this concern for appearances and acceptance by the world, the false teachers are offering a religion that mainly focuses on externals and behaviour (circumcision and the ceremonial law), rather than internal change of heart, motives and character. The gospel is inside out: an inner change of heart leads to a new motivation for and conduct of behaviour. They are outside out: focusing on behaviour, never dealing with the heart, and always remaining superficial.

Paul again makes the most telling critique of this way of religion: ‘Not even those who are circumcised obey the law’ (v.13). On its own terms, biblical legalism cannot work. If we really read the law and see what it commands (e.g. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, 5.13-14), we will see that we cannot possibly save ourselves by obeying it. A religion based on externals and behaviour as a way of salvation may prompt pride and bring popularity, but it cannot deliver the eternal life it promises.

What are you boasting about?

Ultimately, Paul says, the heart of your religion is what you boast in. What, at bottom, is the reason that you think you are in a right relationship with God?

If the cross is just a help, but you have to complete your salvation with good works, it is really your works which make the difference. Therefore, you ‘boast about your flesh’ (v.13), your own efforts. What an attractive-sounding message: to be able to pat yourself on the back for having reserved a place for yourself in heaven!

But if you understand the gospel, you ‘boast’ exclusively and only in the cross. Our identity, our self-image, is based on what gives us a sense of dignity and significance — what we boast in. Religion leads us to boast in something about us. The gospel leads us to boast in the cross of Jesus. That means our identity in Jesus is confident and secure — we do ‘boast’! — yet humbly, based on a profound sense of our flaws and neediness.

So the gospel can be well summarized in one remarkable sentence: ‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (v.14).

I am saved solely and wholly because of Christ’s work, not mine. He has reserved a place in heaven for me, given freely to me by him. I ‘never boast’ — I take no credit for my standing with God — ‘except in the cross’; what Christ has done is now something I ‘boast’ in. To boast is to joyously exult, and to have high confidence, in something. To know you are saved by Christ’s work alone brings a joyous ‘boasting’ confidence; not a self-confidence, but Christ-confidence.

Turnaround

This brings a stunning turnaround in my life. The world is dead to me. First, as John Stott says, the Christian does not need to care what the world thinks of them. But Guthrie probably gets closer to Paul’s gist when he says: ‘The natural world … has ceased to have any claims on us’.

Paul is telling the Christian that there is nothing in the world now that has any power over them. Notice he does not say that the world is dead, but that it is dead to him. The gospel destroys its power. Why? If nothing in the world is where I locate my righteousness or salvation or boasting, then there is nothing in the world that controls me — nothing that I must have.

Paul is not saying that I must have nothing to do with the people and things of the world. Ironically, if I must have nothing to do with the world and must separate from it, then the world still has quite a lot of power over me! Paul means that the Christian is now free to enjoy the world, because he no longer needs to fear it, nor to worship it.

So Paul restates what he said back in 5.6: ‘Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; but a new creation’ (6.15). Religious or moral attainments or failures are irrelevant when it comes to salvation, because it is not about what I have done, but about what Christ has done. Because of the gospel, Paul says, I do not feel inferior to or intimidated by anyone — circumcision means nothing. And because of the gospel, I do not feel superior to or scornful of anyone — uncircumcision means nothing.

All that matters is that, through Christ crucified, we are made a ‘new creation’ (v.15). The gospel changes my future, giving me a place in Christ’s perfected re-creation. And the gospel changes my present, giving me a whole new self-image and whole new way of relating to everyone.

New creation

‘A new creation’ in verse 15 is the parallel to ‘faith working by love’ in 5.6. Paul’s point is that the two are essentially the same thing. The gospel creates a new motivation for obedience — grateful love arising from a faith view of what Christ has done. It is a new birth, a supernatural transformation of character, a new creation.

So verses 14-15 sum up what it means to rely on what Christ has done, rather than on myself. I am being made all over into someone and something entirely new.

A life of peace

If verses 14-15 sum up chapter 5, verse 16 (which, following such an emotional and stunning sentence, is easy to miss!) encapsulates what Paul was saying in chapter 3. Here, he calls living by the gospel a ‘rule’ (v.16) — it is a way of life, a foundation of everything. Anyone who sets the gospel of Christ as their ‘rule’, he says, will find ‘peace and mercy’. And they will be members of ‘the Israel of God’. Christians are all Abraham’s children, heirs to God’s promises to him.

Paul concludes by pointing to the fact that: ‘I bear on my body the marks of Jesus’ (v.17). What are these? Probably he is referring to the literal scars he had from the imprisonments and beatings he had received for the sake of Christ. The teachers of the false, popular, self-salvation gospel had none of these, because the world loved to hear their message. But Paul is a true minister, a true apostle, as he argued in chapters 1 and 2. Do not doubt me, he says: I have the real marks of apostolic authority — not greatness and riches, but signs of suffering and weakness.

And then he signs off. But even here, Paul is reminding the Galatians of the message of his letter. ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v.18) is the entry point to, and the way to continue with, and all we will ever need in, the Christian life. We begin by grace, by being justified by faith in what Christ has done. We continue by grace, not by anything we do. This gospel of grace is what the Galatians need to know, and love, in ‘your spirit’. It is not a set of abstract truths. It is a way of life, of deeply fulfilling, secure life now, and of eternal life to come. Amen.

This article is an edited extract from Tim Keller’s new book, Galatians For You (published by The Good Book Company — http://www.thegoodbook.co.uk), and is used with permission.

 

(This article was first published in the February 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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Evangelical church snapshot – what did Christian discipleship in Britain look like in 2012?


Living the Christian life

Last year the Langham Partnership conducted a comprehensive survey concerning UK discipleship in evangelical church life.

The results of the research have been published in a booklet entitled Living the Christian Life: Becoming Like Jesus. Three collections of data were made. The first was a survey of entire congregations across all services in seven evangelical churches in England, three Anglican, one Baptist and three Independent. Secondly, questionnaires were filled in by those answering advertisements in Christian newspapers and magazines. Thirdly, a cross-denominational survey of evangelical ministers was undertaken via a postal form. Altogether 1,999 people took part in the survey.

There were 12 major findings from the research which we briefly highlight here. They are as follows.

Teaching

When respondents were asked, ‘Which aspect of church life has been most instrumental in helping you grow in your faith?’ 58% said the teaching in the church services. Teaching proved useful in growing in faith, standing up for the faith, answering questions about Christianity and witnessing to others. 85% of churchgoers said that the teaching was the second most important thing that they appreciated in church life. The first was the fellowship.

Other ways of learning

While teaching was important, respondents explained that it was not the only way they learned. 65% said that house-groups were also important for growing in the faith. 20% said that recommended books, DVDs and CDs were helpful. 18% had been helped by special training sessions. 34% said that they thought that house-groups were the most important way of growing.

Depth

People were asked if they thought their faith had grown in the past year. 84% said it had and 24% said that it had grown a lot. What were the key factors that caused the difference? 53% said that seeing answers to prayer had really helped their faith. 52% cited personal study and prayer. Around 20% highlighted one-to-one mentoring. Seeing answers to prayer was more important for older folk. One-to-one direction was more important for younger people. These did not vary much with denomination or gender.

The Bible

The Bible was found to influence people’s attitudes in areas such as their family, material possessions, the disadvantaged and work. 90% of Christians said they read their Bible to learn more about God and 85% to seek guidance and inspiration. It was also used by 64% to find comfort in times of illness or crisis. However, it was found that the Bible is not influencing younger people in churches as much as it does older people.

Christ-likeness

Christ-likeness proved a difficult term to define for many people. They felt Christ-like people were: a) like Jesus in his relationships to others — selfless and caring, etc. (51%); b) like Jesus in his commitment to God (27%); c) like Jesus as he glowed with the Spirit (22%). 52% said we become more like Jesus by being transformed by the Spirit, 28% by growing in holiness, 10% by becoming a stronger disciple, and 10% by becoming more mature.

When asked who were the most Christ-like people, respondents were aware of the top two being John Stott and Billy Graham.

How long?

Just 2% of the people had been Christians for under three years. 76% had been Christians for over 20 years. This is worrying and tends to reflect a lack of priority or lack of success in evangelism. On average Christians had been attending their churches for 13 years. 39% of current attenders had always attended their present church, which means that 61% had moved churches at some time. This suggests that what often passes as ‘church growth’ is in reality simply Christians on the move.

Priorities

The survey listed six key functions of church life and asked respondents to say which had the highest priority in their opinion and which ought to have the highest priority. The six key functions were worship, prayer, discipleship, evangelism, community and service.

The results showed that worship is currently seen as the top priority in the church’s life, followed by prayer and discipleship. Evangelism is currently seen as fourth in the pecking order. Perhaps this helps to explain why so small a proportion of church congregations consist of recent Christians. Only 65% of Christians agreed with the statement: ‘The church should give highest priority to evangelistic preaching of the gospel’.

Doctrines

The survey set out 12 fairly low key statements about the content of the Christian faith. At least 94% of respondents were in agreement with all of them.

There were, however, two statements which were not agreed so wholeheartedly by respondents. Over 12% of lay people and 3% of clergy thought that all religions lead to the same God eventually. Nearly 15% of lay people and 6% of clergy thought that God is too loving to let anyone go to hell.

Church culture

Survey participants were asked to rate how far their church reflected Christ-likeness. The over-riding culture of evangelical churches was thought to be one of kindness, followed by faith, gentleness and joyfulness. Ministers thought that patience and self-control were least evident in their churches. Lay people agreed, but also added unity and forgiveness as least evident.

Prayer

71% of lay people and 89% of ministers pray every day. 62% of couples pray together and 44% of these do so frequently. In households with children, 42% prayed with them frequently.

Planting

The data for this came only via the ministers’ postal responses. A question was asked about the number of churches per church planted over the last five years. 81% had planted no church in that time. 14% had planted one church. 5% had planted more than two.

Ministers were asked about their experience of planting churches. 41% made positive comments and 17% negative comments.

Behaviour

Christians strongly agreed that becoming more Christ-like will make us more distinct from those around us and that the gospel message is undermined when Christians do not behave like the Jesus they proclaim. They also agreed that if a Christian does not grow in Christ-likeness there is something lacking in his or her walk with God.

It also became clear from the survey that the church has far more married people among its congregations than the general population and far less single people. Churches also have far fewer cohabiting people and single parents than in the general population, where together they account for a fifth of all households. Across the UK only 5% of households have any connection with a church.

This article is a synopsis from Living The Christian Life: Becoming like Jesus, part of the 9-a-day campaign, and is published by the Langham Partnership. The research was carried out by the Brierley Consultancy (http://www.brierleyconsultancy.com).

(This article was first published in the March 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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The big ego-trip


Big ego tripIn a large theatre in Seattle, USA, an overweight young mobile phone salesman called Stuart steps up to the microphone.

He is auditioning for a TV talent show. His gait, bearing, facial expression — the whole body-language package — signals that here, ladies and gentlemen, we have a loser.

Stuart is going to sing ‘opera’. As the judges glance sideways and roll their eyes, the audience sits back and waits for the fun to begin. What follows is a spine-tingling, lump-in-the-throat rendition of Nessun Dorma that brings the audience to its feet and the judges to their knees. It’s an electrifying piece of theatre that lays the foundations for huge recording contracts and international stardom.

But our young performer discovers another kind of stardom too. Within no time at all his story finds its way into inspirational seminars, life-changing coaching programmes and onto websites that promise to revolutionise your life. It turns out that, like Stuart, you too can release your inner strength, find your power and discover your destiny. Only ‘believe in yourself …’

Believe in yourself

In a London inner-city school, an eight-year-old girl sits enthralled. A teacher is telling the story of ‘mouse’. ‘Poor mouse’, says the teacher. ‘She’s forgotten that she has her own special gift. “I’m no good; I’m only a mouse!”’

‘Believe in yourself’, the little girl whispers.
‘I’m no good, I’m only a mouse!’

‘Believe in yourself’, her classmates join in. ‘Believe in yourself.’ As the children try to convince mouse that it’s ‘good’ to be who she is, it’s repeated over and over: ‘Believe in yourself!’

At the end of the lesson the children file out of the assembly room, chanting: ‘It’s good to be me, good to be me’. A school inspector sitting towards the rear of the classroom nods his quiet approval: a whole-school self-esteem policy that works.

Greatest sin

In New York, a black American pop singer is being interviewed for the latest issue ofHello! magazine. Described as a ‘global phenomenon’, she offers the usual briefing about her taste in fashion, boyfriends and the inevitable plug for her latest record. Then comes an unexpected question. The interviewer asks her to confide her ‘greatest sin’.

After a few moments of reflection, with utter sincerity, she makes her confession. ‘My greatest sin’, she intones, ‘is that I’ve never truly loved myself.’

In a small church hall in the Midwest of the United States, a young mother is calling her Sunday school lesson to order. A wall poster displays a fair-skinned Jesus smiling benignly at a group of Western children gathered around his knee.

‘You’re special!’ he is telling them.

‘Today’, the teacher announces, ‘we are going to let off a little self-esteem!’ None of the kids gets the joke.

The world of self-esteem

Welcome to the world of self-esteem. Half a century ago, if somebody complained of feeling down or that nobody liked them, that they were ‘no good’ or they didn’t like themselves, a friend would most likely offer advice along the following lines: ‘Don’t get stuck in your own problems. Don’t think about yourself so much. Instead of being a “here-I-am” person, try to be a “there-you-are” person! Think about other people. Try to get out more. Make new friends and explore some new interests. You’ll never get anywhere by contemplating your own navel’.

Today the same friend would offer radically different advice: ‘You need to believe in yourself more! Stop thinking so much about other people’s problems and worrying about other people’s expectations. You need to discover who you are. Be yourself. Learn to like yourself. Build up your self-esteem’.

Cultural change

How life has changed, and not just in the counselling room or on the psychiatrist’s couch. Now, everybody is ‘special’ and all must receive prizes. From their earliest years, we try to inoculate our kids against the hazards of low self-esteem: ‘You’re incredible!’; ‘Danger, princess on board!’; ‘What have we here, a Mozart in the making or what?!’ And when they grow up into mature adults striving for success and recognition, the message keeps on coming: ‘You just need to believe in yourself!’

Church change

Things have changed in our churches too. I sat in a committee meeting recently, addressed by a chirpy young ‘church-growth consultant’ sporting a spiky haircut and a PowerPoint presentation. Clicking on yet another depressing graph showing national church attendance figures heading southwards he announced: ‘Our churches need leaders who will help them build up their self-esteem’.

In my Sunday school days many decades ago, we sang a little song that went, ‘Jesus first, myself last, and others in between’. We would never teach our children to sing such self-negating tunes now. Why not? ‘Because you can’t love other people until first you love yourself.’ In this upside-down world of self-esteem it’s not the sin of pride that we take into the confessional, but the transgression of ‘not liking myself enough’.

No dissent

Hardly anybody disagrees with this now. It’s a no-brainer. Self-esteem ideology has gained acceptance among lawyers and academics, as well as politicians, educationalists and church leaders. In academic psychology it’s one of the most published topics in the whole of the psychological literature. What happened to bring this about? How did the self-esteem movement gain such a foothold in our lives?

The big fix

First, the self-esteem idea promised big. What started out with good intentions — to help a minority crushed by criticism to stop beating themselves up and take a more realistic view — became a one-size-fits-all solution for just about everybody. This didn’t just apply to bad feelings linked with a difficult and emotionally toxic childhood either. Self-esteem ideology made a land grab for the big questions of significance and personal ‘value’ too.

Everybody has questions about their value and significance. Since the beginning of time humans have puzzled over questions of where we figure in the grand scheme of things and what we are ‘worth’. The prophets of the Old Testament told us to ‘stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?’ (Isaiah 2.22). Even now, in the Higgs-boson era, issues of significance continue to haunt us. The self-esteem movement gripped our imagination because it engaged with this, the deepest and most profound problem of our lives, and it told us it could fix it.

Secondly, the self-esteem idea had experts. Oh yes, massed ranks of them. And the experts told us that promoting self-worth (or ‘boosterism’ as I prefer to call it) works. They convinced us that there was enough objective, scientific evidence about the terrible toll that low self-esteem wreaks in our lives to merit radical and far-reaching changes to the way we think. They said that, provided we recruit enough parents, teachers, Sunday school leaders and counsellors to the cause, bad self-esteem can be unlearned. And soon a vast army of self-help gurus, therapeutic educationalists and ‘cultural entrepreneurs’ stood ready to fill the breach.

Thirdly, when the self-esteem movement took off nearly half a century ago, it resonated perfectly with the emerging spirit of the age. After surfing the sexual revolution of the 1960s, self-esteem ideology thrived in the new humanisms of the 1970s and the materialistic orgies of the 1980s. Eventually, the primacy of self-admiration became the default cultural mode: If we want to love one another, first we have to learn to love ourselves — right? Who could disagree with that? And hey, hadn’t Jesus even said something about loving your neighbour as yourself? We overdosed on self-admiration and, as a result, the self-esteem movement gained a powerful foothold in the Western mind, and reshaped secular and Christian cultures alike.

The big con?

But did it work? It was only after decades of promoting self-esteem that academic psychologists got around to asking this, the most important question of all. What did they discover? Had the self-esteem movement delivered on its promises? Does encouraging people to value, love and honour themselves produce the kind of outcomes we all hoped for? And, for the Christian, what is the biblical perspective upon all of this?

Glynn Harrison is Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, University of Bristol, where he was a practising consultant psychiatrist and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry. He preaches locally and speaks on issues of faith and psychology, neuroscience and psychiatry.

This article is edited from The Big Ego-trip by Glynn Harrison, published by IVP in February 2013, and is used with permission.

 

(This article was first published in the March 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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Emancipating the world – Richard Pearcey’s foreword to the book


Emancipating the world

The post-9/11 international order finds itself in the grip of a global struggle ‘for the hearts and minds of people and the souls of nations’.

So writes author, speaker, teacher, and activist for the poor and hungry, Darrow Miller, in the vitally important new book, Emancipating the world: a Christian response to radical Islam and fundamentalist atheism.

The aggression launched on a fateful September day would blast into contemporary consciousness the knowledge that jihadists are waging what Miller describes as a ‘War from the East’. Islamic tyranny is spreading as ‘holy warriors’ fight to subjugate every tribe and nation to Islamic power by any means necessary, including the barrel of a gun, the edge of the sword, and the explosions of homicide bombers. If we take Islamists at their word, the use of nuclear devices and other weapons of mass destruction is far from unthinkable.

West in denial

One would expect that the Western nations, out of a sense of self-preservation, would rise up to defend themselves against this onslaught. But, alas, this has not been the case. Instead, we see halting, stumbling, and outright denial.

What is the reason for such a weak response? Miller explains that the ‘War from the East’ is being facilitated by a ‘War in the West’. Atheism and secularism have produced a moral anarchy that is eviscerating the West’s ability to rise up to meet even so basic a challenge as self-preservation.

Atheist ideologies have unleashed an assault on truth, goodness and beauty. Truth is reduced to subjectivity — whatever works for you at a particular moment. Goodness is dissolved into moral relativism — what is right for you may not be right for me. And beauty is lost in the banality and coarseness of the advertising and entertainment culture.

Suicidal vulnerability

Though this breakdown of Western culture is couched by the liberal and secularist PR machine in glowing terms of liberation, Miller is more clear-sighted: he diagnoses this internal breakdown as the source of the West’s suicidal vulnerability to external aggression.

Indeed, jihadist groups often justify their violence by pointing to the cultural and moral degradation in the West. Thus the two wars are united at a deep level.

What can be done? Can the West mount an effective resistance? Or has the struggle already reached a point of no return?

Christianity is the key

Darrow Miller argues that the situation is desperate but not hopeless. America and the West still possess the spiritual capital needed to meet the twin challenges of Islamic tyranny and morally debilitating secularism. The crucial question is whether the West will avail itself of these resources to combat, repulse and overcome this two-pronged assault on human freedom and dignity.

After diagnosing the problem, Miller deploys the second half of Emancipating the world to argue that a robust, authentic understanding of historic Christianity is key to winning both battles. This section of the book is dedicated to the proposition that the Christian community has an ongoing biblical calling to face precisely this kind of challenge, here and now in this life, instead of turning away to concentrate on a private spirituality while awaiting a future in heaven.

Commission and culture

That scriptural calling is expressed in the intrinsic connection between the known but much misunderstood ‘Great Commission’ (Matthew 28.18-20) and the neglected but foundational ‘Cultural Mandate’ (Genesis 1.28). The Cultural Mandate reminds us that human beings, created in the image of God, are called to exercise caring stewardship over the whole of creation. In other words, the command in Genesis 1.28 to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and ‘subdue’ the earth is not a simplistic call to reproduce and run the show. Rather, it communicates the Creator’s challenge to humanity to go forth into the world, exercising creativity to develop his creation in ways that demonstrate love and respect for the human race and nature.

Furthermore, this most basic and expansive of human tasks remains in effect, even though the world is now fallen and broken. The God-proclaimed goodness of creation has not been destroyed by evil.

And neither is life in this world to be disrespected as lacking ‘eternal value’ and therefore a meaningless waste of time when compared to ‘the things of God’. This devaluation smacks of ancient Greek culture, with its low regard for the material world and the physical body, unholistically viewed as a prison house of the soul from which one seeks to escape.

‘God thing’

In fact, this world and human life upon it, including existence in its material and physical aspects, are precisely ‘things of God’. To use the vernacular, they are a ‘God thing’. To act and think otherwise is to embrace not historic Christianity and not the Great Commission, but instead a subversion of Christianity devitalised by a kind of ‘Greek Commission’.

Evident in Emancipating the World is Miller’s incisive, grassroots understanding of worldviews, a product of years of hard-won experience in nations around the globe. He has witnessed personally the power of ideas to elevate and improve a society — or to enslave and impoverish. He has travelled, lectured and worked face-to-face with Africans and Haitians holding animist and voodoo worldviews, and with Muslims submitting to an Islamic worldview.

Love of neighbour

Miller has witnessed first-hand the way ideas shape not only how people think, but also the social and political institutions they create. His burden in Emancipating the World is to communicate the gospel’s humane and revolutionary power to create societies that foster liberty and prosperity. It is love of neighbour released into the fullness of creation, unbounded by privatised spiritualities or by inward-looking ecclesiastical applications.

‘True spirituality’, to use Francis Schaeffer’s phrase, covers the whole of life. Or, as Miller writes, life in community with our Father in heaven is a life in which humanity works and prays, farms and philosophises, loves and protects, so that his will is done … where? ‘On earth as it is in heaven.’

Unfortunately, Miller notes, some in the Christian community run too quickly past that first phrase, ‘on earth’. Yet the Creator calls his people to steward this creation and to love our neighbours in this present life, here and now, and not just in the life to come. To meet that call, each generation must address the real-world threats and questions that arise in their particular moment of history.

The church, therefore, as a living community of renewed humanity, has the potential to become nothing less than a training ground to educate and equip frontline responders to act effectively and concretely in the present struggle on both fronts of the two wars. As a matter of humanity, as a matter of love, as a matter of neighbourliness, secularists and jihadists should be challenged here, today, this moment, ‘on earth’.

The resistance stems not from a rebranded paganism (autonomous licentiousness or the secularised state) or from a soft-focus religiosity (you have your private ‘truth’, I have my private ‘Jesus’). The pushback, instead, emerges from the self-sacrificing love and wisdom of human beings who embrace a public and verifiable Christ who defeated hatred and death in space and time.

In the course of human history, truth can be won but truth can also be lost. Civilisations rise and fall. But whatever the present condition of a particular society, newness of life for the individual and for a people is ever at the door.

But none of this will occur without an effective cause. For, in this world, freedom is axiomatic but never automatic. A key is needed to activate the givens embedded in God’s good creation. Fortunately for the poor and the hungry, for the rich and the bored, and those strong in power but weak in love, meaning, and humanness, the freedom narrative for man has always been an eternal imperative from God.

Rediscovery

It is encouraging to imagine what a nation or a people might look like if they took seriously the lessons of this book and applied them to their daily lives, corporate structures, mission works and public institutions. This we know: the West would begin rediscovering its ultimate rationale for a free and humane way of life. As for advocates of Islamist tyranny and atheistic fundamentalism, they might not know what had hit them at first. But their bewilderment would likely last for only a little while. It is impossible to contain really Good News.

This article is an edited version of J. Richard Pearcey’s foreword to the book Emancipating the World: A Christian Response to Radical Islam and Fundamentalist Atheism by Darrow L. Miller (YWAM Publishing, ISBN 978 1 576 587 164).

J. Richard Pearcey is editor of The Pearcey Report (http://www.pearceyreport.com) and the blog Pro-Existence, and is on the faculty of Rivendell Sanctuary.

(This article was first published in the November 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

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‘Three years at war’


Three years at war

An abridged excerpt, in which Josh Fortune tells of God’s encouraging presence with him as a soldier in Afghanistan.

Dirt kicks up around us, bark splinters, leaves get hit and fall lazily onto us. So this is what it is like to be under a withering hail of bullets, I think to myself. We are lying flat on the ground. An Afghan soldier several metres away from me has thrown away his weapon, and is lying like a starfish, not even wanting to lift his head.

A bullet hits a patch of earth to my right and sends up a puff of dust. Sinister cracks and snaps have become our world. It is absolutely terrifying. A British soldier to my left swears loudly as a bullet whizzes just above his head. Despite the situation, we laugh. It’s unreal. BOOM! A rocket-propelled grenade is fired, but thankfully misses. A message comes over the radio, two words that nobody in any army ever wants to hear. Man down.

‘Get up and run’
Somebody — we aren’t sure who — in one of the lead sections has been hit. He is in a critical condition, and will die if he is not rescued. We are the reserve section, the casualty evacuation section. We have to move. The platoon commander tells us that we have to go. There are blank looks of fear from both Afghan and British soldiers. We have just been hugging the ground, praying for our lives, and now we have to get up and run through the bullet-infested air. I am shaking, but I resolve not to be the one who refuses to move — I am a cameraman, and for me to delay the efforts to save a wounded man would be unforgivable. Lord, I pray in my head, I ask that you watch over me now and, if I am to die, please can it be as painless as possible.

‘Go!’ It’s time to get up. My arms and legs scream at me as I force them to make me stand. We begin to run across a boggy field. Taliban fire comes in. CRACK! CRACK!

Words to Joshua
I am absolutely terrified. I pray as I run, while pushing the Afghan soldier who is stumbling in front of me, his strength flagging. In my mind, God’s words to Joshua — the man I was named for — in the Bible suddenly come to me: ‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go’ (Joshua 1.9).


I know that God has ordained that I am here, in this moment, running toward the casualty with the soldiers. I know that he is completely and utterly in control of this situation. Despite my fear, I feel peace wash over me; I know that he is with me. I repeat his words to Joshua over and over as I run through the bog and the grass.

Not a pleasant sight
An orange smoke grenade bursts about 50 metres away, marking the location of the casualty. We are heaving with exhaustion, numb-legged, and the last few steps drag on and on. What we arrive at is not a pleasant sight. I immediately turn my camera off — now is not the time to gather footage. He has been shot in the face. The bullet has sliced through jaw and cheek, and emerged on the other side. His tongue, wet with dark blood, is hanging out, touching his ear. I never realised that tongues could be that long. His face has a pale green tinge to it. The medic, a young blonde Navy girl called Kate, frantically works on him, inserting a breathing tube into his nose. His mouth is too clogged with blood and ragged flesh for him to breathe unaided. We load him onto the stretcher, where Kate will have to tend to him as we run.

Chinook run
We pick up the stretcher: the wounded man is heavy with bulky gear. We sink deeper into the mud. ‘Go! Go! Go!’ the commander shouts, and we pound forward as fast as we can. I have never known physical exertion like it — none of the brutal Para selection tests from my former army days even come close to this level of agony. Hands burn, legs shake, breath is ragged. The soldiers shout at each other to keep going. They shout to the injured man — who I find out is called Jon — to hang on, telling him he will be OK. I wonder if they actually believe what they are saying. To me, it looks like he is going to die. We run, and we run, and we run. Angry, panicked voices berate any who don’t put every ounce of effort into getting Jon out of there. A British medical Chinook is on its way, and we don’t want to keep it waiting with the Taliban around.

Protect the casualty
After what seems like three hours of running — although it’s probably only about 20 minutes or so — we finally reach the makeshift landing site, that other soldiers have secured. The ‘whump-whump-whump’ of the Chinook descends to surround us. ‘Cover the casualty!’ someone screams, as the heat, grass, and dust kicked up by the Chinook thrash at our faces. We throw ourselves over and around Jon, protecting his open wounds from the cloying dust. Once it has settled, we pick him up and run him over to the Chinook. The medics take him and, within an instant, he is gone.

‘Thank you, Lord’
Silence. Birds sing. Crickets chirp. I sink to the floor and rub the sweat from my face. Soldiers begin to check that everyone is OK. We drink water, lots of water. I wring the wet filth of the stream from my socks, and feel at a complete loss for what to say. I have never experienced anything remotely like this afternoon in my life. Everybody is congratulating Kate: she ran across an open field, under fire, to save Jon with no regard whatsoever for her safety. Several soldiers thank me for helping when, as a media guy, I could have just sat there and not got involved. I thank God for giving me the strength to volunteer myself. That night, we receive reports from Camp Bastion that Jon is going to live. I lie in the dust on my camp bed and watch the moon. Tears fill my eyes. ‘Thank you, Lord.’

Beginning to doubt
One year later, things have changed. I have now been in Afghanistan for two years, and my morale is low. I have fallen in love with the daughter of the pastor of our church back home. I have one more year to push out here. We are on the eve of one of the largest operations in history. The next morning, we will be airlifted into hostile territory and seek to secure it from Taliban influence. This could get bad. Despite the fact that God has kept me for the last two years, and brought me to a greater faith in him, I am beginning to doubt. Now that I am in love — and have so much to lose — I am beginning to believe that I will end up as one of those tragic stories of young love cut short. How do I know that I can trust God? What if his plan for me is to die in the next few days?

Dog tag encouragement
A British soldier, who is part of the company that I am attached to, walks up to me before bedtime. ‘Hey Josh’, he says, pressing a small metal dog tag into my hand, ‘I think this is yours, it has your name on it, mate.’ I frown slightly, I haven’t lost my identity tags — they are still firmly around my neck. I turn over the tag that he has given me, and I am lost for words. I can see why he thought it was mine; it has the word ‘Joshua’ written on it. It is a quotation from the Bible book of Joshua, the same verses that I repeated to myself over and over as I ran to help save Jon a year ago: ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go’.

Wow! There is no way that this can be chance. A soldier who I barely know, walking over to me and giving me this dog tag because — for all he knew — it belonged to me. These words from the Bible, God’s promise coming at precisely this moment, when I needed it.

The reminder that I shouldn’t be afraid, because he will be with me wherever I go. Whether I will die in the next few days, or live to enjoy a long, happy life with Danielle is no longer so pressing. My God is with me, and whatever happens, I am going to trust in him.

This is an abridged excerpt from Three Years at War by Josh Fortune, published by Day One (224 pages, £5.00, ISBN 978 1 846 253 720, http://www.dayone.co.uk).

Josh Fortune now lives in London with his wife Danielle and their son Jacob. He helps run a youth group at his church and also preaches regularly.

This article was first published in the December 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057


‘Below me, the clouds’


Old School Christianity

One dark, blacked-out evening early in 1945, when returning from an evening service, I overheard my brother Harold quietly speaking to mother.

She was distressed at seeing her eldest son, Fred, go to Malaya as a soldier. Harold himself would soon be joining the army. She was naturally afraid that she might lose both sons in the war. He spoke to her gently of death as a gateway into ‘the Lord’s presence’ and not the end of life.

Jesus makes a difference

All this reminded me of what Fred himself had said to me the day before he left for Malaya. I had been sobbing about his imminent departure and was half way up the stairs to have a good cry on my bed when I met him coming down. He sat me down on the stairway, put his arm around me and told me about Jesus and the difference he made to living and dying. I cannot honestly say that Fred’s comforting words meant anything to me at the time, but Harold’s subsequent chat with Mum prompted my memory and made me think.

When I went to bed that night I prayed that, if God could be so real to my brothers, would he please make himself real to me in a way that I could understand.

Some three or four weeks passed and, typical of a nine-year-old boy, I forgot all about my prayer until one day I was surprised to find I was no longer fearful of the air raids!

War over

On May 8 1945, the war in Europe came to its end and the whole country rejoiced. Our family contributed its own celebrations to the night of victory by leaning out of the front bedroom windows (glass now intact) and blowing ‘V’ in the Morse code on wardens’ whistles! We also began the ‘ceremony of the colours’ by hoisting a Union Jack above our porch every day and ‘striking’ it every evening.

No more air raids! Life was incredible! Day and night followed day and night without death’s shadow hovering over us. We were able to sleep all night, every night, in our own beds! We were free!

However, the war in Japan was still raging and Fred was out there in Malaya. He was away from home for four years. Then, on August 15 1945, Japan surrendered following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fred’s only task now was to guard Japanese prisoners. Soon Fred was on his way home.

A source of light and warmth had pervaded my life which was to brighten in intensity over my future years: the Lord Jesus Christ had revealed himself to me in a way that I could understand. I now knew for myself the source of my brothers’ peace and serenity.

Lunch-time meetings

Soon after my arrival at the Purley Grammar School I had made contact with four other Christian boys. We met every lunch-time for 15 minutes in the store cupboard where the French text books were kept. It was private and quiet. We prayed that the Lord would teach us to pray in a manner that would glorify him. We found ourselves praying for individual boys by name: particularly for those with whom we naturally rubbed shoulders during the day. We prayed for those we travelled to school with on the bus; those we sat next to in the various classes; those we ate with at lunch, and so forth. One of those who joined us in the French store cupboard was John Murray: young brother to Christine and Pamela who attended the Sanderstead Kindergarten and Junior School with me. Another was John Balchin. More of him later.

Soon we could not all get into the French store cupboard, so we asked permission to form a school Christian Union and move into a classroom. Subsequently we grew out of the classroom and took over the school library. In my final year at school we frequently met in the gymnasium in order to accommodate those attending!

Like revival

I have never seen anything more like a revival. It happened over five years and there were periods when boys were acknowledging Christ as their Lord and Saviour every day of the week.

On one occasion a Mr. Will Smart visited the Croydon area. He was an evangelist with the National Young Life Campaign and an ex-bomber pilot in the Royal Air Force holding the rank of Squadron Leader. Permission was given for me to invite him to speak to the school squadron of the Air Training Corps. As a result of his talk a number of cadets asked him very significant questions and requested he be asked to come again. Just a week later he was invited to speak to the Christian Union. I met Mr. Smart off the bus and was walking with him up the path to the school entrance when he abruptly stopped. In a very quiet voice he said: ‘The Lord is here. He is going to do a mighty work in this school’.

I have recently found a typewritten account of those remarkable days in the back of my Pupil’s Report Book: ‘Every lad who professed to have accepted Christ as Saviour has been given a Next Step (G.C. Robinson) booklet, a sample of the Scripture Union Key Notes [and the book In Understanding Be Men by T.C. Hammond].

‘The Christian Union had been praying for Mr. Smart’s visit for some time but during the preceding week had met for prayer every dinner hour and for half an hour after school each day.

‘On Friday November 6 Mr. Smart spoke at the junior and senior Christian Union meetings at 12.30 and 1.00 pm respectively. The total number who heard God’s message that day were 140 plus. Mr. Smart visited the school each lunch hour from Tuesday to Friday (during the following week) and addressed the junior and senior meetings, the combined attendance (on each day) averaging 80 boys. Four masters also attended these meetings and two made profession of faith to Mr. Smart.

Follow-up

‘With the mission over, the Christian Union has continued its prayer meetings at 1.00 pm on Mondays and for 20 minutes after school each day. Average attendance at the Monday prayer meeting has been 35.

‘On the Friday that the mission ended we held our combined meeting with our sisters from Stoneyfield (the Purley Girls’ Grammar School) in St. John’s Church. What a crowd there was and what a thrill to see such a number of lads, some only three hours old as Christians, singing so thoughtfully and thankfully to the one who they now knew as their Saviour!

‘Now the work of following up each and every individual has begun and so we need your prayers! It is a task fitting up the lads with Bible classes and churches, but arrangements are being made and all is working out slowly and surely.

Results

‘The real results of this mission can be seen in the faces, lives and quality of work of more than 50 boys in our school. To God be the glory, great things he has done!’

Over the intervening years I have lost touch with the majority of the boys who were Christian Union members, but I know that John Lewer became a physiotherapist in the Royal Air Force with the rank of Chief Technician, Kester Carruthers entered the Church of England ministry and subsequently became an army chaplain of senior rank, as did John Murray following his initial ministry in the Baptist church. John Balchin, after ordination in the Baptist ministry, got his doctorate and became a lecturer at the London Bible College. Prior to retirement he was minister at the Above Bar Church in Southampton and before that at Purley Baptist Church which he had attended as a boy. John Pink became a Wing Commander in the Royal Air Force, Roger Tyler went to teacher training college and returned to the staff of the Purley Grammar School where he supervised the Christian Union. Peter Wortley became a Baptist minister, as did Jim Baker who was minister at Stroud and has now retired there.

This article is an extract from Below Me, the Clouds by Ron Collard (Onwards and Upwards Publishers, ISBN 978 1 907 509 315, £13.99), and is used with permission.

This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057


Fearless love: Astounding Stories of God’s Intervention in Islamic Africa


No one comes to know Jesus except by God’s own hand. This is nowhere more evident than where believers are persecuted for their faith.

When he calls people, he gives them the faith to stand their ground, and fulfils his purpose in them.

Fatima grew up in a rural region dominated by savannah and a hot semi-arid climate, close to one of Africa’s strongest Islamic cities with a population of about ten million. In recent years, other Islamic nations have financed this city to make it a stronghold of an expanding Islamic influence on the continent.

Fatima helped her family by farming groundnuts and fetching water from the wells, and joined in annual Ramadan festivals, celebrating the original revelation of the Qur’an, and the Qurbani Eid (or Eid Al-Adha), commemorating ‘Abraham’s offering of Ishmael on the mount’. She watched as several village leaders were sponsored in different years and flown to Mecca for the annual hajj. Her region considered itself the strongest and purest Islamic region south of the Sahara, and deviations from the faith brought swift punishment.

Saved and rejected

25 years ago, when Fatima was married, she was asleep in her home when a man dressed in white appeared to her. He said: ‘I am Isa [Jesus]. I bring you truth’. She woke up the next day a new person. Her husband recognised it immediately, and threw her out of the house. Her instantaneous rejection was a great shock, but she could not go back and deny the truth. The villagers also said she must leave. She walked alone down the long hot dirt track to reach the main road to the city. The Lord comforted her and said he was sending a woman to look after her.

When she reached the tarmac road, she spotted a car pulled up by the roadside. The driver, a Christian woman, was having engine trouble. Fatima stopped to help and together they got the car started. Before this driver had set out that day the Lord had spoken to her, telling her he was sending a lady she would look after. She knew Fatima was that person and asked her if she needed a lift — quite a risk for a Christian to take unless they know it is from the Lord! So, on the first day of her new faith, Fatima was on her way to a nearby Islamic city to live with her new friend. The lady discipled her and Fatima spent a year in her home, learning the Scriptures.

Return to her village

This wonderful mentoring period was not to last. At the end of that year, an attack against Christians broke out and Fatima’s friend was among over 2,000 people murdered. However, she had sown seed into Fatima’s life that would bear much fruit. Her faith strong, Fatima returned home to her village, hoping she could spread the gospel.

Although the village community allowed her to stay, she was not reunited with her husband. For ten months she was persecuted for her faith, from beatings to being denied basic rights, such as permission to buy or rent land for farming, access to the village wells, or food beyond that which sustained her life. She grew weak under the persecution and considered renouncing Jesus.

She prayed, ‘Lord, this is not helping anyone. No one is being saved. It would spare me a lot of trouble to say I do not believe in you any more’. But the Lord answered, telling her that he had a purpose, and that she should be patient a little longer.

Asked to pray

Two months later, something happened that turned things around. One of the young women in the village had been chronically ill for a long time with an unknown disease; there was no doctor to diagnose the illness and no cure for her ailment. No treatment available helped her. The villagers called in the traditional healers, the old women with knowledge of herbs and the witchdoctors, but they could do nothing. The Islamic clerics came to pray, but this did no good.

Fatima heard the people of the village talking: ‘We will ask Fatima to pray and see if that helps’. She did not want anything to do with this — she was in enough trouble already, and if the lady was not healed when she prayed, things would get even worse for her. But the elders insisted. So Fatima went to the young woman and prayed that the Lord would heal her, in Jesus’s name. Ten minutes later, the woman, who had been bedridden for months, was up and cooking food for the people of her house. That day 64 people in the village became Christians. Fatima’s former husband was not among them. She has remained unmarried since she met Jesus.

People were being saved in nearby villages. Not all of Fatima’s disciples are open worshippers; some come at night and meet outside the villages for Bible studies.

A visit to Fatima

30 churches have now been started in this Islamic district, all overseen by this strong woman. (We know several women whom God has saved and is using to boldly spread the gospel where angels and men would fear to tread! They have kind hearts, but they are also resolute for the truth and immoveable.)

We paid Fatima a visit. En route to the village, we passed through towns where the atmosphere of aggression sent shivers up our spines as Muslims glared in our direction. A simple roadblock on our way out would easily allow them to seize our small party. But we put that out of our minds as we continued on the road which haphazardly meandered through village after village.

The anger displayed towards us seemed at harsh variance with the neat, beautiful environment. The contrast of colours made a striking setting: the tawny mud-brick huts with their thatched roofs, the lush green of the maize crops by the dusty road … Many of the villagers carried farming tools, or balanced firewood or bundles of yams on their heads, all modestly dressed in brightly-coloured flowing African clothing, the women with headscarves and the men with soft fez caps. But joy was absent from their faces, and the reality of their harsh lives was never far from our minds.

In each village we saw a mud-brick complex with a corrugated iron roof and a large cross of unfinished wood on the side of the building. These were the church meeting places that Fatima was overseeing. Her boldness and courage was (and is) highly admirable. At any time there could be an attack against this growing Christian community.

As foreign visitors, we were not in as much danger as the people there. If there was to be a negative reaction against our brief stay, it would most likely be directed at Fatima’s church after we had left, yet they were eagerly awaiting our arrival. (Indeed, the Bible college’s partnership with Fatima may help the gospel spread even more. People are impressed that international visitors come to see the Christians in their villages.)

The gathered congregation were singing when we arrived in Fatima’s home village, where an interpreter, an architect who supports her ministry, had driven for three hours to be there to help with the meeting. Some churches that are keen on missions support village pastors with motorcycles, or pay them a small wage to enable them to establish and maintain churches in outlying places. Fatima is known and respected by a few churches far off that help her in this way, assisting pastors serving in the churches she has established. During our visit we spoke to the congregation, and before leaving promised to do what we could to support the work.

This article is an extract from Fearless Love: Astounding Stories of God’s Intervention in Islamic Africa by James Andrews with Emma Newrick, published by Authentic Media (ISBN 978 1 850 789 826, £8.99), and is used with permission.


Hit by friendly fire: What to do when fellow believers hurt you


I once sold insurance door-to-door in low-income areas of Louisiana.

One of my clients was a poor family who lived in a run-down part of town. Every month I would meet them in their home to collect their insurance money. Afterwards, we would sit and talk. One day I noticed that the clock was wrong. It said nine o’clock when, in fact, it was noon. Finally, I mentioned it to the husband and wife. Tears came to their eyes. ‘That was the moment our boy died ten years ago’, the husband whispered as he held his sobbing wife. I looked away at the clock once again, and understood. The clock had stopped in their lives at the moment they lost their boy.

Stopping the clock

The pain of friendly fire can stop the clock. When wounded by a friend in our own house, it is hard to go on. There is no pain like it. This happens to Christians who are hurt by other Christians and who fail to identify their pain with Christ. The clock stops. They go through life, month after month, year after year, and often church after church, but in many cases the clock stopped in their lives years ago, when they were hurt. They were disillusioned. They were heartbroken. They would never be the same again.

How many reading these words are living their lives with the ‘clock stopped’?

Victimhood

Today victimhood seems to be an accepted way of living. As a gospel minister, I see walking-wounded victims of abuse, of scandal, of failed marriages and of unhappy childhoods. I can also feel a sense of being wounded, a tendency towards victimhood, in my own being. It is part of the fallen condition of our humanity.

However, living as a victim is not living at all, because life cannot go forward when the clock has stopped at the point of our last betrayal. God did not intend that you should live as a victim. That is not the gospel way. Victimhood in the body of Christ may be normal (for who goes through life without some chinks in their armour?), but taking on the identity of a victim and living like that for years is not the gospel way. Now, I do not propose a moralistic answer that just says, ‘Shape up; stiff upper lip. Chop, chop. Get up and get on with it’. Neither is that sort of unbiblical Stoicism, which denies the human pain that we all may feel, a pathway to healing, but, rather, it is a formula for a more complicated disease of the soul.

The way of the gospel

There is another way: the gospel way, the way of the cross, which will lead to deep healing for this abysmal lesion in the body of Christ, the church. But I warn you, it will involve another kind of pain — the pain of Christ’s cross. However, Christ’s cross will bring resurrection, and the new life he brings will also make the clock start ticking again.

In the gospel story, revealed over time from Joseph through Paul and down to your life and mine, the person or situation that seeks to destroy us becomes a channel through which the hands of a sovereign and loving God can reach to save us. This is the gospel. This is the preaching of the cross, where the ‘emblem of suffering and shame’ became the sacred sign of victory and new life. Embracing this pattern of living, admittedly contra mundum — against the wisdom of this world — leads from victimhood to victory. But it is not an easy road. It is, however, the only road to healing.

Joseph, Moses and Paul

Turning to the Old Testament, this is what we perceive in Joseph’s capacity to forgive his brothers after they literally ‘ditched’ him (and Joseph’s boastful preaching about his dream of superiority over his brothers is understood to be connected to this retribution, however unjust). Wisely, Joseph identified his pain with God. In God’s purposes, the pain was intended to bring about a blessing. Being hurt by his brothers made sense. The pain of false accusation made sense. The trial of unjust imprisonment was good. The years of separation from his father were good for him. He was saying with Moses: ‘Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil’ (Psalm 90.15).

The power at work in the life of Joseph is what you need in order to get past this hurt. It is the power that was present in Paul when he said: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2.20).

In Philippians, Paul embraces the pain that comes at him as other Christians seem glad that he is in prison and, in so doing, identifies with Jesus Christ. This allows Paul to move from being victim to victor.

From victim to victor

Isn’t that what you want for your life? Isn’t that what you desire for your church, which today, as you read this, may be fractured from the pain of infighting and rips and tears in the bridal gown of the church? There is hope here in God’s Word, and there is healing for the walking wounded.

What I shared with hurt people that I have met with in the past is the same message that I want to share with you today as though I were your pastor. For believers hurt by other believers, for loved ones hurt by other loved ones, for anyone feeling like a victim of another person, or maybe just feeling betrayed by life, you can move from being victim to victor and deal with the pain of betrayal or suffering by taking three severe steps.

We see these steps being taken by Paul, who is in prison as a result of the plotting of his own people (Philippians 3.10-11) and by Joseph, who was mistreated by his own brothers (Genesis 50.19-20).

We also see the goal before us who are the wounded: ‘That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead’ (Philippians 3.10-11).

Let us now begin our journey to explore these crucial steps that the Holy Spirit will show us…

A prayer

‘O my Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who knew loneliness and betrayal and heartache on the cross, teach me to bring my questions to you. Help me now to sit at your feet and learn the way of peace. Help me to appropriate the gospel of your grace to my life. Help me.’

This is an edited chapter from the book Hit by friendly fire: What to do when fellow believers hurt you by Michael A. Milton, published by Evangelical Press (£4.99, ISBN 978 0 852 347 768), and is used with permission.


Minister’s wife


Julia Jones, of Bethel Church Liverpool, steers us through the pressures.

I have been known to say to my husband, ‘Couldn’t you get an ordinary job that you could leave at the office?’ Every job has its pressures. But the pressures of ministry life may come as a shock to those new to ministry. To the uninitiated what I share here will say, ‘These are the kind of things you can expect to handle’, and to the experienced it will say, ‘You are not alone’ and ‘It is not just you’.

Self-induced pressures

• The desire to please
This well-meaning instinct is overdeveloped in some of us and can land us in trouble. Especially when you are in a new pastoral situation, you will want to win people. This makes you tend to say ‘yes’ to all kinds of requests. Of course, it is excellent to help out where we can. But set your own reasonable boundaries, even write your own job description according to your current responsibilities and gifts, and learn to say ‘no’ in the gentlest and most encouraging way you can. We must not confuse serving people with pleasing people.

• The pressure to be perfect
Some ministry wives are keen to set an example. They therefore feel that their homes, their cooking and their children should be perfect. This is seriously bad news for your children. But it is also bad because of its impact on the church. Suppose someone achieved perfection in any of those areas. Would anyone ask parenting advice, for example, of the parent whose children have never seemingly misbehaved, who are wonderfully well-balanced and who know no grades below A* and no sporting achievement below a gold medal? I think not.

• Church obsession
Ask yourself this question: ‘What do I do that is not related to church?’ As ministry wives it is easy to completely narrow our focus to church. It becomes our whole world. No wonder then that little ripples of discontent threaten to engulf us. Those ministry wives who have some kind of external employment are less likely to encounter this pressure, but those who do not might do well to explore opportunities and outlets just to be members of the human race. I decided to become a rep for a well-known cosmetics firm in a few local streets. It only takes a few hours a week, but it is a great way to get to know the locals. Avoiding the pressure to be church-obsessed will help us to serve the Lord and his church better.

•The need to succeed
Whatever the size or state of the church, we are looking for growth: numerical growth by conversion and spiritual growth as members mature in Christ. Sometimes that growth can be painfully slow. Sometimes it can seem non-existent. That is when we start to beat ourselves up. Of course there may be some useful evaluating of the way things are done. But there is no formula for success in the ministry. The work of God is frequently hidden and rarely dramatic.

Circumstantial pressures

• End of weekending
If you were in some other kind of employment before the ministry, you might just start to remember weekends as they used to be: that Friday night ‘schools-out’ feeling when you throw off your work clothes and get ready to play. Other people in the congregation will go away for the weekend and, as a pastor’s wife, you will start to notice just how often that is. Meanwhile you remain at your post or in your pew. It is fine, but the realisation that you have to be there can hit you quite hard.

• The unspecified hours
Most pastors have no idea what hours they work, and when they have finished, of course they haven’t. There is always a bit more they could do. This can leave a wife wondering when, if ever, she has a right to a piece of her husband. ‘He is doing the Lord’s work’, she tells herself, and this, she unscripturally reasons, makes him kind of off-limits in terms of family demands. On the other hand, if he happily takes an afternoon off to help her with the shopping or the children, sometimes it is she who feels vaguely worried that he is not doing enough.

• The smaller income
There is a vast variation between the salaries of ministers, but most are paid less than their various qualifications would earn them in secular life. I remember when we went to our first church, we accepted the call before we found out what we were going to be paid — we thought we were being spiritual. However, having worked out the minimum we could survive on, we discovered that the salary was a couple of thousand pounds short. The only way forward was to be honest and explain our predicament; the church met us halfway, but it was still a struggle.

• The tied cottage
You may have been in the happy position of owning your own property before you entered ministerial life. But if not it can be difficult to live in church property. You will find that other members of the congregation are better acquainted with the house than you are. Such talk may make you feel that this is not your own home. Practically, it is important to understand the ground rules of the arrangement before you move in. Who is responsible for what? If you and your family are to make this house your home, not just a church annexe, you must not only understand the ground rules, you must accentuate the positives to yourself and to your children.

• The claims of fame
As a ministry wife you will not enjoy anonymity; you will be categorised by the congregation as ‘the wife’. In your neighbourhood, once people find out, you will be ‘the minister’s wife’, with all the misconceptions and expectations these bring, you will not escape notice: not your clothes, nor your shopping habits, nor your children. Interpersonal pressures

• Your husband
You are the only church member who goes to bed with the pastor. You are the only one who sees him at breakfast; you see him in grumpy mode as well as when he is at prayer. This is the man you love, but this is also a sinner. He is not as good a pastor as either he or you would like him to be. Resist the temptation to tell him what to preach on or how to spend his day.

• Church members
When I was a teacher and we had a staff training day, we would often joke that school was a great place without the children. Sadly, sometimes we can also feel the same about church. Thankfully, it is not usually all the people. Most are delightful — winsome, supportive and hard-working. But there are some identifiable types in most churches: the fault-finder, the unreliable, the demanding, the unlovely; these are just a few of those you will encounter after every Sunday service. It can be, to say the least, a strain. How do we handle all of this? The simple answer is that we must dress properly for church. ‘Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience’ (Colossians 3.12).

• Loneliness
The pastor’s wife can be the loneliest woman in the church. Because you don’t have weekends, the opportunities to meet up with close friends or family who live elsewhere may be rare. Perhaps your husband’s position sets you apart in the church and in the community, so that you are never quite one of the gang. Some ministry wives will say that it is either impossible or inadvisable for a pastor’s wife to have friends in the church. Such a mantra may be the bitter fruit of painful experience. I sympathise, but it still does not sound right to me. Jesus called his disciples ‘friends’ ( John 15.15). Who do we think we are? In any relationship worth having there is always a risk of being hurt. But we all need friends and are all called to be friends. Perhaps via inter-church networks you can meet up with other ministry wives formally or informally. These are great opportunities for honest sharing and the relieving of some of the pressure. We need others to make us laugh at ourselves, lest we take ourselves too seriously. So these are the pressures. Like them or loathe them, we must learn to live with them. And pray for grace to do so cheerfully.

This article is a heavily condensed chapter from The Minister’s Wife (edited by Ann Benton, recently published by IVP, RRP £8.99, ISBN 978 1 844 745 562), and is used with permission.