Wednesday, 29 March 2017


This afternoon I met Mr Rowland Todd, an elderly, ninety five year old gentleman, from the Shankill Road, giving out Christian booklets in High Street, Holywood. The booklet he gave me was: 'Heaven- Home of many Mansions' , written by another Belfast man, the late Ernest Allen- an evangelist I had met over thirty years ago. Today I was privileged to hear a little of Mr Todd's story. He described to me how, at the tender age of fourteen, he had been arrested and sent to Borstal for three years, then on his release in 1940, he immediately joined up to fight for king and country in the Second World War. When the war ended he got married and in 1952 he gave his life to the Lord shortly after seeing the text on a Brethren church notice board, which read: 'Prepare to meet your God'. He told me that when he saw it, he said to himself: I survived the war and now God is going to take me. With the help of his wife he asked God to save his soul and make him a follower of Christ. Later he went on to become a Pentecostal pastor on the Shankill Road in Belfast. Though retired from being a Pastor many years ago,at ninety five years old, he still tramps the streets giving out tracts and proclaiming the love of Christ to lost sinners. I salute such a man who, to use his own words, would consider himself a deserter if he were to stop going out into the highways and byways. In our short conversation he often referred to the Lord as the Captain of his salvation.The testimony of this old Christian soldier reminded me of the hymn of Charles Wesley which very obviously typifies his life.
1.A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
2.To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
Oh, may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!
3.Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!
4.Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
Assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall forever die.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017


I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet 'well done' in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Frank Laubach’s Inner Journey by Nakin Lenti

Frank Laubach (1884-1970) was a Christian mystic who believed that practicing the presence of God would do more good for humanity than political sand diplomatic schemes devoid of God.
Laubach devised a remarkably effective adult literacy program known as, “Each One Teach One.” However, his primary aims were always spiritual — to live his life in a moment to moment relationship with God, and to inspire others to do the same.

“A university man’s religion”

Swami Kriyananda tells us that there was nothing in Laubach’s religious training to suggest that an inner world of divine realization existed. Kriyananda writes that “it was divinely natural and right for him, in the context of his own spiritual development, to turn his perceptions outward.”
Laubach’s own words support Kriyananda’s perception. Writing about his life before 1930, he describes himself as having a “the university man’s religion:”
I believed that Jesus was probably the best man who had ever lived. But that memory of Jesus lacked power.
Then I had a personal experience of Christ in Mindanao, Philippine Islands, which left me sure that he not only lives, but lives in my heart. When he entered my heart, he brought to me a tender compassion for the multitudes which has been the driving power of my life ever since.
Laubach grew up in Pennsylvania, in a fundamentalist Christian environment, the son of a prosperous dentist. His interest in religion began at a young age and by early adolescence, he had discovered, in the town library, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, a devotional classic on prayer and contemplation.
At age 16, Laubach decided to make the ministry his life’s work. He graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1913, and received a PhD from Columbia University in 1915. It was during his seminary years that he became acquainted with Brother Lawrence’s book, The Practice of the Presence of God.

A long standing ambition

After being ordained a minister of the Congregational Church, Laubach felt a calling for missionary work and volunteered to serve in the Philippines. He intended to work with the Moros (Moslems) on the southern coast of the island of Mindanao, one of the few areas that had not been Christianized.
However, within a few weeks of arriving in the Moro city of Dansalan in the province of Lanao, Laubach and his wife were forced to leave. The United States Army, which controlled the area, considered the Moros much too hostile to Christians.
The Laubachs settled on the northwest coast of Mindanao where they did missionary work. In 1922 they moved to Manila where Frank Laubach served as a pastor of an interdenominational church and helped establish Union Theological Seminary. But his longstanding ambition was to bring Christianity to the Moros.

An atmosphere of tension and suspicion

After fifteen years, hostilities among the Moros subsided and Laubach immediately made plans to return to Lanao. For the time being, his wife and family were to remain in Manila.
Unsuspectingly, Laubach walked into an atmosphere of tension and suspicion. Some of the Filipino Christian teachers who had previously come to Dansalan had violated local customs. Several of the teachers were killed and at least fifty of their schools burned down.
Laubach encountered hostility and indifference everywhere he went. After a month, he had to acknowledge to himself that he was beaten.

God speaks to him

Laubach was not only discouraged over his inability to win over the Moros. He was also profoundly dissatisfied with his spiritual life. Recalling the books by Thomas a Kempis and Brother Lawrence he had read years before, he realized that he was still not living his days “in a minute by minute effort to follow God’s will.”
Determined to keep the constant presence of God, he prayed with renewed fervor and asked, “What, Father, do you desire done? What, Father, do you desire done this minute?”
Each evening at sunset he climbed Signal Hill, a twenty-minute walk from his house. There, overlooking the lakes, mountains and the distant sea, he often prayed aloud and listened with all his soul for an answer. One evening, in the depths of despair, his lips began to move; it seemed that God was speaking to him through his own voice.
“My child,” the voice said, “you have failed because you do not really love these Moros. You feel superior to them because you are white. If you can forget you are an American, and think only how I love them, they will respond.”
Laubach answered, “It is the truth, God. Drive me out of myself. Come and take possession of me and think Thy thoughts in my mind.”
And the voice said again through his own lips, “If you want the Moros to be fair to your religion, be fair to theirs. Study the Koran with them.”

Learning from the Moro priests

The next day Laubach went to the Moro priests and told them that he wanted to study the Koran. They responded eagerly, thinking he wanted to become a Moslem.
They brought with them a list of the four holy books of Islam — the Torah (the laws of Moses); the Zabur (the Psalms of David); the Kitab Injil (the gospel of Jesus Christ); and the Koran of Mohammed. *
Laubach explained as well as he could in their language, “From childhood I have studied the first three books on your list.” Partly in English, partly in the Moro tongue, the priests talked of Jesus as the holiest prophet after Mohammed.
Having finally established a bridge with the Moros, Laubach was now ready to tackle the problem of illiteracy, which to him was an essential first step before talking to them of religion. His first project was to create a dictionary of  “Maranaw,” the Moro language. A printing press and a building for a school soon followed.
The Moro priests and a group of young Moros often expressed their gratitude: “You are the first who has ever tried to appreciate us,” they insisted.

Meeting God face to face

Not only was Laubach’s work showing outward results, his spiritual experiment was also bearing fruit. He wrote: “Now I like God’s presence so much that when He slips out of my mind — as He does many times a day — I feel as though I had deserted Him and lost something very precious in my life.”
In letters to friends and relatives, Laubach shared his inner experiences:
How infinitely richer this direct first hand grasping of God is, than the old method which I used and recommended for years: the reading of endless devotional books. Almost it seems to me now that the very Bible cannot be read as a substitute for meeting God soul to soul and face to face….
I have tasted a thrill in fellowship with God…. This afternoon the possession of God has caught me up with such sheer joy that I thought I never had known anything like it. God was so close and so amazingly lovely that I felt like melting all over with a strange and blissful contentment.

The birth of “Each One Teach One”

The reading campaign was a great success. When the depression of the 1930s and lack of funds threatened to cripple the work, Laubach arrived at the “Each One Teach One” concept — a revolutionary idea, whereby everyone who knew how to read must teach someone else.
This concept became the cornerstone of Laubach’s adult literacy program, and the foundation for teaching adult literacy on a mass basis, using volunteer teachers. His new teaching method soon spread throughout much of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
In spite of years of intense travel and activity, Laubach continued his “game with minutes” in which he challenged himself to think of God at least once each minute. Having disciplined himself to rise at 3 or 4 a.m., he wrote, prayed and meditated during the early morning hours, and recorded in his diary his daily struggle towards spiritual perfection.
In the mid-1930s he wrote a booklet, The Game with Minutes, designed to show others how to practice the presence of God.

The secret “interview room”

Many years later Laubach had a vision of God and Jesus together in a long room. Jesus spoke to him, saying it was time for him to take “a long stride toward becoming a full-grown son of God.” Jesus explained:
Your game with the minutes was in the right direction, but tonight you are going beyond that game into the game with moments. One of your songs which best express the goal for you is:
Moment by moment
I’m lost in His love.
Moment by moment
I’ve power from above.
Jesus said that from then on, Laubach was to spend each “day and night, with the door wide open into the secret interview room with us.” In an obvious reference to the spiritual eye, Jesus explained that the interview room was “in the front of your head: When you wish to consult us, lift up your eyes a little and there we are, not beyond the stars but just over your own eyes.”

Intense and constant work

As Laubach approached his eightieth birthday, he was asked about the seeming conflict between his trust in God and his habit of intense and constant work. He said:
As far as my faith is concerned, I believe that God is running the universe.  He is going to work out everything. If He doesn’t work it out through one of us, He will work it out through another who is willing. But I must not forget that these things will not come through me unless I work with all my might.
Frank Laubach died June 11, 1970, at the age of 85.
*Muslims do not regard Muhammad as the founder of a new religion, but as the restorer of the original monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. Most Muslims today believe that the Jewish and Christian scriptures have been corrupted and are not the original divine revelations.
Nakin Lenti, a minister and long-time Ananda member, serves in the Sangha Office at Ananda Village.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Paul's Passion | Dr. John Maxwell

Passion of Paul – John Maxwell
On New Year’s Day, Pastor John Maxwell shared a sermon with Christ Fellowship church about Paul’s passion for personal evangelism.
As I got to the end, I nearly cried with him.  

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (MSG)
Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized –whoever.
I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.
I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message.

1. Paul’s passion changed him.
I am a free person, I am free in Christ and I am free to go left, I am free to go right. I am free to go forward. I am free to go backward. I can go upward. I can go downward but I can’t live a free life because what I need to do is I need to reach people so what I need to do is become a servant to any and all.
If I am going to be effective in bringing people to the kingdom, I have to put people first, that I have to constantly think of them and adding value to them. If you want to be Christ-like, just put others first and add value to them every day.

2. It has caused him to include everyone.

Paul’s passion had no territory, had no turf, had no fences around it.
He says “I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all. In order to reach a wide range of people, I want to reach religious and non-religious people. I want to reach meticulous moralists. I want to reach loose living immoralists. I want to reach the defeated. I want to reach the demoralized.”
He is just trying to express all of which he wants to reach because he wants to reach them all and then finally sums up one word – whoever.

3. His passion established his identity.

He said I did not take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ.
In other words, he says, I want to reach him but to reach him, I don’t have to become like him.  Christians often have a hard time liking people who live in the world.
You truly find out who you are when you have to leave your culture, your surroundings, your friends, your church service, all the things that make us so comfortable as Christ followers.
You never know just truly who you are until you have to leave your world and get into their world.

4. Paul’s passion challenged him to enter their world and out of his comfort zone.

Paul entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.  As Christians, we want people to see our point of view.
Do you best to enter the world of the non-believer, to understand how they see God.
I hope you have a whole bunch of sinner friends.  People should not be able to go to church until they have 25 sinner friends.  You loose your sinner friends and you loose your passion to reach them for Christ.
'I hope you have a bunch of sinner friends.' -- John Maxwell on personal #EvangelismCLICK TO TWEET
They will not be comfortable with you until you are comfortable where you are.
Maxwell tackles how he answers “I can’t believe a loving God would send people to hell” (about 19 minutes in).

5. Paul’s passion helped him to become creative.

Paul thinks about how to reach people.  You’ve got to find them before you can lead them.  There is some creativity in how to reach.
“You got to catch the fish, before you clean them.”
'You've got to catch the fish before you clean them' - John Maxwell, on personal #evangelismCLICK TO TWEET
The key to creativity – believe “there is always an answer.”  Creativity is stimulated on the fact that there is a answer.    You’ve got an awesome gospel, and you have creative ways to share it.
He then gives an example on the Four Pictures of God script.
When was the last time your thoughts were not yours, but about the thoughts of lost people and what it would take communicate to them?
How do you get wise?  Share your faith with lost people.

6. Paul’s passion allowed him to love and live out the Message.

“We are educated in the church way beyond our level of obedience.”
“Transformation doesn’t happen until you act upon what you know.”
Then Maxwell tells a story that provokes tears of “yeah, me too.”  I found myself saying yes, I’d like to do the same.
“What is my gift when I stand before Jesus?”

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

C S Lewis’s dark night of the soul:Chris Armstrong (Ph.D., Duke University), church historian, educator, currently founding director of Opus: The Art of Work at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

The faith of Christians is built on Presence. Whether in the pillar of fire, the still small voice, or the Incarnate Son, God has been Emmanuel, “with us.” He has promised never to leave nor forsake us. In thousands of hymns, we have sung of an experienced intimacy with God in Christ. We have asked: “Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior?” We have prayed, wept, and rested in His presence.
For a committed Christian, then, nothing is more devastating than Divine Absence, spiritual loneliness, the ceiling of brass meeting our every prayer.
Yet when the sixteenth-century mystic John of the Cross identified and described a kindred phenomenon—a sort of desolation called “dark night of the soul”—he insisted that it is an important spiritual discipline. We enter the dark night, said John, as a tortuous but fruitful ascetic path to the mystical goal of union with God.
John’s work on this subject became a spiritual classic. He was honored as one of the very few “doctors of the church” by Roman Catholicism, and he is still widely cited by Catholics and Protestants alike. But most modern Christians have forgotten that for the great Carmelite, “the dark night” was just one part of an elaborate apophatic theology. Apophaticism is the theological mode that tries to penetrate beyond the realm of our senses and our reason and come before God as The Awesome Unknown. (Although some conservative Protestants fear apophaticism as unbiblical and suspiciously “Eastern,” it is well-supported both in tradition and Scripture.)
Few today subscribe to or even understand John’s system. Instead, we have taken over John’s phrase “the dark night of the soul” to describe a subjective experience of the complete loss of God’s loving presence—and without its rootage in John’s larger theology, we are not always sure what to do with it. It seems a rather unpleasant episode, often associated with doubt, that may plague a Christian for a while but that, we hope, will soon pass. We treat it almost as a pathology. In fact, one might ask why we should bother to talk about this sort of loss of the divine presence at all.
I’d suggest one good reason for giving the “dark night” a second look is a shocking fact about who undergoes it. It would be one thing if this experience enveloped only, say, backsliders or immature Christians or those involved in obvious sin. But with great regularity, we find the experience in the life stories of those we think of as having been especially faithful witnesses to the faith: People such as C. S. Lewis. Mother Teresa. Martin Luther. Each of these suffered particularly intense episodes of “dark night of the soul.” And perhaps the best way to begin to understand this experience for ourselves is to listen in on their struggles to find meaning in their darkness.
Lewis’s dark night came after the death of his wife Joy. Mother Teresa’s came at the very founding of her Missionaries of Charity and lasted to the end of her life, with little respite. Luther’s plagued him in one form as a young monk, and then in several others as a Reformer.
Of course, we could draw our own conclusions about why these saints have suffered thus—and historians have frequently done so. Perhaps some character flaw or pathology has led them away from the Divine Presence. The rational apologist Lewis, say some scholars, finally discovered after the death of his wife Joy that the God he had imagined was no longer a supportable hypothesis. The Absence he felt was in fact his coming to realization that Christianity was a fiction. Some critics have traced Mother Teresa’s “dark night” to an almost masochistic proclivity for pain, rooted in a certain Catholic understanding of suffering as inherently redemptive and spiritually meritorious. Most famously, Luther’s life story spawned in the 20th century a cottage industry of psycho-historical interpretation, led by Erik Erickson’s argument that a fraught relationship with his father created a cycle of overachievement and self-doubt that plunged the Reformer into the Anfechtungen—periods of depression and self-doubtwhich never left him alone for long.
This sort of analysis opens up an even simpler explanation. Perhaps the Dark Night is nothing more than an artifact of depressive states of mind that have decidedly non-spiritual origins. So Luther’s many episodes of spiritual darkness (it is said) can be explained easily. Each one was preceded by, and triggered by, a physical illness. (The pinnacle of this sort of interpretation must surely be the book by German scholar Annemarie Halder that chronicled the Reformer’s bladder stones from 1536 to 1546, linking these painful occurrences to his Anfechtungen.)
Of course, the psychosomatic dimensions of illness do run both ways—from physical to psychological (and indeed, spiritual) as well as vice-versa. But such interpretations of the Dark Night remind one of Ebenezer Scrooge who, when confronted by the Ghost of Christmas Past, loudly insisted that the apparition was just a stomach disorder, a mere trick of the psyche resulting from “an undigested bit of beef . . . a fragment of an underdone potato.” Certainly in the opinions of Lewis, Teresa, and Luther, something more was at work in their darkness:


It was in 1956, in his late 50s, that C. S. Lewis finally found love. He married the object of his affections, American writer Joy Gresham; but four years later, after an agonizing battle, Joy died of cancer. During the period of intense grieving that followed, Lewis filled four notebooks—first, with words of anguish and rage, then increasingly with an introspective record of the changes that this loss worked in his character. The notebooks were published one year after Joy’s death as A Grief Observedunder the pseudonym N. W. Clerk.
Lewis was identified as the book’s author only after his death, and some have guessed that the great apologist resorted to this subterfuge because his journey through grief also took him to the very the precipice of doubt. Not surprisingly, he asked the same sorts of questions that the grieving often ask: How could a good God allow this woman to die, and in such a painful way? Was He, after all, a Cosmic Sadist? Or did he even exist?
Lewis experienced, in other words, both the emotional and the intellectual pain of Absence—not just the absence of his wife, but the immense Absence of God. The “dark night of the soul.” In his words,
“Meanwhile, where is God? When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels— welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. . . . Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?”
What disturbs Lewis most at first is not the thought that God does not exist. Rather, it is the thought that he does, and that he may inflict pain from motives that we do not recognize as positive or even ethical: What reason have we, except our own desperate wishes, to believe that God is, by any standard we can conceive, ‘good’? Doesn’t all the prima facie evidence suggest exactly the opposite? What have we to set against it?” But even this angry thought, written early in his notebooks, he soon subjects to cooler judgment: “I wrote that last night. It was a yell rather than a thought.”
Yelling at God in times of darkness has a long history, beginning with Jesus himself: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” A vivid cinematic example occurs in Robert Duvall’s movie “The Apostle,” when evangelist Sonny Dewey, who has had his own share of darkness, paces up an down in his room, abusing God in a loud voice. “I love you, Lord,” he bellows, “but I’m mad at you!” Below, his mother is awoken by a phone call from a neighbor, complaining of her son’s raucousness. She only grins and says, “I tell ya ever since he was an itty bitty boy, sometimes he talks to the Lord and sometimes he yells at the Lord, and tonight he just happens to be yellin’ at him.” Somehow I think Jesus intercedes for those in pain and darkness who yell at the Father.
Upon reflection, Lewis decides that the pain he is experiencing must have some redemptive purpose. We see the first glimmering not far into the book: “It doesn’t really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist’s chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.” What is a dentist’s drill for except to remove the rottenness from the tooth? It makes us whole, removing (in the long run, at least) a cause of suffering. And of course Lewis would not have published this account of “a grief observed” unless he had concluded that such experiences of Absence—not only absence of a loved one but also Absence of God—in the midst of suffering have at least potentially an educative and perhaps even sanctifying function in the life of the believer.
Ultimately, Lewis decides that his spiritual darkness is a sort of divine shock treatment. “Nothing less will shake a man—or at any rate a man like me—out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.” Likening his former faith to a house of cards, Lewis concludes, “the sooner it was knocked down the better. And only suffering could do it.”
Torture? In the wake of waterboarding scandals, this seems extreme imagery. But Lewis means it: “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.” God simply does to us whatever needs doing, and it is often painful. Think Eustace, turned into a dragon by his own “greedy, dragonish thoughts,” and turned back only by the deep, gouging ministrations of the claws of Aslan.
Lewis also makes another, different move in trying to understand the spiritual desolation that accompanies his grief at the death of his wife. This move is in the direction of the apophatic mysticism of John of the Cross (whose thought he know doubt knew, along with the great work of English apophaticism, The Cloud of Unknowing). First, he acknowledges how inadequate our senses and reason are in perceiving God: “I, or any mortal at any time, may be utterly mistaken as to the situation he is really in.” Then he admits his own incapacity to know the reality of God: “Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them—never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?”
Finally, Lewis acknowledges the flimsy inadequacy of any sort of image—physical or mental—to capture the reality of God. “Images, I suppose, have their use. . . . To me, however, their danger is more obvious. Images of the Holy easily become holy images—sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast.” In the end, he says, “I must stretch out the arms and hands of love—its eyes cannot here be used—to the reality, through—across—all the changeful phantasmagoria of my thoughts, passions, and imaginings. I mustn’t sit down content with the phantasmagoria itself and worship that for Him, or love that for her.”
What about our own ideas of God? They must, like our incomplete, prejudiced, and generally inadequate ideas of others, be shattered in order for us to have any hope of contact with the real God: “Not my idea of God, but God. . . . And all this time I may, once more, be building with cards. And if I am He will [79] once more knock the building flat. He will knock it down as often as proves necessary.” This is as succinct a summary as I’ve seen of the apophatic theology toward which any dark night of the soul pushes us.

On the birthday of my late friend Romanos who passed away a few month ago.

I read this poem to my friend Romanos a few days before he passed away, on message video from Belfast, Ireland. He said he wanted a copy which I duly sent him. I think its sentiment sums up Romanos' persona and should also be the aim of those whose desire is to be like Christ. On his birthday we miss his presence physically but through God's Spirit we are comforted by the Lord, and sense also the presence of the Christ that was in him.
Not merely in the words you say,
Not only in your deeds you do,
But in the most unconscious way
Is Christ expressed.
Is it a beatific smile?
A holy frown upon your brow?
Oh no! I felt his presence
When you laughed just now.
To me, ’twas not the truth you taught,
To you so clear, to me still dim,
But when you came you brought
A sense of him.
And from your eyes he beckons me
And from your heart his love is shed,
Till it's no longer you I see
But Christ instead.

The Loud Absence - Where is God in Suffering? John Lennox at Harvard Me...

Dr. John Lennox Answers the Question: "Has Science Buried God?"

Wisdom from John Stott- Be Blessed WHO AND WHAT WE ARE

We must keep reminding ourselves what we have and are in Christ. One of the great purposes of daily Bible reading, meditation and prayer is just this, to get ourselves correctly orientated, to remember who and what we are.
We need to say to ourselves: 'Once I was a slave, but God has made me his son and put the spirit of his son into my heart. How can I turn back to the old slavery?'
Again: 'Once I did not know God, but now I know him and have come to be known by him. How can I turn back to the old ignorance? 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Personal Life: Accountability to God. A W Tozer

And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgement.—Hebrews 9:27
It was the belief in the accountability of man to his maker that made America a great nation. Among those earlier leaders was Daniel Webster whose blazing eyes and fiery oratory often held the Senate spellbound. In those days the Congress was composed of strong, noble statesmen who carried the weight of the nation in their hearts and minds.
Someone asked: "Mr. Webster, what do you consider the most serious thought that has ever entered your mind?"
"The most solemn thought that has ever entered my mind is my accountability to my maker," he replied.
Men like that cannot be corrupted and bought. They do not have to worry if someone listens to their telephone calls. What they were in character and in deportment resulted from their belief that they would finally be accountable to God.
"Lord, help me to live my life today in such a way that, should You call me tonight to stand before You and give account, I would have nothing of which I would need to be ashamed. Amen

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Prayer of a Minor Prophet by A.W. Tozer

O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid.
Thou has called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour.
Thou art about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.
O Lord, my Lord, Thou has stooped to honor me to be Thy servant.
No man taketh this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron.
Thou has ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing.
They have rejected Thee, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.
My God,
I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work. The responsibility is not mine, but Thine.
Thou has said, "I knew thee - I ordained thee - I sanctified thee,"
and Thou hast also said,
"Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak."
Who am I to argue with Thee or to call into question Thy sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Thine. So be it, Lord.
Thy will, not mine, be done.
Well do I know, Thou God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor Thee Thou will honor me.
Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor Thee in all my future life and labors,
whether by gain or by loss,
by life or by death,
and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.
It is time, O God, for Thee to work, for the enemy has entered into Thy pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered.
And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Thy flock.
The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy.
I beseech Thee, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Thine own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow Thee.
Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation.
Lay Thy hand upon me.
Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet.
Forbid that I should be come a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling.
Save me from the curse that lies dark across the modern clergy,
the curse of compromise,
of imitation,
of professionalism.
Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering.
Help me to remember that I am a prophet - not a promoter,
not a religious manager, but a prophet.
Let me never become a slave to crowds.
Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from bondage to things.
Let me not waste my days puttering around the house.
Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world.
Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping.
Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
I accept hard work and small rewards in this life.
I ask for no easy place.
I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make life easier.
If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly.
I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes.
Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants,
I should have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows.
Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power.
And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.
And now, O Lord of heaven and earth,
I consecrate my remaining days to Thee;
let them be many or few,
as Thou wilt.
Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly;
that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could.
I am Thy servant to do Thy will,
and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.
Though I am chosen of Thee and honored by a high and holy calling,
let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes,
a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men.
I pray Thee, therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others.
Fill me with Thy power by the Holy Spirit,
and I will go in Thy strength and tell of Thy righteousness, even Thine only.
 I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.
Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above, and make me to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting.

Personal Life: Stay in the Secret Place -Tozer

 My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up.—Psalm 5:3
Retire from the world each day to some private spot, even if it be only the bedroom (for a while I retreated to the furnace room for want of a better place).
Stay in the secret place till the surrounding noises begin to fade out of your heart and a sense of God's presence envelops you.

Deliberately tune out the unpleasant sounds and come out of your closet determined not to hear them.
Listen for the inward Voice till you learn to recognise it.
Stop trying to compete with others.
Give yourself to God and then be what and who you are without regard to what others think.
Reduce your interests to a few.
Don't try to know what will be of no service to you.
Avoid the digest type of mind—short bits of unrelated facts, cute stories and bright sayings.
Learn to pray inwardly every moment.
After a while you can do this even while you work.
Practice candour,
childlike honesty,
Pray for a single eye.
Read less,
but read more of what is important to your inner life.
Never let your mind remain scattered for very long.
Call home your roving thoughts.
Gaze on Christ with the eyes of your soul.
Practice spiritual concentration.
"Lord, I need all of these practical suggestions. Direct me today to those things that would most enhance my walk with you, and enable me to serve You better. Amen."

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Through the Eyes of Spurgeon - Official Documentary

Stories of Evangelism in the Early Church | STEPHEN PRESLEY

The early church was an evangelistic church. From the least to the greatest, early Christians were serious about the regular proclamation of the Gospel. In the words of Michael Green, the early church believed that evangelism was “the prerogative and duty of every church member.” [1] This included apostles, nobles, paupers, philosophers, soldiers, business leaders, and even a few fishermen.

At the same time, the nature of evangelism in the early church was both passionate and spontaneous. They did not have the freedom to gather publically in large groups or plan highly involved outreach initiatives. Instead, the work of Gospel proclamation was organically filtered into their everyday lives. The early Christians relied daily on the Spirit and preached the Gospel enthusiastically whenever afforded the opportunity. The evangelistic zeal of the early church is well-documented in the New Testament and other writings of the post-apostolic age. Just like the apostles, many of the early church fathers followed their impassioned call to preach the Gospel.
Below, I offer three very different stories of evangelistic encounters in the early Christian world. I do not wish to suggest that these instances characterize the “right” strategies or methods of evangelism. Instead, these accounts provide a few inspiring snapshots of evangelism in the earliest days of the church that exemplify their consistent witness to the Gospel. In reality, these stories only begin to capture the breadth of all the harrowing efforts in the early church to proclaim the faith in a hostile world.
Our first story, which highlights the early Christian priority for evangelism, comes to us from church father Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110) on his journey from Antioch in Syria to Rome. Ignatius was arrested for his confession of Christ and was being transported to the capitol to be tried and ultimately martyred. During his long journey, Ignatius penned several letters to churches in Rome and Asia Minor to encourage their faith. In the midst of his Epistle to the Ephesians, Ignatius turned to the topic of evangelism. He exhorted the church at Ephesus saying, “Pray continually for the rest of mankind as well, that they may find God, for there is in them hope for repentance. Therefore, allow them to be instructed by you, at least by your deeds.” [2] Ignatius’ words are rich with meaning and informed by a devotion to the proclamation of the Gospel. His burden for those outside the faith is evident in his exhortation to prayer and informs his charge to preach the Gospel in both word and deed.
Ignatius’ words find application in a related example from the life of the church father Polycarp (c. 155). Polycarp, a friend of Ignatius, was also martyred for his faith. In the popular account of his martyrdom, Polycarp’s arrest did not quite happen the way one would expect. When the soldiers arrived at his residence, he welcomed them inside and encouraged them to sit down for a meal. He only requested a few moments to pray while they ate.
Instead of petitioning the Lord quietly in a back room, Polycarp seized the opportunity to share his hope in Christ. He prayed aloud so that all in the house could hear his earnest conversation with God. Here is a brief description of the scene:
When they [the soldiers] consented [to sit for a meal], he [Polycarp] stood and prayed, so full of the grace of God that for two hours he was unable to stop speaking, those who heard him were amazed, and many regretted that they had come after such a godly man. [3]
In his last moments of freedom, Polycarp’s prayers brought his captors to a point of conviction and compassion. They still followed orders and arrested him, though on the way back to Rome, they were so moved that they tried to persuade him to recant his faith in order to spare his life. But their efforts were futile, and eventually Polycarp was tried, convicted and executed for his faith. Thus, in the exhortation of Ignatius and example of Polycarp, we find the early Christian passion for evangelism, even in the most extreme circumstances.
A second story of personal evangelism comes from the life of the early Christian apologist Justin Martyr (c. 155). Justin was a trained philosopher who dabbled in several different Greco-Roman schools of philosophy in his pursuit of truth. He found none of them ultimately satisfying. Dismayed and dejected, Justin went in search of a solitary place by the sea to gather his thoughts.
As Justin made his way down to the seaside, he expected to be alone. He was not a little surprised when he found himself beside an old man who was not shy about engaging him in a personal conversation about the nature of truth and the revelation of God in the Scriptures. Though their discussion was layered with apologetic dialogue, ultimately the old man persuaded Justin to read the Scriptures. When he finally conceded and read the words of the prophets and apostles, he was captured by the Gospel. He recounted the whole experience in his Dialogue with Trypho and described his conversion saying:
… my spirit was immediately set on fire, and affection for the prophets, and for those who are friends of Christ, took hold of me; while pondering on his [the old man’s] words, I discovered that his was the only sure and useful philosophy. [4]
Justin abandoned the pursuit of all other philosophies and devoted himself solely to the teaching of Christ. We are never told the identity of the old man, and perhaps that does not really matter. What is clear is that this was a simple encounter of personal evangelism that transformed the life of one of the greatest early Christian apologists.
Finally, a third story of evangelism in the early church brings us back to Polycarp and his disciple Irenaeus (c. 180). In the waning years of the second century, Irenaeus would become an important defender of the faith against the rising tide of Gnosticism. He served as bishop of a persecuted congregation on the fringes of the Roman Empire in Gaul (modern-day France). Irenaeus, however, was not trained in Gaul or even Italy, but in Smyrna in Asia Minor under the teaching of Polycarp. In one of his letters to a wayward presbyter named Florinus, Irenaeus described his early days in the faith and how he would sit and listen to Polycarp openly engage anyone in the public square with the Gospel. Irenaeus writes:
I can tell also the very place where the blessed Polycarp was accustomed to sit and discourse; and also his entrances, his walks, the complexion of his life and the form of his appearance and his conversations with people.…[5]
Irenaeus paints the picture of Polycarp as one regularly participating in personal conversations about the Gospel. Clearly, Polycarp’s example left an impression upon the young Irenaeus. Years later, while serving the church on the borders of the Roman Empire, he remembers vividly the example of Polycarp’s devotion to sharing his faith.
These stories are only a glimpse of the spontaneous and passionate nature of evangelism in the early church. Each of these examples reveals how Gospel proclamation was organically woven into their daily lives and conversations. Whatever the circumstances, they sought opportunities to engage anyone and everyone with the good news of salvation in Christ. While there are many differences between the ancient world and ours, their enthusiasm for personal evangelism should not be one of them.

[1] Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 380.
[2] Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 10, in The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, ed and rev Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004)
[3] Martyrdom of Polycarp, 7, in The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, ed and rev Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004)
[4] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 8.1.
[5] Irenaeus’s “Letter to Florinus” is preserved in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History (Hendrickson: Peabody, MA, 1998), 5.20.

Stephen Presley

Stephen Presley

Associate Professor of Church History and Director of the Center for the Study of Early Christianity at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Presley serves as Associate Professor of Church History in the School of Theology and Director of the Southwestern Center for the Study of Early Christianity. He is married to Haley and they have four children: Isla, Emma, Luke, and Andrew.
Twitter: @sopresley

Evangelism and the Early Church: Jerry Root

There has been no perfect period in church history. The first-century Church must not be over-idealized. According to theologian Walter Elwell, in the New Testament epistles alone, the Church had to be corrected some 150 times.1 We must always be careful to avoid projections and over-idealizations of any time or place.

Nevertheless, the early Church still has much to say to us today, and it is wise to be attentive to its lessons. There are two mistakes that can be made about traditions of the past: (1) to reject the past altogether as archaic and irrelevant and move on to questions of the present and (2) to be dominated by the past, letting the calcifying conventions of days gone by tyrannize healthy communal development.
G. K. Chesterton says a proper understanding of the past is to make some accommodation so its voice might still be heard. Every time a given age sits at the table to consider an event or challenge, it should always give a seat to the voice of the past. It is, according to Chesterton, democracy extended through time.2
A true grasp of tradition gives a vote to the dead. This way, the wisdom of the past is not neglected and the challenges of the day benefit by such wisdom while also being infused with fresh ideas. Bringing this kind of balance into the discussion, we must consider:
  • Does the early Church contribute anything to today’s Church relative to its mission in the world?
  • What are the ways Christians in the past shared their faith in Christ, and can that positively affect the ways Christians share Christ with others today?
When Jesus gathered his disciples to himself, he used one of two methods.
  1. Contact evangelism. Jesus simply came to some and called them to follow. One example of this is Matthew. There may have been an earlier relationship that existed between Matthew and Jesus, but there is no textual reference to it.
    Therefore, it can be imagined that Jesus simply encountered some people and called them into relationship. Similarly, some people can be led to Christ after an initial contact. It is wise to be sensitive to how the Spirit of God may be moving in any given conversation as he woos others to himself through us.
  2. Relational evangelism (i.e., “webs of relationship”). In John 1, Andrew went and brought his brother, Peter, to Jesus. Likewise, Phillip found his friend, Nathaniel. So too, God may have us share Christ through friendships we already have. We must not neglect the fact that God often reaches out through established relationships in order to make Christ known in the world.
Both contact evangelism and relational evangelism have their risks. In contact evangelism, the difficulty is in trying to find natural segues for the gospel with a person we have only just met. It is also difficult to establish creditability. On the other hand, an old friend or family member who knows our history also knows our shortcomings. This can harm our message. We must confess personal failures and testify to the love and forgiveness of God and its ongoing power to forgive and transform. When this occurs, even our failures can be an asset when sharing Christ.
Learning from the Early Disciples The disciples engaged in both kinds of evangelism. There is much we can learn from those who first took the gospel to others. The Book of Acts certainly makes a case for contact evangelism:
  • Paul talks one-on-one with others in the marketplace.
  • Philip speaks with the Ethiopian eunuch whom he just met on the Gaza road.
  • Cornelius reaches out to Peter so that Peter might share the gospel to the entire web of family relations in Cornelius’ household.
But the Gospels and the Book of Acts speak of other kinds of evangelism as well:
  • Jesus addresses and shares the gospel with large crowds of people.
  • At the Feast of Pentecost, Peter preaches openly about Jesus in the public square.
  • Paul goes to the partially-informed people gathered at the synagogue; that is, he reaches out to those with an affinity for religion but who have not yet encountered a relationship with the living Christ.
  • Paul uses letters to present the gospel to others. (Today’s equivalent of email and social networking provides ample opportunity to do something like this.)
What can we learn from the approaches employed by the early Church to reach others for Christ?
  1. They were men and women whose lives were transformed demonstrably by the love and forgiveness of Christ, and it was out of a full heart they shared the gospel with others. When we neglect to share Jesus with others, we might ask if a fresh rekindling of God’s love needs to be generated so that his grace may again flow freely.
  2. Early Christians, whose love burned hot for Christ, found obedience to the Great Commission. Their great desire was to tell the world about Jesus death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. They proved themselves faithful to the call of God in their lives.
  3. Whether it was to the one unknown person in a public place, to the gathering of a small group of friends and acquaintances invited to hear about Christ, or to an assembled crowd, early church members made the most of the opportunities before them.
  4. Early Christians appeared to demonstrate great creativity manifest in the ways they continually sought to share the gospel. This should inspire all who read the New Testament to look for fun and creative ways to make Christ known to others.
  5. Early Christians were not willing to let fear keep them from the joy of telling others about Jesus.
While no period in church history has ever had it all together, one thing can be said about the early Church: they were bold about fulfilling their calling to make Christ known to others. In this regard, they have much to tell the Church in every age. The hope for the Church in all times, whatever mistakes may be made in any period of history, is that the Body of Christ not neglect the high call of making Christ known to the world.
1. Comments made to me in conversation in the late 1980s.
2. Chesterton, G. K. 1986. Orthodoxy. The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton. Vol. I. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 251

Dr. Jerry Root is associate director of the Institute for Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He has taught in the evangelism masters program for the past eleven years. Root has invested nineteen years in student ministry, evangelism, and discipleship.