Saturday, June 16, 2012

Something significant

This weekend I believed God has sealed or brought to a place of completion a significant change in me. For those who may not have known me long, a little personal history.

I served as an evangelist for nearly 20 years with Church Army UK, and enjoyed what most would consider to be an effective time in ministry. Ministering in one of the most difficult estates (Page Moss) in one of the most despised cities in England (Liverpool) we pioneered work among unchurched children and young people which attracted hundreds every week and considerably impacted the whole community. We frequently welcomed visitors from across the UK and beyond – guests from USA and even Australia were not uncommon. The ministry we were involved in was one of the pin-up projects for Church Army for a number of years. We followed this by launching a brand new Gap programme for CAUK, putting together the various elements in a ridiculously short time-frame, and attracting some amazing young people. In a reasonably sized pool I was a decent sized fish!

The call to move to New Zealand to head up Church Army ministry here was unexpected and most welcome. I suppose to some degree I interpreted the invitation to live and minister in a land of such endless beauty, with a more pleasant lifestyle, as some kind of reward from God. I hadn’t anticipated that ministering in a land where reputations made overseas count for nothing and where past glories have absolutely no relevance, would leave me in a situation similar to that of Moses as he started his new life as a humble shepherd in Midian, stripped of the position, privilege and authority he had enjoyed in Egypt.

So what did I have to offer in terms of enabling, modelling and encouraging evangelism in New Zealand? Basically, all that I had greedily devoured from the latest theorists, experts and even practitioners in the West in recent years – wrapped up in phrases such as incarnational evangelism, process evangelism or friendship evangelism. The common thread in all of these is that we must be patient, carefully cultivating relationships so that by the lives we live others may one day be compelled to enquire about the God aspect to our lives. To mention Jesus prematurely would almost certainly push people away and rob them of any likelihood of discovering the Risen Jesus for themselves. I may have even told people that to not talk of Jesus was the right way to help people find faith in Him. That is not just ridiculous, it is a demon inspired lie. A Gospel presentation that depends on the Godly quality of my life is deeply and fatally flawed. I do look back with regret at the times I have played at “evangelism” while rarely sharing Jesus; for years when I have encouraged and trained others in evangelism while not seeing a single person coming to faith in Jesus; when I have promoted a process, friendship, gently gently approach to evangelism which has seen a tiny trickle of people influenced by the Good News when the need is to see movements which see multitudes transformed by Jesus.

To the many people I have not shared the Good News of Jesus with, when I could and should, I deeply apologise, and hope and pray that God in his mercy will grant me opportunities share with you. To Jesus, who died for me while I was still a sinner, I repent of my refusal to tell others about you because of my fear, or shame, or embarrassment, or my misguided belief that by not telling people about you I was somehow helping them find faith in you.

To all those I will meet in future, if you don’t yet know Jesus I would love to tell you about him. To those who do, can I help train you in how to tell others?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Casting Vision

One of the interesting elements of our weekly gathering is "vision casting" - effectively reminding ourselves why we do what we do, and encouraging each other to press on.
I have mentioned our friend Brian a few times. He was the first person in New Zealand I personally led to faith in Jesus, and coming as he did from a life of petty crime and drug-abuse he was a wonderful example of God's grace powerfully at work. He was our first baptism in Avondale, and despite occasions when his life-before-Jesus rears its ugly head, all those who know him have a deep affection for him.
Brian suffers from multiple sclerosis, and spends his waking hours in a wheelchair. Last Friday when Monika and John went round for their weekly visit, they discovered that Brian had fallen out of his chair and was stuck on the floor. He painfully edged his way to the door, but could not reach the handle, so eventually John had to push Monika through a toilet window! Brian was understandably distressed, embarrassed and suicidal. To make matters worse, his "friends" has stolen his mobile phone so he had no way of calling for help.
What an awful, tragic situation - and yet God was in the middle of this mess. How wonderful that Brian has a faith in Jesus to sustain him through the lowest lows. How great that were were able to be there, as an answer to his desperate prayers, to offer physical help and emotional and spiritual support when he most needed it.
If we had not taken the decision to knock on Brian's door at the end of a long, discouraging day, then both his present life would be unbearable, and his eternity unsure. But we did, and his life with Jesus on earth, though it may not have long, contains a seed of hope, and his eternity is fixed, guaranteed, secure. I am reminded of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to look for the one lost sheep - a stupid, disobedient, scruffy animal of little worth - and when he finds it "joyfully puts it on his shoulder", carries it home, then holds a party to celebrate its homecoming (Luke 15:5).
So there's your vision casting - if you are wondering whether or not to obey the Great Commission and "GO," unsure whether you have the confidence to knock on doors, or share your God-story, or explain the Gospel, or lead someone to faith in Jesus, think today of Brian - in the world's eyes a waster, good-for-nothing, druggy drop-out who has a limited life-expectancy, but someone who the Good Shepherd joyfully carries on his shoulders, until together, they reach home.