The Gospel and the Lagos Worker

In his helpful book Mastering Monday, John Beckett identifies five themes which should be considered in our attempt to demonstrate God’s kingdom in the workplace. They are Purpose, Values, People, Stewardship, and Serving. These all are nurtured by the Gospel.

The Gospel gives us a clear purpose for our work; we serve Christ and extend his kingdom through what we do.

The Gospel gives us an ethic centred on love, and this guides all the steps we take and the decisions we make.

The Gospel reveals that people are God’s priority (and should be ours, too). It was for people – sinful, broken people – that Jesus hung on the cross and died.

The Gospel reminds us that our lives, skills, and talents belong to God. We are simply stewards. So as we clock in at the office, apply our minds to a problem, or contribute to a project, we are offering back what God has given to us in trust.

Finally, through Christ’s teaching and his atonement, we are taught to lay down our lives for others through serving (John 15:13).

We will focus on the two themes of People and Serving.

People

The Gospel will lead us to value people above profits. Whether we work in risk management, financial planning, or customer service, it is people ultimately that we are serving. Sadly, the ambition and drive in most workplaces tend towards the opposite. The lust for power and prestige means that people are often trampled upon. In a bid to be seen as ‘performing’, managers will exhaust their subordinates. In a bid to cut costs, organizations will refuse or delay payments to vendors for services rendered. And even employees will offer shoddy service to customers. Likewise, the daily pressure to thrive in a competitive environment often leads us to focus solely on the ‘bottom line’, without regard for the humans who are involved in shaping it. It helps to remember that without people, whether as employees, customers, or vendors, there would be no business.

 Serving

John Chapter 13 is a remarkable chapter of the Bible. We have a stirring message proclaimed not merely in words but through vivid action. Shortly before his crucifixion, as he gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover, Jesus inverted the social pyramid. He took a towel and a bowl of water and washed the feet of each of his disciples. Contrary to social custom, the teacher became a servant to the student. Then he instructed them to do likewise.

We are called to serve others through our skills and talents. As Peter wrote, ‘As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace’ (1 Pet. 4:10).

In the words of John Beckett, ‘Serving is integral to how God wants his kingdom on earth to function.’ And we see this in Jesus’s instruction to the disciples in Mathew 20:26:

 “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant”

In a city like Lagos, with its craze for prestige and lust for wealth, the message of Christ is profoundly counter-cultural. Lagosians seek to be recognized and celebrated. We want to move up the ladder of career success, not pick up a servant’s towel. But that is precisely what the Gospel implies. In light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, to work is to serve.

So how do we go about this? We can start by noting the following:

As an employer, I should serve my employees, helping them to become their best selves. For we both have one master, which is Christ.

As a trader, I should offer goods of high quality to my customers.

As an executive within an organization, I should realize that I am serving the company by offering my skills and talents.

The Gospel leads us to understand that, ultimately, it is not my CEO or the customer whom I am serving, but Christ.


This article was first published on City Church Lagos.

An American Dream, a Nigerian Lesson

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Several years ago, Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He stood there not to preach nor to campaign, but to share a dream – a dream inspired by the belief that all men are created in God’s image and are therefore equal. His thought and civil action were clearly driven by his belief in the truth about humanity as revealed in the gospel.

Martin Luther King is an inspiration for a different but related challenge in our own society.

Nigeria may not have a challenge of racial injustice, but she does have a problem of ethnic intolerance. Like most countries in Africa, she is blessed with a racial homogeneity. However, the uniformity in race is more than offset by a diversity in tribal groups. According to the CIA World Factbook, she has more than 250 different ethnic groups. Over the decades, ethnic conflicts have sprung up in locations as far apart as Lagos and Kano. While the discord flares up from time to time in actual conflict, the disharmony is normally of a much more subtle nature. A remark, a look, a sneer – are some of the expressions which reveal our dislike of the other tribe. But also there is the discrimination in organizations, there is the coldness toward a neighbour from another tribe, and there is the outright distrust of some groups from the northern part of the country.

Just as the Gospel provides a stimulus for abolishing racial prejudice, it also gives a basis for seeking ethnic harmony. We may not all be excited about our 103-year-old Nigeria project. Some of us might still harbour a longing for a Biafra or some other autonomous region. Regardless of our hope or desire, the existence of Nigeria as a multiethnic nation is a present reality. Different peoples have been brought together to comprise one nation. Perhaps wrongly or imperfectly, the union has been several decades in the making. It is certain that this union was not brought about because the colonial masters wanted to realize the promise of the gospel. They did it to make the administration of this vast territory easier. But what began as probably a wrongheaded venture could be an avenue for the Gospel to be displayed in its grandeur.

Political force and legislation has not succeeded, and cannot succeed, in creating ethnic harmony; only the Gospel can bring this about. Why? Because ethnic sentiments are deeply rooted. As long as our identity lies in our ethnicity, we will always view those of other tribes with suspicion and we will regard them as inferior to ourselves. The Gospel, however, subverts this tendency by altering the basis of our identity. For the Gospel unites ethnic groups and tribes by proclaiming that they all have the same God and a common Saviour. Our ultimate identity does not lie in us being Hausa, Edo, or Gwari. It lies in us being humans created by a personal God who also redeems us through Jesus. And this same Gospel encourages us to look forward to a point in the future, at the end of this present age and the return of Christ, when the scene below shall be a reality:

‘After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”’ (Rev. 7:9,10)

May Nigeria (along with other African countries), under the influence of the Gospel, be a little picture of this.


 

Who is the Church?

Much of the church suffers from an identity crisis. We don’t know who we really are. Are we just a group of people who meet on Sundays? A Jesus’ fan club? Or a  gathering of holy people who do not wish to be soiled by their sinful neighbours? This interesting paragraph from Rich Lusk is a stirring reminder of who believers are.

*”The church is the first fruits of God’s saving work in the world. Thus the church models, in principle, human life the way God intended it to be lived. We are God’s renewed humanity. We live the life of the future in the present, the life of the kingdom in the midst of the world. As the church, we are a new city, set upon a hill, and therefore distinct, yet existing within the cities of the world. We are an alternative society, rivaling and subverting the idolatrous societies of the world. We ae a counter-culture, called to reform and transform the cultures of the peoples around us. We are a kingdom, transcending the kingdoms of earth. And we are a new Israel, a new nation dwelling amidst the nations of the earth, with our own defining story, rituals, songs, celebrations, and way of life marking us out as a unique people. We are a contrast society – specifically contrasting the light of a gospel-shaped life with the darkness of the old fallen order.”


Rich Lusk, When Church Bells Stopped Ringing: Towards a Public Ecclesiology for the 21st Century American Church.

You can read the entire article here 

The Lord’s Song

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“By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
How shall we sing the LORD’S song
in a foreign land?”

(Psalm 137:1-4 ESV)

You can feel the sorrow, the anguish, and the pathos. This is the cry of the captive Jew taken from his homeland down to Babylon. ‘On the willows there/we hung up our lyres.’ How do you make music in captivity? How can you rejoice in the land of the oppressor? Jerusalem was the location of the temple, signifying the throne of God on earth. It was the privilege of the Israelites to be the chosen people of God among whom He dwells. The songs of Zion were songs of worship sung in the temple; they were unique to the people of God.

Jeremiah would go on to deliver a message to these captives, encouraging them to seek the good of the city, in spite of their captivity:

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:7)

Yes, they were captives. And, yes, they were forcibly removed from their homeland. Yet, God was using their presence as a means of blessing their captors. Here was the Jewish community, God’s chosen people, bringing God’s blessings to the gentiles. Here was the seed of Abraham blessing the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). This was the Gospel in infancy. Prior to this time, God’s saving grace was largely confined to the Israelites. Now it was flowing out to the nations.  As Paul would later write in Romans 11, the gentiles were being grafted into the tree of the original Jewish church. And as that happens, we cannot help bursting into praise alongside Paul:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33)

The songs of Zion were becoming the songs of the nations.

Isaiah wrote of a future time when the captive Jews will return to their homeland and be able to sing the song of Zion once more:

“And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isa. 35:10)

But the very context of this passage indicates that this passage points beyond the return of the Jewish captives to their homeland in 538/539 BC. It looked forward to a time when ‘the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped’ (v. 5), a reference to the ministry of Jesus. It also speaks of when ‘waters shall burst forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert’ (v. 6), a picture of the era initiated by the coming of Christ and to be completed at his return (cf. Isa. 43: 19; 44:3-5; Joel 2:28).

What was confined to the Jew has been made available to all nations. The dwelling place of God is no longer just with Israel, it is being extended to all – to all humanity who place their faith in the Redeemer. And eventually, all humanity shall come together to sing that song of Zion. As John observed in his vision of the end of history:

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and he will be their God.” (Rev. 21:3)

God’s revelation leads us to look forward to that time when the Lord’s song will be sung by a great multitude, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9)

And what song would they sing?

“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (v.10)

May we, through faith in Christ, be found a part of that joyful choir.

The Gospel in Armageddon

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I enjoy watching movies as cultural products in which we relish much that is true, good, and beautiful, while we also discern much that is a fruit of humanity’s corrupt heart.

A case in point of the two streams of falsehood and truth in the same movie is the 1998 blockbuster Armageddon.

Armageddon is an example of the narrative of salvation which is so popular in Hollywood movies. The plot goes like this. An asteroid (a huge mass of rock from outer space, also called a ‘minor planet’), about two-thirds the size of Nigeria, is on its way to hit earth. Portions have already broken off and levelled major cities. But the main thing is still approaching at an incredibly fast rate. If it hits our planet, everything dies – including bacteria.

In typical Hollywood style, America comes to the rescue. The President, the Defense Secretary, NASA – all converge to find a way to deal with the crisis. The best response? Send a team of expert drillers to land on the asteroid before it gets too close. Drill a hole sufficiently deep, insert a thermonuclear bomb, and detonate.

This was the plan. And the drillers were the solution. All the world, from Tokyo to Tunis, looked upon this team of elite drillers to save them from impending destruction. Once again, it was the rise of humanity against a hostile universe which threatened her annihilation.

As I explained in an earlier post, this is Hollywood’s gospel of a secular salvation. It is a theory of deliverance from the ills which plague humanity, without any reference to God or Sin. True, God is sometimes mentioned or referred to in several of these accounts. But he is often more of a cosmic being who stands by with little control over what is happening or a ruthless tyrant who might have contributed to the crisis in the first place because he simply won’t let humanity be. Whichever way he is portrayed, God simply doesn’t matter. Neither does sin or moral guilt. It is man’s world, man’s challenge, and man’s solution. To put it in theological terms, Redemption is from, for, and through humanity.

And so the story often goes.

However, like we often discern in our fallen world, God’s grace often shines in some of the least expected places. In a cinematic ode to human skill, ingenuity, and planning, the message of the cross still speaks, howbeit in a whisper. For at the crucial moment, after the bomb had been buried in the drilled crater, the crew discovered that the detonator for the bomb was damaged. Meaning? If their mission was not to fail, if their precious universe for which they had come this far was not to perish, someone would have to stay behind and detonate the bomb manually. Someone would have to lay down his life for the world. Although they initially decided who would stay behind via a ballot, it was through an act of sacrifice that the task was eventually carried out. A father sacrificed himself for the good and comfort of his daughter, and ultimately for the peace and safety of the world.

So while the political and technological powers had devised their plans and perfected their strategy, it took the lever of sacrificial love to shift disaster into safety. It took the death of a man for the world to live.

How powerfully this speaks of Christ and his death on the cross! When we were yet sinners, deserving and expecting not the chance collision of an asteroid, but the moral, holy, and just wrath of our Creator, that same God stepped in as our substitute. He bore our sins in his own body on the tree. And through faith in Him, we can be saved from much more than galactic annihilation; we can be saved from alienation, guilt, and death.

The hope for our world does not lie in the steel and concrete complexes of our world; it was displayed on a wooden cross centuries ago when a King sacrificed himself for his subjects, and a God chose to die for his creation.

A Plea for Books – Christian Books

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This article was originally published as ‘Every Christian a Publisher’ by the late American pastor Ernest Reisinger (1919-2004). It is a stirring message on the key role books have played in the development of the Christian faith and the lives of believers over the ages and the role it can still play for the witness of the Church today. The original publication can be found here.


I would like to speak to you today about the importance of the use of literature in the church, for evangelism, for instruction in Christian truth, for devotion, and for its role in planting churches.

Protestants, in particular, are very weak in the proper use of literature to spread God’s truth. We still do not remember the words of Daniel Webster who said:

‘If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, error will be; if God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy; if the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will; if the power of the Gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness, will reign without mitigation or end.’

In Isaiah 1:3, we read, ‘Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.’ Then, chapter after chapter in that prophecy we have a terrible picture of the life and practice of a people who were the professed people of God. Surely their sin and wickedness was the result of not ‘knowing,’ and they did not know because they did not consider.

Books are to be used to dispel darkness and ignorance. If men do not know, then they must acquaint themselves with facts by reading and studying. We need to use books to fight ignorance—the ignorance of Christian truth and doctrine that is so prevalent in our churches today.

It is appalling to meet people who have been communicant church members for years and who cannot find a place in the Bible, who do not have even a vague idea of the great doctrines of the Bible, and who cannot attach any true meaning to such basic terms as justification, sanctification, regeneration, election and predestination.

Have we forgotten that Christianity is primarily a religion of facts—historical facts? The Bible is a body of divine information, and to be ignorant of the information is to be ignorant of Christianity and to be ignorant of God.

Surely one of the reasons for the deadness and weakness of our churches is ignorance. We will not have churches that are strong and fruitful in experience until we have Christians who are strong in biblical doctrine. Christian experience is nothing less than truth and its evidence revealed and applied by the Spirit to our minds, to our affections and to our wills. Those who ‘do not the truth’ are those ‘in darkness’ (1 John 1:6).

The Power of the Press

The ministry of books can be used to evangelize, teach, train and expel ignorance as it has done in the past. A cursory glance at history should convince us that God has used books and literature to enlighten blinded peoples and nations.

How was it that in places where the voices of Luther and Calvin were never heard, their doctrines were embraced, and many of the countries of Europe threw off the yoke of Rome and turned Protestant? It was because books and tracts became, in the hands of God, a mighty reforming and regenerating power.

In reference to the printing press, Sir Thomas More, defender of the Roman Church, complained bitterly that the Reformers had become its master: ‘These diabolical people print their books at great expense, notwithstanding the great danger; not looking for any gain, they give them away to everybody, and even scatter them abroad by night.’ ‘The Pope,’ rejoiced John Foxe, (the martyrologist), ‘must abolish printing or he must seek a new world to reign over; for by this printing the doctrine of the Gospel soundeth to all nations and countries under heaven.’ Thus was the power of the printed page acknowledged.

A book by Richard Sibbes, one of the choicest of the Puritan writers, was read by Richard Baxter, who was greatly blessed by it. Baxter then wrote his Call To The Unconverted which deeply influenced Philip Doddridge, who in turn wrote The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul. This brought the young William Wilberforce, subsequent English statesman and foe of slavery, to serious thoughts of eternity. Wilberforce wrote his Practical Book of Christianity which fired the soul of Leigh Richmond. Richmond, in turn, wrote The Dairyman’s Daughter, a book that brought thousands to the Lord, helping Thomas Chalmers the great preacher, among others.

What an eye-opener it was for me to read that the Watch Tower building in New York City puts out 12,000,000 pieces of Jehovah Witness literature a month, fifty percent of which is shipped overseas. They have large three-story buildings in which they do nothing but turn out their doctrines and heresies. They use one carload of paper per day and have the world’s largest religious bindery in which it is said that they are able to turn out 30,000 books per day. Still more disturbing is the fact that young men and women, between the ages of twenty and twenty-five, give their lives to this cause, with no remuneration apart from their lodging and food. Oh, that the day would come when more young men and women would give their lives to the cause of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ with such dedication as this!

The Russians, a few years ago, published 29,301,400 books in 701 titles. An even greater volume was produced by 700 Communist publishers in 58 countries. Yet at that time the Communists were aiming at a 300% increase in the circulation of the printed page.

In the past, the pen has been the hammer to break the errors of centuries. But now the enemies of the truth have learned the value of books and with word processors and printing presses they have left those who love the biblical Christianity far behind.

Practical Suggestions

You may say you are convinced that books have been, and can be, used to evangelize, to teach, and to train, but, you ask, ‘How do I do it?’ Here are a few suggestions:

A minister can lead his people to see the importance of the use of good literature just as he leads them in other truths.

I know a minister who led his people to give good books with their Christmas gifts, wedding presents, hospital visits, and to their friends and neighbours. Believe me, it will help you build a strong church.

I know a minister who went to a church and there was not one copy of Pilgrim’s Progress in any home, in fact, when he first mentioned Bunyan many in his congregation thought he meant Paul Bunyan, the fellow who chopped down trees! Well, in three years there was a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress in 90% of the homes and many had read it.

I know a case where a church introduced a little book table. A lawyer’s wife took charge of it and in one year sold $10,000 worth of Christian books (wholesale).

I know a church where they sell $1,000 worth of books at Christmas time to be used with gifts—mostly for evangelistic purposes. And in every case this ministry can be traced to the pulpit where a minister caught the vision and had a burden to use this means to evangelize and build up Christians.

Charles H. Spurgeon tells how, when he was a child, his mother would often read a piece of Alleine’s Alarm To The Unconverted to the family as they sat round the fire on a Sunday evening and, when brought under conviction of sin, it was to this old book that he turned.

‘I remember,’ he writes, ‘when I used to awake in the morning, the first thing I took up was Alleine’s Alarm, or Baxter’s Call To The Unconverted. Oh those books, those books! I read and devoured them…’

 

Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

I want to mention one book specially today that has been mightily used in the history of Christianity, that is my favorite book, Pilgrim’s Progress. Without doubt, next to the Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress has been used to bless more people than any other single book, and you should not rest until every family in your church has a copy. Use it in your sermons!

William Chalmers Burns, the first Presbyterian missionary to go to China, translated Pilgrim’s Progress as a means of evangelizing—a different kind of evangelism than we have today. Later, when he worked farther back into the interior of that nation, he translated it into the local dialects.

I want to tell you a few facts about this immortal volume, Pilgrim’s Progress, hoping to make you anxious to read it—yes, and study it, and have some family discussions about it.

(1) It has some excellent preaching material. Spurgeon read it one hundred times, and it permeated his sermons.

(2) Pilgrim’s Progress is the biblical message of salvation by grace.

(3) It is pregnant with Bible truth. Spurgeon said, ‘You can prick John Bunyan anywhere for all his blood is “bibline.”’

(4) It is not fiction—it bathes and swims in Scripture. The more you know the Bible and the theology of the Bible the better you will understand and appreciate this useful volume.

(5) It is the life of the Christian travelling between two worlds. Hear it in Bunyan’s words:

‘And thus it was I, writing of the Way

And the race of saints in this our gospel day,

Fell suddenly into an allegory

About their journey, and the way to Glory.’

(6) It is the great doctrines of the Bible, set forth in an experimental and illustrative manner.

(7) It is as relevant today as the day it was written (between 1675 and 1684). Like the Bible, it is always relevant because it is about God—Man—Sin—Christ—Salvation—Life—Death—Heaven and Hell.

The poet Browning said, ‘Tis my belief that God spake; no tinker has such power.’ James Montgomery said, ‘God gave a great gift to His church when He converted John Bunyan to write Pilgrim’s Progress.‘

No amount of literary study in itself could ever produce Pilgrim’s Progress. It took not only the natural gifts and graces of John Bunyan, but also his deep spiritual experiences and insights into the Word of God, and a biblical interpretation of those experiences. Bunyan travelled so close to the Master’s steps that he gives a marvelously accurate picture of the road to the Celestial City and of the difficulties we shall find on the way.

Today Pilgrim’s Progress stands next to the Bible in sales and translations (198 languages). There are indeed so many editions that it is virtually impossible to compute them. There are 50 editions in Africa alone. Where the Bible goes, we may say, The Pilgrim’s Progress will follow!

Bunyan and his book have no appeal, at first, to the men and women of this world as I have often noticed. The men and women who are too wrapped up in this world either do not understand it, or see no great depth of spiritual truth in it. Others do not care for it. I recall the words of one, a professional man who had to stop reading it because, as he told me, ‘It upsets me too much—spiritually and emotionally.’ I am afraid he saw himself too plainly!

Pilgrim’s Progress is better than any book on anthropology or psychology. Why do I say that? Because most books on these subjects study man without God or the Bible. Now, you can learn a lot about man without God or the Bible, but you can never get to his real problems, and therefore you cannot come up with the correct answers. Bunyan will give you a real insight into yourself and all other sinners as no other book but the Bible.

Lessons for Today

Vanity-Fair has not changed. There is a Vanity-Fair every day. Madam Bubble still seeks to draw away pilgrims. Madam Wanton walks on every street. Mrs. Bats-Eye still thinks everyone is blind. Men with muckrakes are all around us who will not give up their muckrake for the crown offered by the One above. They will not turn their eyes upward. Are there any of you here today who are so busy with straws, small sticks and dust on the floor, that you have not looked up? Is all your time and energy spent without looking up?

The Church is full of Talkatives, the son of Say-Well of Prating Row. Does this not tell you volumes about this type in just a sentence? Ready at a moment’s notice for what you will, this man can, with equal facility and equal emptiness, ‘talk of things heavenly or things earthly; things moral or things evangelical; things sacred or things profane; things past or things to come; things foreign or things at home; and the only condition that the wretched windbag stipulates is that all be done to spiritual profit.’

Surely you have met By-Ends of Fair-Speech. ‘A subtle knave’ whose grandfather was a waterman, looking one way and rowing another and whose distinguishing characteristics are that, in religion, he makes it a point to ‘never to go against wind and tide, and to be the best friend of religion when she goes in silver slippers, walking in the sunshine and is applauded of the people.’

What infinite skill Bunyan had to draw such a character picture in just a few sentences!

Who has not been the prisoner of Giant Despair and suffered in Doubting Castle, and then experienced that wonderful release by the Key of Promise? A beautiful picture and very relevant. Christians and their problems do not change with the calendar. Despair, doubt, fear, and death are still with us.

I hope you have been to Interpreter’s House where you see things rare, things profitable, things pleasant, and awesome things to make one stable. Real lessons can be learned about receiving people into the church at Palace Beautiful from that grave and beautiful damsel named Discretion.

A Practical Lesson

All of us need to be cheered by the help of Great-Heart, Stand-Fast, and Valiant-for-the-truth, and good old Honest. Some of us have been in Doubting Castle. Some in The Slough of Despond. Some have experienced the temptations at Vanity-Fair. All of us have to climb The Hill Difficulty, all of us need to be instructed by the Interpreter in The House Beautiful. All of us bear the same burdens. All of us need the same armour in our fight with Apollyon. All of us have to pass through The Wicket-Gate. All of us must pass through The Dark River. And for all true Christians there awaits The Shining Ones at the gates of The Celestial City, ‘which, when we see, we wish ourselves amongst them.’

Twenty-Six Soldiers

I hope I have encouraged you to use good sound literature in your ministry. There is power in those twenty-six soldiers—the letters of our alphabet upon the printed page.

Francis Bacon said, ‘If I might control the literature of the household, I would guarantee the wellbeing of the church and state.

Martin Luther said, ‘We must throw the printer’s inkpot at the devil.’

Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, ‘The smallest tract may be the stone in David’s sling. In the hands of Christ it may bring down a giant’s soul.’

John Trapp said, ‘Be careful what books you read, for as water tastes of the soil it runs through, so does the soul taste of the authors that a man reads.’

Samuel Zwemmer said, ‘No other agency can penetrate so deeply, witness so daringly, abide so persistently and influence so irresistibly as the printed page.’

The printed page never flinches, it never shows cowardice; it is never tempted to compromise. The printed page never gets tired; it never gets disheartened. The printed page travels cheaply—you can be a missionary for the price of a stamp. It requires no buildings in which to operate. The printed page works while you sleep. It never loses its temper in discussion. And it works when you are gone from the scene. The printed page is a visitor that gets inside the home and stays there. It always catches a man in the right mood, it speaks to him only when he is reading it. It never answers back and it sticks to the point.

Suggested Principles

There are some principles in using literature in your ministry that will be helpful:

(1) Know the books you give to others.

(2) Know the person, his needs and capacity, to whom you intend to give a book.

(3) Know the most serious areas of ignorance and the errors of our day. (The doctor does not give green pills to everyone, and he does not give medicine that is not relevant to what he believes to be the problem.)

(4) Do not be afraid to invest some money in your own missionary project.

(5) Follow through with other books and with discussion on subjects in the books you use.

(6) Aim to have a book-table in your church and see that its appearance is varied from week to week.

(7) Be sure to use books and literature that are consistent with the teaching of the Bible.

(8) Soak all the books you distribute in fervent prayer.

Where is God?

The truck which rammed into a crowd in Nice, France after the driver was killed.

Tragedy in Nice, France

The past several days have been alarming. Different tragedies broke out in different nations with the rapidity of lit firecrackers. The gory headlines include:

  • Police shoot two black men in two separate incidents.
  • Sniper shoots and kills 5 police officers in Dallas.
  • Conflict in South Sudan. Over 300 killed.
  • Man rams truck into a crowd in the city of Nice, France. At least 84 people dead.
  • Attempted coup in Turkey. Over 160 killed.

In such times of crisis, it is not unusual to hear that familiar question: “Where was God?” Why didn’t he do something about the innocent children who were murdered in Nice? Why didn’t he protect Alton Sterling and Philando Castille from the policemen who shot them? Why couldn’t God keep the 5 Dallas policemen alive? In moments of intense grief, it is normal to ask questions in order to make sense of tragedy. And my heart goes out to all those who have been personally stung in these atrocities.

While it is necessary to ask questions, we often ask the wrong questions. Instead of asking where God is, I think we should be asking: “Where am I”, or “Where is my society, in relation to God?”

These incidents confirm again and again that our world is broken. Things are not as they should be, and our world needs to be put right. Human nature is capable of so much mindless evil (and whoever said evil is rational?); advances in technology sadly seems to correlate inversely with our moral character. In the age of WiFi, we experience so much racial hatred, and all our technological sophistication only makes it easier for a man in France to subscribe to a heartless creed.

And we ask where is God?

Actually, God is where he has been all along since the foundation of the world.

He was there when the first human family rebelled against him and decided they could make out the meaning of life on their own. God was there when nations and societies spurn the light of nature and devise substitute gods for themselves. God was there in 1789 when citizens of France ushered in the modern world with their cry of ‘No king, No God’, a creed which still virtually governs our modern (and postmodern) world. God is there when, instead of reaching out for him, modern man devises all kinds of plans to solve economic, political, and social issues. God is always there, but the problem is that modern society has habitually seen him as the problem rather than the solution. We should run to God and not from God.

Can we change that narrative?

Instead of seeing him as a God to point fingers at, can we see him as a God to stretch our hands to? And I do not refer to something which only individuals in their private rooms should do. This is a responsibility which our modern governments and societies have long ignored. To the modern society, God is irrelevant; he is a relic of our medieval past. We have outgrown him. Sadly, our troubles and crises seem to have outgrown that conceit. Human wisdom has shown itself inadequate to solve human problems; they reach deeper than we tend to think.

We must bury our pride and become truly human once again, by remembering the God who made us and who has redeemed his creation through the work of Jesus Christ.

God’s hands are stretched out to transform not just our individual hearts but our entire societies. He can heal racial strife. He can give the terrorist a better cause to fight for, and with better weapons than guns and explosives. He can cure our lust for power by teaching us that power is a tool for service. He can satisfy our deepest longings for relationship and meaning, and resolve our anxiety over the great question of personal and social identity. Through him, and by coming to terms with Christ’s work of redemption, our lives, our institutions, and our societies can be transformed again.

But it will require us stretching out our hands in return.