Forgetfulness – Part 2: Missing the bus

Mention ‘The End Times’ to Christians and you will get one of two reactions: a low groan — ‘here we go again’ or a heated all-night debate. I believe this is a large part of our ‘forgetfulness’ problem with regard to the Return of Christ. To cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the end-times are everything; even to greatly-blessed ministers like John MacArthur the focus on his pre-millennialism theory can be OTT. Satan can cause the best of us to read far too much into the — mostly symbolic —numbers in Revelation to find out the date that Jesus clearly states ‘no man, no angel, not even I know’ (Matthew 24:36). Superstitious nonsense that people fall for – even the elect (Matthew 24:24). Revelation is an amazing and joyous book, more about Jesus than anything else; yet our obsession with these matters seems to kill it to the point where it becomes entirely unprofitable. Some people make it seem like the whole gospel itself is hinged on the thousand years or the number of the beast… Where is Jesus? Where is the cross?

Taking a leaf out of Paul’s book

Paul’s advice to both Titus and Timothy (young pastors) was to discourage talk over such matters, that we are never likely to resolve:

“Stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.” (Titus 3:9).

“Command certain people not […] to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk.” (1 Timothy 1:3-6).

That is not to say that we should not eagerly look into these things and work out our stance on these issues. Yet there is doctrine that is surely so much more important than these things — which can so often be divisive red-herrings and unprovable from Scripture. Instead we should look into what is profitable and honouring to the Lord — how about adoption, your privileges in Christ, the trinity, Jesus’ deity, etc.? — be a Berean (Acts 17:11) and check what your pastor says lines up with Scripture!

What should we do?

All the while we’re squabbling over the finer-points of the End Times in our hermit-holes, people are dropping into hell in their hundreds and thousands, every day. There’s a world dying out there!! For crying out loud brothers and sisters! Let’s get out there with the Gospel before it is too late and Jesus does return. God, in His infinite sovereign mercy has given us a role in the salvation of souls —as ambassadors of Christ  (2 Corinthians 5:20). I fear I, and perhaps others too, will have a lot to answer for on the day of judgement — ‘Why didn’t you warn people? I gave you friends, neighbours, colleagues and family to witness to, I gave you gifts to use for the work of My church; I told you to ask for more of My Spirit and I would give it you. Did I not tell you to go out into all the world and make disciples of all the nations?’

What will we say? What are our excuses now? ‘Oh I’m too busy with life’, ‘I don’t like talking to people’, ‘I’m not gifted in that way’, … There once was an atheist who said that one big reason he does not believe is because, if what the Bible says is true, Christians would be out warning everybody all the time and they’re not… — why believe a book about a man, if His followers don’t even seem to believe it?

The most selfish thing we can possibly do is not to share Jesus. The Casting Crowns song ‘Love you with the truth’ puts it brilliantly. Why has God let the world go on so long, considering His people were ready way back in the first century for His return? It’s because we know exactly when the world will end: when the last soul is saved, when the last of His flock is brought safely into the fold.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

What love!

On the last day, we will be saved ourselves yes, but won’t we miss out on so much more? Daniel 12 (see Matthew 25:21 too), speaking of the End Times, says:

“At that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” [emphasis added] (Daniel 12:1b-3).

The last part is often termed, ‘the soul-winners’ promise.’ Are we soul-winners? When was the last time we pointed someone to Christ? Let’s all cut the lukewarm cold-hearted worldly two-faced ‘Sunday Christianity’ baloney that seems to define us and pray that He will give us a glimpse of Christ, draw us closer to Himself, fill us with His Spirit and give us opportunities to witness of the Messiah. Let’s truly ‘Love our neighbours as ourselves’. What is more important than doing the Good Lord’s work?

A hymn we sung on Sunday encapsulated this brilliantly. I was only going to quote the last verse – but reading it again, I couldn’t bring myself to cut any of it!

May the mind of Christ my Saviour
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling
All I do and say.

May the Word of Christ dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.

May the peace of Christ my Saviour
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.

May the love of Jesus fill me,
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,
This is victory.

May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.

May His beauty rest upon me
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.

God’s Grace at work during the Second World War

Grace is such a wonderful and amazing conundrum (and I don’t use these terms loosely!). Throughout history, since the beginning of time itself, God has guided and protected us, through trials and tribulations, as well as bestowing upon the world His greatest gift. Every breath we take is another gift from God. How often do we stop to think of His amazing and immeasurable grace in all these many ways?

The Great War (WW1) was billed as the ‘war to end all wars’. How wrong that was! Less than twenty-five years later, the world was plunged into chaos once again (the same old story since the Fall of Man)…

God’s grace during the Second World War

I had the opportunity recently to avail myself of two great little books. War and Grace by Don Stephens published in 2005 by Evangelical Press (EP) and the recent follow-up War and Faith published in 2015. They are short but nonetheless powerful collections of testimonies of the Lord’s grace to a number of people from the Second World War. These range from fighter pilots and submarine commanders to chaplains and ordinary men and women caught up in the whirlwind of the War. Their stories really took my breath away.

Often, it seems, certainly in my circles anyway, we hear much from the great revivals and stories from before the turn of the 20th century and not so much from afterwards, when equally as great works of God continue to abound. Another book I recommend, while I’m at it, also by EP is The Power to Save: A History of the Gospel in China by Bob Davey; we often talk vaguely of ‘things happening in China’, this goes into specifics about the world’s largest country (population-wise) and is an encouraging read for the Christian.

The fact is God was at work in many different amazing ways during the Second World War. Not just in the momentous battles in the sky, the sea, in the country, in cities, in the Cabinet War Rooms or the ‘Wolf’s Lair’, nay God was just as much at work amongst the families and individuals thrown hither and thither by the great conflict; the poor starving Russian peasants, fighting for their lives; the civilians upon whom bombs rained down; the forgotten millions dying in concentration camps; and the masses blindly following Hitler and his Nazi ideology. We ask: how was God at work in such a great manifestation of sin and man’s wickedness?

He was at work in small ways and in big ways. Many tales can be told of remarkable escapes and deliverances, in which God’s hand is clearly seen. Many died for their faith, many cried out to God in their distress (even the most ardent atheists turn to God in times of trouble). As a whole, we can see God’s fingerprints on the way events played out and justice was served.

Two tales I know of, firsthand from those who experienced it, go like this:

Somewhere in the desert, British soldier Les Walker and his jeep were stuck the wrong side of a minefield. He needed to cross this field, to join his comrades on the other side, before Axis forces overtook him. He didn’t really believe in God, but he prayed simply, “Lord, if you’ll get me through this minefield, then I’ll serve you.” Having done so, without any further thought, he put the jeep into gear and drove on, straight through the minefield. God listened to his prayer and he emerged from the minefield unscathed, to the astonishment of his compatriots.
True to his word, once the War was over and he was demobbed, he served in the Lord’s army, being put to good use in the spiritual war that is all-around us.

Even into his nineties he served the Lord, seeking to show people Christ, in his own unique way. Once when on the beach, witnessing to a group of rowdy lads, they began to get ugly at this old man talking such drivel. “I’m gonna beat you up,” said one of them, towering over the elderly figure.

Les looked him in the eye and smiled, “Well, judging by the looks of you and the looks of me, I shouldn’t think you’ll have much trouble.”

“You know what, I like you,” grinned the lad, antagonism gone. And Les had an opportunity to tell them of Christ the Rock of ages, who had been with him throughout his long life.

Another remarkable deliverance, I know of, a world apart from desert minefields, happened on the little island of Malta: The small island with a fascinating history, well worth looking into, from the apostle Paul, who was shipwrecked there (the archaeological records of which make for interesting reading) to the Great Siege of the 16th century against a handful of knights called the order of St John, to German and Italian attempts to obliterate the place and doing their utmost to prevent British convoys getting through during the Siege of Malta in the War.

During this last siege (1940-42), a dear lady in our church (a teenager at the time) was with her father, a harbour-master stationed in Malta, taking refuge in a single room with some other civilians. The bombs rained down, heavier and closer at hand than they had experienced before. They crouched under a table nervously waiting and listening, until the all-clear sounded. Her father cautiously opened the door and stepped out, “I think you should see this,” he said shortly. Looking out, the entire area was flattened, obliterated. The building they had been taking refuge in was devastated, but for the room they had been hiding in. The full weight of this remarkable deliverance only struck home later on in her life, when she realised this was the ‘unseen hand of providence’ clearly at work. She can tell of many such experiences.

Discovering forgotten tales of providence

To all you young men and women keeping yourselves to yourselves in your own little corner of the church, playing Pokemon Go on your smartphones: have a natter with some of the older members of the church, and ask them to tell you a story! Once you get past the ‘new technology-can’t-keep-up’ versus ‘old fuddy-duddy’ generational barrier, and laugh off the “How you’ve grown!” comments (their way of breaking the ice), they’ll not only amaze you with how like-minded they are but will be able to relate amazing tales of the Lord’s providence throughout their lives, perhaps stretching back to the War. These might otherwise remain unknown and thereby sadly forgotten. The experience will leave you buzzing, and they’ll be delighted to tell you about the ‘old days’. There’s a challenge for you… do it! Pray about it and for blessing in your conversations. Get a notebook and pen or bring a friend, if it helps. Either way, do write it down!

War and Grace

Don Stephens wrote many of these accounts, in just such a manner, through personal correspondence with those who experienced them.

The first book features some key players’ personal testimonies, from all sides, including: the lead Japanese pilot in the infamous Pearl Harbor raid; the US airman (and former athlete) adrift at sea for weeks before being captured by the Japanese and tortured, the exploits of whom were recently portrayed in the 2014 film Unbroken; the prayerful Royal Navy submarine commander stuck on the bottom of the ocean; the US chaplain who witnessed to Hermann Goering and other leading Nazi war criminals; and a German pastor who gave his life in the Lord’s service.

They are all amazing stories of the Lord’s grace, irrespective of any of the divisions, cultural and diplomatic during that period. He was at work amongst the Allies and the Axis.

War and Faith

Smaller things and little people matter as well as big things and big people. They can all encourage us equally. This is the focus of the second book. Individuals from various backgrounds and ‘denominations’ caught up in the war, including a test pilot, holocaust survivor and a martyr in a land not her own, stubbornly refusing to give in, instead trusting in her Lord till the end.

 

Such stories are so vitally important for us today. Much is forgotten, and so little survives, so we should treasure it all the more. We can learn valuable lessons from them, as well as take encouragement from these rousing tales of God’s grace in troubling times. If we think we’ve got it bad then maybe we ought to think again! I would wholeheartedly recommend having a chat with some of the older folk, with an open mind.

I think it would be fitting to end with the hymn that was the watchword of dear Les Walker’s life on earth (as a young lad, my two memories of him were of this hymn and his love of the book of Isaiah, we always sang and read together), as well as many others:

Our God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home:

Under the shadow of your throne
your saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is your arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in your sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
soon bears us all away;
we fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

Our God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home!

Serving Christ on a Beach Mission

As Christians, we may often talk of ‘believing and doing’. But when was the last time we shared the gospel with a person or a group of people? We are called to take the gospel into all the world and make disciples of all men. This is part of our faith; we should be active and alive. This is where organisations such as UBM (United Beach Missions) play an important role.

Serving the Lord on a beach mission offers a brilliant opportunity for Christians to share their faith to children, families and individuals on beaches up and down the country. Whilst our lives should be continuous testimonies before the Lord and men; too often we can slip into a routine of saying little and doing little, blending into the world, or even leading a ‘double-life’. For this reason, beach missions are a great opportunity, especially for young believers. They are a real challenge and test of your faith.

Introduction to Beach Missions

Essentially, beach missions consist of small-ish teams of Christians, working with children on beaches across Britain (as well as parts of Europe). Each mission lasts a week (although many places run for several weeks) with the stated aim of building lasting friendships with children and parents, and more importantly, pointing them to Christ. The following video (although a little dated) provides a good overview of how UBM achieve this:

Blessings

Beach missions aren’t just about serving others, there is time set aside for personal study and spiritual growth, as well as collective prayer and worship. Being with other brothers and sisters in Christ (from mixed backgrounds), day in, day out is one of my favourite things about beach missions. It is so refreshing and revitalising, compared with day to day life. There is no swearing, no crude humour, no girl-boy flirting, immodest dress or other temptations. This difference was something that was brought home to me in stark form yet again as I arrived back home from a mission in Cornwall on a Saturday night. Almost everyone was boozing or getting ready for a night-out.

Instead of judging the poor souls who ‘live for the weekend’ and the sex, drugs, alcohol lifestyle, we should be filled with compassion, a love for the lost, a burden for lost souls, a desire to share with them the most amazing gift of God that we have. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says:

“In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

When we do so, we will be blessed, you can be sure of that!

One of the greatest things about beach missions is the fact that the gospel is being proclaimed to a receptive audience, publicly on a beach (something we still have freedom to do, although opposition abounds). The sight of boys and girls eagerly singing songs of Christ and listening attentively to Bible stories, and their parents watching on, happy to have a break from parenting; is one of the highlights for me.

Challenges

A beach mission is a test of your faith, your character and a test of your ability to survive with not that much sleep; but with God’s grace it’ll be a doddle and great fun too.

For the first couple of years I dreaded going on a beach mission, my shy old self wanted to hide away. It was only with the persuasion of my parents that I somewhat reluctantly went along. I loved every minute of my first beach mission however, having just turned fifteen, but no sooner had I returned home than I retreated back into my shell like a tortoise.

Now, having aged a bit and lost some of that shyness, I can look forward to beach missions with great anticipation and excitement; it is now one of the highlights of my year. This year, I was given much more responsibility, which is daunting and scary, but with God’s grace I survived! Beach missions are an excellent training ground for building yourself up into an effective soldier of Christ. The uniform, the team, make it easier (although it’s still hard!) talking to strangers, inviting them along to beach events and pointing them to Christ, perhaps by sharing your own testimony. Before every event there’s prayer, always a primary focus – we go not in our own strength with our own message but as servants and children of God bringing his message of forgiveness to the world.

 

So next year, put your name down for a beach mission! You won’t regret it.

UBM can be found online at: UBM.org.uk

 

(With thanks to Stefan Kindall for providing the featured image).