This World is God's World (6) December 2022 - News and Views from a Christian Perspective
December 2022 This World is God's World
News & comment from a Christian perspective
By Rev Peter Ratcliff
MEMORIES OF J BARRY SHUCKSMITH
The Rt Rev Dr J. Barry Shucksmith was a very dear brother and, with his wife, a role model.
Barry took a bold stand for the truth in his early days in a matter regarding compromise in his parish. As a curate under the authority of his vicar, Canon Dean, Barry was critical of having Bishop Stockwood of Southwark preach at St Nicholas Tooting because Stockwood was heavily into the occult! This righteous criticism was unacceptable and Barry paid a heavy price, effectively being blacklisted from the Church of England. He took a similar stand for truth in a much bigger battle with the Free Church of England not long before his official retirement.
Such experiences can break a man but Barry consequently valued and encouraged true Christians in various denominations with a particular warmth.
I could absolutely rely on Barry when I was editing English Churchman. I would often call him and ask for an article for a deadline which I knew needed more skill, experience, knowledge and time than I had myself. Typically Barry told me he was sorry and couldn't do anything right away. Then he'd invariably add, "I'll have a go in the morning" and most often there would be a full orbed carefully argued article in my inbox by 8am. There aren't many people like that!
Many of Barry's articles were compiled into books and are available online. Barry was a clear and careful writer, orthodox but not overbearing, always with a warm but reverent tone. His writing on the 39 Articles is concise but helpful. Also on the Athanasian Creed. He wrote an autobiography and a book on the Ulster 1859 Revival. Also a book that was a rebuke to the famous "Honest to God" heresy entitled, "Honest for God". Another book, Lincolnshire Cameos, was originally articles in English Churchman about Christians from Lincolnshire, an interesting book which Barry produced to reach his Lincolnshire kinsmen with the Gospel. I don't know how many more books he wrote!
Barry was always a wise counsellor, and yet he was a sensitive soul and didn't brush off genuine disagreement in debates but rather examined himself to see if there was any truth in any claim. For example, on one occasion Barry wrote a very enthusiastic review of a book by Andrew Atherstone which took a positive view towards the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Regrettably the optimism turned out to be false and Barry deeply regretted writing the review and he felt he should not write any more. However, a mark of Barry's maturity was that he accepted comforting biblical encouragement from myself, a much younger man.
Another mark of Barry's maturity was that despite his great gifts and talents, which he used so vigorously, Barry did not deny his weaknesses and pretend to be something. Rather he confided in me that he was disappointed with himself. I would not be the first to remind a humble brother that the closer a person is to the Lord, the more he will feel his unworthiness.
This leaves us a question. Where are the next role models? The online versions may impress but they won't do. We need real men we can observe and talk with. The grand old evangelical generation is dying off and while we are not without godly friends, we must pray for godly labourers in the Lord's vineyard. Maybe the Lord will make you into such! What will these men and women look like? On the one hand they will look like us but on the other they will be "strangers and pilgrims". Yes, they will be plain and personable, not extravagant, but what will really characterise them? Heavenly mindedness, godliness, kindness, pleasantness, thoughtfulness and a deep desire to glorify God. Let us look out for such and follow them.
RESPONDING TO AN ATHEIST
Thanks for your remarks. I understand your doubts. That is quite normal.
Despite the confusion in many churches today, the old Christian teaching (what I would describe as Protestant Evangelical) is still alive today. The harshest critics have been moved by coming to trust in the gift of Jesus Christ. Doubts are only dissolved by turning to Christ to save us and then knowing God.
This is not the place for me to preach (?) but I am sure we all agree that mankind has brought its problems upon itself. I would stress that I believe that the answers that Jesus provides to this and to all problems are very satisfactory. The Second letter of Peter in the Bible speaks to this situation of mankind today as much as it did in the first century. It says in chapter 3 that people mock that God is not doing anything but it assures them that God has not forgotten!
Likewise we can so easily answer Stephen Fry and the atheists' criticism of Christianity concerning evil and the existence of a good almighty God. A short clip from a recent sermon on Revelation 11. https://m.youtube.com/clip/UgkxfoDMfTDzt4lo_jEpKbEa8bNLE6I7-4rC#bottom-sheet
It is funny that people are so critical of Christianity although it is much better than the gloomy alternatives! I may be able to suggest a helpful church near you if you will consider taking our response seriously.
CENSUS FALL IN NOMINAL CHRISTIANS AND OUR DUTY
With the census telling us, for the first time since the Dark Ages, that less than 50% in the UK are Christian, the atheists are already pushing to remove the remaining scraps of Christian wording and ritual from public life.
However, sad as this is, Britain is less than 5% real Christian, maybe only 1%, so we are on another page entirely. The real church doesn't need political power and it cannot be stopped from worshipping God and preaching the Gospel to the 99% majority composed of pseudo-Christians, followers of false religions and atheists.
And we are not hindered. The Atheist who rejects Christ falls into exactly the place from which only Christ can save him.
WESTMINSTER CONFERENCE 2022
Hearing the excellent addresses and many contributions in discussions at the Westminster Conference, December 6th and 7th, 2022, in London, I am reminded that despite the passing into glory of a previous generation, we still do have some great minds among us. I won't name names but there are many and there are many many more throughout the worldwide church.
And though we personally may feel our lack of some of this knowledge and wisdom, we should not be discouraged but rather be encouraged by the gifts that others have which they don't hide in a box but which they share with us slower creatures to apply in our own God-given situations.
The passing generation of eminent saints weren't perfect and we are not going to be given perfection ourselves to replace them and to further the work. But we will be given the Holy Spirit. We praise God for the work of the Holy Spirit in using men to write the Bible and then working in past generations and leaving legacy to us over 2000 years. And we praise God for the work of the Holy Spirit today, both in us personally and among us in church worship, fellowship and conference.
And we thank God for the example of men like David Livingstone about whom we heard at the conference. Livingstone went to Africa like Abraham, not knowing where he was going. Like Abraham he didn't get everything right. But like Abraham and like us, if we are Christians, Livingstone was a man of faith and therefore a man of great works. Livingstone went boldly.
The question was asked, did Livingstone neglect his family by taking risks and being away so long? In a way he did and perhaps we wouldn't follow his example, but there is a way in which we should deny ourselves, take-up our cross and follow Christ. Clearly we want our families on board with this.
I remember hearing the children of missionary pastor John Gillespie (then retiring pastor of Grace Community Church, Looe, Cornwall) speaking at a special farewell thanksgiving a few years ago and one teenage child after another said that there had been difficulties but that the blessing far outweighed the cost. So it will be for us as we may feel that our families bear much of the burden of the Christian life and ministry.
So we too can and must go boldly as Christians. We don't have all the gifts that others have but we have the Spirit of Christ and he has called us to serve the Lord with the unique abilities he has given us, strong in weakness, in our particular generation and situations.
O what glorious days await the people of God as we live for him in perilous times!
Church history is the subject of the Westminster Conference and may not seem the most urgent of subjects, and certainly the papers and discussions may at times stretch the concentration of us weaker brethren, but thinking about church history is thinking about the work of the Holy Spirit in other people in a profound way and it works in a deep way to strengthen us for the days ahead.
The 5th and 6th December 2023 may seem a long way ahead for the next Westminster Conference, God willing, but why not pencil it in your diary now?
WHAT SORT OF CHURCH?
I visited a local church and it was full of people all day long every day. There was an excellent library, a book and music shop, various large rooms and restaurants and many offices and places to eat and drink. The main aspect was not the activities themselves but that this all provided ways for people to be together with other Christians.
Then I realised that there are several churches like that around here and realised why few were coming to our very straightforward worship meetings.
Then I woke up from my dream. These churches aren't really like that at all, either they don't exist or they aren't half like what I imagined. The reality is that most Christians are at work and only have a very limited time so would rather spend most of the time they do have together in worship.
Then I realised also what joy our people have when we go out together to evangelise in the streets. I think that for most times this beats the outreach and fellowship of cafes and "hanging out".
Just to clarify, the church in the dream wasn't like the typical church that runs a cafe and a food bank, all of which and more has its place. The church in my dream was much more than that. It was almost like where people lived. It wasn't so much a community outreach as a place predominantly for Christians, some of whom were employed there. This is perhaps why I feel that such churches, except some commune type retreat places, do not exist.
But then we have to spiritualise our dreams! In fact these places do exist! Christians do care for one another. A typical pastor of a small church will find himself involved in all manner of care and helping. Others in the church who are able bodied and able minded will do the same. These people will also be good neighbours to unbelievers.
Also, most of what Christians do is done without blowing a trumpet. See Matthew 6:1-4 and the terrible danger of giving with pomp or show. Many Christians help and give without telling anyone. This is important because Jesus warned of flashy almsgiving and said we should give as if our left hand doesn't know what our right hand is doing - giving secretly so as not to receive praise of men.
So in fact, my dream was true. Yet, because most people have to work and have heavy commitments, responsibilities and duties, the image of a church as a house full of activity is only a metaphor of a real church! The fact is that if a church is a real Gospel church then there will be the fruit of good works, some of which is indeed visible but much of which is done quietly. For example, we don't even know the Good Samaritan's name so universities and hospitals are not named after him. He wasn't made a "saint" by a Pope! He rather reminds us of the unknown warrior whose remains were buried in Westminster Abbey to remind us that he could have been anyone's son.
So by all means, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven." The encouragement is that even if your church doesn't look like the church of your dreams, you may be serving the Lord more than you know. After all, were not the people SURPRISED when they responded in Matthew 25:37-39 to the Lord telling them that they had served him in a way acceptable to bring them to heaven? Nevertheless we will want to examine ourselves and seek to spend our short lives wisely.
THE SEARCH FOR OUR IDENTITY
The plural pronoun used for a singular person has precedent with both the royal we and the demon possessed,
"My name is Legion: for we are many." Mark 5:9.
Also we have adopted the plural pronoun you for the singular thee or thou.
They is also used for singular collective names. Eg The Government are (rather than is) doing such and such.
However we mustn't adopt they for he and she because that would be to deliberately neuter someone and to endorse the false view that a person is neither male nor female.
However, this gender dysphoria or trans craze is a symptom of a much wider identity crisis. As people do not know who they are, they try to create an identity for themselves through creating an extraordinary image or persona. However this quest for meaning is in vain without turning to God. Rather it is a sad case of idolatry, making an idol of ourselves to worship. To think that we could make cuts to our bodies or paint or dye ourselves to try to make us into something unique and special is very quite delusional.
But are we not all a kind of art project? Aren't we to explore life and be creative? Indeed we are but these efforts to create a better life are in vain. I remember the punk look in the 1970s looked so dramatic but the people who went in for this were very ordinary, basically just copying each other, going along with peer pressure. It is the same today as men are needing to be too frequently at the barbers to maintain this artificial appearance and are as careful about their clothes as the women.
I dare say this has infiltrated the evangelical churches too. That is not to say that we should not all spend a small amount of effort to maintain a reasonable and pleasant appearance, but we must not put much time and money into such. Certainly we should not attempt to find our identity or hope in creating some artificial appearance.
Yet, the irony of all this search for self is that there is a genuine real search that we should be very serious about. However it is not about our outward appearance. There is something infinitely more creative to discover than merely fashioning our outward appearance. What we need is for the Holy Spirit to convict us of our lost state, to lead us to faith in Christ and his sacrifice for sin. Here we will find the one true identity we are lacking, being restored in the image of God. Here and only here is peace for the restless soul.
And it is such a great find. In a cruel harsh competitive world, the least person can find this great gift of God. The Bible describes it as God lifting up the poor from a dunghill and setting him high up with princes. What could be better than real spiritual life, the free gift of Jesus Christ being not only a Saviour to sinners but a full restorer of souls?
Dear reader, if you are still with us, and you don't know God, I urge you to get to a good Bible believing church on Sunday. Don't delay. Life is passing away and the judgement of hell is hanging over those on the broad road of life. And it needn't be. Can you see the pointless vanity of being a fashion victim? Now, come and seek God's grace and blessing.
CATCHING THE DRIFTERS
Every now and again we remember people who have kind of vanished out of our lives. Some of this is natural, maybe they gave up Facebook or just moved in other directions. But there are people out there who have stopped communicating because they aren't very well spiritually, emotionally or mentally. Some are seriously backsliding.
I am thankful that a short way into my Christian life when I started backsliding, a brother came to visit me and had serious words with me which brought me back from the brink and, by the grace of God, I have been kept from going anywhere near that brink again for nearly 30 years.
My question is this: Do you know people who were once keen Christians but appear to have drifted? Or are there people whom you once knew quite well and you have just lost touch? Why not give them a call or write to them or better still, try to visit them? Maybe it won't come to much, but maybe you might pull a brother or sister back from the brink of the abyss. It seems like a small thing but it could be your best work for the Lord.
STREET PREACHING REPORTS
Street Preaching in Wimbledon
Thursday 27th October 2022
Thanks for your prayers. Having felt a little tired in the afternoon before going out, this was a refreshing time. I did feel helped in preaching on the text I am working on for the Lord's Day morning, John 16:25. Jesus said that he would show the disciples "plainly of the Father". Therefore the Christian gets a very clear understanding of God. Have you considered what a miracle this is? The disciples were all confused and then at Pentecost they are as clear about God as could be. This is the wonder of Christianity, having an absolute clear sureness of God's grace toward us. I went on to say how the world has got nothing in any religion or philosophy and I challenged the passers by to tell me what they have got that compares to the wonder, love, joy, peace and forgiveness of God in Christ. What hope and future have they except the grave?
Maybe I need a little amplifier but I am reluctant. The area is a little noisy with buses but there are gaps and there are people who hear very clearly.
Some 15 year olds were messing around quite a bit to begin with but they then stopped and came to chat quite seriously and were very happy to take tracts.
Hope to be back tomorrow, Friday, with a slightly larger band of helpers and report back here.
Friday 4th November 2022
On this dark damp cold evening I began preaching Christ from Isaiah 9:2 "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light". Later went on to Romans 1.
We had a good little band of six of us altogether with Raymond Stewart making a little video on Facebook Live.
I particularly had four good conversations all with young men who either came directly over to me or through one of the helpers.
First a man who simply enquired in a very genuine way saying he would be foolish not to consider Jesus. I had another young man stop and say a similar thing a few weeks ago. This sort of enquiry is quite rare. Let us hope and pray that this is the beginning of something. Our friend today asked intelligent questions and I gave reasonable answers and gave him a Bible.
A second young man was clearly not so well but he also enquired in a very genuine way, claiming to know something about Jesus. I gave him a small pocket New Testament and Psalms which he was really pleased to receive.
A third young man spoke much in a very sweet thoughtful way on various subjects and about mathematics although from a somewhat philosophical viewpoint, also showing some interest in Jesus and some understanding. He said he was gay and also on medication for psychosis. Interestingly he said he received hatred from both people in general and those within the gay community. This was an unusual but great conversation.
A fourth young man had seen us on previous occasions but said he had felt too shy to stop to encourage us but today he felt he had to stop. He was converted only a year ago and now teaches Sunday School at a Pentecostal church which meets in the afternoons. He may well visit us too.
So, all in all, this was very encouraging. What might the Lord do with these young men in the future? Clearly the Gospel is alive. Though many pass by, understandably, hurrying along, people are hearing something and responding. The Lord hasn't finished yet.
Thanks for prayers. I don't go out doing this feeling nervous but I do feel weak but then most encouraged through your prayers.
Our dear elderly helper had been rather weak so I didn't think she'd be able to come. As it was she did come and I encouraged her to bring a walking stick device. On the way she picked up some new spectacles. She was as vigorous as ever and funnily enough went back home on the bus without her walking stick or glasses. I could have claimed a miracle there but really it was the grace of God in lifting our spirits. O what joy!
We ended up there longer this week, just over 90 minutes. I think I felt fresher again through having an hour or so quiet at home before starting and perhaps also because we only went once this week.
I found an Arabic New Testament at home and took it along for the lady we met last week. She didn't appear. This is just one little way in which we try to keep our promises even if we don't particularly expect others to follow up.
Friday 18th November
It was a good hour. It was warm enough for us fair weather preachers! Before preaching started we were talking with a woman we have met before but haven't seen for ages and it turns out she had been very unwell. It was good to see her and she had heard from her boyfriend that we had been talking with him over the weeks, so that was very encouraging to hear.
Another needy young woman told my wife that when her grandmother's house was being cleared, her mum was going to throw out an old Bible, but she kept it and had been reading it ever since!
Several passersby encouraged me with Amens and praises to God. One even stopped and prayed for our elderly helper. She told me that some people plainly came to her for tracts because they heard the preaching, so that was encouraging too.
One lady quietly suggested I did something else, but she said it politely!
Generally I felt much helped in preaching plainly, forthrightly yet warmly and was sustained in quite a fresh way for nearly an hour with virtually no breaks, so I am thankful for that as my throat is not 100% clear of last week's cold.
At the end we spoke to a man collecting for helping women in Iran. He wasn't a Christian but spoke very highly of Christians in Iran. His mother rejected Sharia and like other women in Iran, suffers. He fled a long time ago. It is good he is raising awareness. He seemed to agree that Islam is no good. He said there were 2 million Christians in Iran. I challenged him that he should be a Christian too but I also said that I realised he must know Iranian Christians here trying to persuade him and he acknowledged that he did.
Certainly it is a good time of the week to be out there (Friday 5:30pm) as although it is dark, there is quite good lighting. We'll see what happens as it gets colder. I think below 10C people will be too cold to stop or respond. We may have to change times or go on Saturdays. I always avoided Saturdays in the past as I used to strain my voice for the Lord's Day but that doesn't seem to be a problem now as I have learned not to strain my voice.
Thanks for your prayers.
Friday 25th November 2022
REPORT: Preached for nearly and hour starting from 1 Peter 4 and the righteous being "scarcely saved" and how we would feel scarcely saved for judgement yet by the grace of God we are.
At one point I hit a theme regarding vanity and how people spend so much time trying to create themselves into something with great attention to their hair and clothes. This was heard as at one point a man walking past accused me of insulting him! So people are listening! My point was that people are going to such trouble with their appearance but in vain because God can see their hearts, they are going to die etc. At other points I put it slightly differently, that however much attention people pay to their appearance they are not going to find happiness without God.
There was however a man sitting and listening and I focused my attention to where I thought he was feeling, that the person who felt the worst was well on the way to heaven compared to others, explaining that there is a Saviour and that salvation is from the greatest to the least, all by grace. I compared this to the typical thought people have of not being good enough for heaven and returning to the "scarcely saved" point. When I stopped I was sorry he just walked off. As myself and the other helpers were about to pray, the man appeared with a certain amount of tears and heavy heart and I told him I had been preaching specially to him. I had not been the only one speaking to him recently so he felt very pressed. I won't give all the details of our conversation but it was so encouraging. We exchanged phone numbers and are hopefully keeping in touch. I suggested a church nearer where he lives.
Another encourager was the worship leader of another local church!
Another was a woman who talked with my wife and said she just wanted to stay a bit longer to listen to the preaching.
And yes, 5:30 in semi darkness was a good opportunity to let some Gospel light shine!
Thanks for your prayers. Certainly I felt greatly helped to preach loudly and clearly enough without shouting and it felt like quite a lot was heard.
Friday 2nd December
I thought I'd try preaching with my phone in my top pocket making a video to give praying friends an idea what it is like. The volume isn't perhaps very loud as the microphone would have been at the bottom of my pocket, but it recorded ok. More importantly people passing by could hear well as it was a relatively quiet evening but it was cold too, so there weren't as many people hanging around to listen.
I was disappointed with the lack of seasonal lights, not because I believe in such things at all but I was hoping for some physical illumination in an otherwise not especially well lit location. There are masses of little lights on the tree nearby which would have been pretty and welcoming but they weren't on. Is Wimbledon going down hill?
I had one long conversation, which takes up most of the second half of the hour, with an ex soldier. I was a very moving time with him. He lives a distance away so I recommended a couple of local churches.
After we finished and were leaving we chatted with a man who had already been talking with one of our helpers. We had a very enjoyable and extremely colourful conversation, with him asking good questions, and he accepted my responses very well and even with much excitement. This is the difference between genuine enquirers and those who want to dismiss us. The whole engagement was very sweet.
Thanks for your prayers.
THOUGHTS IN BRIEF
Worries and Fears
Are you naturally fearful about what could happen? Horrible thoughts may lurk within us but when brought to Jesus, all is soon very well with the soul. Look to Christ again and be cheered!
Beginning and Ending
Just as the Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ, came into the world miraculously and left the world miraculously, so the creation and end of the world is miraculous. The heavens and earth was created miraculously by the Word of God and it will also be ended miraculously by the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Cheer and Misery
Be of good heart friends! Lamentations 3:22,23 is one of the most cheerful places in the Bible and yet largely because it is in the most miserable of contexts!
Better Through Affliction
I have not seen a Christian go through affliction who did not come out of it better than he went into it! - From a recent sermon on Lamentations 3:1-3
25th December this year is the Lord's Day. Let us shift parties to another day and keep the day holy to the Lord with morning and evening public worship.
With so many MPs standing down at the next election it is time for suitable Christians to replace them and raise the standards in public life. Do you know anyone?
The Puritans were not the flavour of the month. We are in good company.
John 17 by George Newton (Banner of Truth reprint)
An astounding book. Just dipping into this. Nearly 400 double column large pages on this amazing prayer of Jesus. The introduction says that George Newton was a Puritan minister in the Church of England in Taunton and that when he preached this series on John 17 it had a life-changing effect on both himself and the church. May it inspire such a change in our day as it did nearly four hundred years ago.
Human Nature in its Fourfold State - Thomas Boston (Banner of Truth reprint)
Excellent book....and I am only just into the second part. The first state, of innocence, is truly wonderful and I think we underestimate it and this downgrades our view of all that follows in redemption. And those of you who have read this classic book, can you confirm that the book gets better and better as it goes on to explain the states of nature, grace and eternity? I still have a very long way to go from page 79 of this 500 page paperback.
I believe Thomas Boston was a key precursor of the 18th Century Evangelical Awakening.
By Rev Peter Ratcliff
St Johns Continuing Church, London
Tel: 07946 465156