I was so blessed the other day through talking with a man I had never met before. Somehow my attention was drawn to him as he drank his coffee. I sat near him and began speaking to him as I drank my coffee. The conversation seemed to be surprisingly easy. Within less than two minutes he shared with me that he had mental health issues. Within five minutes he shared that these issues had got much worse when his mother passed away. Within two minutes more he told me he had seen a banner outside his local church inviting him in, so he had gone in. He found Christ. I am remembering as I write some of the phrases he used: “I am a changed person…My life is completely different from what it was… I have been born again, yes, that is what happened to me. I can hold my head up high walking down the street now…”
The simplicity of it all refreshed me… a banner outside a church that spoke of a welcome… finding Christ…life changed! We seem to be living in an age when the church itself is full of self doubt about its effectiveness, an age in which there is a mantra of cynicism about traditional ways and approaches to mission which we have to repeat (often to the hurt of those who found life in the things we mock and still do). Yet here was a man who saw a banner outside his local parish church, went in and was welcomed, entered the Kingdom of God and received eternal life which has begun now in him and will never end. Furthermore life is spreading through him. His granddaughter is now really excited to come along to church with him; he tells her to remember every day that Jesus loves her; in fact I heard 11 children are now going to that same church; not so long ago there were no children attending.
His testimony and hearing about his church fellowship refreshed me. I thought I was sitting down next to him to help him in some way, but I was the one who was blessed. I thank God for humble churches up and down the land in all sorts of places who faithfully bear witness in what might be looked upon as old fashioned ways, in whose vocabulary whom the word “missional” does not appear. They might not be thought to be at the cutting edge, they may even be mocked by those of us who have tasted and swallowed the devil’s delicious morsel that we are the people who are at the cutting edge (whatever that means!) The demise of local churches has been predicted since I sat in a church as a child before I was converted, but they are still there, opening their doors, putting up banners that offer welcome and help, doing good and caring in simple non dramatic ways.
I remember when the Toronto Blessing broke out in our congregation, St. Peter’s and St. Andrews in Thurso. In the congregation that night was a minister who summoned me to stand before his desk in great concern the next day as though I was a naughty schoolboy being called before a headmaster! He announced to me that having been in the service last night with his wife, they had agreed together on the way home that the Holy Spirit had left St. Peter’s and St. Andrews! Well, I believe that God alone saves. In that meeting that night God saved someone. He also delivered someone and met a horrendously abused person with consoling love, and began to deliver someone from involvement in the occult who had never been in the church before.
Tonight I praise God for the churches in Scotland, whatever their shape, size, type, worship style where God is still doing what only God can do; bringing people to a place where they know they are new creations in Christ Jesus. Let’s not be so quick to announce with authority, “God has left the building…Ichabod.” (See 1 Samuel 4:21.) Remember too when wood that is dried out catches fire, it burns really well! In faith and in the fear of God who listens and notes how we speak about our brothers and sisters in Christ, instead of being frustrated by dry wood and throwing it on the junk heap as useless and unfit for purpose, is it time to pray for it; perhaps even to pray for a particular church? God is sovereign. When the fire of true revival falls it usually causes offence because it begins in a place that many Christians would pronounce dry or dead. It often begins in out of the way places that makes many people scratch their heads and ask, “Why on earth did revival begin there? If I was God, I would have poured out the Spirit on…” Is there a church near you that you have dismissed as dead?
God bless you… and your congregation….and the church down the road over which you, not God, have said, presumed or thought, “Ichabod.”
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