Archive for the ‘Compassion’ Category

Christians have a message of Good News and hope that needs to be heard. It is an amazing message which transforms us and sends us back out into society with distinctive love and generous actions.

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Society, however, can be wary of Christians when we want to both help the needy and bring the Christian message, and it is easy to be intimidated. Our response though should not to keep our heads down and pretend we’re not Christians. We don’t need to hide the message about Jesus to fit in with some people’s views of what is acceptable in a pluralistic society. We care about people’s needs – about their deepest needs, material and spiritual.  London City Mission have been meeting those needs for almost 180 years and we are not about to stop.

In our imagination we may look back to a golden age when the Christian message was popular and acceptable, but that is a fantasy. Reaching out with the Good News of Jesus has always been unpopular. The New Testament describes the gospel about a forgiving, risen Christ as a stumbling block for the religious, and madness for the intellectuals. We shouldn’t expect to be popular, but we press on because we have a message of Good News and hope that needs to be heard.

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 In British society we too often emphasise the individual ahead of the group. We have a society full of lonely individuals, a society where old people go the doctor to find someone to talk to. The answer is not to employ more doctors (although that wouldn’t be a bad thing). Part of the answer is to have people throughout society, radically transformed by the Good News of Jesus’ love, grace and forgiveness – ready to reach out with love to their neighbours, in word and action.

 Churches have a vital role to play in London’s most needy communities. That role is more than just holding the community together though; Church is more than just a place to provide a Foodbank for the poor, or company for the elderly widow. Church is also more than just a place where people hear a stimulating talk followed by a chat with friends over a cup of coffee.

The transforming, life-changing message about Jesus flings Christians out into a world with hearts full of grace, sacrificial love, forgiveness, kindness and joy.

 As we think of the Christians’ place in society, it seems there are two extremes we can tend to. One is to say that the church is primarily a religious organisation for the betterment of its members. In that case we will stay behind our stained glass windows reading the Bible without acting on its teaching about love, mercy, justice. The other extreme is to say that church is a social service whose main purpose is societal justice, in which case we are likely to be co-opted by a needy  government into a professionalised social welfare organisation, filling the gaps in the government’s leaky social safety net.

 We have a much more vital role than that. We show Christian love, we share Christian hope, and we do so without conditions. And we don’t just show it to people exactly like ourselves.

We have a message of Good News and hope that the whole world need to hear. Good News of sins forgiven, of grace to the undeserving, of love for the unlovely, freedom for the prisoner, hope of a new beginning for the addict.

 It is as we live as 100% Christians, proclaiming the Good News of Christ and showing his love to the lost and needy, that we will play our role as salt and light in the dark and tasteless corners of this land.  Salt that has lost its taste is worthless, but distinctive Christian action, centred on a declaration of the good news of Jesus is of very great value indeed.

Based on a speech to Christians on the Left on February 18th2014

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This is why London City Mission loves London
We seek to share the transforming love of God with the people of London. The Bible tells us that loving others is going to be hard and costly. It tells us that our love shouldn’t discriminate on any grounds but be open to everyone, regardless of any distinction.
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This is one of the reasons we run Webber Street, our homeless day centre just a stone’s throw from Waterloo station. Here we give hot meals and new warm clothes to some of London’s most marginalised and unloved individuals, as we practically share God’s unconditional love with them. But we also want to see a change in the choices our guests make. We want to make a practical difference in their lives, but we want to make a personal and eternal difference as we introduce them to Jesus.

London is full of people who’ve come here to forge careers for themselves, people who stream through stations like Liverpool Street. Millions of people use London’s transportation system every day. While many of them don’t live in material need, we know that they have a great spiritual need. Despite outward appearances many here are hurt, broken, isolated and lonely. Jesus came for people like this.

At Departure we want to share the good news with those from other parts of the world who have settled in London. This area is typical of many in London where large ethnic communities have congregated together. They add colour, vibrancy, culture and language to London, making this one of the most diverse places on earth. The world has come to us! What an opportunity we have to share the love of Jesus with people as they settle in London.
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Our commitment to ministry in London is steadfast, just like the love we want to share with Londoners. We do this through committing to specific geographical areas for the long-term.
Sticking with people through thick and thin, whatever life throws at them, regardless of the decisions they make. Through our work right across London we want to create environments
where men and women can enjoy being with one another as they search for Jesus. We love because he first loved us.
Will you join with us as we seek to share the love of Jesus Christ with the people of London?
Whether through our centres, our cafés, or our marginalised, ethnic, compassion or workplace ministries.
Will you partner with us as we love London?

London City Mission has always had a heart for sharing the love of God, the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord with all of London. We have a particular emphasis on reaching the harder to access groups; the poor, the elderly, the sick, the immigrants, the prisoners. It’s not that middle class people don’t need to hear the gospel, but we have a calling to help the Church of London reach beyond its fringe to the 92% of people who would never walk into a middle class church. Brixton prison is just the kind of place where we want to reach out to the needy and we’ve been working there for many years. This week I was privileged to attend the HMP Brixton Christmas service and was filled with joy to see what was going on there.

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From the start the chapel was packed out. It has a capacity of 140, but with the men standing at the back I’m sure we had over 150 prisoners in the room (from a population of 700). The singing was terrific. I felt I was in the middle of a Welsh choir as we belted out, “O Come All Ye Faithful”. When a chorister stood up to sing a gospel number the room broke into pandemonium. There were men clapping, raising their hands in the air, even a couple of shouts of hallelujah. And it wasn’t all in jest, it was obvious that among the inmates there are men who have faith in Christ, and others who show a deep interest. How did Christians end up in prison? Chatting to the men there was a pattern to the stories. Often there was a damaging event; a return from fighting overseas, a divorce, childhood abuse, which then led to depression. The depression wasn’t dealt with well and soon became alcohol or substance abuse. The addiction led to other crimes either theft, violence, or trafficking of drugs. Prison hopefully called a halt on the downward spiral of these men’s lives. I am not trying to explain away the crimes. The prisoners have all made bad decisions and are guilty of hurting others through their actions. What did impact me was though how possible it is for all kinds of people, even Christians, to fall off the “straight and narrow” path and end up in a mess. There, but by the grace of God, go I. Just as I have met Christian men in LCM’s homeless centre, I have met Christians in prison who should have been given greater love, help and support by their churches during their spiral down, but we live in a society which is time poor, and where we have little time for the mentally ill, and the needy.
The Bible though challenges our behaviour and if we have ears to hear the challenge will come loud and clear. Hebrews 13 urges us to treat prisoners as our brothers, and Matthew 25 warns us that those who fail to show love to their brothers and sisters in prison will be turned away on the day of judgement. Can this really mean that we need to do acts of charity to prisoners to earn our way to heaven, surely that goes against the gospel of grace? Matthew 25 and James 1 are entirely consistent with the gospel of grace outlined in Galatians and Romans. I think rather that these good deeds, showing care for the prisoner in Matthew 25, or care for the elderly widow in James 1 act as a litmus test for true Christianity. Lives transformed by the gospel of grace will always show the fruit of love. A church which has lost its love for the prisoner and the elderly is almost certainly a church in which the gospel of grace has been left behind.

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Praise the Lord that the gospel message preached by London City Missionary, Rob Hooks, at the service will be going out to every prison in the country on Christmas morning on National Prison Radio. The opportunities to work with prisons are amazing. We have an open door to work with the prisoners preparing them for release and we regularly run courses like Christianity Explored and the Christians Against Poverty budgeting course at Brixton. Right now there are no volunteers to support the Christians Against Poverty work but we are hopefull we’ll get it back up and running soon. If you feel moved to get involved in the outreach to prisoners then there are several ways to help. If you are ready to make a regular commitment of time then there are opportunities to volunteer to assist in prison chaplaincies http://lcm.org.uk/Groups/9917/London_City_Mission/Join_Us/Volunteers/Volunteers.aspx
Another way of getting involved is to support Rob Hooks in his work by donating at JustGiving and mentioning your support for Rob https://www.justgiving.com/londoncitymission
For many the best involvement will be to pray for the work – you can sign up to pray for any of the London City Missionaries. We are desperately in need for more prayer supporters right now http://lcm.org.uk/Groups/9350/London_City_Mission/About_Us/Prayer/Prayer.aspx

What tho’ my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho’ the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them go winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

Listening to Irish singer Enya sing this old hymn inspired me to pray again this week for brothers and sisters celebrating Christmas in far off prisons, labour campus, and gulags. They are not far from their Lord and saviour.
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Hebrews 13 says this:
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Do we treat our brothers and sisters in prison as if we are in prison with them? Do we pray for them monthly? annually? ever? Do we care for our family who have been mistreated in Syria? Have we been praying for them and sending money for food? The good news is that despite our neglect our brothers and sisters won’t be neglected by the Lord, but let us continue to pray nevertheless for what we do to the least of our brothers reveals our attitude to Jesus our saviour.

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A bulldozed church in China

In addition to the Christians suffering persecution in prison, there are those being attacked in their own homes in the Middle East. Recently the Prince of Wales was joined by Prince Ghazi of Jordan on a visit to the Egyptian Coptic church in Stevenage and the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in west London, where he heard from a number of Christian families who have had first-hand experience of the rising tide of persecution. “We cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately attacked by fundamentalist Islamist militants,” he said. “The Arab spring [is] rapidly turning into a Christian winter” was how the author William Dalrymple put it on the BBC.
Christians have increasingly become the target of violence, with churches assaulted, priests abducted, individuals targeted and homes looted. In Egypt alone, Amnesty International has reported that during this past year 207 churches have been attacked and 43 Orthodox churches totally destroyed. And the situation of Christians in Syria is deteriorating rapidly as the Free Syrian Army has become increasingly influenced by foreign jihadist militants. Many thousands of Syrian Christians are now fleeing over the border to Turkey. One man who made the journey from Syria claimed: “Where we live, 10 churches have been burned down. They started to threaten Christians in the town we live. When the local priest was executed, we decided to leave.”

I’ve added some links to provide some food for thought for Christian prisoners of conscience in the Far East

http://dynamic.csw.org.uk/article.asp?t=report&id=176

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/12/05/satellite-images-reveal-scale-north-korea-prison-camps-group-says/

http://news.sky.com/story/1182848/chinas-illegal-detention-of-christian-pastor

http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/pray_for_the_persecuted_church/2011/08/china-releases-five-church-leaders-two-years-after-linfen-police-riot.html

Christmas is a busy time for London City Mission, it is all too easy to get swept up in a busy round of carol services and mince pies. This week though I attended a Christmas meal that made me pause.
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Our Webber Street day centre provides food, showers, clothes, health services, friendship, and advice to the homeless who sleep close to Waterloo and London’s Southbank. Each day we provide breakfast and this week I had the privilege of attending our Christmas meal and talking about the Good News described in Isaiah 9 for people living in darkness. Whilst we ate our turkey I got talking to the men sitting on my table and heard their stories. P is in his twenties and has a PhD in physics (and discussed quantum gravity with me to prove he wasn’t a story teller). Q is an older  gentleman who graduated from the London School of Economics. R is an Irish man who hasn’t been home to Dublin for 30 years and used to work on building sites before he got too old for it. Each man was full of remarkable stories and could have kept me talking for hours. They discussed Isaiah 9 and young P was explaining to Q that the equations of physics describe a universe so  unnecessarily beautiful that he felt that belief in a God was the most straightforward explanation. R said he felt he’d had religion beaten out of him by the monks at his school. All of the men had sad stories explaining how they’d managed to end up on the streets. None were beyond the redemption or the love of God. It struck me that most people would enjoy sitting and chatting with these fellas so why are there so few volunteers to work with London’s homeless and marginalised?
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I guess fear is one of the main reasons. We imagine “marginalised people” are very different from us and so we have a fear of the unknown. “What could I say?”, “The cultural gap is just too great”.
At Christmas we remember the coming of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. He crossed an enormous cultural divide to be with us. He went from being in heaven, served by a host of angels, and constantly loved to being a child of peasants, misunderstood, and mistreated. He didn’t just come to have a friendly chat with us, but he gave his life sacrificially so that we can know the forgiveness and love of God. I pray that this year Christians across London will reach across cultural gaps to speak of our hope and good news with the elderly, the homeless, the single mums, the Bangladeshi neighbours, the people who are different to us. As we do that we have a promise from the greatest cross cultural missionary of all time. “All authority in heaven and earth have been given to me, and I will be with you always”.

I recently gave a talk to Bible scholars to encourage involvement in gospel outreach to the poor, elderly, and marginalised with London City Mission. We got onto the topic of “mercy ministries” and it was suggested that the “Good is the enemy of the best”, and perhaps we should be spending more time preparing sermons and less time organising foodbanks. My response was that we need to be “both and” Christians who obey the 2 GCs. We need to obey the Great Commission to preach the good news & make disciples, and we need to obey the Great Commandment to love God & love our neighbour. We then got onto the question of who we should be loving. “Surely the bulk of our love should be reserved for our fellow Christians?” This led to the  question, “So who exactly is my neighbour?”, at which point I told a story.

An African student was walking along Oxford Street, after his fellowship group, on his way to his hall of residence. As he walked he was brutally assaulted. His wallet and phone were stolen, he was knifed and left half dead in a shop doorway.
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Now by coincidence a vicar was walking along the road that night. He saw the body in the doorway and felt troubled but he had a sermon to write. “I need to give priority to the ministry of the word, I mustn’t be distracted by the needs of every tramp on the street”, he thought as he passed by on the other side of the road.
By further coincidence a Bible study leader was also walking down the road. “I need to look after the needs of my study group, I don’t have time to meet the needs of the world”, he thought as he walked past quickly.
A church member was also walking along the road on the way to a late night sale at Selfridge’s. He saw blood tricking from the body and thought, “Oh my goodness those awful black gangs have brought their knife crime to the heart of London” as he jumped in a taxi to to the safety of home.
Finally a Romanian gypsy spotted the body. He quickly applied pressure to the wound and did emergency first aid. He called an ambulance and accompanied the body to the hospital. There was confusion at the hospital about whether the injured man was eligible for free NHS treatment so the Romanian handed over his bank card and said, “please charge all of his treatment to me, I’ll be back tomorrow and I’ll ask my cousin for extra money if it is needed”.

After telling the story I asked the students, “Which one of these acted as a good neighbour to the African student?”.
“The Romanian gypsy”, was the unanimous opinion.
“Well we must go and do likewise”.

When we start debating the, “Who is it that I need to love?” question we are falling into the trap of the Pharisees.  The question should never be, “How few people can I love?”  Jesus made it clear that  narrow categories need to be exploded.  We are to love across cross-cultural boundaries.  We are to love the Samaritan.  We are to love even our enemy.  The Bible shows us that Christians are not only to love fellow Christians (of course we must especially love them), but we are to love the poor, the needy, the elderly, and the foreigner in our midst. (Zech 7).  The New Testament Church also didn’t just leave this love to the goodwill of individual believers.  When brothers and sisters in Jerusalem suffered a famine the entire church network across the Middle East pulled together in a fund raising plan to support fellow believers (2 Cor 9).

This blog is not an exhaustive discussion of the risks and benefits of engaging in mercy ministry.  There are many more issues to discuss; rice bowl Christianity, manipulation of needy people, the unconditionally of love, creation of a dependence culture,… to name but a few.  I want to explode the myth that loving the needy is a competitor of the work of preaching the good news to the lost.  To be unloving is to sub-Christian, and as mature believers we are called to follow the full counsel of God, 100% Christians not sub-Christians.  We are called to love the needy, to bind up the wounds of the broken hearted.  We are called to make disciples of all nations, and we are called to teach the full counsel of God.  In God’s economy this is not an either/or decision.  The good is not the enemy of the best.  Wise expenditure on reaching out with love to the needy does not push out expenditure on gospel ministry.  Our Father ‘has the cattle on a thousand hills’. He has plenty of time and resources to reach out with love to the elderly widow living next door and also preach the Word of God to the ends of the Earth.  As we fall to our knees faced with the needs of a lost world we will be equipped with what we need to both support the needs of our famine stricken brothers and sisters in the church of Antioch and the resources to plant new churches on the council estates of Dagenham.  We have a big God.  He will achieve big plans.
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