September the beginning of a new Methodist year and the start of my fifth year in the South East: where is the time going? What does the future hold for us? No idea! But when we put our future into the hands of the living God we know we need have no fear, no anxiety, because with the psalmist we can say ‘Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.’ Ps 20:5 although; instead of saying chariots and horses we might say human strength and resources.
I have been considering this in the evening services over the past few weeks. Starting with Abraham we are looking at people of faith in Scripture and also people of faith who have made an impact on society over the last 2,000 years.
As a definition for faith I have taken the phrase from Genesis 15:6 “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” My definition: Faith is ‘Believing God.’
As we unpack that definition we will realise on its own it is inadequate. Defining faith has caused much dispute over the centuries. The Apostle James wrote “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Martin Luther dismissed the letter describing it as an epistle of straw because of that phrase. This has led some to rephrase it with the definition: ‘Faith is belief in action.’
In recent years we have got used to celebrities or people in the media attacking religion and in some cases focusing on Christianity in particular. I get the impression that some in church leadership have become cowed by these attacks and would rather not put their heads above the parapet.
Attacking something and ridiculing it without considering the effect it has on individuals and society, or its benefits over time is more an illustration of their bigotry and narrow-mindedness than a critique of faith.
Looking at history and how individuals have affected society in a significant way because of their Christian faith and obedience to Christ should encourage us in our Christian walk. Let me give you some names to illustrate what I mean: these won’t be unfamiliar to you. Some may even be household names.
In Britain, the oldest hospital is St Bartholomew’s founded in 1123 by a Priest, Rahere, in the Court of Henry 1 and a Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral. Historians have said this was the inspiration to others to build more hospitals.
The first schools to teach the poor were started by churches reaching out to those who worked long hours in the mills, mines, and farms etc. and had no education. The only day they couldn’t work was the Sabbath and so Christians set up classrooms in their buildings which became known as ‘Sunday Schools.’
In 1870 schooling became formalised with the passing of the Elementary Education Act by William Forster a Quaker.
Lord Shaftsbury as a child had no experience of parental love. He rarely saw his parents and when he did the experience was unpleasant and frightening. He was influenced by the housekeeper; Maria Mills, a woman who exhibited Christian love, teaching him bible stories and how to pray. Her influence affected him for the rest of his life.
His Christian faith led him to bring two significant Acts before Parliament. One regarding how the mentally insane were to be treated and cared for: previously they were left tied to their beds naked, no toilet and no care. The asylums were described as ‘places where lunatics were taken to die.’
The second is the act he is best known for. Children and the poor worked long hours with no respite and as a result, their life expectancy was short and the quality of life very poor. The ‘Ten Hours Act’ stopped anyone under the age of nine working in the woollen mills or factories and no one under the age of thirteen could work more than 10 hours a day; no one under 25 could work at nights.
Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale, Mother Theresa and many others exhibited their Christian faith practically in serving others. What about Paddy and Carol Henderson; never heard of them? Think of the Trussell Trust and food banks. Carol’s mother, Betty Trussell, left her a £70,000 legacy; more than enough to pay off their mortgage instead they started the Trussell trust and have fed over 900,000 people in Britain. They speak of their Christian faith and God leading them to do this.
When speaking with his disciples and their inability to understand what he was warning them against Jesus said: “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?” Matt 16:8f
Remembering what God has done in the past and how he has worked with people who trust Him is a terrific encouragement when facing things in our lives today, or in the future, which seem beyond us and our abilities. Nothing can exhaust God’s resources and provision other than our lack of faith!
What was the motivation for these and the many, many, many others who have applied their Christian faith selflessly?
‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ Matt 22:36f
I conclude with Luke 10:37………………….
Happy New Year,