The House of the Forest of Lebanon (see blog Feb 20th 2016)


50 years ago, MIke Williams was on hand helping me rebuild a gearbox in my Thames 15cwt Ford van.  Recently, he was on hand to give advice on constructing identical roofbeams (strong enough to support a turf roof).  Doors and windows are from skips in the village – the little flat-roofed concrete shed at the back is old).

Two weeks ago, I was just back from Oman, I hope to follow this blog in the next day or so with one about the Cross of Jesus in the Qur’an.  Maybe the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (an important element in John Bunyan’s ‘House of the Forest of Lebanon’ can be taught in a fresh way through the ‘House’ now under construction.  Watch this space!

Looking to the future


In “Watchman, what of the night?” my last blog in July, I described watching the dawn.  In September, I had the privilege again of watching it for two weeks in Madagascar.  For many Republican voters in the U.S. election, it may seem a new dawn is breaking over Washington, for other Republican voters they wonder if it is a false dawn.  I know that for some Christians, their vote for Donald Trump was a protest vote without their seriously expecting him to win the presidency.  As each new (24hour) day dawns, pray for the U.S. president-elect, that the advisers he chooses will be people who listen for God’s leading, as we pray that also, for ourselves.  And, pray that they learn more and more, as all Christians need to, that forgiveness is the Cross-shaped truth at the very centre of building real and lasting peace.

My next blog may be some time coming.  Since I retired from parish ministry three years ago, the number of people visiting this blog has dropped to only a few a week.  I hope I have not wasted too much the opportunity of retirement, to listen more to God through His Word, and to do the work he has given me to do.  Meanwhile – I would be happy to keep in touch with any who would like to do so, at email:

Watchman, what of the night?

George Muller of Bristol, preached a famous sermon with this title around 1870.,%20what%20of%20the%20night.pdf 150 years later the sermon still stands as a great exposition of Isaiah 21:11.

Early on in preaching, I would say that it did not matter if the Last Judgment came in my lifetime or in many thousands of years time, what mattered was how I had lived my life before God, in the light of the cross of Jesus Christ.  But Muller properly corrects that, when he says:  Some may say, “Why make so much of the coming of the Lord? Is not death the same thing, for it is our going to Him? I once thought so myself; but I was led to see that there is a vast difference between the two. The hope of the Church is not death, but the return of the Lord. If I am taken out of the world by death, I shall myself be happy so far as regards the soul; but, blessed as I shall be, my happiness, even as regards myself alone, will not be full; for I shall not yet have my glorified body, my redeemed body. But when the Lord comes, it is the whole family brought into happiness and blessedness – the whole family gathered home. Then there will be the resurrection of the just, the first resurrection, when, therefore, the whole elect family will receive their glorified bodies. Death has to do with the partial happiness of individual believers; but the coming of the Lord has to do with the complete happiness of the whole redeemed family! So you see there is a vast difference between the two events as to the hope connected with them; and we must not yield to the statements that are made to the contrary. We must be guided by the Word of God, and not frame our own notions about these things, nor follow the notions of good people around us, if their thoughts are not according to the Word of God.

Tomorrow, Hilary and I go for a week to a youth centre on nearby Ashdown Forest, with 12 twelve children and their parents, we will be using Scripture Union Bible teaching material: “Guardians of Ancora”.  Fifty years ago, I was with a group of Durham students running a Christian camp for a group of 15 boys from Sacriston, a mining village near to Durham.  The camp was at Tayvallich on the west coast of Argyll, Scotland.  It was within a few months of my acceptance by the Church of England, for training towards ordination.  As a 21 year old, the immanence of the Lotd’s Return was real enough to set up a meeting with the College Principal, Jim Hickinbotham to try to persuade him that I need not endure a third year of further training, when a 2-year period was extended to three for non-theological students.  I failed in that endeavor.  My blog of Feb 10th 2013 has a ten minute film which includes a picture of that Tayvallich camp.

I watched the last light of yesterday fade over the valley from my rampart walk. Now the dawn of another ‘Lord’s Day’ comes.  As I prepare for teaching the next generation of my own extended family, I wonder how Isaiah 21:13 -17 will be fulfilled?

Many millions to pray for Europe (& the U.K.)?

52% of the U.K. electorate voted for Brexit – to ‘Leave’ the European Union last Thursday while 48% of us voted to ‘Remain’.  The picture of Europe by night suggests that whatever political arrangements we have, we have more in common than divides us.

Some Brexit voters saw beyond the migrant issue, but are properly concerned about the dangers of ever-closer union without democratic accountability.  Most of England with the exception of London went for Brexit (Newcastle and Tunbridge Wells among a few other honorable exceptions).  Now we wait to see if Scotland joins the EU and separates from the U.K., maybe the elections in France will produce a Frexit vote (etc) so there won’t be much of European Union to join.

Maybe, E.U. leaders will wake up to the fact that relatively few of us want any more political union, just  closer genuine working together.  And most especially, maybe Christians across Europe will wake up and make the Great Commission a priority.  Maybe Christians from across the pond will help to wake us up, as hopefully a million gather in Washington National Mall in two weeks time to pray for the USA.  See

  • The organisers want a million people to agree to show up in person.  But how many more millions could link up on line?

Great is Thy faithfulness…

Another month passes since my last blog. Yesterday a fortnightly home group/ Bible study group, it seemed as if the last one was only 2/3 days before.  “…And later as I older grew, time flew…”  so the poem goes, referred to previously.  Last night before sleep, I was reading my occasional journal of 50 years ago, and was thinking about God’s faithfulness before and since then.

The Grange

This evening, Hilary and I hope to show old Morden friends Marion and Peter Stephenson around the garden of the ‘two before last’ rectory in the village, near neighbour to the house my parents stayed in nearly 80 years ago, on furlough from China,  I think ‘The Grange’ was the rectory during the English civil war in the 1630’s, not a bad Living then!  (A Living is the old name for a rector’s job, a rector received rents from farmland).

Enough of ancient history.  Just 50 years ago will do for now – when God the Holy Spirit first connected in my mind the idea of churches together in evangelism in the North-East of England, with prayer at the centre – as I had experienced as a teenager in Northern Nigeria’s “New Life for All” campaign.  By July 1966, I had connected that with the idea of inviting Billy Graham to head it up.  Then 40 years ago this summer, as the new vicar of Newbottle  I was joining early morning prayer meetings for a Dick Saunders Crusade being organised in Houghton-le-Spring.  I have already blogged about how in 1982-5 Billy Graham headed up Mission:England, North-East, as well as in several other regions of the U.K.

Tomorrow, the U.K. referendum about the European Union: ‘Brexit’ or ‘Remain’?  Not quite a re-run of the Civil War of 370 years ago, but Boris Johnson appeals for a new Independence Day, his successor as the new mayor of London, Saddiq Khan putting up a passionate argument for Remain.  Maybe this evening, “…no longer gracious ladies walk in gardens in the sun…” That is a line from a song Chris Griffiths and I wrote for a musical in Elswick, Newcastle in the early 1970’s (it may well be raining tonight for our garden visit).

With regard to the Kingdom of God, how desperately churches together across Europe need to take more seriously their Great Commission, witnessing to the unique forgiving power of the Cross of Christ.  How to encourage prayer across the churches, to that end?  And not only of course praying about our witness to other native Europeans, but to all those from other cultures and faiths living, or wanting to live, among us.


“DAILY” Prayer

I intended to add to my March comment and have not yet done so, and with the month of April gone, and most of May, I have not given this blog much thought. It seems there was a little interest yesterday with comment about Ibadism, which has been much on my mind recently, it will I increasingly believe, play a big role in bringing about God’s reign of peace on earth….

How to pray, and to help others pray effectively for our world?  A little book “Daily” was given to my mother in 1932, I think it was as she set off for China after missionary training. Its author: C.F.Harford-Battersby, principal of Livingstone College, Leytonstone, it was first published in 1897. “Daily” suggests a scheme of prayer, beginning with short essays on Worship, Confession, Supplication and Intercession and Thanksgiving; then a blank page for Every Day morning and evening), a blank page then for Each Day of the Week, then a lot of blank pages entitled “Special subjects for prayer” and “Answers to Prayer”, and finally pages headed for each day of the month, each entitled “General Cycle – names of friends” and “Missionary cycle – names of missionaries.”

Mum used it like an autograph book, getting friends and missionaries to sign it in their own hand-writing. For the 19th, I think in Dad’s hand: F r e d e r i c k. His birthday was Feb. 19th. It looks like he signed the book sometime before they were married in June 1934 – my brother was born nine months later!

From Principal Harford’s introduction: We are not worthy to approach the living God, and we need at the outset to be clear as to the mode of our access to Him. May we then, before we go, take to ourselves the exhortation which the word of God gives us, “Having therefore brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say His flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22)

Tuesday of Holy Week

Yesterday I felt drained, I did manage apple-tree pruning, visits, and watched “Amazing Grace” about the abolition of slavery.  The day before I had been preaching, and had spent quite a lot of time in the week before, preparing (a luxury usually only afforded to occasional pensioned-off preachers).  But… “today is to be a busy one, so I must spend more time in prayer” (Abraham Lincoln).

Retired bishop Graham Cray tells me in my Scripture Union Union Bible reading notes, that the Roman Emperor Augustus called himself the Son of God, so the fact that in Ch.15 of Mark’s Gospel the title is used six times for Jesus, is perhaps not so remarkable.  The Qur’an of course corrects any idea of biological ‘sonship’.  I continue my enquiry as to how much the Qur’an denies the cross; a 400 page doctorate by W. Richard Oakes is on my desk-top….

Graham concludes with this prayer: Christ’s kingdom is the ultimate force for good, working itself out in history, Lord, in times of pressure to take an easier way, may I always choose your service.

London’s religious awakening

Guest article:  by Ben Judah, Catholic Herald,   March 11th 2016.  I have a brief comment at the end.


St George’s (R.C.) Cathedral, Southwark: church attendance is rising in the capital (Photo: Mazur/

This is the new London, an immigrant mega-city where nearly 40 per cent were born abroad. The old London of Pearly Queens and Cockney barrow boys is history. The new London is a city of Russian oligarchs, African night-cleaners and Polish builders – where only 45 per cent are white British.

This is the city I’ve chronicled in my new book This Is London. For two years I’ve been in search of the stories that make up the immigrant city’s soul: sleeping rough with Roma beggars, living in Romanian doss houses, working on Polish building sites and touting for work with Baltic labourers on the kerb.

As I listened, one thing that tumbled out was a hidden religiosity. Polish scaffolders talked of the Virgin Mary, carers spoke of Islamic angels and beggars formed Romanian prayer circles. Even in Russian Mayfair, I found myself taken to its kabbalist. The old London of empty churches and ambling suburban vicars who don’t believe in God is fading into history. The new London is a city of Somali basement mosques, overflowing Polish chapels and teeming African Pentecostal services in converted bingo halls.

What I found with my notebook on the street is backed up by official statistics: between 2005 and 2012, church attendance in London grew from 620,000 to 720,000. The number of churches grew at roughly the same rate.

London is experiencing a modest awakening, and it has a lot to do with immigration. This is mostly a Pentecostal story: 700 places of worship sprang up in London between 2005 and 2012, of which more than half have black majorities. This now means black people are far likelier to attend weekly services than whites – 19 per cent to 8 per cent. I find it quite moving just to write down the names of the churches without spires. A name like “Family Life Christian Centre: Raising Breakthrough Generations” says so much about the immigrant struggle.

Seen from the ground up, these Pentecostal church groups are increasingly important to MPs and councillors trying get an electoral edge. Many see them as keys to the city’s black vote. This is why they are fast becoming a fixture for the mayoral and even the national electoral calendar. David Cameron chose to appear at the Redeemed Church’s annual Festival of Light event in London in April 2015, speaking to 45,000 worshippers. Many Conservative politicians, hoping to draw black voters away from the more stoutly secular Labour, seek alliances with leaders of a religious culture full of super-pastors and celebrity faith healers.

Why are black churches so popular? Standing outside them interviewing attendees, I found African women keen to say they clung close to the church out of fear of family breakdown and gang violence. Many African men, meanwhile, said they enjoyed “being all black, and all together, not being watched”. But much of this boom in London reflects a boom in Africa itself, where pastors are national celebrities.

In any case, it is having a big impact. Black and immigrant churches now make up nearly a third of all churches in London. In inner London almost half of worshippers are black. There has been a boom in black majority churches – in the dilapidated offices of grungier parts of London they are now as regular a sight as the chicken shops.

How does Catholic London compare? It is increasingly a Polish story, but not one filled with the same revival as the African one. Nationally, some one in ten Catholics are now Polish, with a third believed to be regular church attendees when they arrive. However, Catholic Poles tend to become a little less religious in London, unlike their African counterparts.

Why? The story I heard in Polish London was one of limited capacity: there aren’t enough churches offering Mass in Polish, as the Catholic Church is a slower-moving creature, unlikely to establish places of worship in old carpentry yards and converted garages. There are only 120 Polish priests in Britain, simply because they are much more difficult to recruit and train than Pentecostal lay preachers. Another side of this is that most Polish migrants come from conservative small towns and villages. They find their views liberalised by life in the big city, but encounter a Church hierarchy felt to be deeply conservative. Thanks to Eastern European immigration, the Catholic population in London is now growing – but not quite booming.

Most of the Polish builders, labourers and cleaners I worked and lived with in London were new immigrants – from working-class rural families – and many expressed a frustration with the bourgeois “old Poles” who had arrived in the 1940s and 80s and dominated the Polish churches. Many felt that a certain snobbery towards the “rabble” had made these places much less welcoming than they could have been. Others told me that they have drifted away from the Church, reflecting what is happening in Poland itself – where regular church attendance has fallen below 40 per cent of the population for the first time in decades.

What about Islam? London is now a city of more than 400 mosques (compared with nearly 5,000 churches). The biggest are the size of small cathedrals and can hold 5,000 worshippers. But most are invisible, cramped, draughty, and without minarets, found in converted shop fronts and even old garages. With so many streams of South Asian, Arab, Somali and even Eastern European Islam, it is tough to characterise the average Muslim Londoner. Except for one thing: he or she probably prays in an overcrowded room. Researching This Is London I came to feel that this experience plays its part in radicalising youth. One interviewee told me it felt like “we are part of the underground religion, of the unwanted races”.

The different sides of Muslim London are keen to draw caricatures of each other’s mosques. Faithful London Muslims keep a mental map in mind of the city’s places of worship: which ones are so-called “revert [ie convert] mosques”, which ones are “old people’s homes”. The most common caricature I heard on the streets was that South Asian mosques, where the prayers are said in English and in a South Asian language, were increasingly day-care centres for the community’s elderly. The youth-dominated Salafist mosques are the more fun places to be, apparently.

London’s transformation into an immigrant mega-city is only just beginning. At current rates of influx, which experts agree are unlikely to diminish as long as Britain does not leave the European Union and its common market, the majority of Londoners will be foreign-born by 2031. I expect London’s new spirituality to become more visible in the years to come as communities grow richer and more confident.

So it’s high time to ditch a few myths. ‘‘London values’’ are not what many people assume. According to the 2011 census, only one in five Londoners are atheist or agnostic – compared with one in four in the country as a whole. The new London is the region where the fewest births are out of wedlock – just 36 per cent compared with, say, 59 per cent in the secular North East. The villages and the small towns in the provinces, not inner London, are where the godless are.

Anyone who walks around London will notice one sign of the change: the growth in “street preachers”, whether Evangelicals or Muslims. Little heard-of a decade ago, apart from the odd prophet of impending doom at Oxford Circus, they are now a regular sight on most of London’s high streets. They are here to stay.

END of BEN JUDAH’s article.

I woke up this morning, thinking about my hopes for the future, fifty years ago. From a Church of England perspective, those hopes have not (yet) been realised. But from a Kingdom, Christian world-church perspective, I think I would have been happy.  With the mindset of a 70-year old I could be fearful for the future, but then that is not my mindset.  “Forgetting what is behind… I press forward towards the finish, for the prize for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).  The Psalm set for this morning in the Book of Common Prayer is Psalm 68, it is a good read.  And thank you Ben Judah for your article.

House of the Forest of Lebanon

HFL Feb 2016

I am building, again.  Not a complete replica of a House that was part of  Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, but a small version of it near the bottom of the garden which runs down into Birch Wood.  (Sixty years ago, Dad persuaded the developer of Great Bounds estate Richard Thorpe, to stop building down into Birch Wood and around the pond, but to give the wood to the parish council instead, as a local amenity.)

John Bunyan wrote a “Discourse of the House of the Forest of Lebanon”, published four years after his death.  It is little-known, unlike his “Pilgrim’s Progress” which for a century or more would have been, after the Bible the most likely book found in poorer homes.  The main point of the Discourse is, that this House  “.. is typical of the churches of Christ while in a state of holy warfare….  surrounded by enemies, they have inexhaustible internal comfort, strength, and consolation. Like the house in the forest of Lebanon, they are also pleasantly, nay, beautifully situated. If Mount Zion was the joy of the whole earth, the mountains of Damascus were a picture of the earthly paradise. So beautiful is the scenery, and balmy the air, that one part is called Eden, or the garden of the Lord. It is described by Arabian poets as always bearing winter far above upon his head, spring on its shoulders, and autumn in his bosom, while perpetual summer lies sleeping at his feet. It was upon this beautiful spot, called by Isaiah “the glory of Lebanon,” that Solomon built his house in the forest.”

Bunyan did not have access to commentators and scholars, almost certainly the House of the Forest of Lebanon was in fact part of the Temple complex built by Solomon in Jerusalem.  Bunyan did however study many direct and indirect Bible verses to this House, and in the months to come, as my build progresses, there may well be more references to this “Discourse.”  It contains many great insights.

Hope for 2016

Flight to Egypt 

The flight to Egypt, by Jean-Francois Millet (1864)

I used this picture for a Christmas midnight communion sermon.  “What did the future look like for Joseph and Mary as they fled from Herod?  Other powers today, like Herod’s, brook no rivals.  Sheltered in Mary’s arms, that small bundle of light.

Back in the time of the old Kingdom of Israel, as recorded in 1 Kings ch. 11, a prophet called Ahijah prophesied that after the death of King David’s son Solomon, despite the kingdom being divided by civil war, God would always preserve ‘a lamp for David.‘  John the Baptist’s father Zechariah quotes Isaiah 9 v.2, in calling the Messiah “a light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

In her Christmas Day broadcast, The Queen drew attention to the beginning of St John’s gospel, and “The Light, the true light which enlightens everyone, that was coming into the world.”  The tiny lamp held in Mary’s arms, became the man whose voice thundered out as the great candelabra was lit in the Jerusalem temple at Hanukah, the Feast of Light, celebrating the temple re-dedication.  Writing after the final destruction of that temple, St John records the words of Jesus “I am the Light of the world”.

May 2016 see the light of the gospel growing in the world, despite the darkness pressing on so many, perhaps most especially, refugee children, as Jesus once was.  Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s international correspondent, knows more about such children than most people, and she is optimistic for them – at least for those among the 1,000,000 to reach Europe’s borders in 2015.  So many young people, themselves optimistic for the future.  How can European Christians do anything other than welcome them, and share the Love of God in Christ with them?


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