Monday, 30 January 2017

Heritage Matters

The genial looking old gent below is Charles Morrison, my great grandfather. He was a master shoemaker who owned a boot and shoe making and retail business in the picturesque village of Aberlour on Speyside. It is to him that five generations of Morrisons owe much of their Christian heritage. What follows is his obituary, published in the year of his passing (1916) in a journal entitled 'The Christian Worker'.

It should be noted that the language, is that of 101 years ago: over formal in places, and therefore not an 'easy read'.

Among the pretty villages on the banks of the River Spey, God has wrought some of His wonderful works in grace. Hay Macdowall Grant, the godly laird of Arndilly, brought many of the Lord's ambassadors and soulwinners to that district in the palmy times of the great in-gathering half a century ago, and for several years grace flowed like a river all along the region, bearing many into the kingdom of God.

The subject of this brief record, Charles Morrison, of Aberlour, passed through the later part of that season of grace – in which several members of his family were brought to the Lord – without personally experiencing the great change. But, in 1869, during a visit to Aberlour of two evangelists he received and confessed Christ as his personal Saviour, and with twenty-one others, was baptised in the river Spey the following year. This was the beginning of his spiritual life.

In 1872, a year which is of very savoury memory among Christians in the northern counties, God gave much light from His Word on the simple and Scriptural manner in which Christians should assemble for worship under the guidance of the Spirit, and this light was followed by assembling in the Lord's name alone (Matt Ch 19 v 20), outside of all denominations, as believers, owning no distinctive name, and seeking to go only by the Word in church as in individual life.

Mr Morrison was one who took a decided stand in this movement, and continued steadfastly in the path to the end. He had a warm heart for the spread of the Gospel, and according to his measure and opportunities, was dilgent in making it known. His genial manner gave him ready access to many fields.

In addition to the meetings in Aberlour and Craigellachie, in which he shared, he went out among the surrounding hamlets of Archieston, Carron, Delmunich, Arngarron, and in farmhouses where precious souls were saved. He was a regular and diligent tract distributor and house to house visitor, a service in which he found much joy, and which was greatly appreciated by the people.

He was an enthusiastic Sunday School worker, and many who passed through the school begun by his efforts, are living for Christ in various parts of the world now. His presence at the yearly Conferences at Craigellachie, so familiar to Christians from all parts of the British Isles for quarter of a century will be missed, as also his willing help in arranging for the comfort of visitors, a service in which he delighted.

His last Gospel testimony was at a farm some distance away, where his message on the words, “O death where is thy sting, O grave where is thy victory?” was full of power.

In business life Mr Morrison was much respected in the district in which his life was spent, his Christian candour and upright ways bringing him many a client.

In order to find a short release from “the daily round" of life, he had gone to Strathpeffer for rest, and it was while there that the home call came, softly and silently on June 23rd 1916. Without a pang or a sigh, only a bright upward look, the ransomed spirit, released from its earthly tent, passed to be with the Lord.

He leaves a widow with a son (John) and a daughter (Isabella) to mourn his loss, and there are very many who will miss the genial smile and word of godly cheer of Charles Morrison of Aberlour.

May God in His goodness raise up many such workers and witnesses, for they are sorely needed: men in business life who will not spend all their energies in the service of mammon, but who, while conducting their affairs in a way worthy of God, will give of their best to the spread of the Gospel to which they owe their salvation and to feed and guide the flock for which the Lord gave Himself a Redeemer and Saviour.”

My great grandfather, Charles Morrison was one of the founders of the Christian Brethern Assembly which met in Aberlour from 1872 until January 1969. His Son John and grandson Charles (my father) all preached the word regularly in the Assembly at Aberlour.
Through their witness and faithfulness to the Gospel many people from the surrounding area came to know Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Carry On.....Preaching

Loyalty is a commodity which seems to be in short supply these days, even in Christian circles. It’s such a pity because Christians are supposed to be marching to the same beat in ‘the Lords army’.
During World War 2 my father came to experience real loyalty from his fellow inmates in the POW camp outside the city of Danzig in Poland where he was held for five years. Although most of the prisoners had no Christian faith, many had a deep seated need for spiritual comfort in their adverse circumstances.

 Describing himself as ‘a nominal Christian’ at the outset of the war, the abnormal situation of captivity drove my father to take the advice of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah and: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him”.

 As he began to pray and read his Bible, the Lord answered his prayers in miraculous and practical ways. Eventually he began to preach, and from April 20th 1941 until February16th 1945, my father faithfully prepared and delivered a Gospel message in what became known as the ‘Sunday half hour’ to the men of his billet.

 In his retrospective, ‘We’ve Been a Long Time Coming Boys’, he relates two incidents of answered prayer and that vital commodity of comradely loyalty which enabled obstacles to the Sunday evening services to be overcome.   

 “Some days later, Alex Espie reminded me of the horrific experience we had outside St Valery the previous year and of how, behind the old stone dyke, he had crawled in my direction hoping for better cover from the enemy's fire. “I frankly admit I was terrified that day. I was sure we were going to be killed and I was not ready to die. Then I looked at you,” he went on “and you did not seem to be scared at all. Your seeming calm puzzled me. At the time I could not tell why. However, now I know the answer. It came from the Psalm you read to us on Sunday. Now I realise someone was with you that day all right, but I was there all alone.” He referred to Psalm 23.

There were two incidents which I feel worth recording, regarding those Sunday night efforts of mine. Both had a touch of the ridiculous and also of the wonderful, when you pause to consider how the Good Shepherd can look after his sheep.

The first hiccup arose when we were issued with postcards to send a weekly message to our friends at home. We were allowed three of these cards per month plus one single-sheet letter on which to write our correspondence. Without exception, all my mail was addressed to my parents in Aberlour Scotland. After I had preached my first sermon, I was so excited about it, I had to let off steam on one of these cards. Of course, I did not count on the German censor's office staff. Naturally, these cards were to pass through their hands. The first card went through all right although I had written on it, “Spoke to men for first time. Read Ps. 23 and Jn. 10”. No doubt this jargon must have seemed strange to the ignorant German mind, but I got away with it without comment the first time. But then, each week, there were more mysterious writings — Rom. 8 (Romans, Chapter 8) and Eph. 2 (Ephesians, Chapter 2) and so on.

Eventually, some keen mind in the censor's office decided that there was a spy in the Quadendorf Camp and these were secret messages in code. Such treachery must be nipped in the bud. Consequently, I was put on the carpet and asked to explain what was going on. I'm not exactly sure who grilled me about the matter. It was certainly a guy from the censor's brigade. After many tedious explanations, I was able to con­vince him that these secret codes were merely texts from the Bible. They were the references I used in our Sunday Half-hour each week. Can you imagine what a fool he must have felt when he made his report to his office on his spy-catching affair. I feel sure he must have decided he would wreak his revenge on me for this stupid mistake. Some days later I was summoned to our guards' office. There, I was handed an official-looking type-written letter in someone's best English. In it were laid out the Prison Camp Rules. All public meetings were strictly verboten  (forbidden) unless notice was given beforehand. Thereafter, an interpreter must attend at all times to hear what was likely to be said. After all, sedition, insurrections or even an escape might well be hatched up or planned.

Unfortunately at that time, we had a guard who enjoyed causing trouble. We called him 'Chinny' because he seemed to be born without a chin. I sometimes wondered if his ugly face may have prompted him to dish out the rotten tricks he got up to, whenever opportunity came his way. Now must have seemed to be a good chance for him to stamp out the first signs of rebellion in our ranks. Sunday Night Assemblies must cease forthwith. This, he made abundantly clear. Frankly, I did not know what to do. I retreated to our billet, tail between legs, and decided to consult the other men. Their decision was swift and completely unanimous. “Carry on, Schuster,” they said, “and we will all stand by you.” Mind you, I did not know what was to be involved in standing by me, but I did two things. I prepared as usual and then I prayed.

Sunday evening came and I had started my sermon and was getting into top gear when the billet door was flung open. There, framed in the doorway, face livid, arms akimbo, stood Chinny. For a second, I hesitated. The atmosphere was electric. Suddenly, the silence was broken by big Joe Wathen. He said quietly but firmly, just the two vital words, “Carry on”. Staring the guard straight in the eye, by the grace of God, I did as Joe said. I carried on. Chinny tried to stare me out, then wheeled on his heel, and slammed the billet door. The victory was ours. “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty”.[1] Chinny never interfered on a Sunday night again.

The second incident I want to record about our Sunday Church Services was a different kettle of fish, as we Scots would say. It really began with the arrival at our camp of another new boy, Tommy Danes, from Glasgow. Tommy claimed to be a welder, but I doubt if he knew much about the job. He also aspired to being a comedian, but his repertoire was pretty limited and his jokes soon began to wear a bit thin. As a matter of fact, Tommy never really fitted in with the rest of the boys. One day he decided he had had enough of our camp and disappeared during the morning stint of work. At midday soup time Tommy was missing and we were all locked in our hut while a search was quickly organised. Later that day, the fugitive returned under escort. I don't think the German High Command was much troubled by this escapade, if we might call it that. Tommy had lain in a ditch until a convoy of German trucks drew up on the main road. They were on their way to the Russian front and had stopped to get a meal. With all their men dispersed to their field kitchen, Tommy emerged from his hiding-place. With hands held high and “camarading” all the way, he approached the only soldier left with the wagons. The German looked him up and down with disdain and told him to come back when the Officers had finished their meal. Thus a heroic attempt at a Colditz-type adventure came to a halt and Tommy was returned to our headquarters camp.

Alas, we poor souls had to bear the brunt of our guard's wrath. After all, our Unteroffizier, Big Jim as we called him, decided that if he was in the black books with his superiors, he would take it out on all of us. Consequently, he decided on two strategies. The first was to burst into our billet in the middle of the night and shine his torch on our blissfully-sleeping faces. That could really make you jump. His second ploy, however, was the one which caused me not a little anxiety. He issued orders that when work was finished for the day, all trousers must be handed in to his office immediately. To my annoyance, this was also to include a Sunday. Here was a tricky situation for me. I could not imagine myself holding forth from the Bible in my shirt-tails. What to do? Clearly I must pray about this, and I did, several times a day.

 Saturday came and I felt like calling off my Sunday sermon. However, unknown to me, the Lord had other ideas. After work that evening, having collected, counted and stacked all our trousers, Big Jim wandered back into our billet and threw down a Red Cross clothing parcel. As it was not for me, I retired to my upstairs bunk and, as usual, lay down on my bed to read. Presently, the lad who had received his parcel pulled my elbow and held something up. Believe me, I had never seen in any P.O.W. Camp, what he held in his hand. It was a pair of brand-new pyjamas. “Would you wear these please,” he asked, “and have our Sunday Half-hour tomorrow night as planned?” Imagine my thoughts — surprise and shame. Here was I praying for help, hardly believing that I had been heard and in this dramatic way, help arrived. That Sunday evening, I read from my Bible and spoke to the men — I, wearing Stan's pyjama  trousers, and the congregation in their shirt-tails. I doubt if many preachers could claim to have had such a privilege as I had that Sunday night. Fortunately, by the next week-end Big Jim had cooled down somewhat and we were allowed to retain our trousers overnight again.”

Few preachers can have ministered in such circumstances. It speaks volumes for the loyalty of my father’s fellow prisoners that they stood up for him in the cause of Christ when needed, even although their faith was weak, or in some cases non-existent.

 We should pray that such courage and true loyalty once again becomes the hallmark of believers in our fellowships and churches.

We’ve Been A Long Time Coming Boys’ by Charles Morrison, Published by Albyn Press ISBN 0284 98840 5

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Taking a Stand for Jesus

Unlike many preachers, my father had no formal theological training. As well as running a successful business in a small Scottish village, and playing his part in the raising of four children, he also preached twice a week, every week in the local Gospel Hall from 1948 until January 1969. Many came to know Christ through my parents’ ministry and personal witness.
My father’s undoubted gift and enthusiasm for preaching God’s word was developed in what he called, ‘the furnace of affliction’: the prisoner of war camp in Poland where he was incarcerated by the Wehrmacht from 1940 to his liberation in 1945.

In his book, ‘We’ve Been a Long Time Coming Boys’, he relates his ‘call’ to the ministry and his first service in 1941.

0N APRIL 19TH, 1941, a prisoner from the main camp joined us at Quadendorf. I doubt very much if he had any notion as to the influence he would have on our men in general, or on me in particular. The new arrival was Fred Goodchild, a middle-aged Englishman, small of build and with a slight limp. Fred had been hit by flying shrapnel in France and his wound always caused him pain.

Our new colleague had scarcely settled in when he asked if we had a Church Service on a Sunday evening. I did not hear him ask this question but I learned later on that the answer he got was a firm “no”. However, some more sympathetic or perhaps sarcastic gent added “We do have a Bible thumper in our ranks. You'll see him lying somewhere reading The Book.” Of course, I was the man they referred to and the book was my father's little Bible. So it was like Stanley meeting Livingstone in darkest Africa, Fred Goodchild met Charlie Morrison, better known as Schuster — at Quadendorf. At once, Fred suggested a camp service the next evening, which was a Sunday, and I was delighted to agree. But then, the bombshell was dropped. I said, “You will give the sermon, Fred.” He looked at me in absolute amazement and said “Me, Mate! I could not preach a sermon. It will have to be you.”

That was how I was ordained to the Ministry as they put it in churches nowadays. By the way, the word “ordained” merely means “put in position” as in the Psalm — “the moon and the stars which you have ordained”.[1] With a great deal of hesitation and also trepidation, I agreed to take on the job just for one Sunday. Little did I dream that the one Sunday would continue from April 20th, 1941 till the week we were evacuated from Danzig on February 16th, 1945 — nor could I have imagined we would not miss one Sunday service in all that time. How I managed to find a new subject each week with only a Bible and no fancy reference books, I say in all reverence, only God knows. But the God who knows also cares and was to provide me with all that I required in the thoughts He put in my mind through all these long years.

My immediate problem however, was to find something to say the next evening, for my newly-found friend Fred became my P.R. man. He went round everyone inviting them to hear my very first sermon. What was I to do? The only thing left to me as so often, was to ask for help, in other words to pray.

Consequently, about seven o'clock on April 20th, with the men sitting round the room, I stood up and read without any singing or prayers. The only two parts of the Bible I knew anything about were Psalm 23 and The Gospel of John, Chapter 10. To my mind they seemed to fit together pretty well. I assumed that most of the lads would have a fair working knowledge of Psalm 23. It was written by David, the shepherd lad, and begins as we all know with the well-known words “The Lord is my Shepherd...” Here was one of the great song-writers and musicians of his day. He played the harp in those times and not the guitar. He had told of his faith in God through this particular psalm. I tried to press the point about David's experiences in life. He had faced and killed both a lion and a bear. Then he tackled Goliath, the Philistine plus armour-bearer, and downed the giant pretty smartly with a stone — in the Name of the Lord.

This he did while his big brothers and the rest of the Israeli soldiers stood open-mouthed in terror. Yes, David was no slouch and could say from his own experience, “Even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you (Lord) are with me”. How vital to realise, I said, that without Jesus Christ as my Lord, death can be a very lonely time. No friend can go with me here. But when my trust is in Christ, I will “never walk alone” as the football supporters love to sing, not even in the valley of death, for He has promised “I will be with you”.

But then I had also read from the Gospel of John, Chapter 10. These words were spoken by a greater Shepherd than David. They were the words of Jesus himself, the Son of God. What did He have to say to me? Verse eleven reads, “I am the good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep”. David risked his life for his sheep because he loved them and knew them well. Jesus did more than David. Jesus laid down his life for his sheep — on the Cross. The Bible says while we were still sinners Christ died for us. The Good Shepherd could say “No-one takes my life from me. I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again”.[2] Not only did Jesus speak here of his death, but he also promised he would return from the dead, as He did. Having tried to explain this to my audience, I then veered on to verses 27 and 28 of John, Chapter 10 and here, I quote these two verses to save time. Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand”.

Now my path seemed clear to press home my whole point. I recited the only verse which I could recite by heart: “All we like sheep have gone astray”. That was a good moment, I thought, at which to say that I was as big a sinner as any of them. “All we like sheep have gone astray, each one of us has turned to his own way, and God has laid on Jesus the sins of us all.”[3] (What a subject it is, but I did not really do it justice at all. I was too scared.) There's another verse in the Bible which confirms this truth for, it says, “Christ died not only for our sins, (i.e. Christians’ sins) but for the sins of the whole world”. From that, I understood the only sin which would deprive me of eternal life and debar me from Heaven was the sin of unbelief: of refusing to receive Christ as my Saviour and Lord.

When I had finished this miniature sermon, I was absolutely shattered. I slipped off to the kitchen, most likely to get a drink of water. Immediately, I was followed and bombarded with questions from all sides. I don't remember much of what I was asked, but I do know that Joe Wathen was one of the lads who drew me aside. He told me he had been christened in Church as a child and confirmed at the age of twelve. He joined his Church later on, but never grasped the truth before that when Christ suffered on the Cross, he died for our sins.

One of my  favourite hymns is ‘Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus’, written by George Duffield on the tragic death of the hugely successful evangelist Dudley Atkins Tyng in 1858. While the military allusions in the hymn might not be too popular in present day evangelical culture, it is an encouragement to believers to continue to stand up for Christ by preaching the Gospel even in the most difficult of circumstances.

I am always reminded of God’s grace to my father in the circumstances surrounding his first sermon when I sing these precious words:


Stand up! Stand up for Jesus!

Stand in his strength alone;

The arm of flesh will fail you

Ye dare not trust your own

Put on the Gospel armour,

Each piece put on with prayer;

Where duty calls or danger

Be never wanting there!


My late father’s book can still be obtained via Amazon.

We’ve Been A Long Time Coming Boys’ by Charles Morrison, Published by Albyn Press ISBN 0284 98840 5


Monday, 9 January 2017

The Privilege of Prayer

Normal life came to an end for my father at the age of 21 on the morning of June 12 1940 in the French coastal town of St Valery-en-Caux. Along with several thousand men of the 51st Highland Division of the British Expeditionary Force, he was marched off into captivity by the German army.
Although he had been brought up in a Christian home and had committed his life to Christ while still at school, my father described himself at age 21 as ‘a nominal Christian’.

Liberated after five years of captivity on May 5th 1945 by an American army unit, he returned three days later on May 8th to his home in the village of Aberlour in Scotland; the experience of war and captivity had changed him in soul, spirit and character forever. His Christian experience, life and witness, now far from nominal!

The day before the surrender of his unit in 1940, my father prayed in desperation as he waited for the next German attack. He recalls the moment in his retrospective of the war years in his book, ‘We’ve Been a Long Time Coming Boys’:

As I lay there, I kept wondering when our navy would come in. We would soon be on board ship with such a great story to relate. All the weeks now behind us would seem like a bad, nightmarish dream. Escape somehow we must — but how, I could not quite imagine or tell. It was then that I thought of my family and friends, of loved ones who doubtless would be worried, but I knew would be praying for me.[1] Yes, prayer was the answer, of this I was sure. And so, as we waited for the action to begin, I started to pray, something like this: ‘Dear Lord Jesus Christ, in your mercy please get us out of this mess. If you do, I promise most sincerely to serve you as never before.’ It was not a genuine prayer. It was only a desperate plea for help and I guess God in Heaven, who knows the thoughts of our hearts, could quite easily read my intentions that day. I often wondered later if He smiled and said “I will, sometime, but not now.”

However, within 36 hours my father experienced a real answer to prayer.

When the German tanks eventually appeared and rumbled down to surround us, we must have looked a pretty rag-bag dishevelled body of men. I was quite near our Brigadier as he turned to his driver, Ronnie Gordon, and throwing his steel helmet to the ground, said “Gordon, give me my red hat”. These were to be his “famous last words” as our commanding officer. Unfortunately for him, the red hat trick did not work. The German tank commander passed him by and by mistake, chose the brigade major, thinking him to be the officer in charge. He was ushered away for special privileges, while we, the brigadier included, were ordered to form up, or so we inferred, and move off towards the rising of the sun, that is, the East. Who would have dreamt that this eastward march would extend to 450 kilometres and take us through France, Belgium, Holland and on to Wesel on the borders of Germany. None of us imagined this would happen to us, but unfortunately it did.

We had no problem that first day — just a long hard foot-slog. For eleven hours we dragged ourselves along without one single break, no drink, no rest. Through ruined villages well-known to us earlier that year, we trudged relentlessly on. Sometimes a kindly face would appear at a door and someone would invitingly leave out a pail of tempting water on their step. 'Dixies' in hand, we would join the rush for a drink. If a guard got there first, he would kick over the bucket, tumbling its contents to the ground.

About midnight, we reached their goal. It was a hurriedly-constructed make-shift camp in the form of a barbed-wire enclosure. In here we were packed like sheep in a pen with just enough room to lie down. That day, in the blazing hot sun, we had covered at least thirty miles.

Morning call came in a most unusual and dramatic fashion. Just after sunrise, around five I should guess, our prison gate was opened and a young bull was driven into our field. Goaded on by the guards, it began to charge through among the sleeping bodies. It was the most effective “alarm clock” I have ever seen in my life. We were all on our feet in a jiffy. Then, an S.S. type of guy, as ugly as the bull itself, came in with a group of his henchmen. He could speak a little English and made himself quite clear. We were a bunch of dirty, filthy Englanders. (That excluded me. I was a Scotsman). We would all shave at once and be ready for inspection when he returned for parade.

Meantime, he was on the hunt for machine-gunners. Obviously, they were to be the prime target for his wrath. Unfortunately for him, our machine-gun boys were not to be found. Evidently, they had given a good account of themselves in the recent action, but by now all their badges had disappeared. In his frustration and rage, he pounced on two young lads — French Moroccans they were — and led them away. Out of sight, behind some haystacks, several shots rang out in the clear morning air. We all knew what that meant. He had taken his revenge on two defenceless North African boys whom he had never seen before. So much for the rules of war!

I see from my diary that we were left in our enclosure that day. Two bits of information have been hurriedly scribbled down. One is that we were given neither food nor drink from our captors the whole of that Thursday. After all, it was the 13th of the month. What else could we expect!

The other entry reminds me that Alex produced a small tin of corned beef. What a God-send that little tin was, for he was good enough to share it with me. It had inadvertently been left in our radio truck the previous day. Spotting it as he passed by, Alex had the good sense to put it safely away in his gas-mask bag. Neither food nor drink was provided for us yet again. I shared my emergency chocolate ration with Alex that day. It was sewn into my battledress trouser pocket and preserved in a little brass-coloured tin. I wasn't what you would call a sweet tooth at any time, but never did plain chocolate taste so good as now.

Next morning, orders were issued to line up for food. This was it at last, we thought. After four days in German hands, they must have got themselves organised — that is, foodwise at least. Would it be a three course meal? My diary records it, “just half a ladle of watery soup”. Then, with shouts and shoves and kicks, it was impressed on us that we were on the march again. That day, we stumbled on for another thirty kilometres — still in the heat of the sun.

Thirst was my problem now. Hunger I could endure, but oh for a drink of water. I clearly remember making a vow that, if I ever got back home, I would invest all my savings in Hay's lemonade factory. In my imagination, I would sit down with a crate of their No. 1 and drink until I burst. What a fool I was to think like this. I had forgotten all the lessons I had been taught at Sunday School — that is, until now.

All at once I was reminded about the prophet Elijah. When there had been no rain in Israel for more than three years he sat down and prayed — and suddenly it rained. Taking off my cap as we were marching along, I lifted my eyes to the sky and prayed “Lord Jesus, you know all about thirst. You had to ask for a drink at Sychar's Well and at the last, on Calvary's Cross. How much I long for a drink. Please help!”

Honestly, I did not really expect a miracle to happen. The days of such things seemed to have gone long ago. Mile after mile we kept trudging along and then, all at once, my prayer was answered and in a most spectacular way. A sudden summer shower, literally from ‘out of the blue’ began to pour down from the heavens on our heads. That would not have helped my burning thirst very much had we not been passing an old farm-house just at that time. The heavy down-pour was too much for the old rhone pipes and water came gushing out on to the road. Two of us ran with a ground-sheet and catching as much as we could, we drank our fill of the stuff and shared the precious water around. Here was an answer to prayer, the first of so many I was to experience from the One who knew our needs. As we set off again, I just took off my cap once more, and said “Thank you Jesus, Lord.” I felt like the man who wrote the popular old hymn which runs like this:

What a Friend we have in Jesus

All our sins and griefs to bear

What a Privilege to carry

Everything to Him in prayer.

You know, I had never thought of prayer as being a privilege before.”

Now I know why that great hymn, ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus, written by Joseph M. Scriven in1855 was one of my father’s favourites. During his time as a POW he had experienced answers to prayer which confirmed what he had read in his Bible: ‘If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you’. (John 15v7)
Prayer is indeed a great privilege which should be exercised frequently by all believers.
My late father’s book can still be obtained via Amazon.
We’ve Been A Long Time Coming Boys’ by Charles Morrison, Published by Albyn Press ISBN 0284 98840 5

"After I returned home in 1945, I learned that a local Church Minister - The Rev. Harry Stoddart - and my father met every morning at 7 a.m. to pray for me. In 1948, I met Rev. Stoddart's niece, and in 1949 we were married in Glasgow — by Uncle Harry Stoddart".

Thursday, 5 January 2017

How Good Is Our Church?

During a visit to a large local primary school to collect gifts for a charity, I spent some time talking with the newly appointed Head Teacher. I was most impressed with his initial evaluation of the school and his plans for the future. This conversation evoked the great excitement and job satisfaction of my work as a Quality Improvement Officer, the highlight of the final years of my career in education. With others, my remit entailed working in partnership with the schools across Argyll & Bute to secure better outcomes for their pupils. In practical terms, this meant challenging and supporting these schools to self-evaluate and plan to improve their performance in all aspects of their provision.

In Scotland, all schools are committed to the principles and the processes of continuous improvement. This means that in each school, staff, pupils, parents and the community work together to identify priorities, take action and evaluate the impact of these actions on a continuous cyclical basis. According to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education, “at the heart of self-evaluation are three questions:

  • How are we doing?
  • How do we know?
  • What are we going to do now?

Excellent schools focus these questions on learning. Learning is at the heart of an excellent school. Learning is its core business.”

As a Quality Improvement Officer, I used a document called ‘How Good is our School’ developed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate as ‘the Bible’ for school improvement.

How Good is our School’ (HGIOS) identifies the key areas of a school’s operation from the curriculum to assessment, pupil support, leadership etc. In each area there is a series of quality indicators which are used to evaluate performance using a six point scale. This scale ranges from the lowest of ‘unsatisfactory’ to the highest which is ‘excellent’. According to HGIOS, “an evaluation of ‘unsatisfactory’ applies when there are major weaknesses in provision requiring immediate remedial action” whereas, “an evaluation of excellent represents an outstanding standard of provision which exemplifies very best practice and is worth disseminating beyond the school. It implies that very high levels of performance are sustainable and will be maintained.”

As a born again Christian, I have often wondered why Scotland’s evangelical churches and fellowships shy away from self-evaluation and rarely plan for change, never mind improvement. Indeed I often wonder whether our churches and fellowships have a clear Biblical understanding of their ‘core business’?

It was in this context that I was both surprised but delighted to read an article entitled, ‘Every Church Is a Revitalization Project’ by Erik Raymond in the online journal ‘Church leaders’ ( Referring to the long forgotten core principle of the Reformation, ‘semper reformanda’ or ‘always reforming’, Eric Raymond contends that……. ‘ this work of ongoing revitalization is not fundamentally different from major revitalization. At its core, there is the challenge to keep shaping the church by the gospel. And this work never stops. Ironically, when the work of ongoing revitalization stops, a church is soon to be a candidate for major revitalization’.

What Erik Raymond is advocating for a church/fellowship, is a commitment to continuous improvement underpinned by a rigorous self-evaluation and improvement planning. Perhaps Scotland’s evangelicals could develop their own self-evaluation tool which could be entitled How Good is our Church’.

Pastor Raymond has even provided a ‘starter for ten’ in his article. It contains a series of questions that all members of a fellowship meeting together (NB all members must be involved not just the pastor and elders/deacons) can prayerfully discuss together, then plan for improvement. Imagine the difference that such a process would make to the turgid and largely meaningless twice yearly church ‘business meetings’…..more people would attend; engagement levels with the mission of the church would increase; ordinary Christians would feel they have real ownership of the church’s mission, rather than being asked to slavishly approve decisions reached elsewhere by their so-called leaders.

Here are some sample starter questions that could be used in the development of a ‘How Good is our Church’ self-evaluation tool:

How good are we at communicating the Word? Do all members have a clear and deep understanding of our church/fellowship’s statement of faith? Is there clear evidence that the word, empowered by the Spirit is having an impact on the lives of believers?

How good are our gatherings? Does the church value the Sunday gatherings? Do people come to church, and when they do, what is their disposition? Do they hunger for the Word preached? Is there a real sense of the presence of God?

How good is our fellowship? Is there a true sense of gospel-shaped community? Some indicators of this include welcome, inclusion, hospitality, conversation, sacrificial service, etc. How good are we at inclusion and making sure that all members are involved in ministry? (not just making tea!)

How good is our pastoral care? Are elders/deacons involved in regular home visitation? Is there real corporate care for the elderly, vulnerable and needy?

How good is our engagement with the local community? Would the local community notice if our church disappeared tomorrow? Does the church/fellowship have credibility with the local community?

How good is our use social media to connect with relevance to the local community? Is the church in tune with and able to provide a rational and relevant Biblical response local/national issues? Is social media used for the advancement of the Gospel in the local community? Does the church have a website or Facebook pages?

How good are we at evangelism/making disciples in our locality? Are all members clear about their responsibility to share the Gospel? Are all members confident and skilled at sharing the Gospel? Does the church train its members in techniques for sharing their faith and contending for the faith? Does the church have a commitment and coherent strategy for the perpetual evangelisation of its locality? What impact is our church's evangelism efforts making?

How good are we at training disciples? Are people being equipped for ministry? Are peoples' gifts identified? What training opportunities are available? What impact is our discipleship programme having?

How good is our leadership at all levels? Is servant leadership evident in all ministry leaders. Do leaders invite feedback about their work? Do leaders speak with humility? Do leaders conduct themselves with joyful humility like the Apostle Paul? Are there effective systems in place to ensure that all leaders are accountable to those they serve? Are future leaders being intentionally developed?

How good is prayer in the church? To what extent is prayer a priority? How and with what frequency does the church come together for focussed prayer? Does the church celebrate answers to prayer?

How good is decision-making in the church? Is there a ‘bottom-up’ or ‘top down’ system? How good are communications? Does the church leadership operate in a transparent or secretive manner?

I suppose that some people will say that activities such as self-evaluation are irrelevant to church life, and that the idea of continuous improvement should have no place in a gospel centred community. Others will simply shy away from such a process because it is perceived to be ‘too difficult’.

However, my experience is that when these practices are adopted, improvement happens. Given that most evangelical churches and fellowships are struggling to make an impact in their own localities, and many are confusing ‘growth’ with ‘sheep shuffling’, perhaps a little honest self-evaluation, accompanied by some fervent, heartfelt prayer, followed by a modest plan and committed, courageous actions might just turn the tide.

To those who set their faces against starting the process of church wide evaluative discussions, I have one question: ‘What are you afraid of?’ The living God always honours those who step out in faith.

The mantra of one my former Pastors, an IBM executive prior to entering the ministry was: ‘if you fail to plan you are planning to fail’. He was absolutely correct…..more of the same in many of Scotland's evangelical churches is not an option!

Semper Reformanda!!!!!!

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

A Heritage Worth Celebrating

2017 is a momentous year for the church. It is the 500th anniversary of that momentous act of defiance by Martin Luther, when in 1517 he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. Today Luther is a pivotal figure in history.

At the time, as a humble Roman Catholic Augustinian monk and priest, he had only intended to initiate a debate…..common practice in 16th century Germany. However, this one act changed the world.

In those days, almost everyone in Europe belonged to the Catholic Church.

At that time the Church was politically powerful, but morally and spiritually corrupt. It had wandered far from Biblical truth putting increasing trust on man-made traditions. Luther had hoped to find salvation for himself by being a perfect priest. He was faithful in carrying out all the rituals required of him, but always had a sense of unworthiness feeling that he could never please God.

Luther often discussed his troubled thoughts with colleagues at the monastery, but found no peace in the solutions offered by Church teaching. With a remit for teaching and preaching, Luther spent a lot of time studying the Bible. Through this process, he finally came upon the answer to his doubts when he read in Romans Chapter 1 verse 17, ‘The just shall live by faith’.

Luther immediately understood that he could be justified (declared not guilty and righteous in the sight of God) by faith through the grace of God. In other words by putting his trust in Jesus Christ as His Saviour he would be righteous and sinless. There was no need to slavishly follow rituals or work for his salvation. Martin Luther found the truth in the Bible, and that truth revealed there immediately set him free!

Luther’s call for reform of the Church spread like wildfire quickly throughout Europe. Other heroes of the faith such as John Calvin and John Knox added to the work of Luther and eventually new churches following the Bible based ideas of these reformers were established. What are known today as the ‘Five Solas of the Reformation,’ are the basis of belief for millions of Bible believing Christians . These are:

Sola Scriptura: Scripture alone is the basis for all church doctrine, belief, and practice.

Sola Gratia: Salvation is by grace alone. It is the unmerited gift of God based solely on His goodness.

Sola Fide: Salvation is through faith alone. Faith is a gift from God. We are saved only by placing faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Salvation cannot be earned by good works.

Solus Christus: Salvation is found in Christ alone. The Bible in the book of Acts emphasises, ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’

Soli Deo Gloria: This means that God saves individuals for His for glory alone. Christians should therefore live their lives to glorify God alone.

Christians world-wide owe a massive debt to Martin Luther. Apart from his work as a reformer, he was passionate about the Bible. Luther wanted all people to be able to read the scriptures in their own language. In his day, the Bible and all worship was in the ecclesiastical language of Latin, which ordinary people without education could not understand.

Today almost everyone has access to the Bible in their own language. Sadly many Christians don’t read the Bible regularly or thoroughly and therefore lack the basic toolkit for spiritual discernment.

In this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, lets pray for and actively work towards a renewal of interest in the contents of the Bible. After all, it contains the truth, and when read persistently with understanding, it will set anyone free.