Talks From The Warehouse

Introduction

Over many years, I used to give a short talk once a week at the warehouses we used in Battersea in London where two ministries with those in need were based, the main one being The Besom (thebesomnetwork.org).  For no reason that I can now remember, I began, from about 2008, to type up the talks before giving them – until we finally moved on in 2016.  I found that I had given at least 366 talks over that period so these are some of them – without any changes of substance and divided, mostly, into the months in which I gave them, as I could not see how or why to divide them into themes. This audio version has come about as many of those who have read the four volumes of written talks have said they wanted one.

The Besom, which I founded over 35 years ago, assists those with a faith in Jesus Christ to go out into the communities around their churches and fellowships to build relationships with those in need by providing practical support such as painting or gardening or the provision of furniture or other household items or food.  Just as importantly, this gives those who go out the opportunity to pray for, or with, those who receive their assistance, and to provide them with a basis for Hope. They also find that there are many questions that they need to begin to ask themselves about their faith once they see the discrepancy between how they live and how those whom they have helped live. To help them with these questions, I prepared a workbook, Simplicity, Love and Justice.

The small groups to whom I spoke once a week were, in the main, in their 20s– with a few notable exceptions – and most had a passionate, but often quite young, faith.  Most worked with me in the ministries, many were interns living on site, and most I would be discipling for a year at a time.  Almost all have retained a strong faith and a profound compassion since leaving and I am still in touch with most of them.  Many are presently, or have for extended periods been, off in other countries or are engaged in ministries here, mostly with the poor. These talks are therefore not for those who do not yet share that passionate faith. For very new Christ followers, I recommend a year reading the Gospels and the Book of Acts. For the not-yet-believer, there are other, much better, resources than this, such as the Alpha course. To you, I merely say that you are missing out on the most exciting and fulfilling, and the toughest, adventure a person could ever have in this short life.

The talks were prepared in the morning that they were given. I would get up early, pray for something useful to talk about, read a commentary or two to focus my mind and then write them by 7.45.  They therefore had little time to be polished (as you will doubtless see!) and I depended as much as I could (and dared!) on the Holy Spirit to guide me.  All the mistakes and tendentious comments are mine and mine alone, of course, and much has doubtless been plagiarised and inadequately referenced, for which I apologise: I did not have any wider publication in mind.

I have found over three decades and more of a single-minded, all-consuming Christ-followership that I go back more and more to the Victorians for wisdom on the Bible and on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. These include, in particular, Charles Spurgeon and J.C.Ryle.  These mighty heroes of the faith seem to me to be less caught out by some of the modern, emerging and unBiblical approaches to the Christian faith. They were also unaffected by the influence of the megaChurches across the West with their overarching but worldly (if unstated) view that numbers through the front doors are somehow a mark of success, or still less, by the distressing condition of so many small Churches where the vicar’s role is so often to manage decline, as one expressly put it to me a few years ago!

I rarely suggest a Biblical interpretation that might be other than the conventional without referring it first to Jackie Pullinger in Hong Kong, Helen Mekie and Jane Bewsey (and Grace Longmire in the old days) in South Africa, Lucy Peppiatt, David Saunderson and Anna Wynn in the UK or Jim Brown in the USA.  It was Helen who told me first that ‘you won’t find Jesus on the beaten track’. And you won’t! My thanks to all of them for being so articulate and so determined in all that they do and say to encourage others towards an authentic and grounded faith. None has read (or heard) these talks, however, so they should not be considered as having endorsed them in any way. Indeed, I know only too well that none of them will agree with all that I have said!

I have a continuing and profound desire to see His Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven and to see others embracing the Hope that Christ brings to a hard and increasingly broken world.  This is expressed by themes that, perhaps unsurprisingly, used to come up most years in the internship (which ran from 2002 to 2016), including the dangers of cheap grace and the current focus on conversion rather than on discipleship in our Churches, the unBiblical but ubiquitous approach in so many of our Churches to spiritual authority, the baleful consequences of homogeneity, the lack of teaching on the centrality of the poor to the lives of all believers if they are, at least, to walk as Jesus did (1 John 2: 6) and the perils of compromising the Truth in a search for tolerance of other faiths, relevance to the world around them or to appear united as a Church.  I major on the need to listen to God and do what He says, to proclaim ‘Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2: 2) at all times, and on the extraordinary and unmerited love that the Trinitarian God shows to His children.

I make no apologies for any of these leitmotivs which lie at the very heart, I believe, of His sadness as He looks at this nation, and, yes, His anger at the so-rapid decline of Christ-followership here – for which all mature Christ followers bear a heavy responsibility. I still have a real Hope that many here will be saved for eternity; but I fear and sense in my spirit that the nation itself, as a nation, is now judged and that whilst we can still, of course, repent as a nation and be forgiven by a gracious God, the likelihood of that occurring in a meaningful or acceptable way is now remote.

Some of those to whom I gave early compilations of the written version said that some of the talks can come across as quite tough unless the reader knows me and my heart in the way that all the original listeners did – all of whom I count as dear friends.  I have no answer to that charge other than to say that it is love, and only love, His love in me, not something I can manufacture, that has driven me for nearly 40 years now to urge people towards a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. My wife shares my faith, as do our four grown-up children and their spouses, and all of us long for others to see what we have been allowed, unmerited, to see for ourselves; namely, that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit loves those who want to follow Him and would lavish that love upon anyone who seeks Him.

I, particularly, have experienced that love in a way that I could never have foreseen when, in 1984, as far away from Him as anyone could possibly be, I fell to my knees by my bedside one Sunday evening and cried out to Him. Like CS Lewis in 1929, I felt like the ‘most dejected and reluctant convert in all England’. Since then, I have found His promises are true, His love is all-encompassing, His trustworthiness is beyond dispute and His ability to mend and transform, to guide and encourage, is unparalleled.

That said, there is, in my opinion, a lot of sentimental stuff out there in our Churches these days that proposes that we need do nothing much other than claim we have a faith and then sit back and leave the rest to a Jesus Who will make sure that we never have a rough time in this life, Who will protect us from the reality of living in a fallen world and Who will stroke us to ensure that we are always happy and feeling fulfilled.  This is so far from His character that it leads many astray and those who remain tend, too often, to have a shallow faith that ill-prepares them for what is to come. So perhaps I do sometimes propose something a little more challenging; but it will always, and only ever, be out of a desire to make true disciples for Our Lord: those who recognise that ‘when Christ calls a person, He bids them come and die’ (Bonhoeffer).

A word about Bible translations. I had to choose one of the many translations into English available these days and have chosen the NIVUK.  I have never found any translation that is completely reliable as I always feel that each of them must reflect, to some extent, the predispositions or backgrounds of the translators; often enough, I have found this to be the case. So, I recommend that listeners have at least the following within arms’ reach as well: The Message, The New King James, the Amplified and the Good News, and the Tyndale and JB Phillips New Testaments.  Easily the best, though, is to go back to the original Hebrew or Greek using a website like Biblehub Interlinear which is very manageable (even for me!). Furthermore, I have made no attempt to ensure that all the language in these talks is updated and inclusive by today’s still-evolving lights so please forgive me for that. I decided often to include the whole Bible passage that is the focus of a day’s talk, not just to ensure there is at least something Biblical each day, but because I have found with other (far better) daily readings that I would skip looking up the references in my desire to ‘get on’ with my day. Also, I tried throughout the book version of these talks to distinguish between ‘church’, meaning the Body of Christ in any place where two or more people meet in His Name (Matthew 18: 20), and ‘Church’, meaning an organisation. This is not possible in the audio version so I must leave it to the listener to determine which I mean in any given context. I have often had to generalise about Churches.

A final word to thank Josiah Judson and Polly Bryans for so brilliantly locating and putting some order into this compilation of talks, to Louis Reid, Matt Wood and Jonah Horne for setting up the audio version and to all of those who have commented so helpfully in both general and specific terms on one of the many drafts.  Also, to those who have encouraged me so far on this extraordinary journey of faith and pointed out so graciously the (so many!) times when I have headed off in the wrong direction.  By their example as much as by their words, my family have shown me enormous love and wisdom over the years and have had to deal at close quarters (so often!) with my poor attempts at loving them. Finally, my infinite gratitude to the One Who started all this in spite of me: Sovereign Lord, unmerited in every way, You chose me.  Please keep showing me the Way and giving me the courage to walk along it – In Your Name, Jesus, Amen.

The audio version of these talks is dedicated to my sister-in-law, Abigail Bryans, who died of cancer in 2022. She was one of the brightest of lights and her influence and wisdom will be felt by many for many years.

JRBO – Spring 2024

James is married to Henrietta and they have four adult children. James has spent over 35 years addressing the breakdown of rural and urban communities across the UK and elsewhere. Originally a lawyer and banker, James went to work with heroin addicts in Hong Kong in Jackie Pullinger’s ministry there (ststephenssociety.com), returning to found The Besom (thebesomnetwork.org) and later, a charity that assisted single mothers and widows from the African- and Caribbean-heritage communities in South London to encourage each other in starting up microbusinesses. James and his wife also established a training farm in Southwest England, encouraging new entrants to take on traditional, organic small-scale farming businesses and earn livelihoods through mutual cooperation (faithinthesoil.co.uk).