Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sixty Years of Kingston Keswick

Prior to 1972, I knew nothing about Keswick. Today, 48 years later, I am still involved in a Christian movement that focuses on living victoriously. I was introduced to Keswick in Kingston, Jamaica. However, the movement got its name from the place where the first gathering was convened in Keswick, England. In 2016, when my wife and I visited this community in the Lake District of England, it was the first time we were seeing the name Keswick as a location, and not as a Christian convention.

At the first Keswick convention in 1875, more than 400 persons met under the banner of “All One in Christ Jesus.” That same theme was prominently displayed in the 5,000-seater tent my wife and I visited in 2016. That theme was first used by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:28. Paul was emphasizing the oneness believers experience when the Holy Spirit brings them into the universal church. The distinguishing marks of ethnicity, status, and gender were subordinated to the primacy of oneness in Jesus Christ.

As I expressed in a recent Keswick publication, historians will concur that Keswick’s theological emphases did not begin in England. The theological emphases had their genesis with Robert and Hannah Smith in the United States of America. In the eighth year of marriage, these two Quakers were both converted to Christ on the same day.

In their struggle to live victoriously, they consulted with older Christians. They were told that the life of sinning and repenting was inevitable because of basic human weakness. They were caught in the cycle of sinning and repenting as well as making good resolutions and breaking them. They both longed for victory over sin.

The influence of a young Baptist theological student and a Methodist dressmaker helped Hannah Smith to understand what it meant to live victoriously by overcoming the power of sin. Hannah learned that she and Robert could be “more than conquerors through Christ” (Romans 8:37). Although neither of the Smiths had theological training, each had an unusual ability to simplify abstract religious truths. They used every possible minute to teach others to live victoriously.

Their commitment to the family business and to propagating this message of living victoriously began to impact their health. Their doctor strongly recommended a period of rest. In 1872, they chose England to get the prescribed rest.
On their arrival in London, they found that their fame had preceded them. Before long, they were addressing groups of Christians on the secrets of living victoriously. At one of those meetings, the Smiths met the Rev. Evan Hopkins. Hopkins invited clergyman, Canon Harford-Battersby from the district of Keswick to participate. Under Battersby’s guidance, the first convention met in Keswick in 1875.

From that small community of Keswick in northern England, the movement quickly spread throughout England. In 1900, the convention was introduced to Mandeville, Jamaica. It was the first overseas gathering under the Keswick banner. Mandeville Keswick has since given birth to a number of conventions, including Kingston Keswick in 1960. Since 1973 I have had the honor to serve at various levels of Keswick in different countries.

Keswick is unapologetically geared to Christians who see themselves as tired of sin and eager for victory over sin. At a 1905 convention, one preacher who was scheduled to preach, did not preach. He was so humbled and overwhelmed by the previous preacher, he led the congregation in a season of confession and prayer. This is how he described the experience – “The prayer was scarcely concluded, when a spirit of penitent confession broke out in every quarter, and I stood there on my feet for about two and a half hours, witnessing the Holy Spirit’s wondrous working.”

That spontaneous experience has been repeated numerous times in conventions around the world. It is not unusual to see scores of believers weeping after a service. Over the years, thousands have responded to missionary appeals. Hudson Taylor once said that two-thirds of the missionaries in the China Inland Mission were there as a result of the Keswick ministry.

My wife is a product of Keswick ministry. Keswick nurtured her fledgling faith in Mandeville, Jamaica. For our entire marriage, Keswick has had a major positive influence. Because of Keswick, we have established some of our more meaningful friendships and have had some unforgettable ministry opportunities.

Another of those opportunities surfaces this week when Kingston Keswick celebrates sixty years of ministry. I feel honored to be among some of the luncheon speakers. I am praying that God will use
this year’s convention to rekindle another movement – a movement to strengthen foundations for a strong future; a movement of godly passion and godly power among Christians.

Monday, January 13, 2020

King's Letter From Prison

I just finished reading two letters. Both letters were written in April 1963. The first entitled, “A Call for Unity”, was written by eight Alabama clergymen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The second letter was Dr. King’s reply, entitled, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.

Allow me to provide the background that warranted the writing of the letters. African Americans were living under some of the most horrendous conditions. Their churches and homes were being firebombed. Jim Crow laws prevented them from sharing with whites in various public settings - their sense of worth was denied.

Civil rights leaders peacefully protested the injustices of segregation. In order to protest, even peacefully, it was necessary to break Alabama’s segregation laws. In responding to this situation, the eight clergymen wrote to Dr. King. Their letter was “an appeal for law and order and common sense.”

They asked for the discontinuation of the protests. They cautioned that the demonstrations were providing opportunities for others to become violent. Hence, in order to avoid possible violence, discontinue the demonstrations; obey the law and resort to dialog with the authorities.

Dr. King’s response from the Birmingham City Jail should be read by everyone interested in civil discourse. The spirit and tone of the letter is a lesson in civility and Christian grace. As he came to the end of the ten-page document (single-space), he said, “If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.”

Other than the tone of the letter, Dr. King’s response was well-reasoned, biblical and sensitive to needs of hurting people. Although he never challenged the good intentions of the clergymen, he clearly challenged their devotion to “order” at the expense of “justice”. In essence, the clergymen were asking that their peace be maintained, as peace was delayed and denied for others.

The clergymen believed Dr. King’s peaceful demonstrations were tantamount to extremism. To this charge, he reminded them that Jesus was an extremist for love. He called for a radical reaction to opposition – “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 KJV).

As though that were not radical enough, Dr. King went on to cite the Old Testament prophet Amos. He was an extremist for justice when he said, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

For Dr. King, the issue was not merely being branded as extremist, “but rather, what kind of extremists we will be.” He went on to ask, “Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, Dr. King contended, “any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” As such, all segregation laws were unjust – they damaged human personality. “Segregation gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”

Here we are, almost 57 years since those letters were written and no one cares to know the names of those clergymen. However, Dr. King’s name and contribution are known around the world – as a matter of fact, to be able to honor his birthday with a national holiday speaks volumes.

In an article on the meaning of the holiday, the King Center website states that “the King holiday honors the life and contributions of America’s greatest champion of racial justice and equality, the leader who not only dreamed of a color-blind society, but who also lead a movement that achieved historic reforms to help make it a reality.”

This week we commemorate Dr. King’s great dream of a vibrant, multiracial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation; a nation that has a place at the table for children of every race and room at the inn for every needy child. We are called on this holiday, not merely to honor, but to celebrate the values of equality, tolerance and interracial sister and brotherhood King so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America.

As we celebrate this week, culminating with the federal holiday on Monday, January 20, we have much for which to be thankful, much has been accomplished in race relations in America. Let us stop looking to others and ask, what more can I do to help?

Monday, January 6, 2020

Half-Empty or Half-Full?

I have in my hand an eight-ounce glass, with four ounces of lemonade. Is the glass half empty, or half full? Your answer may help to determine if you are an optimist or a pessimist. Whereas an optimist tends to see the brighter or more hopeful side of things, a pessimist tends to view things with less confidence. Either perspective can determine the outcome of your health.  

According to a series of studies from the United States and Europe, “optimism helps people cope with disease and recover from surgery.” Even more impressive is the impact of a positive outlook on overall health and longevity. Research suggests that an optimistic outlook early in life can predict better health and a lower rate of death during follow-up periods of 15 to 40 years.

In a 1988 study from Harvard Medical School, it would appear that to investigate optimism, scientists first needed to develop reliable ways to measure the trait. Two systems were used. One measured dispositional optimism, the other explanatory style. Dispositional optimism depends on positive expectations for one's future. These are not confined to one or two aspects of life but are generalized expectations for a good outcome in several areas.

Explanatory style is based on how a person explains good or bad news. The pessimist assumes blame for bad news ("It's me"), assumes the situation is stable ("It will last forever"), and has a global impact ("It will affect everything I do"). The optimist, on the other hand, does not assume blame for negative events. Instead, he tends to give himself credit for good news, assumes good things will last, and be confident that positive developments will spill over into many areas of his life.

I believe that some people are optimistic by nature, but many of us learn optimism as well. According to Stanford Professor Leah Weiss, anyone can learn to be optimistic — the trick is to find purpose in work and life. “When we work with purpose or live with purpose, we feel more fulfilled and better equipped to see the glass ‘half full.’”

One study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that writing in a journal about what you are grateful for was linked to greater feelings of optimism, while another published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that keeping a journal in which you write down your own acts of kindness can also give your optimism a boost. More and more studies are confirming that writing down what you’re grateful for comes with some pretty impressive physical benefits as well, including better sleep, fewer aches and pains and fewer depressive symptoms.

A short-term study evaluated the link between optimism and overall health in 2,300 older adults. Over two years, people who had a positive outlook were much more likely to stay healthy and enjoy independent living than their less cheerful peers. If optimism actually improves health, it should also boost longevity.

Another study in the United States looked at 6,959 students who took a comprehensive personality test when they entered the University of North Carolina in the mid-1960s. During the next 40 years, 476 of the people died from a variety of causes, with cancer being the most common. All in all, pessimism took a substantial toll; the most pessimistic individuals had a 42% higher rate of death than the most optimistic.

Some may contend that optimists are not realists. They often overlook wrong, simply because of a disposition that expects them to think positively. Actually, optimism can be detrimental if it keeps you locked into fantasy and you are in denial about your current reality. For instance, you may be optimistic about finding a more lucrative job or loving relationship, but if you do not address the issues that are keeping you from those goals, you will not be able to achieve what you want.

Long before contemporary studies in optimism and pessimism, the Apostle Paul instructed Christians to think positively. In his letter to the Philippians, he contended that “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). His use of the word “think” is in the imperative mood. In other words, the action is a command to be obeyed, not an idea to be discussed. The idea was to replace dishonorable, unjust, impure, ugly, disgraceful, and detestable thoughts with positive and uplifting thoughts.

Imagine having an optimistic mindset in 2020! Such a perspective might bring about some of the changes you’ve longed to see. Have a Happy New Year!