Tuesday 14 May 2024

 Acts 2 v 42

On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached a message to the crowds who had gathered at the festival.  Those who accepted the message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day; such was the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the passage from Acts 2, the Bible gives a model of how a Church should act. I accept that this was in a distant age, but it is still a model which could serve us well in the present day.


The essential ingredient is that it was a bible believing one.  This may seem to be obvious, but it is far from being so now; in too many churches the bible has been cast aside

The Bible states, ‘they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching’.  It must be remembered the teaching of the Apostles was special for they were taught by the Lord, and God richly blessed their ministry. To authenticate that they were able to perform miraculous acts, and obviously made a deep impression, for the people we are told devoted themselves to attend.  There was no coercion or inducements; they were filled with awe and inspiration.  Accompanying the bible teaching, they were singing and praising God. How many services do you attend where you come away inspired and filled with awe?

Here is there recipe for successful worship; joyful praise and faithful bible teaching. People like to sing, and must have tunes that are pleasing to sing. When we have faithful preaching of the Bible coupled with such praise, we can wait for God to bless us.


A significant sentence ends this passage; and the Lord added to their numbers. It is God who adds to a Church.  He may use a preacher, and work through him, but it is God who turns a heart towards Jesus and gives that person the choice of responding or rejecting the offer to follow Jesus.

 People also turn to follow him through the witness of friends or family members, and by the way they see church members acting. However, alternatively when people see church members breaking the moral and ethical standards of the Bible they are equally turned off, possibly for good, and understandably think of hypocrisy.


There we have the vision and a pattern of the church God wants us to be.

The most pressing problem the Church faces at the present time is falling attendances. We have reached a position where the Church plays little if any part in the lives of people.  It is reported that less than 2% of the population attend Church on any regular basis.  In the majority of Churches the congregations are in the older age range, and predominantly female.  (just look around).A large contributory factor in that is the Church is not fulfilling the purpose for which the Lord created it.

Think as I speak to you this morning, ‘do YOU think the Church is fit for purpose; the purpose for which our Lord created it.

Is it making disciples?  Is it leading people to worship?

Is it teaching Jesus as the ONLY Saviour of mankind?

Does it abide by the teaching of how the life of Christians should be lived as God set out in the Bible?

Does it accept the Bible as the complete authority for teaching?

The Church is expected to be the conscience of the nation and offer guidance on moral, social and ethical matters as well as spiritual guidance. This it is unable to do because there is no clear belief; there are those who believe in a liberal code opposing a biblical standard.

Liberalism is tearing the Church apart by trying to supplant biblical authority for cultural expression and denying the infallibility of the Bible, with trendy social issues replacing the Cross of Christ.    

It is not too strong to say immorality is permeating into Churches.  People are not being taught the thoughts of God, but following blindly after the culture of society.     

Secular humanists and aggressive activists have set out an agenda which is well organised and aggressively pursued, with the aim of changing our culture by an attack on the family, the moral climate, and to faze Christianity right out of the public arena. Inroads have been made into ethical and moral values whereby there are no absolutes and all is relative, everyone just sets up their own standards.

A most important verse in the Bible is found in the small Letter of Jude; ‘Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’, and every word matters. The faith that is being referred to is the teaching of the Apostles.

To ‘contend’ means literally to fight and defend the gospel; we are in a battle, I see little defending, rather capitulation. 

Every day in this country Christians are suffering because of iniquitous legislation introduced  for cheap political ends, which is in direct contravention of bible teaching, and added to that are prohibitions on anyone passing adverse comments on it.  We too often lack conviction.  When laws are introduced which are contrary to Biblical teaching the Church should not meekly acquiesce, but instead protest loudly.    

The Bible calls on us not to be ashamed of the gospel. Paul says he was not ashamed, in fact he glorified in the gospel and that is what all Christians should do.  But sadly I fear we all do not. How many Church members are embarrassed when asked if they believe?  Indeed how many are ready to acknowledge they attend Church?  How would we answer is asked to give our opinion on moral questions?  

If you are not ashamed you are ready to speak out about your faith.  Some people are fearful of their friends finding out they attend Church in case they get mocked, or because it might restrict the way they want to behave. Some will worry will they be called narrow minded or old fashioned.  Remember the words of Jesus, ‘for whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this sinful and adulterous generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of the Father’.

The reason we do not hear senior figures in the Church speaking clearly on moral issues is because they too are ashamed of the gospel.  Why call for the Bible’s teaching on marriage to be abandoned? Why should there be those within the Church who consider we should re-interpret the Bible to meet modern ideas of morality.  This suggests that God has got it wrong and He should adjust to the age.  Why not challenge all the attacks and penalties on those Christians who take a stand for their faith; some even losing their employment for holding to traditional morality?       

 Faith is the gospel story of Jesus Christ who gave Himself to be crucified for our sins in order to reconcile us to God. For in the gospel righteousness from God is revealed; for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. God’s purpose for the Church is to lead people to salvation.  We have to tell people God loves them and wants all to be saved, but there has to be an acceptance of Jesus as Saviour and a commitment to live according to his commands

 Why should anyone be ashamed to tell that story?  We all no doubt are ashamed of things we have done in our lives, and the things we have said but wished we hadn’t, and that is understandable.  But we allow ourselves to become ashamed of something for which there is no need to be ashamed of.

 This faith has been ‘entrusted’ to the saints, the biblical name for Christians, and we are called to guard and protect the truth, for  Christianity is in danger of being fazed out by secularists here and in other Western Countries

 It was given ‘one and for all’.  It was not a temporary statement of faith, and it was not meant to be added to, amended or re-interpreted.  It was based on the teaching of the Apostles, who were commissioned by Jesus to proclaim.

What troubled Jude was; he found preachers within the Church who were preaching false doctrine and advocating a gospel which fitted within their personal desires, and we face the same problem now.  They taught that the grace of God would forgive any sin; just act as you wish God will forgive you. Jude saw this as rejection of God’s word.  We have to face an identical situation.  There are godless men, (and women) who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny the clear teaching of Jesus Christ. 

The time has come for Christians to be as devoted to the teaching of the Apostles as those first Christians were; to be as committed to contending for Christianity as other faiths are for proclaiming their faith. To be as vociferous in protesting when our holy book is mocked as Islam is when their holy book or faith is treated discourteously.

  My friends, it is the duty of the Church to teach the gospel and not to budge from it.  We are not to be blown by every new spiritual wind so that we drift from our moorings.  We are not to be superficial believers. Hold fast to the gospel once given by the Apostles who were taught by the Master Himself.      

You and I are called to contend for the truth.  Do not let anyone tell you that you do not count.  You count tremendously, so glory in what God has called you to do and be faithful to His command.   Our Lord’s last great commission was to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations; let us not fail Him.

To paraphrase a famous saying, ‘do not ask what can God do for me, ask what can I do for God?’

 

 

May God bless His Word to us and may His Holy Name be Praised


Tuesday 7 May 2024

 

JOHN 17 V 6-19

    It is the night before the Crucifixion.  Jesus is with His Apostles at the Last Supper and is spending His last hours before going to the Cross.

     In a few hours He will be dead so He is telling them He is going to leave them and they will be plunged into the storms of life, and concludes with a prayer, which makes this one of the outstanding passages in the New Testament, telling His followers then, and by extension to those who follow Him through the ages, what they will have to face as Christians.

     For Jesus, life was life with a climax and that was the Cross.  When He spoke of the Cross as His glorification it had a deep significance.  It is one of the facts of history again and again, that it was in death the great ones were glorified.  It was where and how they did things which showed people who they really were. 

     We see this in the life of religious figures and in the world of music and art. Some people never knew the greatness they achieved.  The Cross was the glory of Jesus because He was never more majestic than in death and drew people to Him in a way that even He never had done. 

     Jesus said, ‘Father I have completed the work which you gave me to do’, and for Him not to have gone to the Cross would have meant His work was not completed.  To stop short would have suggested there was a limit to that love.  Jesus showed there was nothing the love of God was not prepared to do and suffer for us. 

     The Bible makes it clear that Jesus could have escaped the Cross by never going near Jerusalem.    The Cross was proof that men could do their worst yet He could triumph, for the Cross would not be the end, for the resurrection was to follow.   

     God looked at the Cross and said, ‘this is what men think of my son,’ then pointed to the resurrection, and said, ‘but this is what I think of Him.’ 

     Yet while Jesus was specifically praying for His Apostles there are lessons which we can apply to ourselves from this passage which is packed with truths.  It tells us the disciple is given to Jesus by God. It means the spirit of God moves our heart to respond to God by the appeal of Jesus.  Through a disciple, glory comes to Jesus.   A bad person can become good, and strengthened to live the Christian life bringing honour to Jesus

 In verse 6, the opening verse, Jesus says ‘I have revealed you to those whom you have given me’.  Jesus is thinking of all who would one day follow Him, but here particularly to the Apostles with Him in the Upper Room; those who turned and followed Him in His ministry.  They ‘kept the Word’, meaning they were obedient to the faith. 

Then Jesus goes on to say, in verse 9, ‘I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me’. Jesus is teaching us that we are rescued from the world.  The world means all that is opposed to God’s standards and way of life.  Those who live without reference to God

This means there are two types of people in the world, which the gospel makes clear over and over again, those who are loyal and obedient to God and those who are not   Jesus was always quite unequivocal, that we are either for Him or against Him, there is no neutrality or sitting on the fence. Jesus is firmly black or white in how you respond to Him   

There is a mountain in the Lake District called Helve llyn, and near the top there is a very narrow path with steep sides with warning posts, so that if you wander from the pathway you fall to disaster.  Then there are two paths to follow one is to the top and safety, the other, which again will lead you to an unfortunate end.  This is how Jesus divides the world.  So it behoves us to look at our position. 

Film producers are fond of sea stories with terrific storms, showing ships and men fighting for survival and it being asked will we survive.  When we come to Christianity and our Christian faith and lives, we ask will I be strong enough to do the work God wants me to do. 

Sometimes we feel buffeted by the storms of life, the stresses and strains, the problems of work and family, and personal relationships.  Jesus is praying here for all who believe in Him, and particularly for the difficulties to be faced.  He wants His followers to be filled with joy and not mourn as He leaves them.

In the Bible names reveal peoples character.  When God revealed His name to Moses He said, ‘I am’, showing that God was the eternal unchanging one.  When Jesus says that God will protect us by the power of \his Name, He means the power associated with God’s character that has been finally and fully revealed in Himself.  God has promised that He will keep us and watch over us and guard us spiritually from falling from Him.  The Bible makes it clear we need to keep ourselves rooted in the Word of God

In verse 11, Jesus prays that God will leave His disciples in the world, and will protect them from the evil one, because like Him, they do not act to the world’s standards.  He wants His disciples to be active in the world.  God will rescue us from people who in rebellion are opposed to Him, but that does not mean we should gather in holy huddles out of contact from others, who need to hear about Jesus from us. 

There are of course, religious orders who lock themselves away from the outside world.  They are truly dedicated men and women, who sincerely believe they are serving God.  The kind of Christianity however, which shuts itself off in a monastery or convent, would not have seemed to Jesus to be Christianity at all.  The kind of Christianity which finds the essence of the Christian life in prayer and meditation in a life secluded from the world, would have seemed to Jesus to be a sad version of the faith the He died to bring to people. 

It was Jesus insistence to be in the hurly burly of life that we must live out our faith. Christianity was never meant to withdraw men and women from ordinary people.  It does not release us from problems, but equips us to deal with them.  It offers not always peace, but triumph. 

Jesus is saying He wants His people to be in the midst of the world, mixing with non believers. 

As Christians, we are people who have dual citizenship, citizens of this earthly kingdom, in which we live, and citizens of our Father’s heavenly kingdom. 

Just as a lifeboat is of no use, set permanently polished in a station, but is needed to go out and rescue people trapped in stormy seas, so we need to be rescuing those dear to us, trapped in the perils of life in this world.  Jesus was saying His people are not meant to be little ships which stay in harbour, although it is much safer, that is not what ships are for, they are meant to be on the high seas.

Jesus prayed for the unity of His disciples, and that they would be one as He and His Father were one.  Where there are divisions, there is competition between Christians.  Where there is disunity, the cause of Christianity is harmed and hindered, and the prayer of Jesus is frustrated.  Jesus never considered different denominations, which would be criticising one another. The world cannot be evangelised by competing Christians. The gospel certainly cannot be preached to any congregation which is not united.  

Jesus prayed we would be one, and there is no prayer of Jesus which has been so hindered from being answered by Christians.

Jesus warned us of the hostility we face from a hostile world which hates Christians.  If you find that hard to accept, just consider the violence, even murder, of Christians in Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia. 

On a more subtle scale, in Scotland, Australia and Canada, where Bible preaching is under threat.The world hates biblical truth, and if you take a stand publicly for the truth of the gospel, you will not be popular and are likely to be called narrow minded at best, and a bigot at worst. 

We have people showing quite manic attitude to Christianity.  . It is an uplifting thought to know that God stands over our lives, to protect and guards us from the assaults of the evil ones.  If we fall, it is because we try to do things in our own strength and forget to seek the help of God

Finally, Jesus prayed that His people would be made holy by the truth, set apart for a purpose, and have the character necessary for he task. If we are Christians set apart through the death of Christ, we must go into the world with the Word of God. 

Remember Jesus’ words and be encouraged, for He has told us that we are protected by the Word of God who gives us the strength to be the kind of people He longs for us to be.

 

May God’s name be for ever glorified

    

    


 [ER1]

Monday 6 May 2024

 

This morning I want to turn to Paul’s Letter to the Romans, in Chapter 10.

The Bible states,   Salvation is for everyone  who believes in Christ. Salvation is the subject of this chapter.

Paul, was specially and uniquely called by God to be an Apostle to the Gentiles, but he never forgot his own Jewish people.  This Letter was directed to the Jews who were carrying a mistaken belief, but its teaching is equally applicable to us, as all Paul’s Letters are. When Paul speaks, God is speaking through him, and the wonderful thing is we have those very words spoken all those many years ago in our Bibles these days.

Paul’s greatest desire was to make people Christians, a noble cause and one we could wish all preachers to-day to adopt.  He was concerned the Jews were being misled to follow the wrong way to salvation, which can only be achieved by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord.

Paul desperately wanted his fellow Jews to turn  from zealous obedience to the Jewish law, and follow

Jesus Christ. But for showing such zeal to the law, meant a personal commitment.  He knew the Jews were zealous for God, but the zeal was misguided, He wanted the Jews to be saved, therefore he needed to lead them to Jesus.

The Jewish law, might to non-Jews appear to be cruel. The Sabbath law was a prime example. A man was only allowed to walk a limited distance; no lifting a package over a stated weight; no cooking; help could be given to an ill person only to prevent getting worse, but not to make better; no poking a house fire; or have a light. These would only be fully carried out y strict orthodox Jews, and some such people still do.  Whilst these restrictions may be beyond us, and some people may treat with mockery, which would indeed be offensive, and rather such devotion coupled with sincere  religious belief, should be admired.

The Jew believed such obedience placed him in a right relationship with God. To answer this, Pail stated Christ had  ended the law, meaning the end of legislation. The relationship between God and man, has no longer a credit or debtor side, Christ lived and brought His message, man was no longer faced with the task of satisfying God’s justice he can only fund God’s love

Verses 6/8 show the contrast between the righteousness based on faith and that which comes from the law, now fulfilled in Christ. At one time there was just a written set of Law,  but God caused his Son to go through a cruel death, before bringing Him from the realm of the dead.

The Jews believed that all that was necessary for salvation was to keep the Ten Commandments, but no one can keep the Commandments for it is like a chain, if you break one link it all falls apart, and the Bible states if you break one you break the lot, and we have all, without exception broken at least one.  Therefore, one cannot be saved by the Commandments.

The word ‘saved’ does cause an emotional response with a lot of people, as it conjures up an image of being approached by a Charismatic Christian, asking are you saved brother (sister).

 God sent Jesus to supplant the Law, and make it possible for all people to be saved if they accepted Christ as having died on the Cross to obtain forgiveness for the sins they committed.

Coming to the heart of this passage, verse 9 states, ‘if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved’. The whole Christian message is on the lips, and in the heart

Confession that Jesus is Lord, and singing the hymn, is not an intellectual title or a casual statement, it means much more.  You have to believe fully in your heart this is so, and have no doubt that God raised Him physically from the dead; that is the heart of the Christian message.  So when you do believe, and are prepared to confess with your mouth, God accepts you as righteous.

Think what heaven would be like if you had to earn your way there. People would be trying to outbid each other, and probably boasting how important they had been in the world.

There is so much reluctance to believe and accept, that a man who died on a Cross 2,000 years ago in a land on the other side of the world was raised from the dead.  More so, that people actually believe he lives on by His Spirit in their lives today and influences their way of life. Even some clergy fail to accept the facts of both His birth and physical resurrection

Belief demands commitment and faith, and trust, which is not given by the majority, and it is that lack of faith that Paul writes about in his Letter.

The Bible states, ‘by grace you have been saved through faith, it is not your own doing, it is the gift of God and not by your own works.’  We are in fact at the doctrine of justification by faith; ‘by grace you have been saved through faith, it is not your own doing, it is the gift of God and not by your own works.’  God in great mercy is ready to pardon all who accept that Jesus died on the Cross as a penalty payment for all our individual sins, and God raised Him from the dead.  If we confess that we believe this God grants us His righteousness.

Why do we need God’s grace?; because all men and all women are by nature spiritually dead and separated from God.  Grace is the unmerited favour of God.    Grace saves us through faith; nothing more, nothing less. than salvation is by grace.” Something in us always wants to add to God’s free grace. It’s humbling to admit that we can do nothing to earn our deliverance from sin. Grace must be free or else it is not grace at all. Three words; grace, saved, and faith.

Grace is the source, Faith is the means, and Salvation freely given and received by faith alone is the result. We are saved by grace through faith:

Something in us always wants to add to God’s free grace. It’s humbling to admit that we can do nothing to earn our deliverance from sin. Imagine what heaven would be like if we had to earn our way there. People would be trying to outbid each other and probably boasting how important they had been in the world.

When I was being inducted into a new parish by the Rural Dean, who was a real traditional English gentleman (and there’s not many of us about), he introduced me to a man, and mentioned some of the position he had held in his Church, and the man was really indignant because some obscure committee was omitted.  There really are people who join the Church for egotistic reasons.     Heaven would be just like that if you had to earn your way there. But it won’t be like that, when Jesus died on the cross, he paid the full price for your salvation. God alone gets the glory in your salvation. Jesus did all the work when he died on the cross.

Some people think they are too good to be saved. That is, they may have such a high opinion of themselves that they think they don’t need God’s grace. They may admit they are sinners but they don’t admit they are spiritually dead. They may think they’re sick because of sin, but not truly dead. God’s grace cannot help you until you are desperate to receive it.

I  have been told countless times, all one has to do is to be good, be kind and honest, and you will go to heaven; no need to go to Church, sing hymns and read the Bible.  They will learn to regret this belief.

Salvation is never gained by earning it, or by trying to be good, or by the good outweighing the bad, but simply by acknowledging that Jesus Christ has done it all on your behalf.

There was a series on television in which a young police constable is partnered on duty by an attractive young police woman who is fond of him, but he does not respond. His Sergeant tells him he should make a decision and respond, as one day he will regret not doing so; and then says, ‘the two saddest words in the English language are, if only..’  There are so many people who will one day appear before the Lord and say, ‘if only’.

Jesus himself warned that on the Day of Judgment many will claim to have been His followers, but He will say to them, ‘depart from me. I never knew you.’ Millions have not the slightest idea of what it really meant to be a Christian.

    

People have been attending church for years, listening to the Bible being read, singing praise to the Lord, and have been very religious, yet have never come to the time when they have acknowledged Jesus as Lord, yet the Bible calls on us to do so.

    We have to admit, the fundamental fact that we live in an evil world, and we all become tainted and lost, but by the grace of God He gives us an opportunity to come to Christ and be saved. The majority of people do not consider they need saving as they think their lives are already safe.  The thought they are sinners is mortally wounding, as one Vicar discovered when he put a notice outside his church saying this Church is here for sinners; half his congregation were absent the next week.  Sin is not just murder, theft and immorality; it includes pride, jealousy, envy, anger and hatred.

Look at God’s promise in verse 11. “As the Scripture says, anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame You may be disappointed in your friends and loved ones. Husbands and wives are disappointed with each other from time to time. Children are disappointed in parents, and parents are sometimes disappointed with their children. Friends leave us, family members forget us, and business partners double cross us. But no one who trusts in Jesus will ever be disappointed.

Paul draws out a further implication in verse 12: “For there is no difference between Jew nor gentile.” The Bible states, ‘God has no favourites’. No group or race or culture has a special claim on God’s grace.

A question often asked is what about those who have never heard of Jesus. If someone is in such a remote place where the Bible has not been taught, they will be judged by how they responded to their conscience, for everyone has a sense of what is right and what is wrong.  However, if it is a case of just not bothering to listen or find out, then the responsibility will be on them.

 No Christian can possibly believe Jesus would allow some poor soul deprived of teaching, to be rejected.

  Paul  asks, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?" So there has to be belief. That means the mind has to be engaged -- Behind the belief, Paul says, is a message, something heard. "How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?"  This is why it is so vitally necessary for preachers to stop prevaricating and dodging the only reason for their presence, which is to preaching the message God gave us.

Behind the message, of course, is the messenger.   The message has to be communicated and the way that God chooses is through the preaching of the Word and the praying of Christians, the yearning of their hearts over those who are not yet saved.

People are touched by God by various means, perhaps through a poster, a friend, an occurrence in one’s life, but the principal way is through the preaching of the Bible. This I believe is where we are failing badly, right across the Church. 

The Bible calls on us to preach the Word; in other words, the Scriptures, with sound doctrine, not adding, subtracting or amending what God caused His writers to state in the Bible. Yet at this very pulpit I have twice heard it said by ordained Ministers that you shouldn’t take the bible literally. This in complete negation of ordination vows.

We in the Churches must make a greater effort to concentrate on the fundamentals of the faith.  There is too much a willingness to amend Bible teaching to be popular, or ally with society’s standards and beliefs; avoid being called narrow minded or bigoted, and take every opportunity of doing so.

On Easter Sunday one year, a service was held in one of our great Cathedrals, and  was televised, offering a wonderful opportunity of getting the message out across the whole country, but instead there was a sermon which completely wasted the chance by an address on climate change, an which seems to obsess a lot of people.

Regularly Church leaders are eager to write to the press on a variety of matters social and political.  A Bishop wrote asking for everybody to fast one day of the week in prayer for climate change; this at a time when the Church attendances are falling.

As people have a cause to believe in with an eternal future at issue, one might have thought that would have been a prime issue for him to concentrate his mind on.

There is however a marked reluctance to speak out on moral and ethical matters, when the Church should be giving a lead to the country.   

The Bible states that it is God who adds to the number of people attending a Church.  In the book of Acts, He did so because the people were devoted to the teaching of the Apostles.  Therefore, we should be sure that all preaching and teaching will be that given by the Apostles and left for our learning in the New Testament

There are plenty of people who do not fully understand the

Essential teaching of the Apostles, the full necessity of knowing the finer points of the gospel, for one reason; they

Have never been told.

As a very young man, I had never heard salvation fully explained.  It was across the world to East Africa, before I heard salvation preached.

Over the years since the birth of the Church, men and women have travelled the world to tell others of this very special message.

There is an urgent need for such message to be preached without fear or favour.  I have been at Churches where the men and women, with brilliant minds, were ready to risk their lives for the faith, by going on missions to unknown places, at the same time making great financial sacrifices to do so.  Likewise, there are those of us who gave up careers and position to serve Christ in His Church, and have never  regretted having done so.             

We have to be as forthright and determined to preach our faith as we see the preachers of Islam doing so in respect of their faith.  You will never hear a Muslim cleric challenging anything in their Holy book.

In the absence of any person at national level with the charisma to inspire, each local Church has to be its own evangelist and I pray that the teaching you hear here will be that passed down from the Apostles.

. Never be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Preach it, believe it, tell it to someone else this week. Amen.

Wednesday 1 May 2024

 

  1 Thessalonians Chapter 1

 

    This Letter is thought to be the first of Paul’s thirteen New Testament Letters, and one which is very relevant to us to-day.  We can learn from this Letter what the Bible teaches us is a successful Church, and what it means to be a Christian in the purest sense.

.Paul had been on a mission with Silas and Timothy, and chose to visit Thessalonica.  This was a proud capital city of Macedonia, with a large population, a fine harbour, and was a busy trade centre, strategically situated on the main highway between East and West across Europe.  What happened there, tended to happen along the way. 

1 Thessalonians is one of the oldest books in the New Testament, and I am coming to be quite fond of it. Scholars date it at approximately 50-51 A.D., meaning that it was written only 18 years after Jesus’ life and death. As such, it is one of the earliest pictures we have of the Christian church in the very beginning.  This, together with other Scripture, tells us why Christianity spread so far and fast, without all the modern means of communication we have, and why the Church was so successful.

Paul begins this Letter in a different manner from others, in that he writes to show he recognises they are truly Christians, who have fully accepted God and Jesus Christ. They had listened to Paul, their minds were engaged. They were the church in God. They knew the Lord Jesus Christ. They had experienced the grace and peace of God. Paul prayed for them. He thanked God for them always. 

Most people consider a Church to be successful when it has a large congregation, is well financed, in a big building, preferably with car park; but such is a misconception and reveals mankind’s ideals as compared with that of God. Such an image is not in the line of the thinking of Jesus.

here are so many people who think if a person is not of another faith, or is an atheist, and if living in this nation, they must be a Christian; this is more so if they watch Songs of Praise on television.  This is a total myth, for a lot of nice and good living people are Muslims, or even atheists, and would be understandably offended to think they may be Christians

A successful Church is one with ordinary people, rich or poor, in a building big or small, where there is a lot of faith, a lot of hope, a lot of Christian love, sincerity, commitment, faithful preaching and total acceptance of the authority of the Bible.      

There is a big difference between a religious person and a Christian. There are so many people who think if a person is not of another faith, or is an atheist, and if living in this nation, they must be a Christian; this is more so if they watch Songs of Praise on television.  This is a total myth, for a lot of nice and good living people are Muslims, or even atheists, and would be understandably offended to think they may be Christians

There is a story about a man who attended one of the Billy Graham Crusades, and after the service was approached by a counsellor and asked, ‘are you a Christian sir?’  The man replied, ‘ I have been an Anglican all my life and I am not about to change now’

I was once asked by a lady, to explain that she had heard a man on television say he had attended a Church for years, but had only just become a Christian.  What did he mean?

Turn with me to Paul’s first Letter to the Thessalonian Church, This was a Church which Paul had founded, and he was very fond of it. I have come to like this Letter as it is so relevant and helpful, especially to new Christians. Most of the believers had come to Christ from idol worshipping, and they had made a huge impact as new Christian members.

Most of the believers at Thessalonica had come to Christ from idol-worshiping.   Paul’s brief ministry, resulted in a congregation made up mostly of converted Greeks, along with a few believing Jews and some leading women of the city.   These former idol-worshipers had a huge impact as brand-new Christ-followers.     

 Here was a Church, which started off with new people coming into our faith, and such was the commitment and enthusiasm, it made others wanting to join. This is typical human nature, of people seeing others having something  which they hadn’t, so didn’t want to be left out. Such was the vibrancy of their faith, that it spread widely, and the people were speaking of their devotion, their past practices left behind them.  The believers shared their good news, through the area, telling what a difference God had made on their lives.  Their friends and families began to ask questions about what happened to make such a change.     

Research has shown that the most successful form of evangelism, is that of ordinary men and women Christians, telling others of how Christianity has changed their lives, perhaps just mentioning they attend Church, and we are as proud of our faith, just as much as the other faiths are.

aul commended them for the main element of a Christian life, faith and love.  For a faith which works, love which labours, and a hope which endures.  Faith is not merely belief, it is something that changes your thinking, making you turn from something that is wrong to something which is right; love which causes you to work for the gospel; and hope which makes you steadfast in the faith and enable you to endure.  This is the whole Christiam life, beginning in faith, continuing in love, and culminating in the hope of eternal life.

Paul tells the believers they had been chosen by God.  The Bible tells us that God knows the secret working of our hearts, and knows when we are ready to acknowledge Him through Christ, by whom alone we can come to God. He, by His amazing grace, chooses and calls us into His family  God finds us before we find Him.

Two things must happen in order for a person to become a Christian; first from God’s side and then from the human side; but God side must always be the first. A Christian then is then one who responds to the gospel message.

Have you ever wondered why two people can hear the same message yet respond in different ways? It happens because one hears words, while the other man hears a message.  It is the Holy Spirit who takes human preaching, and makes it alive inside the human heart.

These Thessalonian Christians we are told, accepted the Word of God and received it into their hearts.  It is like someone sending you a present, you receive it when delivered to you, and you accept and use it for the purpose given. So the early Christians accepted the Word of God to improve their lives.

The last words of our Lord to His Apostles were, to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them. to observe all that I have commanded.  Here in the words of our Lord, is the purpose for which founded the Church.

The Apostles taught the truth about Jesus Christ, they taught the way in which He fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures in order to bring people to salvation through His sacrificial death on the Cross, and His resurrection.  They also taught how salvation in Jesus was to be worked out in the life of a believer.  They did not teach something  that they made up in their own minds, only things revealed to them by Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus had already made clear to them that their teaching was to be consistent with His. Our whole gospel message is based on the Apostles teaching, now enshrined in the New Testament.

As the years went by, the Apostles went all over the world teaching the truth. The Bible tells us people were cut to the heart, in other words, deeply convicted. The people devoted to the teaching, there was no coercion.  Throughout he ages, God has opened the hearts of people, to call them to Jesus.

This is Christianity in its purest form, stripped of all human influences and addition of false doctrines and ritual, which transformed the ancient world  This is how it was in the beginning, and what makes a successful Church, as opposed to a religious club. United by common interest; it is a people chosen by God, receiving power through Jesus Christ, who demonstrate this in faith.  All Christians should consider how deep our commitment is to Jesus Christ.

So, we may think of a successful Church as one where there is commitment, enthusiasm, and the teaching is that of that given by the Apostles, passed down to us in the New Testament, all of which leads to growth. 

God does not choose large Cathedrals to perform His plans, nor pick rich influential people.  Abraham Lincoln stated  that God must have loved ordinary people, he made so many of them.  He chose a humble Jewish village girl to bear the Saviour of the world.  None of the Apostles had a degree between them, they were ordinary working men.  They would never have passed a selection board here today, their strong Bible teaching would have disqualified them right off.

God acts when people respond to His Son.  It can be in the smallest of Churches; God acts when people turn to Him.  

What should occupy our minds is, if the Church is still preaching the message of the Apostles, and is it fit, for the purpose Christ and the Apostles built it? If we are going to be honest, only by Independent Evangelical Churches, for we have seen how leaders in main denominations have wandered into creating false doctrines to meet society’s calling.

The Church has cast aside the Bible, and in so doing caused the country to lose its Influence, Guidance and moral standards, with the consequence the young people are not able to distinguish between good and bad. Church has become disconnected from the Word of God. With no firm statement of belief, so is unable to fulfil our Lord’s command to teach the Bible.

Martin Luther wrote, the true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God. This is what the Church should be preaching, but too many people are concerned to follow an equality and diversity agenda, which puts forward childish and silly remarks. This has become now an obsession.

Jesus gave strict commands on spiritual, moral. Ethical, and social matters, and all clergy vowed at ordination to honour the words of Scripture, and banish false doctrine.

We live in an evil world, and when you read newspapers, it is hard to believe how barbaric humans can be to fellow humans. There is ill concealed lying by politicians, corruption, deceit, cheating and lusting to such an extent that women are at constant peril from all manner of sexual attacks.

We have to accept, that the Church exists primarily to proclaim the gospel. If we restrict that, then we have no claim to be here.  Today there are many attacks on Christianity. The liberal lobby have lost all sense of reality with their spurious devotion to a woke agenda.

All Christians, at this perilous time need to think what we can offer to God. Above all, we must not be ashamed of the gospel, nor reluctant to preach it without fear or favour. Come to Church prepared to feast on sound teaching. Do not listen to anyone tell you that you don’t matter or count, you count tremendously.  Glory in what you do for God, He expects us to be His ambassadors.

   

 I close with the words of John Wesley

I want to know one thing, the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this end He came down from heaven. He hath written down in a book. Give me that book. At any price give me the Book of God

 

    May God nspire our hearts by His Holy Word and may His Holy Name be glorified

Monday 29 April 2024

1 Corinthians 1 v18/25.
This morning I want to speak about the Cross, and have chosen a passage from Paul’s 1st Letter to the Church at Corinth.

 Paul wrote to give advice and admonishment to the people there because of the way they were acting. He is showing us in this passage, how the Cross is so important for us as Christians, and how it is involved in human affairs and thinking.

Each religious faith has its own symbol. Muslims have the crescent moon; the Jews have the Star of David, but for Christians we have the Cross.   Some Churches have a Cross outside, and most also display the Cross inside. It is embossed upon our Bibles and prayer books, and ladies particularly wear a gold cross.

Paul said he gloried in the Cross. He said, we preach Christ crucified, and when writing to the Galatian Church Paul stated, ‘God forbid that I should boast about anything except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’, to indicate how much he prioritised the Cross. He could have boasted about his own intellect, his mastery of languages; he could have boasted about the unique birth of Christ or the miracles performed, even the resurrection, but he didn’t, only the Cross.

The bible tells that God loves all people and wants then to be saved, and the whole bible from cover to cover is about salvation. The Cross has always been the standard for God’s people and the Church.

Let me now turn to Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians Christians.

The Church at Corinth was having problems, which caused Paul to write to them.  Corinth was a cosmopolitan city, which has been described as the Soho of its day, full of corruption and immorality. It was a trading centre, and there was much wealth and a style of living, which did not match up to Christian standards. The Church, which had started with much power, was allowing some of the culture to invade the Church, and some members were influenced by the rhetoric of some preachers who were deviating from gospel, and this caused division and dissension within the Church.

We have a similar situation here, where there are men/women occupying the most prominent position in the Church, openly accepting, and even encouraging Christians to adopt the morality of society, despite the fact that the Bible expressly condemns.
Paul begins this passage by saying Christ sent him to preach the gospel, not with profound words and high-sounding ideas, for there is mighty power in the simple message of the Cross of Christ. I think sometimes that a more social message is preferred.

If you see a restaurant advertising good class food, and you enter, only to find you are served ‘junk’ food, you are not likely to visit again. People are now visiting churches expecting to hear spiritual messages, hearing what the bible states about the moral and spiritual issues of the day, but in too many places hear poor messages which are in direct contradiction of the bible, leaving them confused and dejected. We must tell the true meaning of Scripture, so they can understand that which God wants them to know.

In verse 18,for the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, which means not saved, and no hope of getting to heaven for they have rejected Jesus, but to those of us who are saved and have accepted Jesus as Saviour, the gospel is the power of God.

 Paul always taught there are two distinct points of view, two black or white absolutes, that can never be reconciled, because they produce two different responses to the gospel. We all have to decide now which we believe.

We have a choice to make for our future when this life is over. Many people don’t want to think of that, and dismiss it from their minds.  Many more believe there is no need to worry, as long as one leads a ‘good’ life we are all going to heaven. Apart from the fact ‘good’ has not been defined, how would we know when he had done enough?

 Every Pastor can tell you, that irrespective that the deceased never read a bible, attended church, and being totally unaware of belief, it was always thought the relatives of the deceased, the person was heaven bound.

Unless you accept the Cross and its meaning, you are not able to make an assessment of the future. The Cross is the pivotal point of Christianity.  If you tell people that all their efforts and achievements will not put them right with God, and the only way is to believe the death of Christ on the Cross, and we can do nothing to earn our salvation, they will think it ridiculous.

The Cross strikes at the heart of human pride. Just as the Jews could never accept that a man hanging on a Cross could save the world, so today people mock the idea. Those who are blind to the truth of the gospel are said to be ‘perishing’, which means unsaved and are eternally lost. To them however, it is absurd, and they refuse to believe the Biblical teaching that states to achieve eternal salvation you have to believe that a man died on a Cross 2000 years ago, in a little country on the far side of the world, and did so that our sins may be forgiven.

The other reaction is, that the Cross is the power of God to those of us who have accepted Christ’s death on the Cross as our means of salvation.

Why take a risk on your eternal future? If you were due to fly to America, and as you were boarding the plane you were told there was a 1% chance the plane would not make it across the Atlantic, would you still fly?

Paul said he understood, how foolish it sounds to those who are lost when they heard that Jesus died to save them, but God had said He would destroy all human plans of salvation, no matter how wise they seem to be to men, even the most brilliant of them. He said ‘you come to me my way, or you do not come at all’.

If you wear a Cross, you should ask yourself, why you are wearing it, what does it mean to me? Most people just see it as an item of jewellery, such an idea would have been horrifying, bearing in mind the tortuous death it carried; it would be like wearing a model of the gallows around the neck. It was so crude a death it was never mentioned in polite company.

 Paul asks where is the wise man, where is the scholar, where is the philosopher of this age, has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world.  Challenging them, who think they can solve life’s problems.

Paul is speaking to those in the Church who claimed to be wise and proud of their wisdom, which they were using to divide the Church and to promote themselves by changing the message of the Cross to make it more acceptable. Paul is telling them it is worthless in the sight of God, and will only destroy the Church.

The Jews demand miraculous signs, and Greeks look to wisdom. This was a stumbling block which could not be overcome by Jews or Gentiles, but to those who do believe, it is a message of power.

The Jews demanded that what Paul was teaching should be proved by some miraculous sign. Jews could not ever accept that the Messiah would be crucified; it was totally contradictory to their belief. The Greeks placed so much influence on human wisdom and intellectual ability to be the means of salvation.

God chose a way which ordinary people could understand. Abraham Lincoln once stated, God must have loved ordinary people, because He made so many of them. Paul gave them an ordinary and simple message, believe in Jesus Christ who gave His life to be crucified on the Cross, and you will have eternal life. If we had to be very wise and academic, millions of people would never have come to know the Lord. Heaven would be only for the clever people.The gospel message is the opposite of worldly wisdom, and is hard for some to believe, but we do believe. But there are still people who want to see some proof for what we prea

ch. The Bible states, by grace you shall be saved through faith’. If you have to see signs or other proof to believe, you don’t need faith. True faith means believing in what you cannot see.

God said, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate’.

The message of the world sees us as self-sufficient beings; there is no need of God. We have the ability to think and reason which will prove sufficient to eventually solve all of our problems.  Obviously, God doesn’t think so much of it.

Just where has all the wisdom of the so-called wise brought us? How well have we done in solving the world’s problems? Have we eradicated poverty? Has all our research and expertise in the fields of science and medicine rid our world of disease? Have we found a cure for cancer? There is more suffering now than history records.

With all the highly educated professional educators, how can we still have ignorant people wandering our streets, graduating from our schools and colleges, not knowing basic maths or English?

Look at the enormous amount of hatred in the world, with many of the Arab countries wanting to wipe Israel off the face of the map; the barbarity of Islamic militants. Paradoxically, hatred has been introduced into our society by legislation. The (inequitable) Equality and Diversity Bill has caused considerable distress.

Consider the hate mail and persecution, experienced Christians who do not wish to surrender their beliefs to society’s morality. The unfortunate reality is, that for all our so-called sophistication, we have not been able to solve the basic problems of society–– problems that have been around since the beginning. Certainly, we have been able to see great advances technologically. We have great new gadgets. But on the really important issues of life, we don’t even have temporary solutions.

But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

The Cross upon which Jesus died was not only a place where he bore the sins of humanity and paid the penalty for those sins, it is also a way for our lives by his power. It is saying that God became weak, in order to save us. It says that when we surrender our lives, we truly find them. It is the very power of God, concealed from the so-called wise and sophisticated, and revealed to those who come as a child, in simple faith and trust.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength

Today the cross of Christ is still a cause of offence. The message of the cross of Christ is still foolishness to those who are perishing. To them the cross is the weakest link. In the Cross, we see the power of God displayed. God was powerful enough to become weak. And it will take the power of God in our lives, to humble ourselves in complete surrender to him. The good news is that God has given us his power. It is now the duty and responsibility of the Church to boldly proclaim this.

There is one underlying message running right through this passage. ‘There is only one way to heaven, and that is through Jesus Christ’. God gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. We do not earn our right to heaven by all the good things we do, being saved is a gift from God, if we could earn, it would not be free. God accepts us when we believe in Christ.

May the Cross always remind you of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made for the salvation that can be yours. May God be glorified.