Thursday 22 December 2011

Christmas Message

I watched an American news broadcast which reported on how the American Civil Liberties Union were going around posting anti-Christmas messages, calling for all references to Christmas to be removed from public display, and objecting to Nativity scenes.  What happened to the land of the free?

Here in Britain we have something of the same, when jumped up public officials rejoice to be offended on behalf of other faiths and none, and object to Christian messages and expression, thinking their efforts will earn them some praise for political correctness and a few moments of fame; councillors who have never contributed much to public life other than to benefit themselves, objecting to prayers before Council meetings, replacing the word Christmas for winter festival or other ridiculous terms. 

What is it about these people? Why does Christianity strike such fear in their tiny minds?  Why do they not have the courage to attack other faiths?  Does a guilty conscience come into play when they consider the sort of lives they live?  Why is it that they have no reluctance to join in all the festivities which only take place because Christmas is an essentially Christian celebration? 

The vociferous secularists and humanists, whose publicity is out of all proportion to their tiny numbers, see any religious ceremony as a threat to their unworthy cause.  Is it not amazing that when an American evangelist came over here and offered to enter into debate with them, they all went into hibernation refusing to take part.

In a few days time Christians will be attending Christmas services.  Some will be attending Midnight Mass, a glorious inspiring service of praise, as we herald in Christmas Day and  celebrate the birth of our Lord.  Others will prefer to go to Church on Christmas morning, but at whichever service we will be thinking of God’s love in sending Jesus here, born of a young Jewish girl by the power of the Holy Spirit, in which we all glory.  I know that there will be difficulty for some in accepting the doctrine of the Virgin birth, which means of course they must explain how Jesus entered the world and then they could be on dangerous grounds. 

We remember the lowly circumstances of His birth and the reason He came, namely to grow into manhood and be our Saviour.

It is a matter of great sadness that now in the 21dst century the mass of people have forsaken the Christian commitment of previous years and chosen to ignore the religious significance of Christmas.  Some reject all religious belief with undisguised contempt, and just see it as an excuse for an orgy of drink and pleasure.

I look in amazement as I see trolleys in supermarkets  overflowing with food and drink, especially drink, and then hear and read of how protests are made regarding cuts by the government and how people are finding it hard to exist, and certainly cannot afford to pay more for their gold plated pensions.

 I accept everyone is entitled to have enjoyment, especially at this time of year, but let us keep it in proportion.  There will be many who just now see Christmas as a secular time for enjoyment. 

But let us remember with much compassion those for whom Christmas is a time of great sadness, namely those who have just lost a married partner, a child, parent or loved family member.  This will be a very lonely time for them and we should remember them in prayers and intercessions.
I wish all who read this posting a very happy and blessed Christmas, irrespective of your own personal views, and hope to be back with you the week after Christmas.  God Bless you.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Preaching the faith

How wonderful to hear that David Cameron making such a strong statement of support for Christianity.  He is so right to say the country needs to get back to the values and morals of the Bible, and to remind people that it has been Christianity which made this country great by uniting people. Good to hear him say also that this is a Christian country despite the efforts of the fanatical Richard Dawkins with his desire to wipe out Christianity with the aid of his followers. 

In the United States they are proud of their country, and their religion, with so many more attending Church and even more supporting the Christian faith. 

From a personal aspect, I am delighted that from tomorrow I will be able to once again watch the religious channels on Sky television which I enjoyed watching until a few months ago, featuring some of the great evangelical Churches in the States.  The 700 Club hosted by Pat Robertson on the CBN channel was a nightly pleasure for me, together with Christian World News with Wendy Griffith on a Saturday.  Of course there was always the greatest preacher of all, in re-runs of the Crusades of Billy Graham. 

The Prime Minister was (indirectly)telling the Archbishop of Canterbury to get busy preaching the gospel and build the Church of England up.  Michael Portillo made an interesting defence when debating with an atheist.  I thought I recognised the atheist, and if he was who I thought he was, I would have expected the fatuous remarks he made.  Michael pointed out how the Church of England had made such a influence by following a moderate line rather than the aggressiveness of other faiths.  I am not sure it is always the best thing to be moderate.

I read of a service held at the Royal College in London and thought it was really a bit of a spoof, it was so unbelievable.  As the name of a Vicar who led it was mentioned, I looked her up and found it was a genuine name.  If what was reported was correct, I think she should have been summoned by her Bishop and given a stern warning of the duties she is bound to perform.  A carol service was held with the quotations from the Quaran rather than the Bible. This is improper under Church of England law. I have no objections to the Koran being read, but it is patronising to Muslims to include this in a Christian setting, and objectionable to both Christians and Muslim friends. 

Returning to the Prime Minister’s statement that we should uphold the morals and values of the Bible, can we take it he is not going to pursue ‘gay marriage’?   

I do wonder why an Archbishop has to be someone with high academic training.  As a cynic once remarked, ‘the Church is falling apart by degrees’.  What we need is some outstanding figure with Biblical integrity, who will capture the hearts and minds of ordinary people.  Billy Graham could fill any stadium anywhere in the world to its full capacity even exceeding 80,000 people.  Can you envisage any Bishop or Archbishop capable of doing this? 

Friday 16 December 2011

Luke 1 v 26/38

If this gospel message was told as a story in one of our daily newspapers, and so posted on their website, it would receive numerous scornful mocking comments, questioning as to why anyone would believe it.  In fairness, if a daughter or friend came and told you she was pregnant but had not been intimate with a man, you would reasonably think she was mad or trying to cover up a moral lapse. 

Such was the situation experienced by a young Jewish girl in a remote Israeli village, risking disgrace and shame and also the loss of her fiancĂ©e. It has to be accepted that the birth of Jesus was unique.  God took the initiative, and Jesus was born of a virgin, such is a basic doctrine of the Church,

But such was the faith and courage of that young woman that she trusted God, and so became the most famous woman in all history, the most blessed of women.  The Roman Catholic Church has tended to make rather too much of Mary whilst the Protestant Churches have made too little.

Is it not amazing how peoples’ minds reason. Thousands say they will not believe what they cannot understand.  If I should go out on to the car park of this Church and take out a little plastic box, and press a combination of 13 numbers, within seconds I would be speaking to my son in Hong Kong. Yet if I wished to speak face to face, it would take a journey of 13 hours to do so.

I can’t explain how this can happen, and I doubt there is anyone I know who could explain, we take mobile phones for granted.  We watch events as they happen from across the world in a box in our homes and take it for granted.  Who can explain how a brown cow, which eats green grass, produces white milk, and yellow butter, yet we eat and drink both. Why on earth if we can accept all the marvels of man, we cannot accept the miracles of God. 

This causes me to turn with you to verse 37 of this morning’s passage, ‘for nothing is impossible with God’. Our minds are not meant to understand all the miracles and mighty deeds of the Lord; the Cross and atonement; the resurrection; the power of the Holy Spirit.  We may not understand the virginal conception, but we accept all these by faith.

Mary did not doubt what the angel told her, she was just puzzled, as she might be, as to how this would happen.  It was as if the angel was saying ‘Mary you are thinking as a human being and humanly you are right, but this is God at work and He shall come upon you with the power of the Holy Spirit, for nothing is impossible for God’. 

Nobody chooses to be born, it just happens to us, but with Jesus He chose to come here.  His mother had Him born in lowly circumstances, was visited by shepherds, had the angels sing Gloria in excelsis, and heard Simeon warn her of a sword which would pierce her heart. 

The whole purpose of Jesus coming here was to act as a substitute for our sin, and to do so would face a painful crucifixion, something rejected by so many people for whom all Christmas means is an orgy of feasting and riotous behaviour.   

I read about a party of tourists being taken around Westminster Abbey and they stopped by a beautiful stained glass window which the guide had led them to.  As they stared in silence an American lady asked, ‘has anyone been saved in this Church lately?’  The guide drew himself up to his full height and replied, ‘Madam, this is a Cathedral’.  But the lady was right, the function and mission of the Church, whether it be a Cathedral or small chapel, is to bring people to salvation. 

We have 580 members in General Synod, costing the Church far too much money, debating issues for which Scripture has already given answers, rather than trying to devise means of halting the exodus of people.  It is like arguing which is the best room in the house when the whole house is on fire.  The primary aim is to put the fire out never mind the furniture. 

 We need to teach that God made us for a purpose, and we have turned our backs on Him who gave us Jesus to be born and live on this earth, and eventually to die to save us.  There is the tendency to ask how an event which occurred over 2000 years ago in a country across the world can affect us now.  The answer is that God acted and still acts in our lives by the Holy Spirit.  We need Christ as a Saviour. 

We all have a choice.  We can refuse to believe, or react like Mary who although she could not understand when told of God’s purpose for her replied, ‘behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to your Word’.  That is the question for you to-day. To accept, and yield yourself.
We talk glibly about peace, often implying a lack of combat.  It is all very well to talk of love and applying a social gospel to the problems of life.  Politicians and social workers have been putting forth their lofty aims and to consider their effect, look at the broken homes, the bribery corruption drug dealing and divorce.

God’s meaning of peace is a solid one joining ourselves to Him.  God reaches out to us whose love makes Him forgive us and mercy is boundless.  It is God who takes the initiative as He did when He chose Abraham, who inspired Isaac and Jacob and founded the nation of Israel. 

This is why we should have concern for the nation of Israel from which all our teaching emanates.  We worship the God of Israel; we worship a Jewish Saviour; born  of a Jewish woman; and are taught from a book written (under the inspiration of God) by Jewish writers.  One day Jesus will return to there.

The Israelites constantly sinned and strayed away from God but He still looked after them, fed and clothed them, protected and revealed Himself to them.  The Old Testament is the history of the Israelites resisting God’s will and the New Testament shows God cannot be limited.  It was |God who sent His Son to prepare the great salvation after His prophets were rejected; it was God who raised His Son from the dead; God who gave teaching on how we should live and respond to Him.

If our Lord was to return now would He be happy about the religious teaching. Would He wonder why we Christians treat our faith in such casual manner rather than the aggressive evangelism of other faiths?

There is often a reluctance by clergy to speak out for fear of offending people.  It is true to say Christian preachers tend to modify teaching of traditional values to appeal to contemporary thinking. All this causes a problem for parish priests, and especially for itinerant preachers like me. 

In effect there are three options open to preachers
    One is to avoid all contentious issues.
        2 To go with the flow.
          3 To be true to Scripture.
We all want to please and satisfy our audience, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to cause offence.  But if preachers are to be true to their calling, and preach with integrity and honour, there are times when I suppose some people may be upset. If that happen that is sad. But perhaps you may see we are not here to  that be like a spiritual dispenser giving out soothing word potions, but rather to make people think out Scripture.

Perhaps I can close apply with the words of the Prime Minister who stated we should be prepared to stand up and defend the values and morals taught by the Bible which has made Britain what it is today

Saturday 10 December 2011

John the Baptist

Sunday next is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, and the theme is on John the Baptist.  We do in fact honour John on the 24th June and on that day in Spain, which is still largely a Catholic country, they do so in style with ceremonial processions through the streets. John was a very special character in the Bible, being described by Jesus as ‘one of whom there being none greater.’

A period of 400 years elapsed between the Old and New Testaments and John acted as a bridge between the prophecies of the Old Testament and the coming of the Messiah.  God chose John to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus.
John attracted huge crowds to see and hear him; they came from all directions, North and South, East and West. They came from all levels of society

He was a fearless preacher giving a message of confession and repentance, and did so in the most direct way accusing them of being a brood of vipers, and told them there was a wrath to come.  Most preachers would rejoice in being able to emulate his appeal, although they would hesitate the language he used in today’s atmosphere where the least criticism raises accusations of phobia or bigotry.

Because of his successful appeal to people a delegation of priests was sent out to find out if he was acting in an orthodox manner.  The Jews believed, and were proud of the fact, that they were God’s chosen people and He would one day send a Messiah who would be a great national leader who would lead them to world conquest.  It was also believed that prior to the Messiah coming Elijah the great Old Testament prophet would come back to herald the Messiah’s coming. 

The priests wanted to see who John actually was. When John spoke of baptism it was not the meaningless kind that is sometimes practised in churches today and I will explain in detail subsequently what I mean by that.  Baptism was a symbol of admittance into the Christian faith, taken by someone who had come to need a personal Saviour in the person of Jesus Christ, who they would take into their hearts and lives and live according to His teaching. 

John wasn’t concerned with numbers or adding to some Church roll, he wanted genuine commitments.  The Bible is clear in all four gospels that the Christian life involved repentance and the following of a new way of life.  If we analyse our lives we will find there are things we have said and done and sincerely wish we hadn’t, but there is nothing we can now do except pray that God will forgive us, and that others will accept our flaws.

The place where John ministered was way out in the wilderness a bleak and desolate place, living off the land, getting his clothing from wild camel and food from whatever grew there. There is a wilderness in many people’s hearts. 

John calls us to a new life in Jesus Christ and it was with such a desire that people sought out John.  Jesus can come to us in very different ways.  It may be through a poster we noticed, which is why we need well thought out poster displays which will catch people’s eyes and strike them and they ought to be relevant.  Thousands have been led to Christ through reading posters placed on the London tube system by the London Christian Mission.  Other people have been influenced by the words of a preacher, but the most telling witness is that of other Christians drawing in others by their way of life. 

It is possible to become so engaged in religious activity dressing ourselves with religion without changing our hearts.  We Christians need to be more aggressive about our faith and be prepared to act and rebel as other faiths do when bloated bureaucrats try to stifle expression. 

We are now approaching Christmas and the secularisation of it is almost complete, which is why all who hold the Christian faith dear must be prepared to support Christian worship.  Advent is a time when we come out of the wilderness and be inspired by the ministry of John the Baptist.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

A rchbishop's comments

I see the Archbishop of Canterbury has been speaking out again.  Unfortunately every time he does so he upsets so many and loses the Church some people and influence. 

Writing in the ‘Guardian’ newspaper (I saw from television, I am not a reader of the paper) the Archbishop warned the riots of last summer could occur again.  I thought this was an unfortunate remark to make, for in the limited mind set of people who riot this could be seen as an endorsement as it was accompanied by a sense of understanding. 

More serious I thought was the Archbishop’s support for the tent people outside St Paul’s Cathedral when he wrote that Jesus would be with them at Christmas.  I don’t think Jesus would be anywhere near. Many of us would disagree when one remembers they are first of all acting illegally, have defaced the Cathedral, and turned many people away from services. 

Having heard some of the protestors speak, this is clearly a political motivated movement and I cannot understand why people would think Jesus would support people who have no interest or support for the Church, and indeed have shown their opposition by the defacing of the building and acted against those seeking to worship Him.

I am sure there are some people with genuine concern with the way bankers have behaved, but if we are honest we must accept some of the people are professional protestors.  I cannot see any justification for associating Jesus with people who break the law, any action Jesus took was with people who acted properly and he threw out people who were abusing ‘a house of prayer’. 

We must remember this whole episode was brought about when a cleric of St Paul’s intervened when police were first dealing with the matter and told them to let the protestors stay. Had he not done so, this situation would not have occurred and some honourable men would not have been forced out of their Church position. In addition, massive disruption has been caused to people for a cause, which frankly is achieving nothing.

It is always unwise for Ministers of the Church to get involved making political statements from either side left or right.  Sometimes we do have to criticise politicians when they offend Christian faith by the legislation or threats of doing so, but to use our (unelected) position in society is wrong.  If a person in the Church wants to engage in direct political speak he/she should seek election politically and then be justified.

I read that £25,000 has been given by ‘well-wishers’ and is already causing problems.  No surprise there then. 

Perhaps the Archbishop would do well to heed the words of Paul as outlined in yesterday’s passage for the Church is badly in need of encouragement and guidance. When one’s own house is falling down, there is no time for trying to build someone else’s up.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Civil unions

From to morrow civil unions ceremonies may be held in places of worship, but the Church of England has stated it will not permit this in Anglican Churches.  No doubt some Vicar seeking a few moments of media attention will defy the line. 

This new edict was issued by a junior Home Office Minister, not generally recognised for her particular brilliance, and supported by the Prime Minister, but without the issue being debated and passed by Parliamentary debate.  Such is the state of democracy in this country, plus the fact that the Churches were not allowed to express opinion on the issue.

However, our Prime Minister despite facing huge worldly challenges of momentous consequence still sees ‘gay marriage’ as an urgent priority, no doubt believing it makes him appear cool and popular with modern society.  He may pick up the few extra votes he is seeking, but seems unable to appreciate he will lose a lot more. 

Such action would offend many people including non Church members, but for Christians it is particularly offensive as it contravenes the very Word of God. .  The Bible is unequivocally clear that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.  Mr Cameron is prepared to legislate and re-define marriage.  Bearing in mind marriage is defined in the marriage service as being for ‘the procreation of children’ is he going to legislate for that?

All this is being done in the so-called named of equality, but these politicians need to grow up mentally as well as physically and realise we are not all equal.  Some people from birth are very clever, others are not, we are different in quality of appearance, we have different talents.

 The country at large is fully prepared to accept civil unions as an alternative way of life, but most people feel gay marriage is a step too far

Mr Cameron claims he is guided by Christian principles, claims the Bible means some thing to him.  He even claims to be a Conservative

‘Human rights’ is an obsessive topic.  Does a Christian Minister not have human rights which are much offended if he acts against the teaching of Scripture?  If he offends against such legislation, will he end up in an overcrowded prison?   The law is ever anxious to protect the rights of minority groups, is it not time the minority group called Christians were given rights?

The Courts are facing many claims from Christians who have been harassed and bullied, deprived of their freedom to express their faith in order to appease non Christians.

A case is now pending where a Council voted to have prayers prior to Council meetings, but one man objected claiming he was offended and hurt at having to listen to prayers.(this from a grown up man)  If he used a little intelligence and energy he could have got up and left the room.  He is seeking to overturn the will of the majority and is being allowed to do so.  Will Christians be allowed to do so when they are offended?

A place of worship includes mosques, and Islam will never accept gay marriage.  Moreover Islam is not the push-over that the Christian Churches are, they are proud and devoted to their faith and will have the courage to challenge any attempt to enforce such a law, if indeed anyone sought to enforce it.

Could be an interesting situation developing.

Friday 2 December 2011

The return of Jesus

Sunday is the 2nd Sunday in Advent, the season in which we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord, but also to think of the time when Jesus will return to earth.  This is a cause for contemplation.

Jesus made it very clear that His coming back will be a time for judgement, something so many people do not want to hear, think or accept as fact, they totally refuse to acknowledge judgement as a reality.  But Jesus left no room for doubt, He spoke of sheep and goats, tares and wheat, heaven and hell, a broad road which leads to destruction and a narrow road leading to eternal life with Him. 

From Genesis to Revelation the Bible warns that a day of judgement will come and that one day we will all have to stand to answer to God for the way we have lived our lives.  People think this is all fancy talk for a mixture of reasons.  Some don’t think that God would punish anyone for He is a God of mercy and love, which He is, but also a God of wrath who hates sin.  Some don’t even believe in God, others have the idea that as long as you are sincere in what you believe and are kind and honest with other people, that is enough.

In this week’s Epistle, (2Peter 3.v8/15) Peter refers to the coming judgement.  He begins the passage by referring to the ‘Day of the Lord’.  This is a regular phrase from the Old Testament by which the Jews thought of two ages, the present one which is all bad, and the future age in which is good when God will come.  It was believed this would come suddenly and without any warning and be the age of judgement.  Peter sees this as the return of Jesus Christ.  He says the day is surely coming, so we should all be living holy godly lives.

Peter meant we should order our lives so that when Jesus returns He will find our lives have proved worthy of His approval, for we will all have to appear before Him.

We live in a very secular age in which the opponents of religion, and particularly our Christian faith, appear to have dominance and seek to oppress and harass Christians.  They have convinced the majority to believe there is no need to be religious or worry about the future, and people have readily  been  willing to accept this false assurance, for it gives them the excuse to be eating, drinking to excess, and engage in immoral sexual activity. 

Jesus said, ‘as it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.  That is how it will be’

Jesus lay it on the Church to give bring His words to all people so they may know they can be saved, and it is the solemn duty of the Church to ensure the words of Jesus are brought to the notice of all men and women, so that they may have the opportunity of re-thinking their lives and be aware of what can happen.

Perhaps the next message can look at that responsibility which faces the Church

Saturday 26 November 2011

Marriage Genesis 2

A major national newspaper featured a front page story stating that divorce amongst the over 60s had become prevalent.  Reasons given were early retirement leading to boredom at home, and the ability to travel and mix.
At one time divorce at such an age was very seldom.  I can imagine some heartbreaking stories could be told of one partner in the marriage being deserted in older age after many years of fidelity on their part.  Whilst both sexes can be at blame, I imagine it is more likely that it is a man feeling he is still young at heart and being attracted to a younger more glamorous model, although one often reads of some woman falling for a toy boy who will soon deprive her of her wealth.  In either case much sympathy must be felt for the aggrieved partner. 
Much of this sort of behaviour emanates from a lax view of marriage, a lack of religious belief, and the fact that so many people of all ages are completely influenced by what they see on television where sexual activity is portrayed as being an essential of life, and viewers are unable to separate fiction from reality. 
If we turn to the Bible marriage was given in the first book, Genesis, where God made man and then said it was not good for him to be alone and He would give man a helper.  God wanted to ease man’s loneliness and give him someone he could love and no other relationship is as special or more profound.  God said the man should leave his parents and ‘cleave’ to his wife, in other words be bound to her for life, spending their lives committed to each other.
It is important to note that whilst marriage is referred to in both Old and New Testaments, it always refers to a man and a woman, there is no authority for marriage between two people of the same sex; that is a device of society and it is sad that our Prime Minister, a (nominal) Conservative should be so intent on making ‘gay marriage’ an ‘urgent priority.’ 
Marriage was God’s gift to humanity and sometimes it goes wrong when two incompatible personalities are together or when one strays to someone else, even when one partner is subject to violent behaviour.  Such causes may inevitably lead to divorce. 
Today marriage is seen by a lot of people as outdated and unnecessary.  Why bother when you can live just as well co-habiting?  Recent court cases have shown how perilous this can be for a woman.  Other people marry without much thought, thinking if it goes wrong there is always divorce, which has been made so easy despite the disasters caused to children the product of such marriages. 
Of course adultery is now commonplace and some feel they should not be restricted to one woman or man.  Television stories are full of such behaviour and celebrities act likewise. So why not copy?
The Bible is quite clear that marriage is for life and makes that on the strongest way, in the words. , “What God has joined together, let man not separate” which is telling us God never meant there to be divorce.

Friday 25 November 2011

john 13

I want to greet all those who have kindly turned and looked at this blog.  I thank you for your interest and hope I will continue to have your company. 

It is my hope that I will be with you twice a week, at least, on Monday to look at matters relating to the Church and Christians in general, and on Friday to have a Bible passage to go into the week-end.

To-day I want you to look with me at these words from the 13th Chapter of St John’s Gospel. ‘Sir we want to see Jesus.’

In many small evangelical churches in the United States, they have these words inscribed on the pulpit to remind the preacher that people have come to hear about Jesus Christ. .  I had the joy of preaching recently at a small Methodist Church which had the same words inscribed on the pulpit. It is a call to the preacher that he must only preach Jesus Christ and not engage in philosophy, politics, or be submissive to political correctness. These words were the theme of the preacher when I was ordained at Chester Cathedral, one of the godliest men you could possibly meet

As we enter the season of Advent we have the lead up to the coming of Christmas when the world over will celebrate the holiday season.  The principal and in fact only reason for the celebration will never enter most people’s minds.  Indeed, many children as well as adults will know little if anything about the birth of our Lord,  If you were to ask people how they were to celebrate the event they would tell you boastfully of all the food drink and partying they were going to indulge in.  See how few will be in Churches on Christmas Eve or Day.
 I hope you who are reading this will want to see Jesus, for He wants to show us Himself   
Jesus had entered Jerusalem for the Passover festival having just raised Lazarus from the dead, and was receiving an enthusiastic welcome from crowds of people gathered for the festival.  But there were some who did not welcome Him and indeed were plotting His death.

At such a time as this many Gentiles would go to the city and although not Jews would join in the celebrations.  Some Greeks were amongst the crowds who had heard of Jesus and were determined to meet Him.  They were from a settlement in the North of Galilee and went to Philip who came from near their area and said to him, ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus’.

Having heard the stories of what Jesus had done they realised something was missing from their lives and wanted to receive from Him that something  So when they said they wanted to see Jesus, they were in fact seeking a meeting with Him.
When Jesus was told of their request He was pleased and responded immediately.  He had not gone to Jerusalem to enter for the same purpose as the crowds had in mind, so when He heard a group of people were genuinely seeking Him, He said, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.
He went on to say "Truly, truly, I say to you."  Whenever Jesus used those words, it meant that He was going to say something important.  Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone." He was here meaning. He was the grain of wheat and unless He went to the cross,  His whole purpose in coming to earth will have been in vain.  If He had not made the sacrifice on the Cross, you and I and everybody else, could not have forgiveness. When He met those Greeks it was as the first sign that the gospel was to go to all the world, and part of God’s plan to bring salvation to the Gentiles,  the symbol of the great harvest for which He came.
If He had not died we probably would not know any more about Him for He would have just been another figure of history, of no greater significance than any other great religious leader. Because of the cross, He was able to do something He could never have done otherwise.
Everything that happened to Him was part of God’s great plan foretold in the Old Testament and His death on the Cross brought Him glory. When Jesus stated ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’, He  knew what He had  to face and that He is going to be glorified through the sacrifice the cross, because by that cruel death the way to forgiveness for all believers was made possible.
At the cross, Jesus underwent the judgement we deserve and paid our debt to God.  His death gives us hope of everlasting life with Him one day. He wants to give you that hope in your life today. He alone can give you that new life that can never fade, and you can find that new life by meeting Jesus.
You may have started coming to church recently, or have been a faithful member for years, and then one day you come and a preacher says a word that makes you realise there has been something missing in your life, that perhaps you have even noticed in someone else; you know that you are still on the outside looking in.  You do not understand it all, but you sense there is something you need to find out.  You need to meet Jesus.

If we want to see Jesus we should refer to our Bibles where you can meet Him there, not of course personally but through a spiritual encounter. If you turn aside and want nothing to do with him, then in the end He will close the door on you – for all eternity.
There are those, and within the Church even, who challenge His divine birth and physical resurrection, those liberals who have merely a casual relationship with the Bible.  If however we reject these doctrines, we reduce Him to what many want to see Him as, merely a religious man cum social worker. But, that is not how the Bible portrays Him.

Jesus went further, and said, much to the annoyance of to-day’s politically correct theologians, ‘no one can come to the Father except through me.’  This is now unacceptable to many Christian preachers who claim (erroneously) that all religions lead to God. 
There are so many reasons for wanting to, ‘see Jesus’. People in these high pressure days are so often weary and depressed and looking for that spiritual something.   Jesus said ‘I can fulfil all those needs.’
People are looking for something beyond themselves, looking for a way that gets the most out of life, yet carrying a load of guilt, fear and worry.  Jesus said, ‘come unto me all you are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest’ 

So many men and women these days are doing things and behaving in a way that once would never have been thought of, so carrying all sorts of moral problems.  Indulging in activities they know to be wrong, yet unable to resist the temptations. 
If they had turned to Christ they would have had someone to offer help.    

But when a person claims to be someone, you have to make sure they really are who they say they are.  Many people claim to be who they are not.  Margaret Thatcher, when Prime Minister, visited a psychiatric hospital and met an old lady.  She greeted her and said, ‘hello, I’m Margaret Thatcher, your Prime Minister.’  The old lady said, ‘don’t worry dear.  I was the same when I came in here, you’ll get over it.’ 

A day is coming when we will all see Jesus.  The Bible says everyone will assemble before Him as He sits on the judgement throne.  Some will go one way with the goats, some the other way with the sheep.  We will have either joy in the after life with Jesus, or eternity with the lost. The criterion is how we respond whilst we are here on earth.  The bible says ‘now is the time of God’s favour, now is the time of salvation’.  It will be too late after we have died, and no amount of intercession will then save us.     

May we ever be like the Greeks in our passage today and want to see Jesus and seek Him with all our hearts. 

Monday 21 November 2011

Much prominence has been given in the press and television to a letter written by 18 bishops to the Observer newspaper (where else), protesting at the government’s welfare cuts which they describe as creating child poverty.  This has generated much comment on the internet, mostly adverse, for the vast majority of the public, according to opinion polls, feel benefit payments are in fact too liberal.  When a cap is proposed at £500 per week and £35,000 a year for unemploeyed people,it can be understood why people feel that way.  There are a great number of men and women with families working very hard at personal cost in time energy and stress for a lot less than £35,000 a year. Many indeed who would feel it was their lucky day if offered those terms. It is hard to credit that so many as alleged by the bishops are living in poverty at such rates
Perhaps it might have been wiser if the bishops had thought with their minds rather than their hearts.  No fair minded person would object to the provision of assistance for the necessities of life, but necessities obviously mean different things to people.  There have been tragic cases where men have been made redundant who would normally never have been thought to be at risk, and as a result are facing difficulty in meeting commitments previously made.  But against that there are people who have not worked and have no intention of doing so, enjoying luxuries those men cannot now afford.  Friction and annoyance are therefore reasonable.

In addition there have been some outrageous abuses of welfare payments by some people who have conjured up the most sophisticated frauds to illegally obtain many thousands of pounds.  If their ingenuity was put to honest labour everyone could benefit. 

Much has been said regarding foreign workers taking employment away from British workers.  Employers have responded by alleging young British men and women lack skills in education, communication and a willingness to work hard, in other words less work for more money.  Certainly documentaries on television have portrayed British youth reluctant to stay the course where hard work is required, and be much inferior to European workers  As a consequence those young people willing and seeking work, are finding it much harder to get employment. 

I would like to have seen the bishops make condemnation instead of the liberal establishment who control the agenda which has denigrated endeavour, and sought to create a society of equals which is determined by a mediocre standard at best, and which has left us unable to compete in may ways with other nations. 

Gone is the encouragement to feel pride in obtaining success in work and achievement.  Gone too are the grammar schools which enabled many boys and girls from working class backgrounds (like myself) to get a good education which they could use to benefit themselves and the community, closed by politicians who attended the best private schools or indeed grammar schools themselves.  It seems rather importune to condemn grammar schools if you have been to Eton. 

I look forward, without a lot of hope, to the time 18 bishops write to any newspaper protesting at the government’s decision to prohibit adoption by married couples if they refuse to give same-sex education to children in their care.  Most people would agree that two men, however well-intentioned, are totally unsuitable to raise children, especially female children.
Such decision has forced Catholic Adoption agencies which did such wonderful work to close down and so leave many children uncared for.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Ephesians 4

The Collect for Sunday prays that God will keep the Church in the unity of the spirit and in the bond of peace.
      In the 4th Chapter of Ephesians Paul writes forcibly on this theme.  He saw the Church as the family of brothers and sisters in Christ, and like earthly families wanting to meet together in their Father’s house. 
     Anyone who has been in the Church for some time knows that no Church is perfect; there is usually one person who is a storm centre.  The Church can be a place of joy, but also one of heartache and pain.  Paul always wanted the Church to be one that brought credit on Christianity.  Paul wanted us to act as he understood what Christ expected from the Church. 
     He laid down some basics of the Christian faith.  Humility, which means setting one’s life beside the example of Christ Himself.  Gentleness, which means being angry for the right purposes, and not ever seeking to cause dissension.  Peace, in that we seek to have good relationships with each other.  Love, which is not the emotional kind but that of a caring person and withholding bitterness. We are to hold one another up, to sustain and support each other, and to live according to the way God has spelled out in His Holy Word, holding to those principles. 
     In all his Letters, Paul first laid down theological teaching and then went on explain the practical application, and he is here stressing the Church in its entirety must be as one.  We may conduct our services in different forms, but we should have the same doctrinal beliefs and not have the situation where one is teaching one thing and is at variance with another. 
     I have often been struck by the hypocrisy of weeks of Christian unity and I stopped attending years ago  I am happy and always ready to join in worship with any fellow Christians in any Church.  When I first became a Christian it was with a group of Christians in Kenya, where the members were from all different denominations and countries, yet all one in Christ Jesus.  But now at gatherings in so called Christian unity weeks, each denomination tends to stay together and there is a refusal by some to have full Communion with other Christians.  If we are really sincere about unity, we have to be prepared to let it happen without reservation or conditions, which is not always practiced.
     Even within my own denomination (in the Church of England) there are bitter divisions over the question of women bishops and homosexual clergy.  A quick reference to Scripture (and tradition) would resolve the questions in a matter of minutes, but that would not produce the answer that some seek.  Yet by prolonging the public debate to the delight of the press and non Christians, enormous damage is being done to the wider Church.  True faith would say if I am harming the Church I will not pursue my personal desires.  Real Christianity is being ready to make personal sacrifices for the wider good.     
     Paul laid out the ground rules for unity.  There is one body, Jesus being the head of the body.  Oneness is an essential in the Church.  Individual presentations may vary, but all should lead to the one purpose of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.     
     There is one hope, all seeking the same goal.  There is one Lord and one faith by which all Christians are bound to one another in complete surrender to Jesus Christ.
     Paul had wonderful visions of a world turning to Christ with one baptism as acceptance of repentance and the confession of Jesus as Lord in the one faith.  Since there is only one true God there can indeed be on body, the Church. If there is to be complete unity there must also be an acceptance of the gospel truths laid down in the Bible.  The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ on which the Church is built, consisting of those who confess Him. 
     Paul emphasised that all members should use their personal gifts for the benefit of the Church.  Every gift we possess is in itself a gift from God.  Each person is unique in oneself, and what we are given is meant to be for the benefit of all.
    Paul lists the various offices set out in the first Church, some to be Apostles, (restricted to those selected by our Lord,) but continuing,  pastors who cared for the people of God and taught God’s Word. We now have a situation in which some teachers are giving false teaching and we should all be prepared to test what is taught by searching the Scriptures, for false teaching will destroy the Church.
     There are now those ready to deny the very Word that God gave.  Some preachers are now extending teaching so that it is in line with society’s belief that the 21st century justifies an amended gospel to embrace current thinking.   God however was not just a God for the first century, and experience combined with general intelligence, teaches that a copy is never as good as the original.   The importance of authoritative teaching is that that all may properly play their part in the work God meant us to do.
     Paul finally warned that there will always be those who need to be entertained with novelty.  This is so often extended to practices which frankly make the faith look and sound ridiculous.  God wants you to come to a place where there is stability and you will not be tossed around by every trendy wind.  Too many Christians are unstable because they have had no solid basis of doctrine and just don’t know what to believe or why. 
     Paul thanked God for the Church, and that is something we should all do.  Our calling is to follow the example given by Paul so that we stand out in our communities. 
     Let us all seek to have a Church, even if it just be our own local one, where the true gospel is taught as God intended when He inspired those 40 men to write the Bible; filled with men and women who care for each other, ready to support each other in times of trouble, ready to welcome strangers who come into our midst, and who are never reluctant to confess they are Christians.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

2 Timothy 1

By general consensus Christians are under attack from political ideologues and some officious people anxious to claim a few moments of fame by being publicly offended on someone else’s behalf. So Christians become fair game.  They are aided in their antics by a biased judiciary as displayed prominently in two recent cases. (But there are other cases)
     A Christian registrar in a London borough objected on religious grounds to officiating at civil unions.  Whilst there were numerous other registrars willing and able to act in her place, this was refused and she was suspended.
     A devoted fostering couple in Derby were taken off the register because they admitted they would not teach young children in their care that homosexuality was acceptable.  Children of a tender age do not need to be taught any sexuality.
When they were later interviewed by the (biased)BBC a reporter asked them if they did not consider it was selfish to deny children a loving home because of their stance. Any person with impartiality and indeed intelligence would have asked the Council that question.  They were the offenders.  
     Alongside nurses, boarding house owners, doctors, and
general workers, these brave and noble people stand largely alone.  Many people claiming to be faithful Church members feel unable to, perhaps understandably fearing the consequences.  It does indeed need much courage, but is it not wrong that in a Christian country Christians need to fear?
     This raises the question, ‘is there a need for us to feel we have to be apologetic for our belief?’  We certainly must not be ashamed to state the fact we are Christians.
     Look with me at Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy. This is my favourite Letter of the Bible.  It contains so much teaching on practical Christian living which is still relevant to us today.      
     He is writing to Timothy, who he wanted to take over the mission of leading the Church as he is nearing his life’s end in a Roman prison.  Paul felt Timothy was the right person to lead the Church, having come from a godly family where his mother and grandmother had brought him up teaching the Scriptures. 
     I suspect that many people in the older generation were brought up being told the Bible stories, going to Sunday School,  singing hymns in school assemblies, so being given a solid foundation.  Children for some years now have been deprived of this and have not the slightest knowledge of the Bible.
     Grandmothers still have a big part to play.  Children are growing up in moral confusion, taking up a bizarre lifestyle which they pick up from programmes produced by depraved minds.
     After parents, it is our closest friends who influence us most.  We all owe a debt to those who led us to Christ.  My own mother always encouraged me to go to Church from an early age, and by example attended.  Like most fathers, mine was not interested in religion. But for deeper conviction, I owed much to a most devoted Christian who worked tirelessly for Christ, far away in East Africa.
     Whilst I had attended Church regularly and as Matins and Evensong were celebrated each Sunday, with being a chorister was present at both services. It was not however until I reached that distant country that I became aware of what evangelical Christianity stood for. Anglican worship has always been largely pragmatic. 
     We all may have been influenced by someone who has stirred us and helped to make our faith stronger.  Those are the relationships which God establishes, and you remember things from sermons and written notes which have become precious to you.    
      To some Timothy might have been a surprise choice to lead the Church, but we see God often chooses a man who the Church committee would reject.   Paul tells Timothy he was set apart through ordination, and calls on Timothy to exercise personal discipline. Many in ministry today could learn from Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus. 
     There is the call not to be fearful of speaking the truth, of keeping to the teaching of the gospel as it is written.  Cowardliness has no place in Christian ministry.  The Bible states, ‘for God did not give us a spirit of timidity’.      
     Paul begs Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel.  Every Christian is called upon not to be ashamed of the gospel.  Every Christian must be ready to stand up and be counted.  Never to be ashamed to be a member of God’s people.  When Paul was arrested many of his friends forsook him, and today many are forsaking the Church, often using the flimsiest of excuses.      
     There is always the temptation to feel the need to keep silent about one’s faith.  There is the fear of being isolated. 
      Fear of having to disassociate oneself from activities we know to be wrong.
    Fear of being laughed at and mocked. 
     We all are sensitive to public opinion and tend to give in before its pressure. 
     We need to let other people know that we are Christians, that we have deep religious belief, and believe that God intervenes in our lives.  We are called on to have high moral standards, not to take the Lord’s name in vain nor use the name of Christ improperly.
     We Christians need to let the world know that we are proud of the Bible, because it contains the teachings, life and death of Jesus.
     There is no need for us to be ashamed. If anyone needs to be ashamed and defensive, it is the adulterous and sinful generation in which we live.
      We know there are many people who are not prepared to accept the Bible story as they find it too incredible to believe.  They are more ready to listen to the strident outpourings of nauseating, insulting, self indulgent secularists. 
     For others accepting the gospel would mean a change of hedonistic lifestyle.  It means accepting a standard of morality they are not prepared to accept. 
     The passage refers to ‘sound teaching’ and you cannot have sound living without sound teaching.  Paul is saddened and depressed about the state of the Church, a situation we are familiar with in the West.  He makes it clear that the only sound teaching there can be, is that which is based on the Scriptures.  This is the only way you can discover what the truth is and the gospel is really saying and meaning.
     We can only be saved through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  This was the first Christian message and it has not changed with the passing of the years. No other religion, no other person, can offer what Christianity offers.  Jesus said ‘no one can come to the Father except through me’. 
     Salvation means God accepts us when we accept Jesus Christ death on the Cross as the means of forgiveness of our sins.    This is the salvation offered us in the gospel.   How many preachers would be ready to stand in one of our Cathedrals and state this?  How many would be allowed to? 
     So many preachers are afraid of what people, and especially what the papers would report.  But look at the praise heaped on Pope Benedict by the press for his bold and brave words in telling the politicians to stop interfering with the Christian faith, and calling for a vigorous Christian outpouring to combat the aggressive secularism pervading our society. 
     The last government enacted legislation which was anti-Christian in parts, and the present government seems keen to endorse it, and it needs to be challenged at every opportunity.
We have no political leader on our side at the present time; two leaders are avowed atheists and the other only a lukewarm Christian when it is likely to be politically expedient.
      Preachers can however be intimidated and be frightened of upsetting modern susceptibilities. To preach fundamental truth will inevitably meet hostility. Yet we have the example and encouragement from this little Jewish Apostle who faced all that could be put against him, and because of that Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire    
     Those who are appointed to preach this gospel have a duty to devote themselves to faithful teaching. From the very start of the faith, essential truths have been under attack.  What is now of so much concern is that attacks often come from within the Church as people push their own agenda, getting massive media attention.
     All Christians, and more especially leaders and preachers, have a duty to guard the gospel.  To challenge is to break trust with God who gave it to us.  There is the temptation to take basic truths and turn them to make them more acceptable to the day in which we live.  There is the ever present desire to please the modern man/woman rather than be true to God.  Truth does not change.  Presentation may be adjusted, but to change and replace is not acceptable.
     Let us face up to the challenge and never ever be ashamed ot the gospel or of being Christian.