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