Saturday 25 February 2012

Commitment. (Matthew 28)

In this season of Lent Church groups will be meeting in many places to discuss a variety of subjects. I suggest the most urgent subject would be how the Christian Church and Christianity should be preserved in this country and indeed in all Western nations.

Pope Benedict has spoken of the increasing secularisation of society which is very evident across Europe, and perhaps to a lesser extent across the United States. In Europe the word Christian is omitted from all documents, and the progressive idealism of so-called intellectuals is to be able to express oneself in a manner of living which reflects a hedonistic lifestyle, with freedom of sexual activity and to indulge in any form of enjoyment. Any form of religion is seen as an irrelevance.

Consequently the task facing the Church is monumental and gives some members a sense of inadequacy and hopelessness. One of the greatest hindrances to Church growth is the lack of commitment. Jesus always expected commitment and His parables reflect this.

We have to ask why we Christians are not making an impact, and one suggestion may be to look at the comparison with Muslim people. Consider their commitment. Regular attendance at the Mosque on Fridays (their holy day), with men in the ascendance. Devout defence of the Koran and their prophet Mohammed, and any abuse of either would provoke strong reaction, whereas we Christians let Jesus’ name be taken in vain without a murmur and let our holy Book be mocked and ridiculed. I fear the general record of attendance on Sundays is not as regular as other faiths.

The words of Jesus compel us to take action, ‘Go into the world and make disciples’ .This command was given to the disciples and is a continuing commission which we are bound to obey, for the Bible’s words are not just for first century Christians.

The word ‘go’ means to reach out. The Bible reminds us that people cannot believe if no one tells them and we have to think of ways to reach out.

I have always enjoyed reading Church magazines and have read a wide variety. They almost all tell about what has gone on within the parish over the past month, recipes for cakes, hobbies people pursue, and general chatter for the interest of members. Surely there should be articles with a spiritual message, using the magazine as an outreach to people who are not members. For 17 years I edited a Church magazine and considered a Bible teaching page an essential inclusion and know it was read and appreciated.

We have Church fairs and fetes with all kinds of stalls and they attract a lot of people. But what effort is put into trying to interest them in Church attendance when they come.

I have been to quite a number of village Churches with very few people attending. Notices are placed around the villages to tell of social events, why not flood them with reminders of their village church and why it is there. It may not work, but it certainly will not if we do not try.

Having done so however there is a compulsion to make sure they are going to hear the gospel message that Jesus Christ died for the forgiveness of sins and rose again to conquer death. There is no room for sermons on the environment, green or political issues, or as at one church I visited where the Vicar told what her latest reading material had been.

One thing is for certain, we can’t wait for people to make the effort to come on their own, they need some persuasion. Jesus said all authority is given to Him and the Holy Spirit works through us to help us do His work.

In so many Churches we accept that people can bring their children for baptism and we ask them to make vows and promises we know in our hearts they do not intend to keep. Is it honest and a matter of integrity that we pursue this course rather than demand some commitment for what is a sacred service? Just imagine the scene if all those who had made such promises over the years honoured their promises, our Churches would be full.

There is often a sense of apathy in which it is declared, ‘there is nothing we can do’. I have just watched a television’ programme on Christian World News, which is part of the Christian Broadcasting Network in the United States, and there was a report from Cairo which showed the suffering and hardship endured by Coptic Christians, forced to live by a hostile regime in abject poverty because of their Christian faith, yet such is their commitment that they happily remain faithful.

Similar situations exist in countries like Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other Islamic countries, where Christians face persecution for expressing their faith, and actual violence which often ends in death. All such instances should both inspire us and make us feel rather ashamed at the feeble commitment we find in too many places.

Make no mistake, persecution could yet prevail here, which is why we have to be careful. Preachers have been arrested for quoting passages from Scripture in public, and in every case involving Christian rights that has been taken to Court, the Christian has lost. People who have expressed their beliefs have been censured and subject to hostile email threats. Freedom of speech is being increasingly restricted to those who oppose traditional beliefs and religion.


Tuesday 21 February 2012

Equal but not the same

Last week was a good one for the Church and Christianity as several prominent people spoke out in favourable terms. Now the backlash comes.

The Archbishop in his capacity as one of the highest clergy in the land, reasonably and properly called on the Prime Minister to abandon any suggestion of legalising gay marriage and in consequence received hate mail. This is a prime example of minorities considering that anyone else must not have an alternative opinion, and demanding favoured attention. This has now been exacerbated by ‘Stonewall’ which represents homosexual people, calling for the terms husband and wife to be withdrawn from all legislation. Such militancy does enormous harm to those men and women who just want to live private lives and avoid any controversy and cause no trouble or ill feeling with others.

Brendan Barber, the TUC baron has got upset because some Christian has the effrontery (as far as he is concerned) to write a book advocating a morality and view of sexuality which does not fit in with the modern idea adopted by Mr Barber and company. The book has been used in some Roman Catholic schools, which most people would have thought to be reasonable, but not Mr Barber who wants the Education Secretary to ban it, quoting some Equality Act. Mr Gove ought to follow his colleague Eric Pickles and stand firm.

Andrew Lloyd Webber has produced some very entertaining television programmes in which he has held contests to select an unknown boy or girl to star in one of his new re-runs of his shows. Now he has displayed his eccentricity by proposing (it is reported) to hold a further contest to select someone to play Jesus in Jesus Christ superstar. He says it could be either a boy or a girl. You really couldn’t make it up.

The chairman of the Equality Commission, Trevor Phillips, the man paid a lot of money to oversee a rather too interfering public body has been once again been speaking, accusing Christians of trying to overrule the law in a manner similar to a Muslim sharia law. He infers the Archbishop of York is someone akin to a terrorist.

This rather arrogant bureaucrat seemingly fails to realise this is a country with a Christian heritage stretching back many hundreds of years, and was built on Christian values and standards. This is what has made it such an attractive country for so many people who have wanted to come and live here, apart from those attracted by its generous benefit system.

The Equality Commission is appointed to care for the interest of the minorities and too many people like Mr Phillips are trying to make Christianity a minority without any rights. It has become so outrageous that a Christian cannot make a comment without some public official jumping up and expressing having been offended on behalf of some others.

Mr Phillips ought to understand other people besides self interest groups have beliefs and the right to express them without some jumped up official insulting them with ridiculous comparisons. Many people still believe this is a Christian country with the freedom to say so, and do not share his idea of equality. We can be equal without necessarily being the same.

A woman in London is at present appearing before an Employment Tribunal claiming discrimination in that she was forced from her job because she wanted to be free to attend her Church on Sundays. She was refused this request even though others were prepared to exchange shifts with her, yet a Muslim woman was freely allowed to attend a Mosque on a Friday. Her claim is being supported by the Christian Institute, so why is Mr Phillips’s Equality Commission not fighting her claim. Another example of double standard equality.

The whole Equality industry seems to have been the brainchild of a woman who appeared to have a pathological resentment of anything male and wanted all things to be the same, except of course those relating to herself and family.
It was hoped when the change of government came about things would revert to normality, but we have a Coalition with people who do not think conservatively, led by only a nominal Conservative, which wants to embrace and even extend what can be said and done.

Do such bureaucrats and their kind not realise the great freedom they have in this country which no other nation would grant. If they made these complaints in Islamic countries, which have a different attitude than here, they would soon be dealt with.

This however demonstrates that when politicians rush to make laws banning things, or creating controversial issues in order to make themselves look popular, they only create a worse situation. There are sufficient laws to deal with offensive words or behaviour without creating specific legislation in regard to any particular group or belief to make special cases. The moment this is done it only antagonises and encourages those people with violent attitudes to respond and put those very people one is trying to protect in even greater danger, when otherwise they would be able to get on in peace with their lives.


Has written an article in a national newspaper, (God bless her) extolling the Church of England and acclaiming how well it serves the nation whether you are a member or not, and calling for this to be recognised. She praises the Church’s compromise, tolerance and general take all.

It is good to have someone of Mary’s stature and reputation supporting the Church, but I wonder if this is not an inverted compliment. This noble character which she indicates, whilst an essential part of its being, is too often used as an alternative to do what the Church is principally meant to be doing, preach the gospel and make disciples rather than just an adjunct to the social services.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Almost a Christian

I want to turn to a verse in Acts of the Apostles, ‘almost you persuade me to be a Christian’.

During my years of ministry I have interviewed many people regarding baptisms, weddings or funerals, and the most common statement made is ‘we don’t go to church, but we are Christians’; or,’ ‘you don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian as long as you are a good person’. This is always volunteered, sometimes challengingly, indeed even aggressively; I suppose to ease the conscience. For someone who has no religious association or commitment to say this to a clergyman may seem to be both arrogant and impertinent.

A lady who was a stalwart of her local church once said to me ‘Vicar, I heard a man say on Songs of Praise last week that he had attended Church for many years but had only just become a Christian. What did he mean?’
This is a popular reaction. It is just assumed that if one is not an atheist or member of another faith one is per se a Christian. There is a little more to it than that.

The word Christian was originally a term of derision against the first followers of Jesus, and it is fast becoming an abusive term in this country by public officials, secularists and the judiciary, who want to eradicate Christianity from public life.

To become a Christian there must be an encounter with Jesus Christ. People have been urged to declare themselves a Christian without being told what that entails. Being born in a Christian country, to Christian parents, in a Christian home, does not make one a Christian. You cannot inherit Christianity. It is more than living up to a system of morals or ethics. Even Church attendance, however necessary and how much it is part of Christian life, does not on its own make you one. There has to be a conscious decision made, in which one wants to invite Christ into their life. You realise you have been offending against God and now want to live a life as laid down by Jesus and have Him come in to your life to give it new direction.

The Bible says we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and so we need forgiveness, and the only way we can get God’s forgiveness is through Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross to pay the penalty for our misbehaviour. You need saving from your sins, and the only way is through Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made on the Cross. You have to realise that and decide you need His forgiveness. You then make a positive decision that you will turn to Christ and follow His way of living.

That deliberate decision, and subsequent commitment, may come from
hearing a preacher. A lady used to visit my Church very irregularly and one day she came and after the service said, ‘whenever I come here I feel you are getting at me’. I pointed out that as I was unaware she would be attending it may be that someone higher than me was getting at her.

It may come reading the Bible; even if you have read something many times, one time God will use that word to speak to you.
It may come from seeing a poster with a religious message. The London City Mission posted many messages on the underground system, which spoke vividly to people. I found that posters with a catchy message on, placed on the Church notice board had an effect too.

People have on many occasions been introduced by a friend, which is why it is so important to let people know of our Churches and what they can offer.
However it comes, you will know it has come. Christianity is not a vague feeling, it is something you can know and you know whether you believe it or not.

This will necessitate a change in living. You know there are certain activities which are no longer acceptable; the ways of the world are replaced by the ways of Christ. This will mean you will inevitably declare yourself to be a Christian, which will involve mockery and taunting, and mean you can’t join in any falsehoods, immorality or things unethical anymore.

Of course there will be temptations to face. There will be Sunday mornings when you will not feel like going out to Church and you think, ‘oh they won’t miss me at church this morning’. Never feel you won’t be missed. Whilst I am sure your fellow Church members will miss you, God will certainly miss you. Church should come before the golf club or shopping trip or whatever. It is only one hour per week for most people, and if we can’t give that, then there is certainly something very amiss in our life.

The reason there is so much unhappiness, trouble, and broken homes in the nation, is through the absence of Christian values. Children are facing a deprived life in many homes as parents do not have the time, inclination, or belief, to teach their children basic bible stories, and so many children haven’t the faintest knowledge of any character or major festivals of the Church. A lot of schools have virtually given up teaching Christianity, often in preference to other faiths.

Be ready to take a full part in Church life and enjoy the joy of coming to share worship with your fellow Christians. The Church is here to bring people to knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is not a spiritual dispensary to hand out soothing syrup, but to proclaim God’s Message as it is written. We take the bread and wine at the table of our Lord, when we remember His blood shed on the cross for us, and as we eat the bread we remember the broken body given for us, and Jesus can become very close.

A Christian needs discipline in his/her life, for the Bible says we have to
take on those who are out to make us give in. The Bible likens the relationship of Christ and a follower to that of a husband wife relationship in marriage. When a man proposes to a woman to marry him and she agrees, they remain unmarried until they promise their commitment to each other in the marriage service. They then begin their life together facing both difficulties and happiness together. So in the Christian life it is when we declare our commitment to Christ, we become a Christian and face life with Him in all that life puts before us.

We all have to ask, ‘am I living the Christian life?’ People like to divide the world into two groups the good and bad, with ourselves of course in the good category. God is believed to judge the bad but would not judge us. It is too easy to see people behaving worse than us, and convince ourselves we are all right. The point is, whilst some are offending worse than us, we are all offending in some way. We may not plant bombs like some do, but the tongue can be equally explosive in its own way. So let us consider Christian living.

Jesus said, ‘behold I stand at the door and knock and if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me.’ In the East inviting a person to sit and eat with you infers you are inviting that person to have a special place in your life.

If there is anyone reading this message who has not yet invited Jesus into their life, then I urge you to consider making that decision and give Him that special place in your life, He is waiting at the door for your invitation.

But let us have sincerity. Today a cushy Christianity obtains in many places with the intention to say pleasant words which people want to hear. Rogue traders make goods and put the stamp of a famous name on them. Rogue Christian teachers are putting God’s stamp on their own brand of Christianity, even supporting behaviour which at one time would not even be mentioned.

We are witnessing in this country at the present time a rush of politicians wanting to put their name to Christianity. David Cameron has stated how important Christianity is, even professing evangelical zeal for the faith; yet he is the one who had a passion for same sex marriage without anyone being allowed by law to exercise their right of conscience against it. Eric Pickles has stated the importance of the faith and nobly restored the right of Councils to include prayers in their meetings following a Court’s ruling against it, but at the same time his Department which owns public buildings refused to allow Christian organisations to hold meetings because of their objection to the same sex marriage bill. True profession is matched by action.

These people are members of a government which continues the Labour government’s policy of waging an attack on the Roman Catholic’s wonderful adoption agencies, so sacrificing the chances of children from being placed into loving homes because it properly refuses to place children into care of two same sex people.

It is total and disgraceful hypocrisy to loudly proclaim Christianity and advocate and support that which is un-Christian.

Our nation so badly needs Christian men and women who are altogether Christians, not almost ones.

Friday 10 February 2012

A home for the Lord (Joshua 24)

  ‘As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord’.                             
                       (Joshua 24 v.15)
Joshua was nearing the end of his life, so one day he called the leaders of the people together at Shechem to deliver a final message.  This was a most important place in Jewish history. Abraham had first settled there, Jacob bought land, and Joseph was buried there

Joshua was a great military leader who had served under Moses for forty years and when Moses died he became leader for a further twenty five years. At this time Israel had come to a crucial point in its history. They had faced tyranny in Egypt but God had saved and rescued them, God had given them the land of Canaan a good land flowing with milk and honey, and continually blessed them,  and led them where  they had been able to settle down, but problems had arisen.

As peoples throughout time have behaved, once the hard times were over, they began to fall away from and forget God.  History is full of instances where people have turned to God for His help in times of difficulty, but when He has answered, His usefulness to them has been laid aside. In this case, the Israelites began to fraternise with other peoples so betraying God, and even started to worship idols.     Joshua warned them they were guilty of idolatry told them the faced the wrath of God. 
We all have to make a choice in this life.  Joshua was quite clear he had made one and for Him it was quite definite, he and his family would serve the Lord.  The choice we make will decide our eternal future, so we should think deeply.
Joshua’s words have a resonance for us today. We too have to reflect on our lives and face the choice God gives to us, He gives us free will. Everyone has to decide whether to serve God, or the gods of our time. Life is constantly calling on us to make choices, and God allows us to say either yes or no, but we must face the consequences if we make the wrong decision,.  Many people do not wish to consider, but will one day regret not doing so.  Fundamentally it is a case of serving the Lord or His adversary the devil, and so many people are quite happy to serve the latter.  

We may not have the same idols as gods as did the Jews, but we have our own modern day gods. Whilst many people today may not even have heard of the Ten Commandments, one reminds God said we should have no other gods but Him.

People believe they can do without God.  They live as if there was no tomorrow. We see gluttony, alcohol and drug abuse, and unrestricted sex everywhere.    
Following God is a personal decision you must make for yourself, no one else can make it for you.  It has to be accepted however that it may mean personal sacrifices have to be made, we must remain faithful to Him, and give up doing things which are wrong in His sight. So we must consider our priorities.   

We are facing a time of ungodliness.  On every front there is an anti-Christian bias. Discord and discouragement is being sown in the lives of Christian people.  We have to resist on every front so as to maintain a Christian faith and presence.
 In our schools and universities, and in intellectual circles the Bible is seen as some form of hate literature, and religious studies have to include other faiths in as much, if not more so, than Christianity.
The BBC has appointed people of other faiths to be directors of Christian programmes, and the Church accepts it.  You can be assured they would never appoint a Christian to direct Islamic or Hindu programmes. But that is just the BBC anti Christian bias.

The Courts favour those who challenge Christian expression in every case taken before them and reflect no credit on the judiciary who seem determined to eradicate Christian faith from public life.   

We constantly read and hear reports of young people between the ages of 7 and teenage years terrifying whole neighbourhoods.  They abuse, assault, vandalise and rob at will, and if anyone should remonstrate with them that person runs the risk of stabbing or serious injury. On several occasions men with families have been killed whilst defending their property.  Whole gangs roam the streets seeking confrontation with other gangs and their members, which have cost the lives of substantial number of young men, sometimes innocent victims. 
On so many occasions, broken homes have been a cause of such behaviour, with a mother unable to control or showing an utterly irresponsible line.  One 12 years old boy terrified an estate and his mother said he was ‘her little satan, but wasn’t really evil’. An unwitting contradiction in terms, but added he just needs understanding.  He certainly needs something, but more severe than understanding. Yet again an absent father
‘A nation is only as strong as its homes’, said Abraham Lincoln, and today our homes are reflecting the state of the our nation, which is in the deteriorating state of moral and social decay, which should make us fear for the future of our children and grandchildren.
The home now doesn’t mean as much today as it used to do, and to so many people the idea of two people being married as the ideal is old fashioned and rather stupid.  .  Marriage was built on the foundations of the Bible.  It has been said that in 100 years from now, marriage will have ceased to exist, and if some members of the government had their way it would be in a lot less time.

We have so much unhappiness and trouble in the home today because we've got away from God's laws, rules, and regulations governing marriage, When God performed the first marriage, He laid down the rules, and He said if you want to have a happy home, obey these rules. If you want to have trouble, disobey them.
There cannot be division within a family. If a house is divided against itself it will fall. It is of course easier and better if both persons are worshipping Christians.

The Bible says listen to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.   We can learn so much from Jewish parenthood.  Father’s teaching to his children of the Ten Commandments, one for each of the ten fingers, and the history of the Jewish people from the Old Testament, and the mother controlling behaviour.  I have never known nor heard of a Jewish child being involved in violent disorder or crime.  When I have sought an answer, I have been told it is because of the Jewish Mama in the home.
Mothers can indeed have a great effect on children.  I was often required to be away from the home for long hours, and it is a great tribute to my wife that two of my sons became ordained, and have proved to be very wonderful and successful Ministers

Far too many children are left to their own devices.  How can teenagers roam the streets drunk and threatening people, stabbing other teenagers, and forming life threatening other gangs, without the parents knowing of it.  So why don’t they do something about it

Christian standards have gone from many homes, Everywhere, people search for happiness from the wrong things and wrong places.  Many criminals have come from homes where there has been no peace, no discipline nor Christian values or teaching. The biggest cause of young criminals is due to marital breakdown and separation
Children take up home values. When a father dodges working, a son will invariably copy.  God ordered us to work and there would be less poverty if more people were working.
 It is a matter of great regret that government is forcing councils, some of which don’t need that much encouragement, to foster and send for adoption children to two people of the same sex.  A child needs a father and a mother, both of whom are essential to a child’s moral and social development and welfare.  It is therefore irresponsible to make such enactment and reveals contempt for God’s decree.
If any country is to defend its values successfully, it must rediscover the Christian faith in which those values are ultimately rooted.  Marriage and the home are firmly part of those roots. When the founding principles are eroded, and the morality and biblical fundamentals are taken away, there is no foundation for society, which is a dangerous thing and we are seeing some of the consequences developing.
The average person sees the Church as out of date and the Christian message as irrelevant, even though they never go near a Church to establish that, which is why they live as they do without reference to God or eternity. This is just sardonic self justification. Our message then needs to be positive with no uncertain sound.  How heartening to hear the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster saying ‘I am not here to be popular. I’m here to be successful.’ 
As Christians, we have a commitment to serve God. Just as Joshua reminded the Jews of all God had done for them, so must we reflect on all that which God has done for us, and respond accordingly. God speaks to us from the past, to show us the sins His people committed in order to help us decide.  God is still speaking.  We can either listen or ignore. 
Making a promise to God is a serious matter. Each year a Covenant is re-made by Methodists, which many other Churches have adopted. In this covenant members pledge to yield themselves freely and wholeheartedly to God and declare themselves not their own, but His. How faithfully is it kept?  It means obeying, fearing and faithfully following His Word.  God is a jealous God who wants a complete loyalty.  We have to take away from our lives all that is unworthy and against His teaching.  He gave us guidance in Holy Scripture. 
We all have to ask, ‘am I ready to serve the Lord?’   There is no room for neutrality. Every person needs a God and every person must serve the God they choose. You cannot choose the true God by default or by inheritance. 
Joshua made his choice, let us make ours, and say, ‘we will serve the Lord

Thursday 9 February 2012

God bless America

When I began this blog last year, the intention was to reach out to those congregations I had visited where I was often asked for a copy of a sermon which I was not able to give as they were all handwritten notes.  So this was an opportunity to provide full transcripts of Bible passages.

Whilst to my disappointment there has been little response from this audience to my having written weekly sermons, there has been to my real delight and satisfaction, a huge viewing from the United States.  As I am truly fond of America and have for some years studied and followed the evangelical movement in that country, in addition to regularly viewing programmes from the States through the Sky television channels, it has given me enormous pleasure in having a personal following myself.

I hope my readers there will continue their support and hopefully tell friends, and may find time to express comments on this site.

May God bless you.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

2 Timothy 3/4

I want you to think with me about Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy in Chapter 3v 16 to 4.v5

It is not a coincidence, it is fact, that as the Bible has become so irrelevant to so many people, life has become so much more coarse and immoral.  There seems to be no sense of shame on the part of many people, even those in the public eye.  Allied to this is the fact that the Bible has become less relevant even to many people within the Church, including those whose duty is to teach the Scriptures.  Thereby, where as once people might have thought twice before acting in consideration of what the Bible taught, there is less restraint.

Timothy had been taught the Scriptures by his mother and grandmother, and whilst this was from the Old Testament, in addition had been given teaching by Peter and Paul who between them had written most of the New, so Timothy had most of our Bible available to him.

Paul advises Timothy of the importance of all Scripture. We are told God inspired and guided forty men, using their different characters and occupations, to write the Scriptures which would be His message to the world.  We can reasonably presume that if God gave us these words He would not have done so just to fill pages but meant us to take note of all that was given.  The modern idea of pick and mix, as if one is choosing sweets and cast aside that which is not pleasant to one’s taste, is not acceptable.

Timothy is called upon to reprove, rebuke and exhort, which in fact is the task of all preachers. In other words, we have to be concerned with mind, will and emotions by correcting wrong thinking, pointing out what is wrong in behaviour and attitudes, and encouraging those depressed.  This has to be done with caring, but positive words.

When I was first ordained my Vicar asked me to attend various house groups where bible studies were being held.  I was amazed at the lack of knowledge and understanding of the Bible.   Over the years I have come to realise how few people, even within the Church, have only a limited knowledge of the Bible.  Inevitably one must conclude that biblical ministry is failing.  Indeed I have been to services and wonder what the purpose of the service was.  I have heard a summary of the Vicar’s reading material, or some personal experiences. This is not what sermons are for.

But there is a basic question that we should all ask ourselves from time to time: Why do we go to church? Is it just to sing hymns or to meet other people, both of which are commendable?  But when you go to Church what do you hope to hear?  Is the sermon something you find boring and wish there was none? Or do you look forward to hearing an exposition of God’s Word’. 
The first Christian Church met for the purpose of hearing the teaching of the Apostles, for fellowship with other Christians, the partaking of Holy Communion.  This is a good example to follow.  We have that same teaching as they received, it is called the ‘New Testament’

The primary reason we attend Church on Sunday is to learn about God, to grow closer to Him and know how we can have a relationship with Him, all else is secondary. Knowing Christ, becoming like Christ, is what we are here for.    Knowing what God wants us to believe and do. So when you read that the Church is in a complete dilemma over whether (or not) women should be bishops and whether (or not) homosexual people should be ordained, you can turn to the Scriptures to see what God thinks.

The only contact the majority of people who attend our Churches have with the Bible is hearing it read in the lessons at the service.  This means that there is added compulsion placed on preachers to fully explain the Scriptures.

I have heard preachers begin their sermons by stating ‘I was considering what to preach this morning’.  In the first words of Chapter 4 of his letter to Timothy, Paul gives a clue.  He states, ‘preach the Word’.  By this he explains he means sound doctrine, in other words telling people not what they want to hear but what they need to hear.

Sound doctrine means teaching what God has laid down in Scripture, which is often forsaken in order to avoid telling people what they don’t want to hear and substituting it for what they want to hear, something that makes them feel happy and relieving them of guilty consciences and making them feel comfortable with their way of living.       Sound doctrine aims to correct faulty belief and calls for faithfulness to God’s Word.   

There are people who expect the Church to be like a spiritual dispensary giving out soothing words. 

There is a reluctance by clergy to speak out for fear of being labelled as a bigot or being discriminatory.   It is  true to say Christian preachers tend to modify teaching of traditional values to appeal to contemporary thinking, and for fear of offending one of the many discrimination laws promoted equally vigorously by vociferous minorities, so falling foul of the law, which is not enforced against other faiths with the same enthusiasm as against Christian preachers.

All this causes a problem for parish priests, and especially for visiting preachers.  We face a problem and none more so than those of us who want to be true to Scripture, when not everyone is prepared to accept what is written.  I heard one Vicar preach that she didn’t think the Bible should be taken too literally.  Have you ever heard a Muslim cleric deny or challenge any words in the Koran? Is it any wonder people fail to respond?

It is hard to quote the Bible without someone saying ‘Oh you shouldn’t say that.’  The Bible states, ‘salvation is found in no other name under heaven except Jesus Christ’.  The Bible states’ Jesus said no one can come to the Father except through me’, yet many preachers are dodging quoting this.  If we avoid telling these verses how are people ever to come to know the gospel. We should not heed such warnings.

This tells us our faith is not like other faiths which someone has made up, but rather comes from God.  Furthermore, it was given with the understanding that nothing needs to be added, amended or subtracted from.  Anyone who does so is a false teacher.   God will not ignore false teaching, and will pass judgement on such people.

By telling Timothy he is to preach in and out of season, he is meaning Timothy should use every opportunity of getting the gospel message out to people.
Paul realised this would not be easy, for there were those who would not wish to hear anything which did not fit in with their way of thinking and more especially with their way of living. There were preachers willing and desiring to give that teaching, they are called ‘false preachers’. This is so to-day which is why some are tying desperately hard to re-interpret the Bible to make it more acceptable.

The message we have for the world is centred upon the person of Jesus Christ and provides for a stable and well balanced society.  In God’s plan the people who have been touched by the gospel have a role in influencing the world, to be as salt and light.  Salt to be a cleansing influence, and light to shine in dark surroundings in which we live and work.  

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. 

Thursday 2 February 2012

I am the way, the truth, the life

The passage I have chosen to write about this week contains words which are so relevant to Christian living and belief.     Jesus was speaking to His disciples shortly before going to the Cross, teaching and giving guidance, and that same teaching is passed down for the benefit of all Christians throughout the ages.
Jesus is here telling His Apostles He was going to leave them for He was going on a journey He had to take alone.  The Apostles were devastated at the thought.  Perhaps you can imagine their feelings if you reflect on how people feel when a Minister they are happy with suddenly tells them that he is moving to another Church.  This invariably causes sadness unless there is a poor relationship.  I have experienced this on three occasions in ministry and it is hard to disassociate oneself completely

Peter is very concerned about His Lord’s departure and swore he would even lay down His life for Jesus.  The exact opposite would be the case and Jesus told Him so.

Jesus said, ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’.  The heart is the seat of all our emotions and when that is upset it affects thoughts and actions and causes personal disturbance.  Jesus wanted to reassure them He was not forsaking them. 
He told them they were to believe in Him as well as God.  Most people believe in God but have less thought for Jesus.  He was putting Himself alongside God and wanted them to trust Him

 He said there were many rooms in His Father’s house, meaning there was room for all in heaven, and He was going to prepare a place for them.  This meant there was the prospect of living for ever with Him in heaven being given to the Apostles, and by extension to those who are prepared to give their life to Jesus.

Jesus said He would come back to take them with Him so that where He was they could be also. We do not need to wonder what heaven will be like, it is enough to know we will be with Him, and for a Christian, heaven is wherever Jesus is.  At present our contact with Him is through faith, but one day we will see Him face to face.

When Jesus said they knew the place where He was going, Thomas asked Him how they could know when they didn’t know the way.  This brought forth from Jesus that profound immortal statement, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’  

This passage is widely quoted in funeral services when people assume that everyone is automatically going to heaven.  I have taken thousands of funerals over the years and there has never been doubt in anyone’s mind that the deceased is going to heaven irrespective of the life led.  Nowhere in the Bible is this view upheld.  Jesus was very clear in His teaching that it certainly was not so. In parable after parable He spoke of two roads, of sheep and goats, of tares and wheat, of heaven and hell.

There is a grossly mistaken notion that as long as one is honest and a nice person one is assured of heaven.  That is not what the Bible teaches.  Many people who are atheists are honest and nice people.  There has to be a personal commitment to Jesus.  The Church has not always given sound teaching on this and some misguidedly preach that Jesus was giving a blank promise for everyone when He is clearly addressing His followers, and if we do not follow Him our end will not be in the rooms of His Father’s house.

If we say to someone who has no Church commitment, has only a tenuous belief in Jesus Christ, never reads a Bible or prays, that they are going to heaven, then we are leading them astray.
Whilst it may be comforting to believe that we can all get to heaven regardless of one’s beliefs, and we like to please our fellow men and women, it is quite cruel to mislead if it is not true.  It is like telling a blind person standing on the footwalk of a busy road it is safe for him to cross when ready.  Others say if you just follow your conscience you’ll be fine, but consciences become dulled and hardened.  Taking the lead from politicians, people can look you in the eye and lie without any qualm of conscience.
 In this passage before us He is talking to His followers, people who have made a personal commitment to accept Him as Saviour.  This is why it is so important for each person to make his/her own decision whether to follow Jesus in His teaching, commands and demands He makes on us.

You see the Bible is all about commitment. We are reminded of the superficiality of commitment in our own time.  Less than 10% of people think God worthy of one hour per week to visit a Church.  Yet if you were to ask people their religion, the vast majority would reply C of E and seriously consider they were Christians.  They would be mortally offended if you suggested otherwise. Very few people seem bothered to think of Jesus, even less to do anything about it.
What exactly does Jesus mean when he says, we can only come to the Father through Him alone.  Some time ago I went to Birmingham and had to find an address.  I asked a man passing if he could tell me the way and he answered, ‘it is pretty difficult for you to get there on your own, but I am going that way and could take you’.  He got into my car and we went directly there.  That is what Jesus does for us.  He says you can’t get there on your own but I will direct you, guide you, and take you myself.  He is saying there is no other way.  This is an exclusive offer.
Jesus spent His entire ministry telling that we are separated from God through sin and only He could obtain forgiveness for us, so we have to make a choice whether to follow Him or face the consequences.

The common belief these days is that all religions lead to God which Christians cannot accept.  No other faith had a man who died on a Cross to grant universal forgiveness, no other faith had a man who rose from the dead.

Jesus said He was the truth.  If a person is to teach moral truth that person’s character must be worthy.  It is not enough to just say the words, one’s life must exemplify morality.  This is why it is so wrong that the Church is condoning immoral action and appointing homosexual bishops, when the Bible does not approve of such conduct. This does not mean we discount people, but rather seek to preach that which Scripture states.  Only Jesus can claim moral perfection, which is why He can say ‘I am the truth’.
Thirdly Jesus says ‘I am the life’, meaning the opposite of death.  He is the source of life and gives life to His own.  Just as death mean separation from God, so life means being in communion with Jesus.
Jesus claims exclusive way to God and since we are totally dependent upon Him for the understanding of truth and for eternal life, it naturally follows that no one can come to the Father other than by and through Him.
The Church in general in its desire to be nice and friendly to all, with a craving to please society in general, has sought to promote not only a soft line on salvation and judgement, but to seek a close dialogue with other faiths.   

I cannot understand how we can share in multi-faith worship and maintain Biblical integrity.     Whilst I believe we should respect other faiths and try to live amicably with them, in view of the unique teaching of our Lord (here set out in verse 6 that He alone is the way to God) we cannot justify sharing in multi faith services when our beliefs are so different, and it is matter of recognising the unique authority of Jesus. 
Only Christianity maintains that Jesus Christ as divine and salvation was earned by Jesus on the Cross.  But we have the words of our Lord Himself, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’.  Jesus is quite unequivocal.   This is not generally liked as it is seen as being too restrictive, too bigoted and intolerant, and to be judgmental is not liked.

All other faiths see Jesus as a good man in the social sense or a prophet at best.   Indeed, the Islamic faith states, ‘God has no son’, which is in direct contravention of Jesus nature.

I do admire the devotion and loyalty of Islam. Muslims in Islamic countries are Muslims in the full sense of the word, and they find difficulty in understanding how people who live in Christian lands reject their faith so completely.  Why, on the Lord’s birthday so many get drunk and engage in orgies. They will fight and defend their faith, and the men will not feel embarrassed or ashamed to be seen going to worship. Put many Englishmen in a Church and they feel lost and disorientated.
Jesus warns us that there must be a clear acceptance of His teaching and total obedience to it.  Just to recite a creed and attend Church is not enough. We honour Jesus by calling Him Lord and sing hymns expressive of our devotion to Him.  The lips that sing His praise should never be the lips that start trouble.