Friday 28 June 2013

Galatians 2 Verses 15/21

Anyone who reads a newspaper carefully, or listens to radio/television broadcasts, will be in no doubt that we live in an evil world. Countless stories of violence, murder, and immorality, with even a combination of all three, and where as once a murder would attract headlines for days, now with one a week it is just another item of news.

Something has gone badly wrong with society and it is more than coincidental that as religion has decreased in people’s lives, evil has risen. We have become separated more than ever from God, and when God gives us up we are in big trouble. There is a big chasm between us and God but God has provided a bridge for us to cross. The answer is the One who died on a wooden Cross at Calvary.

Paul in this Letter to the Galatian Church tells how we can be restored to a proper relationship with God, it is called being justified with faith.

We have to accept, with sadness, that this is no longer a truly Christian country; indeed the government has been at pains to tell and show us. It is true the majority of people like to think of themselves as Christians, but this is in name only without any biblical significance.

The Christian belief and teaching is that when we die our spirit moves on to either eternal life with Jesus, or to eternal destruction. This is not popular theology, but it is thoroughly biblical.

There are two lines of thought as to how we can get to heaven. One, which is so popular with a lot of people, and with many in the Church both lay and ordained, is through our own endeavours and deeds. It is a common belief that if one is honest, kind and helpful to others, there is no need to suffer the inconvenience of going to Church or getting religious. So what should we base our hope on?

Paul had founded the Church in Galatia and then moved on. Later some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived and said it was necessary for all the Christians to keep the Jewish Law and men should be circumcised in addition to accepting the teaching about Jesus. Paul was furious that anyone should say it was necessary to add anything at all to the teaching of Jesus, and as he had been made an Apostle by God through Jesus Christ, he had the authority to speak on behalf of God.

Paul taught that Jesus came into the world to live and die for us. In His death He suffered for our disobedience, and as the penalty for sin was death, instead of us being made to pay that penalty, Jesus stood in our place. All that was required of us was to repent of our sin and put our whole faith and trust in Jesus to save us, then God accepts us as a son or daughter into His family; we are justified through our faith. Such a simple yet profound act, but one beyond the ability of many to accept. They have such faith in themselves and one day will find how wrong they were.

God will not accept human terms for He wanted it understood that it was only through Jesus that salvation could be obtained. The Bible states there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. Our Lord declared Himself, ‘no one comes to the Father except through me’.

When we are prepared to accept this, God acquits us of all our past wrongdoing. Imagine how you would feel if all your deeds and thoughts and actions from the past were displayed on a computer. There are things in all our lives of which we regret and are even ashamed of, things we bitterly wish we had not done or said and would like to think they had not happened. If they were so displayed it would make us feel rather depressed. But imagine next that someone touched the delete button on the computer, they would all be wiped out. This is what God does when we turn to Jesus Christ as Saviour.

This is all through the grace of God. The Bible states, ‘by grace are you saved through faith and this is not of your own doing.’ Sadly the Church too often neglects to talk about salvation as it implies an element of judgement and no one wants to appear judgemental. Try to think how often, and when was the last time you heard a sermon on this subject.

Faith is belief for which there is no visible proof. There has to be strong conviction. There was a famous acrobat who once walked across Niagra Falls on a tight rope, 1100 feet long and 160 feet above the waters below. One day he carried a man on his back and after doing so asked a spectator if he thought it could be done again. The man said he did so believe, but when asked if he would jump on the acrobat’s back and go across, you can guess the answer. The man had seen the act performed but he did not have faith or trust. People have seen others rejoicing in the love of Jesus but are not prepared to go with them.

However commendable and necessary it is to attend Church, sing hymns, say the Creed, it needs more. John Wesley had been ordained for more than 10 years and on a journey to America was asked by a missionary leader if he knew Jesus as his Saviour. Wesley replied that he knew Jesus was the Saviour of the world. It was pointed out to him that was not what was asked, but was Jesus his own Saviour, and Wesley said Jesus was. Later Wesley wrote in his journal, ‘I fear they were vain words’.

Belief has to be personal and just as the Lord promised good to John Newton in that beautiful hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, and His Word and hope secured, so God will be with all who seek Him and He will be your shield and portion as long as life endures.

May amazing grace be yours today and always.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Marriage (Not redefined)

I stated in my previous post that I would write on marriage based on the Biblical ideal created by God.

Let us turn to some verses from the Old Testament in the book of Genesis, God said, ‘ it is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper for him. So the Lord God caused man to fall into a deep sleep. Then the Lord God made a woman and brought her to the man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they shall become one flesh’
When God created the world He ordained marriage, He set out in His Word how we can have the best in that relationship. Marriage was intended as a sacred religious ceremony to be celebrated before God in Church, men and women giving a promise to live faithfully together until death parted them.

Marriage was first mentioned in Genesis when God created man and then said it was not good for man to be alone so God made a woman to be man’s companion, and God said they should be united. Therefore, marriage is a divine ordinance. Our Lord constantly referred to the Old Testament particularly when referring to marriage.

We are told the man was sleeping when God decided to make woman. So God gave woman as man’s helper, someone who can be at man’s side who will give life more meaning, pleasure and support; someone to love and cherish. Matthew Henry wrote, ‘woman was made not out of man’s head to rule over him, not out of his foot to be trampled on, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, near to his heart to be loved’.
The Bible states, ‘he who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favour from the Lord.’

God made two people, man and woman, Adam and Eve. We must accept that God knows best and when he wanted man to have a companion He made a woman as the perfect answer, someone who could complement man in every way, physically and mentally in a way other men could not, and men throughout the ages have appreciated and recognised this. God wanted to supply what was lacking in man’s life and together they could have children and create the ideal family. He made men and women to have a natural attraction, opposites attracting. God planned the human heart to love, marry and have children. Most men if honest would concede how their wife has been of much help.

So we have two people, equal yet different, no question of superiority or inferiority. They were not meant to be identical, men are generally stronger physically, more aggressive, with a greater propensity for leadership, women softer and sensitive and caring, specially equipped to be mothers, and usually live longer. In the film ‘my fair lady’ Rex Harrison playing a professor of phonetics asks ‘why can’t a woman be like a man, and gets the answer, ‘because she wasn’t created to be’. We are a mixture that complements one another.

The Bible states a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife. Cleave means glued together, so the two should grow in love through the years in an exclusive commitment. As they do so they share likes and dislikes, and whilst they will have different strengths and weaknesses, each will help the other. They will find they can know the other’s feelings and often anticipate what the other is thinking. They need to trust each other and have no secrets. The wife is now the one in the man’s life who takes precedence over all others.

When two people appear together at Church for the wedding service, they pledge their faithfulness to each other and there is the giving of a ring(s). The ring has no break, no ending, signifying unending love. The ring is made of gold, precious and for longevity. This is what God intended.

Having become one they were not to look for sexual pleasure elsewhere. Marriage was meant to be for life but now is under attack as never before and not seen as a lifelong commitment, divorce is easy and generally taken as acceptable. Jesus laid strictness on marriage but ruled divorce out. In Britain we have one of the lowest marriage rates in Europe but the highest number of divorces.

In the days of Henry Ford and the Model T, someone asked him to what formula he attributed his successful marriage. He said, "The same formula as the making of a successful car: stick to one model."

Marriage is the bedrock of society yet now long held beliefs are being challenged. Marriage lends stability to society and builds a framework which is held in high esteem. It is one of the most important aspects of our culture. Jesus highly valued marriage and performed His first miracle at a wedding.

Marriage is a solid foundation for the bringing up of children, who are a key factor in God’s intention for marriage. I was a Police Officer in the country’s most vibrant city, and I once remarked to a Jewish Rabbi that I had never known a Jewish boy (or girl) get into trouble for anti-social or violent behaviour. I asked him what he attributed this to and he said ‘the Jewish Mama, she keeps control of her family.’ I am sure that is true, but there are many Christian mamas too, perhaps not as many as hitherto.

God intended men and women should have children, which means having a father and mother. Children need both for a balanced upbringing and to receive the benefit of both characters in their lives. Family meant husband, wife and children. This is the ideal which cannot be attained by two people of the same sex.

Politicians have caused untold hardship to many abandoned children by their stubborn insistence not only on giving two same sex people the right to adopt children, but making it illegal for Adoption bodies to refuse adoption by same sex couples. Such action resulted in Catholic Adoption agencies, which did such fine work, being forced to close down because they found it unable to reconcile such servile policy contrary to their Christian belief. Such is the government’s idea of democracy and freedom o conscience.

When God’s plan for marriage is not followed there are so many failed ones. We need to return to the Biblical pattern where the secrets of a happy married life are laid out.

We have now reached the stage where the whole of God’s original plan for men and women has been widely abandoned. Just as in the days of Malachi described in the Old Testament, there is a spiritual decline with people forsaking God, and an alarming breakdown in family life.

Casual sex, ‘partnerships’, and recognised homosexual relationships as ‘marriage’, are contrary to God creation. Marriage was heterosexual, and co-habitation causes so many problems in society as many children do not know their biological father.

Politicians have now tried to replace God with their own discredited plans and decided to redefine marriage on the spurious grounds of supposed equality. People can be perfectly equal without being the same; God did this at the time of creation when he made both man and woman equal in His sight, but for different purposes.

David Cameron created the present chaos with his typical off the cuff action without thinking the issue through. God created us different so children could be brought into the world, something same sex couples cannot do. Civil partnerships provided all the legal provision for people who wish to live together, and that is a matter for choice which we all accept is a personal decision.

Whilst trumpeting all this shallow talk of equality, the falsity of the man was revealed when he refused to sanction civil partnerships for heterosexual couples. So for 1% of the population (based on government figures) and for a cheap voting aim, which has backfired spectacularly, we have the time honoured understanding of marriage being destroyed.

It is quite impossible for Christians to support same sex marriage when it is recognised that this was not God intended, as numerous Biblical passages spell out. Yet the Bishop of Salisbury tells we should support such unions and states we must view with a mix of bible, tradition and reasoned experience. I agree fully with the bishop on the latter statement; although he is obviously rather confused.

The Bible is unequivocal that marriage is heterosexual; tradition is that marriage is solely man and woman; and reasoned experience has proved that marriage creates a stable structure and is the bedrock of society.

I close with the words used by the more distinguished Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster in a pastoral letter, ‘‘we have a duty to married people today, and to those who come after us, to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Dirty tricks exposed in same sex marriage debate in USA.

It was generally known that in Britain the odds were stacked against the opponents of same sex marriage (ssm). Halls for meetings were refused, a consultation was offered by the government, but before it was concluded we were told legislation was going ahead; the Coalition for Marriage collected over 600,000 signatures against the proposed legislation, but this was counted as one (1) vote, whereas the petition organised by supporters of ssm collected 60,000 and all were counted in full.

A proposed legal Bill normally goes through the procedure of being debated in the Commons and studied in Committee stages, which were in this case overlooked, and the legislation was considered more important than matters of the economy.

Now it has been revealed the Inland Revenue Services in the United States has been disclosing to Human Rights Campaign, an organisation supporting same sex marriage, the names and addresses of people who have donated money to the groups opposing same sex marriage. This has led to harassment of people and businesses in their homes and work, where some have been dismissed, and businesses have been boycotted. The Tea Party and Republican groups have also been bullied by the IRS. Such would seem to be deliberate political activity by a public body.

I am surprised that the United States has seen numerous individual States legalise same sex marriage. I was (mistakenly) under the impression that Christianity was so much stronger in that country than here in Britain, having studied particularly the evangelical Churches, and imagined there would be strong resistance. It appears that public officials are just as hostile to Christianity there as they are here.

In both the USA and UK the Anglican Churches are failing as a national body to stand firm on biblical teaching. One cannot hope for much support when the Presiding Bishop in America has made very clear her support for same sex marriage and has a very liberal agenda generally. Whilst our Archbishops are firmly opposed, they do not receive the support they deserve from all their fellow bishops.

In a recent shameful statement the Bishop of Salisbury likened those of us who are opposed to ssm to those who supported slavery and apartheid. This brought a protest from the member of Parliament for Salisbury who rightly indicated that this was not the view of the people of his Diocese who were of the opposite opinion. There is of course no one so illiberal as a liberal, and it is not so much as case of them opposing an alternative opinion, they don’t think anyone should have an alternative opinion; which is why those who stand firm on the understanding of marriage have been crushed.

Let us remember again, this proposal was never suggested in any political manifesto, had been previously refuted by the Prime Minister, who then dreamed up the proposal in a moment of conference euphoria, and was totally contrary to Conservative Party values and opinion, which has consequently lost massive support.

I hope the next post to study the Biblical view of marriage, in other words, what God has stated about marriage.

Monday 17 June 2013

Anglican/ Roman Catholic Leaders meeting.

The Archbishop of Canterbury visited Rome last week to meet the Pope. This meeting was criticised by a writer in the Catholic Herald in an article which has in one place (at least) been described as sour and ungracious.

As an Anglican priest I find myself in sympathy with the Catholic Herald. Why should the Catholic Church seek to embrace as a partner one so troubled, confused and disruptive; one in which many members do not show much enthusiasm for union.

The Anglican Church, in several countries, has openly endorsed civil partnerships for its bishops, (which many of us think in England was to facilitate the appointment of one particular anxious candidate); is determined to appoint women as bishops, despite knowing it will displease the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and hinder closer ties with those Churches, and Anglican bishops are actively campaigning for those divisive issues.

Successive Popes have warned that such actions would erect insuperable barriers to unity with the Catholic Church, in which case any serious talk about unity is pointless.

We had the shameful quote from one prominent headline catching bishop recently who called anyone who spoke against same sex marriage as comparable to a supporter of apartheid or slavery.In other words you are not supposed to have an opinion if it differs from his. In the same outburst, he suggested tradition should be a factor in arriving at decisions (not on the Bible alone but a mix with tradition) Tradition would certainly not support what some members of the Church of England favour.

Church union should be the earnest desire of all Christians, indeed the hostility between Churches is the greatest obstacle to the spread of the gospel. We cannot hope for any closer bonding if we have such divisive statements made

Thursday 13 June 2013

Galatians Chapter 2 V 15//21

This passage is the Epistle for Sunday.

There is obviously a great divide between God and us, and the Bible recognising mankind’s sinfulness pointed us to the answer how this is resolved. The answer was the Cross, and in his Letter to the Galatians Paul tells how we can be restored to a relationship with God. It is being ‘justified by faith’.

We have to accept, with sadness, that Britain is no longer a Christian country. Indeed, government has been at pains to tell and show us. With passionate determination David Cameron has set out to destroy the bedrock of society and made no secret that as far as he is concerned Christianity does not hold pride of place in his society. We have had men and women taken to the European Court for daring to display or voice their Christian faith. I am still waiting (but not wanting) to see similar action taken against other faiths, but have no confidence it will happen.

It is true the majority of people like to think of themselves as Christians, but this is in name only with no biblical significance. I have met so many people who think listening to ‘Songs of Praise’ on television is a sort of certificate of them being Christians.

The Christian belief and teaching is that when we die our spirit moves on to either eternal life in heaven with Christ, or to eternal destruction. This is not popular theology, but it is biblical.

There are two lines of thought as to how we can get to heaven. One so popular with the person in the street, and with many Church members lay and ordained, is by our own endeavours and deeds. It is a common belief that if one is honest, kind and helpful to others, there is no need to suffer the inconvenience of going to Church or becoming religious.

I heard of an elderly man who was caring for his sick wife and his neighbour, a Muslim lady, offered to help him with shopping and washing. He thanked her and said what a kind Christian lady she was. She rightly told him how offensive this was to her. But it is an symptomatic of the way people think. A| lady once told me her granddaughter didn’t believe in God but was a real Christian girl. (If you can work that one out let me know)

So what should we base our hope and confidence in? Paul tries to explain in this Letter. He had founded the Church in Galatia and moved on. Later some Jewish Christians had arrived from Jerusalem, and whilst they accepted all the teachings of Jesus, they required the Jewish Law and circumcision to be added. Paul was furious that anyone should suggest anything needed to be added to that given by Jesus.

These Jewish believers also questioned Paul’s right to be called an Apostle, to which he pointed out that he had been called uniquely by God through Jesus Christ so that his words could be accepted as being spoken by God.

Paul taught that Jesus came into the world to live and die for us. In His death, He suffered on the Cross for our disobedience and because of that death, paid the penalty for our sin to enable us to be forgiven by God. All we have to do is to repent of our sin and put our whole trust in Jesus Christ to save us. This justifies us in God’s sight and we are accepted as sons and daughters into the family of God. Such a simple, yet profound act, but one beyond the ability of many to accept.

God will not accept human terms, for He wanted it understood that it was only through Jesus that salvation could be gained. The Bible states ‘there is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved.’

Imagine a woman charged with stealing food from a shop and appearing before a judge. She admits stealing and pleads for mercy. The judge tells her he must as a just judge fine her and does so, but then tells her the fine will be paid for her. God has to judge us and require a penalty to be paid. He gave His Son Jesus Christ to pay that penalty, which He did at Calvary.

Be at Church on Sunday and may God bless you.

(You are welcome to make any comment)