Wednesday 23 October 2013

The BBC have posted an article on their News website in which they refer to the baptism today of Prince George and quote Archbishop Welby as saying he hopes the baptism will inspire others to do the same. Under the article the BBC have asked readers if they are planning to have a baby christened and invites them to send pictures, comments and experiences, and to say if they would be prepared to have a BBC journalist to contact them. You can imagine the excitement this will cause in many households and the consequent rush to contact the BBC.

When the Duchess of Cambridge emerged from the hospital after the child’s birth, the dress she was wearing was immediately copied (and as with other clothes she wears) was in immediate demand by women to have the same. The same result will follow as thousands I would imagine across the country will want to have their baby ‘done’ to follow the royal couple’s action.

This in theory might seem like a welcome outcome, all these people coming to Church, but when we get down to practicalities it will be largely symbolic, for few I am sure will honour the vows and promises they make, and from what has already taken place, some extrovert Vicars will turn baptism services into little more than a three ring circus.

In a separate message, the Archbishop stated, ‘God’s love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost, to all people, in all circumstances, always.’ I have no doubt he meant well and used those words spontaneously without deeper thought. But this is not what the Bible would corroborate. The Bible teaches that before baptism there must be repentance and a declaration of faith; the baptism service also requires parents to bring their children up within the family of the Church and by their example. I venture to suggest that is a cost few are willing to honour.

A far greater cost was paid on the Cross, when even more requirements were demanded by those who followed the Saviour of the world.

I hope the Archbishop will at some time qualify his rather rash invitation.

Saturday 19 October 2013

The Epistle for this Sunday is 2Timothy 3 v16 to 4 v5.

I think it rather sad that we do not view and treat our sacred book with the same commitment and devotion that Muslims treat the Koran. I fear that even many Christians seldom read the Bible on their own and the only contact with Scripture is listening to it being read in Church.

I have taken services in 28 Churches in and around Bedford and in the majority Bibles are not displayed in the pews, something which would enable members to follow the readings and sermon. In one Church they did not even have a Bible for the lessons to be read from.

I remember one summer being in Scotland when the city Council of Glasgow held an exhibition of the Bible and invited people to write any comment they wished on a displayed Bible. As expected certain passages relating to sexual behaviour had obscene words written thereon. None of the mainline Churches offered any resistance, but an evangelical group challenged the City Council to display the Koran alongside with the same invitation. A firm refusal was the natural display of cowardice, probably because they did not have sufficient fire insurance cover.

So let us turn to our passage from Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy in Chapters ¾. All Scripture is God breathed. This means that all (not some; not just those you think suits you) owes its origin and contents to the Spirit of God. God chose 40 men (all except one a Jew) of varied occupations and personalities, and inspired them to write what God wanted, His thoughts and requirements.

A major reason why the Church in the West is in decline, and the Eastern Churches are in the ascendant is that in the West it has become fashionable to dismantle those parts which do not correspond to modern morality and values, whilst Churches in the East, Africa, and South America faithfully adhere to he Bible. You simply cannot pick and choose the parts that are convenient to a particular standard of living.

Is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
This means to point out where false teaching is given, and correct errors in doctrine and conduct, warning when wrong paths are being followed; and to train people to live in such a way that pleases God.

Having pointed out the importance of Scripture, Paul then reminds Timothy he and all Christians will one day have to give account to God and Jesus Christ, and Timothy must take every opportunity to deliver the message from God.
This passage although though written 2,000 years ago, is highly relevant to our own day and describes so accurately the day in which we live. Like Timothy we are a tiny minority amidst an overwhelming majority committed to unbelief.

We are to preach “the Word.” not ideas theories or analysis of current events. When people come to Church they have a right to expect that they will hear a sermon based on the Word of God. This should be the norm for all Churches of whatever denomination. It might not make us popular, but we are not here to be popular. A Church that does truly preach such Word will find plenty of opposition, but the Church has to choose whether to please the world or God.

There is much that could be said about the relevance of this for us today. It speaks most directly, I think, to our understanding of what ministry should be about. Quite simply, ministry is about being faithful, not about being successful.. Churches and their ministers are often judged by numbers, and whilst we all would like to see our congregations being larger, we should not try to attain this by presenting a form of entertainment, and/or seeking popularity..

The themes of the full authority of Scripture and salvation through Christ alone were the themes of Charles and John Wesley. Listen to the words of John Wesley. ‘I want to know one thing, the way to heaven, how to land on that happy shore. God has condescended to teach the way, He was written it down I a book. Give me that book at any price give me that book’. I fear both Wesleys would find a lot of preaching these days not to their liking.
When people turn away from what is written they lose their spiritual moorings and just drift ashore into the secular wilderness.

You will never hear a Muslim saying the Koran must be re-interpreted to please society, or that it is in any part in error; nor will they permit anyone else to say so.
In addition, Timothy must deal with those who fail to live righteously, pointing out the error of their ways, perhaps rebuking someone who is acting badly which is destroying him and others, and there will be some depressed people who will need encouragement

There always has and always will be those who refuse to accept sound teaching, and as time has gone on things have got progressively worse. A time has come, it appears, that people are willing to tear Scripture apart claiming openly that the Bible is too old fashioned in its original form and needs to be re-written to suit the time. Sadly many Christians are living unworthily of the Lord and are ready to hear an up dated version of the Bible to appease a guilty conscience.

All Christians should be concerned at the way events are going. If Christianity is pushed out, the spiritual vacuum is likely to be filled with something far worse. The Bible states that Jesus is the only way to God, the only means of salvation because of His death on the Cross. We should not be fearful of saying this, otherwise people will not fully appreciate what we are here for, and to make this proclamation is the only reason for our existence; we must stand and say boldly, and not be afraid to do so even if it upsets some false teachers. Sadly, there are too many within the Church more anxious to promote their own ambitions and desires than to promote the gospel.

The Lord calls on each one of us to be steadfast in the faith, to remain true to His teaching and promises to Him; this applies to every Christian. Nowhere in the Bible do we find a particular standard for some Christians and a different one for others. Some may find the negative influences around us make it hard to live consistently for the Lord, but we are called to be steadfast and contend for the faith. Christianity is not just a philosophy you hear on Sundays, it has to be lived out daily. I fear some members have not just given up; they have given in and are following society’s ways rather than God’s. Society has developed a standard of morality which we cannot share.

Charles Wesley once stated that the manner of living as well as attending Church was important. I held a service in honour of this great man and the research I made caused me to realise how far the Church (in general) has moved from the ideals of Methodism, which once had such a profound effect on the spiritual health of the nation.

If there was ever a day when Christians need to know what they believe it is now. Unless we are sure as to what we believe and why we must live that way, we will not be able to defeat the spreads of secularism and the cultural trends which challenge our faith and the foundations on which this nation was built.

The great Methodist preacher of the last century, W E Sangster once said, ‘ preaching is in the darkness, the world doesn’t believe in it’ and this is more true now than when it was first said. The Church itself does not value preaching, it is not seen as important although it can be a source of learning. How can we get the gospel out if it is not taught?

When a new bishop was introduced recently, he stated his priority would be to tackle poverty, which is an amazing statement but so typical of to-day’s Church thinking, where bishops are acting like unelected politicians. Priority of all clergy should be preaching the gospel and so encourage Church growth. This was stressed by Jesus in Mark’s gospel when he said His mission was to preach the gospel, and by the Apostles in Acts 6.

Christians have often found themselves in those places where there is much hostility but they have not given up. They continue to struggle, to fight, to overcome in the name of Christ, and are still doing so bravely against immense provocation in non Christian lands where they find their Churches burned down, their homes attacked and themselves persecuted, beaten and even murdered.

If those Christians can endure such persecution, we should be always ready to stand up for Jesus in this and other Western lands, for if we become weak there are wolves in the secular world who are ready to make every effort to suppress us, and they have powerful support from the judiciary and politicians. Let us be like Paul ‘and never be ashamed of being a Christian’.

Friday 11 October 2013

The Collect for Sunday calls us to pray that ‘the Spirit’s gifts equip us to live the gospel of Christ and make us eager to do your will that we may share with the whole creation the joys of eternal life’.

Quite recently I wrote about the foundations crumbling when referring to the way Christian values, morals and faith were being cast aside. I inferred that if Christianity was being phased out of the nation’s life as politicians led by the present Prime Minister, the judiciary and large sections of the media seem intent on doing, a spiritual vacuum would be filled with something else. Then this week it was stated in the press that thousands of militant Islamists trained abroad, were intent on attacking this country and intent on introducing sharia law.

At the same period it was stated that the Scouts were abandoning reference to God in their pledge, just as the Guides were coerced into doing. Now we have the Magistrates Association wanting the Bible to be removed from the Courts, so abandoning a centuries old tradition. They cowardly state so few witnesses take the oath seriously but rather without it having meaning to them. If that is their thinking, it needs to be asked what steps they have taken to make it clear the penalties available to make witnesses take it seriously. ( I have however never had much time for lay Magistrates, I found so many totally unsuitable and ill equipped to be sitting in judgement on crimes.)

Returning to the words of the Collect, how seriously do we in the Church accept these words, and how assiduously will we apply them. Let us consider, (and admire) the devotion of the non militant Muslims to their faith. The men have no embarrassment at attending the Mosques, and are ready to proclaim so. But if you put most British men in a Church they are disorientated, and when forced to attend for a baptism don’t know how to conduct themselves.

I have heard many excuses as to why people are unable to attend Church on Sundays, and it makes me wonder how people of other faiths can attend their places of worship when they have the same kind of obstacles to get around, and in fact do so.

You will never hear the BBC nor its depraved (comedians?) pass rude comments about the Koran, yet the Bible and Christianity are freely mocked. I cannot imagine any Council refusing to allow Muslim prayers in the way the way they object to Christian ones.

This country has for many years been one based on Christian teachings and standards. People through the ages, but never more so than at the present, have forsaken their religion unless it suits them for some social occasion. The Church has been grossly negligent by not adhering to the Bible and has argued its way around Biblical teaching to justify supporting immoral ways of living.

A recent report on religion in schools showed that inspections revealed this was not being taught in any responsible way in many schools, some teachers were apparently afraid of saying something
that might offend members of other faiths or none. Isn’t it amazing we can find so few teachers capable of telling children the stories from the Bible, yet no difficulty when it comes to those able to teach about sex education?

There have been two appointments of bishops in recent months and the priority of one bishop was to tackle poverty. (This is a politician’s priority) The other listed his interest as social housing, equalities, monasticism and cricket. I can understand any Christian having social or political interests, but wouldn’t it be inspiring to read that a new bishop had the priority of making the Bible more relevant and acceptable, and wanted to strive to bring people back to Church? Unfortunately most bishops seem to be theologically liberal, with distinct leanings politically to the left. I think few would be admirers of Margaret Thatcher.

During the 1990s we did have an evangelistic campaign ‘decade of getting back to Church’ but it was so badly organised with so little enthusiasm from on high that it ended with more people leaving the Church than joining.

We will be celebrating Bible Sunday later this month and this is such a time when the Church should make an all out effort to promote the Bible, but how many will in fact do so? Too many clergy for a start don’t believe much of the Bible, even before we begin considering congregational response. Until we get to know the Bible we will not be fully equipped to live according to Christ’s teachings or make His teachings known to others.

But however small a consolation, we can see the same declining position in the United States where the Civil Liberties lobby is showing what aggressive determination can achieve in stopping prayers in public places and schools, removing the Cross and tablets bearing the Ten Commandments from public view.

Turning to Scripture, a sentence in today’s bible passage reads,
(Jesus speaking) you may ask for anything in my name and I will do it’. Let us ask that ‘the Spirit’s gifts equip us to live the gospel of Christ and make us eager to do your will that we may share with the whole creation the joys of eternal life’.

I hope you will be in Church on Sunday and may the Lord richly bless you

Friday 4 October 2013

Home. Marriage. Family

‘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. 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 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.

‘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 (of different sex) being married as the ideal is old fashioned and rather stupid. .

Marriage was built on the foundations of the Bible, but our erstwhile Prime Minister forced through the legislation which re-defined marriage to include people of the same sex. He now states he did not realise the furore it would cause and regrets having done so, which only goes to reveal how stupid and out of touch with normal people he is.

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.

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

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.

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.

Joshua made his choice, let us make ours, and say, ‘we will serve the Lord