Thursday 28 November 2013

Matthew 24
Today is Advent Sunday and for many Churches it is the start of the Church’s year. For all Christians it is a time when we think about the return of our Lord, although for so many people, they have not recognised His first coming. This is a very serious and important subject and should not be treated lightly. The teachings of the Bible are not acceptable to many folk within the Church, but they are quite clear. Let us look at them together this morning.

In the Epistle Peter wants his readers to know God will one day bring an end to this world. 380 times in the New Testament the return of Jesus is mentioned, and the whole Bible promises His return.
Peter is concerned that they should live by the teachings of Jesus, and warns them that there will be people who mock the faith. They will do so in order to justify the sinful way in which they live.

People also scoff at any talk of Jesus returning or the suggestion of judgement, stating God will not intervene and asking why He hasn’t done so. They forget that one day to us is like a thousand years to God, who is giving time for more people to be saved.

They forget too, if they ever knew, that God did once destroy the earth and is saving up fire for when judgement comes. This will be sudden Peter points out and without warning, leaving no place or time for hiding. Peter concludes by telling Christians to live pure and holy lives to avoid punishment that awaits the ungodly.

When we turn to the gospel passage we find Jesus had been talking to His Apostles on the Mount of Olives, who asked Him what the signs are of His coming back at the end of the age. Jesus answered there would be wars and rumours of wars, nations would fight nations--- there would be famines, ----earthquakes----Christians would be persecuted ----people would turn away from the faith. ----there would be false teaching---evil--wickedness.

You don’t hear much preaching on this subject, the Church tends to avoid it. The Church is remarkably quiet about anything which is likely to upset people’s tranquillity; there is reluctance in a politically correct obsessed society to suggest judgement or guilt. But we are thinking here about the climax of world history, a point where any national psychopathic leader could, by pressing a button, unleash nuclear destruction on an unimaginable scale. So we may be nearer to the end than many think or want to believe.

It is true that such signs have been prevalent in each generation but they increase in their likelihood as time goes by. If you look at present world events, there are grounds for concern. Wars and terrorism are occurring all over our world.

A situation of utmost gravity exists in the Middle East where Iran wants to wipe Israel off the map, and world leaders seem to be deluded into thinking they can trust Iran, whereas Israel is more ready to face reality. They in turn are ready to attack Iran, and bearing in mind that the Bible prophesises the world will end in Jerusalem, we should all be concerned. The Bible states God will protect His ancient chosen people.

We see famines in Africa, earthquakes and typhoons of unprecedented strength, with one island which rarely has rain having had large parts destroyed by storms. False teaching aplenty is given in our Churches, to justify and make acceptable modern moral behaviour. Christians are being forced out of Middle Eastern lands, where arson and murder reign against them. Jesus says all these kinds of things will happen in the last days, that is before His return.

In v.36, which opens our reading, Jesus states that only God knows when that time will be. He then compares life in the days of Noah to those relating to what will be happening when He returns to earth.

You remember the story of Noah. A lot of people laugh and scoff at it, but archaeologists say there is plenty of evidence that a flood did exist at one time over a certain portion of the world, the portion that Noah lived in. The Bible says that God looked upon civilization, and He saw the wickedness of men.

Jesus said as it was then, so it will be in the day of the coming of the Son of man. There are several things said about that day. First, it was a world in which marriage and home were abused. Marrying and giving in marriage was the idea of exchanging wives. People were obsessed with sex. Emphasis was on immorality. Look at our world today; we are living in the same way as in the days of Noah. We see the same conditions today. Pick up a newspaper.

The Telegraph and Mail newspapers often feature religious articles on their websites and a lot of comments are made in response which are quite vitriolic; not just disagreement open hatred of religion. People do not like to hear their way of living is seen to be immoral by others. They want to live their lives without reference to God or biblical values.

One journalist wrote an article in response to a speech by the ex Archbishop of Canterbury, who had suggested the Church faced extinction. He stated the Church could not expect younger people (especially) to reject same sex relationships, or couples sleeping together outside of marriage, or the doctrines of the Church such as a Virgin Birth and resurrection, which SOME churches still do preach. He was in fact implying that the Church should drastically change its stance on such issues, although I think many within the Church have done so in thought and practice.

Noah tried to warn his fellowmen of coming judgement, but there was a sceptical unbelieving and casual unconcern. The more Noah preached the more they laughed at him. God said man was too evil, so He was going to make it rain for forty days and destroy the earth. But God saw Noah was a good man of moral integrity who worshipped God faithfully.
God told Noah how to build a ship, and when Noah did so everybody laughed at this crazy guy building a ship out in the desert. Today you would have television crews from around the world taking pictures. But then the rains came and how they must have wished they had listened to Noah

This is how it will be before Jesus returns to an unbelieving world which will be living as they choose. People laugh at this story and at today’s gospel; they call it a myth and fairy tale, but they will find out one day.

When Jesus returns, just as the flood brought sudden judgement His return will do the same. People will be caught unawares as they will be unprepared through rejecting Christian teaching. The world will be separated even between families and friends as Jesus taught. The Bible is clear – there was a beginning and there will be an end, when Christ comes again.

Jesus stated two people will be together, one will be taken to be with Him, the other will be left. A person who has accepted Jesus, who died on the Cross as their Saviour, will be safe on Judgement day. A person who has not will be let behind. There will be no chance to make a decision then, we have to be ready beforehand and decide we want to accept Him now. The Bible states, ‘now is the day of salvation.’ God has given everybody a chance to decide and choose. These are Jesus’ words, not mine.

This is a very serious truth to consider, for the Bible teaches that the consequences are drastic, some will be saved for eternal life and the rest will be lost. However much we might like to conclude there is a different ending, the Bible leaves us with no doubt.

The last verses of our passage call on us to be ready, and Peter in his Letter urged us to spread the gospel message, particularly to our families and friends, for we will never have warning. The Bible states now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation

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 Bible states, ‘salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’. Jesus said, ‘no one comes to the Father except through me’. The Church has not always given sound teaching on this; indeed there are those who do not accept those words.

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. We need to be prepared just as any responsible householder will take care of their property against theft, for burglars do not give notice of their coming.

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 it necessary to think of Jesus, even less to do anything about it.

Some Christians have sincerely gone to extremes to prepare for Jesus’ return. Jesus never called us to do anything more than to be faithful in all that we do and always to thing to the best of our ability and be ready to greet Him either here on earth or in heaven. SCRIPTURES REFERENCED

Saturday 23 November 2013

Matthew 7 v 13/14

This passage is part of Jesus teaching where a great crowd had gathered on a mountain. He is telling the rules and practice by which Christians should live by, and tells them how they can be saved.

He taught there are two gates, to two roads, and two masters.
He said there are two destinies, heaven and hell and divided people into two classes. There are only two roads, no third, no alternative. This is not generally liked as it is seen as being too restrictive, too bigoted and intolerant, and we don’t like to be judged. Yet in spite of all this, Jesus says we must enter through the narrow gate. So let us look at the choice we face and consider honestly which road each of us is on and to where heading.

It is like driving up to a crossroad junction and you have to make a decision as to which road you choose. On the broad road you enter by a wide gate and the road is spacious, there is plenty of room on it and there are plenty of people on it. It is the road where you can live as you like. There are even otherwise decent men and women on it, so many claiming to be Christians albeit without due cause. It is widely assumed, and strongly encouraged by the secular press, that if you are honest and sincere you will go to heaven.

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.

As we come to the narrow gate leading to the narrow road, which Jesus wants us to take, but says only few take it, and those who do must do through Him. The command quoted in John 14, despite being non correct in many Churches now, still states ‘no one can come to the Father except through Jesus Christ.’ He is the only way.

Being narrow these days means you are classed as bigoted or phobic. You are expected to be broad minded, be modern, 2+2=5. The road is narrow because it is the way of truth and truth is always narrow.

Jesus said there is a life to come and it is a long life, it is eternal, and there are only two destinies, , and you alone choose, God will not push you. He gave you the ability to choose and lets you do so. Where you end up in eternity will be determined by which road you take, so what you do in the world is important.

One of these roads leads to destruction the other to life with Jesus. He took time to remind people of the seriousness of salvation. He wanted all to be sure of the future. People do prefer the easy road in life but Jesus made it plain He wants us to journey down the difficult road and enter the narrow gate.

Neither can the narrow road be pursued if we are motivated by a desire to please society. True disciples of Jesus Christ will not play to the galleries nor form values according to the passing approval of people in general. God’s approval is all that matters.

Finally Jesus speaks firmly and rather profoundly when He says not all who think they are to enter the Kingdom of heaven will in fact do so. But it can be hard to be a Christian in this country at the present time and many find the going too hard and strenuous and the opposition oppressive. Any open expression of our faith is likely to lead to suspension or dismissal from work. There is so much harassment of Christians which is not reported here and you have to listen to the American news channels to discover what is going on in this country.

As Christians we must always seek to glorify the Lord in our ways and speech.

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.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

The headline in the Daily Mail this morning is seizing on a speech by Lord Carey in which he foresees the extinction of the Church of England.

I remember my bishop at the time of my ordination stating people have been forecasting the end of the Church for so many years and we are still here. I would have expected Lord Carey to have foreseen the headlines his words were bound to attract.

I regret Lord Carey had not been more forthright when he was in office as Archbishop of Canterbury. I seem to remember him as a sort of disaster. We had under his reign the decade of evangelism, a much triumphed initiative which in fact lost more members than attracted them. He was all things to all men, ranging from devout Anglo-Catholic to committed evangelical, according to which lobby he was speaking.

What should be under criticism are the number of clergy who are letting the Church down, some also making themselves look foolish whilst seeking a few minutes of fame and headlines. For example, we have Remembrance Sunday, when all patriots glow in love of country and are prone to attend Church, and some little known Vicar who claims to be an expert on hymns pops up and condemns the hymn ‘I vow to thee my country’, which is so revered by so many people.

We are about to see some spiritual blood letting during the debate on women being appointed bishops as the debate will get bitter, but personal ambitions must triumph above evangelism.
I so admire Bishop Nazir-Ali who alone amongst the higher echelons of the Church touches the minds of ordinary people, and if Lord Carey wishes to promote the Church and its future should encourage his fellows to adopt a similar tone, rather than have bishops writing to newspapers supporting same sex marriages and other practices which are contrary to Scripture.

Hard to believe as it may be, you have a bishop as chairman of church schools advocating giving priority to non church families above church families. The Arch bishop of Canterbury had to rush a correction after an interview with the Times Religious correspondent in which he appeared ambivalent on which children should be given priority for church schools.

Church attendance now cannot be compared to that of years ago. There are now too many excuses for people not attending now and too many distractions they can claim, such as shops, caravans; children visiting absent fathers, mothers working all week, (being encouraged to do so by governments).

However, all those things do not seem to affect Muslims who face all Christians have to face in life. They don’t abandon their faith, and I suspect you never hear a Muslim cleric challenging anything in their Holy Book in the same way that Christian leaders decry the moral teaching of Scripture and the authority of the Bible. In addition, Muslim women are not wailing about discrimination.

Statistics suggest Christian Church membership is declining, but Islam is increasing. Surprising?

Let us remember Jesus said I will build my Church’. So we mortal clergy do not build or convert, only God does through Christ, we are merely messengers for Him. I don’t think Jesus would approve of many of the messages that are coming out of His Church.

Saturday 16 November 2013

John 13, v 31 to 14. v 6

We are now approaching Christmas a time when we celebrate the birth of our Lord. Whilst this is the true and original meaning and purpose of Christmas, the wider world has little if any thought or concern for Christ, yet will indulge itself on the basis of His birthday. Christmas does have Christ in the title.

Many pompous politicians want to ban or at least restrict public religious ceremonies, even to the extent of re-naming Christmas in secular terms. Well did Pope Benedict say we have an aggressive secularism.

The Lectionary readings for Advent are on the theme of Christ’s second coming, but I think it more important we concentrate and recognise the wonder of His first coming.

This morning I want to speak on the uniqueness of Christ. This I fear is something the wider Church is not preaching on as firmly as it might. There seems reluctance to state positively what our message is; that Christ was uniquely born; that His birth is still, (and the only one) universally known 2000 years later; and time is calculated from His birth. No other faith can make the claims we can make and we should be proud to say so.

Let us turn now to our gospel passage.

The reading begins after Judas has left Jesus and the other Apostles where they have been celebrating the Last Supper and Jesus tells the Apostles, ‘now He has been glorified’. Because of what Judas was going to do, Jesus would face the Cross, and so would bring glory by His sacrifice, and by His obedience to God, He too would be glorified.

Jesus went on to tell them they must love one another, and by that He simply meant they should show loyalty to each other and not get engaged in disputes.

When Jesus tells the Apostles He is going to leave them they are devastated and fear for their future. For three years they have lived every moment with Jesus and now He suddenly tells them He is going. This brings us to the end of Chapter 13.

I often see a likeness to a present day situation when a Minister leaves a Church to go elsewhere (or retire) and there has been a good relationship with the congregation, there is then very often sadness.

When the Bible was first compiled, each book of the Bible was one long script. In 1227 the then Archbishop of Canterbury divided it into chapters, and in 1448 Robert Estienne separated into verses. This has been a great help in enabling us to find a verse readily, but has in another sense caused passages to be taken out of contest and adopted to suit the purpose.

This happens with the first six verses of Chapter 14 which are regularly asked for by relatives for a funeral service without any understanding of what has gone before, and indeed which is most relevant to what is coming, and why Jesus is saying what He did. To ignore Chapter 13 is to miss the meaning.

Everyone wants to claim a heavenly room without any conditions. They have no doubt a place is automatically reserved for them irrespective of the way they have lived here and the fact they have not accepted Him as Saviour. Let it be remembered Jesus is speaking to His Apostles, and indeed all believers can accept His words.

He tells them to believe in God, in other words, trust God, but not only God, Jesus too. In heaven there is room for all believers. Jesus is going to prepare a place for believers.

Thomas asks where He is going and the way, and Jesus makes that immortal reply, ’I am the Way the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me’.

Unless we re-write our Bibles we cannot get away from these exclusive claims of Jesus. No one will be in the Father’s heavenly mansions unless they are a committed follower of Jesus. If you decide Jesus in not for you there is no eternal future in heaven.

We have the declaration of Peter, ‘salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’

Then you have the words of Paul, for no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

Jesus says he is the way, the truth and the life. Not just a way to know God and get to heaven, but the one and only way to be with God. Many people, especially non believers, say this is arrogance and discriminatory. We have got to a state of affairs now in this country whereby one is not permitted to make comment about a person’s age, race, sexuality or ethnic faith, but it is open season on Christianity. This should not surprise us since we live in a day of increasing religious pluralism when people in influential places, especially politicians, who have no religious affiliations say, all religions are equal.

Saying this insults thoughtful followers of every religion. Talk to a Muslim for a while, and you’ll discover that what they believe and what we believe are radically different. They do not accept the divinity of Christ, saying God has no Son. Talk to a Buddhist, and you’ll discover that their beliefs are different from ours and from the Muslims. The same is true for followers of Judaism, Hinduism, and so on. It’s easy to say all roads lead to heaven when you don’t know anything about what you are speaking of.

Jesus make such claims because he says is the truth. From the beginning of the Gospel Jesus has been making outrageous statements about what God wants. If Jesus was simply a human being then his exclusive claims would be most arrogant. However, since he was fully divine then we must accept those claims.

We know that some who agree with our answer don’t like to talk about it openly. They fear stirring up trouble, so even if they answer yes, they prefer not to discuss the question publicly. Others of course fear being dismissed from employment or even prosecuted if they dare to mention their faith.

I read that the Home Secretary is to introduce new legislation making it a criminal offence for any person to make a statement which might cause offence (imaginary or really) to another person. This will seriously endanger street preachers as one American evangelist found out when he was arrested for preaching on 1 Thessalonians 4.

If we are to be in a right relationship with God, Jesus is the only One who can restore that relationship. By his death, he paid for our sins and bridged the gap that separates us from God. By his resurrection, he proved he is the Son of God.

We must accept members of other faiths have sincerity in their beliefs.We do not need to doubt the sincerity of those of other faiths. I admire them for their dedication to what they believe and wish all Christians would show similar dedication to Christianity.

Christians have always believed that Jesus is the only way to heaven. We haven’t always expressed it with equal forcefulness, but the teaching itself is not new. We now have to think about the challenge of sharing Christ in a pluralistic world. This means all Christians have to know what they believe and why, and then not be afraid to contend for what we believe (as the bible urges us to do) For example, it is life or death; heaven or hell; Jesus or nothing.

We should be inspired by Christians in the non Christians lands who daily face hatred, violence, even death; and see their Churches and homes destroyed, yet never waver in their faith.

There are many religions, and many good things to be learned from the religions of the world, but there is only one way to God. Jesus is the way.

We only face one impediment. Not all who are in ministry, clergy and lay, even accept Jesus is the only way. I heard sermons when His name has not even been mentioned. We should all honour the name of Jesus. Christian preachers and teachers should stop challenging the Bible and be true and faithful to the gospel as given in the Apostolic teaching

You will never hear a Muslim cleric disputing any word of the Koran, nor would members of their faith allow the Koran to be abused. When we Christians respond with similar dedication and commitment, this nation will be transformed.

Jesus really is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Thursday 7 November 2013

As we gather once again on this special day, our minds remember the great sacrifices made by men/women who gave their lives serving in the Armed Forces, and others who were injured and disabled for life.

As the years roll by, the number of those who were alive during the last World War grows ever smaller, reducing by the year. But the memories do not fade, as we recall how this nation stood alone on the brink when all seemed to be lost and there was even talk of surrender. Yet God raised up a man who would rally the nation to perform such heroic deeds.

Sadly, so many young people do not, and will not, try to learn of this glorious chapter of our history, never having had to endure the horrors and hardship of war. Such has been the direction of education in recent years in (state) schools, they have little or no knowledge of what was done that they may have all the privileges they now enjoy.

There have been conflicts since 1945 in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, but they have been localised and have not intruded on so many lives in this country.

But we think of those shot down over German skies
perished on a French beach; tortured in a Japanese prisoner camp, drowned in deep waters. This causes us to think of honour and sacrifice, with a requirement to be remembered.

Now we have to add those who perished and have been injured, on the streets of Iraq, or blown up on dusty Afghan roads.

We all long for peace and to be able to walk the streets without fear; to be free from crime and violence, to be safe in our own homes.

But a greater peace is that which is with God. The world has largely rejected Christianity, without having anything to put in its place to combat the evils of the world. All we hear today is about ‘human rights,’ yet in all walks of public life, even to the highest level of government, we have flagrant lying, deceit, corruption and unrestricted immorality. Such conduct sends out an entirely wrong message to the young and gullible.

We have a Prime Minister educated at one of the most elite schools in the world, elected to the highest Office in the land as leader of a most reputable political party, (whose traditions and beliefs he betrays) whose principal passion was to destroy and abuse the bedrock of any society and legislate for same sex marriage. Even after doing so, he made promises and gave assurances which any intelligent person with half a brain realises can’t be honoured. Consistent research reveals it is not only the bedrock of society, but makes a better environment for family life.

This nation was built on the solid foundation of God’s law, it was the basis of our legal system. Our nation’s future depends on all accepting the standards laid down in God’s Holy Word. That is what men fought and died for and what men and women are doing now in our Army, Navy and Air Force.

What would the men and women who fought and suffered, some unto death, say if they knew what things were going on this country now? Would they wonder if their great sacrifices were worthwhile as they looked at us? How disillusioned, as they looked at their injuries and saw people making huge compensation claims for minor injuries, and taking legal action for hurt feelings caused by mere words.

How horrified they would be if they knew we have to rely on young people from other countries coming to do essential work in this country because many people here do not consider they have to work but instead claim their right to be supported on benefits supplied by the state,

How would they feel to hear some jumped up public official refusing to let the flag they fought under be displayed lest it upset people not even born here, people who in fairness would not think of complaining.

How would they react to our Courts allowing men to remain in this country who are intent on causing explosions to damage and injure as part of a religious crusade.

Meanwhile Christians are being pursued through the Courts, in which judges have declared must not treat Christianity with any particular respect. It is therefore intensely important, that we should positively let people know the true message, according to God’s Holy Word, and identify that which is plainly wrong in life.

We have a society which is encouraged to forsake a Christian consensus and live, not by Christian principles, which lead to health and wholeness of body, mind and spirit, and permits people to live at peace and enjoy their lives, but by substituting other principles.

We are submerged in a world that is committed to falsehood, which is why we are called to proclaim the truth.

If ever the Word of God was needed it is never more so than now. It calls for people to turn back to God who is ready and able to meet the needs of everyone who turns to Him. The message we have for the world is centred upon the person of Jesus Christ.

Remembrance Sunday will find people in all our Churches who would not normally be there, thus revealing a spiritual content in their lives. Indeed, almost all people have some spiritual longing. There are so many of these people who would be of enormous value to the Church and who in turn could add so much to their lives. Whilst the majority may not be willing to accept it, we all need a spiritual life. We need God and the forgiveness, which He offers in Jesus Christ. Without this our souls are restless. The only obstacle is a lack of motivation.

Many people are like the two British soldiers who found themselves lost in the deserts of Iraq. They eventually came across a two star American General in his jeep. As they approached him they didn’t even bother to salute and simply blurted out ‘excuse me mate, can you tell us where we are?’ The General took umbrage at their casual attitude and sternly replied, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ at which one of the soldiers turned to the other and said, ‘Now we are in real trouble, we don’t know where we are and he doesn’t know who he is!’

Neither do we know who we are and why we are here, so we just live for today and who cares about tomorrow. And that is how we will remain unless there is some communication from the outside, from the One who has made us. A godless self-centred life is a fruitless and empty one.

We need a spiritual revival, which God is challenging us to make. However, there is reluctance within some Churches to preach a vibrant Biblical message for fear of being criticised as being offensive to other faiths. Such reluctance is not reciprocated. People, I believe, are longing for and wanting spiritual leadership

May we, on this special day, well remember the sacrifices others made that we might be here at this hour. We must never ever forget the lives of so many gallant young men and women given that we may have peace in our lives.