Sunday 29 December 2013

I wish you all a very happy and blessed 2014.

New years are often a time for making resolutions and new starts. The best resolution a Christian can make is to follow a way of life advocated by Jesus and to be regular in attending Church to worship Him.

As members of a human family we like to meet with brothers and sisters in our parents’ home and as members of a Church family we should welcome the chance to meet with our Christian brothers and sisters.

A Church family is unique in that it consists of different ages, backgrounds, experiences and sexes. It is where God provides for us to be come equipped to carry out His message to the world. We sing praise together, pray for each other and for the worlds needs share bread and wine in Holy Communion and remember what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

We live in two worlds. We live in the earthly world but we also live in the world of the Spirit, and there is always the danger we can forget about God and become so involved in earthly activities.

The Bible says, ‘let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another’. We need to meet with others to have fellowship, to gain and give encouragement. Each of us has to make an effort. Most people believe in God and many have a respect for the Church, but that is as far as it goes. They don’t want God or the Church to intrude into their lives, unless of course they want a baptism or wedding and then both can become useful.

But just believing in God’s existence is not enough we have to draw near to Him and the only way is through Jesus Christ. There is one way, one Saviour, one way to eternal life.

Jesus is described in the Bible as the great High priest of God. The function of a priest is to be a bridge between God and man so that we can come into God’s presence and Jesus makes that possible. Jesus can take us into the very presence of His Father.

Some people treat Church like a petrol station. They go to refill their spiritual tanks, and although there are lots of people on the forecourt, don’t wan t to get involved with them, but just drive in fill up and shoot off.

There are many, far too many people in recent times, who have forsaken Church and it can be so very easy to give up, go with the flow and fall away. Once this is done it is often hard to get back into the practice of coming to Church. This is why the Bible urges the need for Christians to be with each other.

There are numerous reasons for people giving up worship. There are the cynical voices pouring scorn making people feel doubtful. There are forces of secularisation, now given so much attention and credence. There are pressures from within families where some members are anti-church, notably husbands regarding their wives. The worry about taking a public stand, and indeed, from within the Church itself.

I know a lady who was a wonderful practising Christian, as practical as one might be. Always the first to offer help when any member was unwell, or in difficulty. Very active in the Church, taking a leading role in all activities, social and religious. PCC Secretary, trained to be a Lay Reader, and then a new Vicar came to the Church with a wife who was one of the most unpleasant women I have ever met. She was intensely jealous of anyone likely to overshadow herself or husband, and made the other lady’s life so difficult she gave up attending a Church she had attended for many years. Perhaps the lady was wrong in not moving to another Church, but when you have been attending a Church for which you have become so attached, it can on a human scale be quite demoralising.

So we should not be tempted to separate ourselves from those who are joined to us by a common faith. Meeting and following Christ can be costly but mostly well rewarded. We must always be aware of the fact that in many parts of the world Churches cannot exist, nor can Christians meet with other Christians for fear of imprisonment or even death. Increasing hostility is being displayed in countries like Egypt, Pakistan, and Nigeria, where Churches are burned down and bombed. Here we still have freedom to worship, but if not cherished and valued and fought for will be lost.

We are living in an increasing anti-Christian environment with so called Equality and Diversity laws making it hard for Christians to express themselves, as public servants strive to find ways of excluding Christian expression.

Coming to Church should be like sons and daughters coming to meet with their (heavenly) Father in complete harmony. My sons regularly visit my wife and self, and I would be very concerned if they did not. Our heavenly Father is also upset when His children neglect Him.

But there is one thing I feel needs to be stressed. We should ensure the Church we attend is one faithful to God’s Word and seeks to build each other up through the Scriptures, and where the true gospel is preached.

We have to acknowledge however sadly this is not always the case, so it serves no purpose going to a Church which fails to do these things. Too many preachers have their own agenda, which is created around a morality not supported by Scripture, and where the teaching is given to subscribe to the culture of the day.

You must find a Bible based Church. Research in America has shown that going to Church and meeting with fellow believers is good for your health. A survey in North America of 4,000 people, found that older people especially who attended Church, were less depressed and far healthier that their non religious counterparts.

There are few people who can say with hand on heart I have no worries, problems, everything in my life is sunshine and roses. We all need spiritual fulfilment.. To all who are worried Jesus says, ‘come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’ He is saying He is waiting for you and has got the help if you only will go to Him.

Jesus added, ‘take my yoke upon you’. A yoke was a wooden frame placed on a persons shoulder in order to make a load easier to carry. So Jesus is saying let me help you carry your burden. In John’s gospel we have the promise of Jesus that He will never turn anyone away.

Let us therefore draw near to God. holding firmly to your belief, and never give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us always give each other encouragement. Don’t let unpleasant people, secularists, or anyone else hold you back. Remember too, Jesus said if anyone rejected Him, He will one day reject them. Such a fate is too horrible to consider.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Matthew 1 v 18/25

Most people know this story having been to a Nativity play, heard it at Sunday School, or sang at Carol Concerts. Even those who never cross a Church doorstep in the year will attend midnight Mass service. People who do not think of Christ from one end of the year to the end sing about Him.

Overpaid and under talented pop groups will sing about Chris-se-muss, yet the Christian impact is less at Christmas than at any other time. In the United States an atheist organisation is placing posters in New York asking for Christ to be taken out of Christmas, and here in England people have written to papers to say just get rid of religion at Christmas and let us enjoy it.

Why do Churches, contrary to normal services, fill up at Christmas time when their message has so little notice taken of it? Because a baby does not threaten nor make you feel uncomfortable. This story is for ever new and relevant; we put Christ back into Christmas and if you Him out all you have left is M & S. The Bible says ‘He will be called Jesus because He will save His people from their sins’.

This is why people reject Jesus, He makes them feel guilty. He didn’t come to save us from problems or loneliness or hardship, just from our own misdoings. Here in this story you have one of the basic doctrines of the Church, the Virgin Birth. The Bible is clearly unequivocal, ‘this is how the birth of Christ came about’. If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, you have no problem with accepting this.

In Jewish culture of that time there were three stages in a relationship. First there was the announcement of the engagement. Often the parents would choose the partners, and some people think that they made a better job of things. After the announcement the betrothal would take place when the couple entered into a legal contract to marry, which could only be ended by divorce. The woman was viewed as a wife although no physical contact was made. If either party died the other would be deemed a widow(er).

Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant and was told by an angel that this was through the Holy Spirit. I can understand some modern day sceptics will ridicule this, and it may be beyond our understanding, but those who have faith and trust the Bible will not have difficulty in believing.
When we look at all the marvels and wonders of technology and see what we can achieve by man’s endeavour, is it so difficult to believe that the God who made the world could not also perform wonders and miraculous events.

Joseph although shocked accepted what he must have thought wrong, and by doing so allowed Jesus to be born in the line from David, and was rewarded with the direct message from God. Messages and visions have regularly been used by God to communicate His plan to His chosen ones.

God took Mary to give the humanity of Jesus whilst the Holy Spirit provided the divinity. God has often acted in supernatural ways in giving women children when they could not have conceived by normal human ways, such as with Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth.

You will read of Jesus being hungry, thirsty, tired, and sad, reflecting his humanity, but you will also read of His works which could only have been accomplished because of His divinity. If you are only prepared to see Jesus as some sort of exceptional social worker or reformer, you are failing to recognise all He came to do.

I have served with Christians who refuse to accept Mary as a normal Jewish woman. enjoying married life with Joseph in a normal physical relationship, refusing to accept any such normal married life, ignoring also Jesus had brothers and possibly sister. The Bible clarifies this in Matthew’s gospel when it states, Joseph had no union with her’ ‘until she gave birth to a son whom she named Jesus’

Until recent times Christianity in the West was a distinct part of our heritage and culture. We celebrated all the main festivals especially Christmas and Easter. We are in danger of seeing this great faith wiped out of public life by aggressive secular and atheistic forces, which have gained strength way beyond their size in this country, and it appears even more so in the great land of the United States which was once seen as a bastion for the Chistian faith, and in fact still has in some places Churches of such size that we could only dream of this country. So why are these pathetic, ignorant organisations allowed to peddle their venom so freely.

Good Friday, once such a solemn day reflecting the greatest sacrifice made on behalf of men and women is now no more than another shopping opportunity. Sundays have long since been ignored as a holy day. Now even Christmas, which only has credence because of its Christian association, is in danger of being replaced as an orgy of shopping, drinking and immorality.

Once Christmas Day, like Sundays, was a closed day for shops (as I understand it still is in Germany) now even that is being abandoned, and amazingly under a Conservative administration which once was seen as more prone to support the Church

Perhaps the greater condemnation ought to be directed at Church leaders who up to now have not put forth any resistance, in contrast to their devious plotting to ensure the appointment of women as bishops, over- riding normal rules of procedure. If it is desire to appoint women, fair enough, but play by the normal rules and show the integrity demanded from Christians.

Similarly there was no lethargy in the hasty desire to appoint a Committee to enquire how to get around the problem of recognising same sex marriages without appearing duplicitous.

If positive and equally aggressive steps are not taken to defend the Christian faith, using all modern methods of communication, there will be no Christianity to defend.

The birth of our Lord and Saviour should be an apt time to start reclaiming the ground so which has so feebly been surrendered. Other faiths are ever ready to take our place in the spiritual vacuum which will be left.

Sunday 15 December 2013

The gospel reading this week is about John the Baptist who is incarcerated in a dungeon and is near the end of his life. The place where he is held is one of the hottest places on earth and he is there because he has criticised Herod for his immoral lifestyle.

John is also depressed as he realises his ministry is over, Jesus is now predominant, and whilst John has always preached about Jesus, he finds Jesus appears to be doing nothing to help him. Consequently John begins to have doubts about his faith, as most thinking people will have.

In order to resolve his fears he sends his disciples to ask Jesus to confirm He is the Messiah, and Jesus responds by telling them to return to John and acquaint John with what Jesus is saying and performing

Jesus also points out all things happen in God’s appointed time. The people generally expected Jesus to lead them in a political campaign against the Roman power, but Jesus was not One who would command military action. Jesus knew people would be disappointed and fall away once their expectations were not fulfilled, and the same thing happens today. At the same time Church members can be very cruel and their conduct can cause havoc in a Church.

I had a lady in one Church where I was acting in an honorary capacity who worked so hard and demonstrated her faith in a very practical way. She was one might call a perfect Christian in action. If a person became ill she would be the first to see what help she could offer in a practical way, shopping cleaning or just visiting and offering comfort. She was a PCC Secretary, a lay reader, and generally active in all Church social events. Sadly a new Vicar was appointed whose wife who would have been more suited to a prison guard. She was jealous that any other woman could even have a say never mind being so popular, which led to my friend’s life becoming unbearable there, and at the wife’s behest caused her to leave the Church. She drifted away from Church, which lost a valuable servant at a crucial time as both the Vicar and his wife left soon after. There should never be any animosity within a Church family.

If you feel disappointed or downcast, if you feel no one cares for you and you feel you have laboured in vain, remember there is some One above who is watching over you and will recognise your efforts. He records all we do and sees the goodness in us. One day he will say ‘come ye blessed of my Father and receive the Kingdom prepared for you’.

There does come times of personal weakness in which doubt enters all our lives, and if it has not happened to you (yet), then perhaps you are not thinking things through.

The devil is always active and can influence our thin mind, especially in times of personal sadness and worry, and then like John we begin to wonder if we have got it right. Jesus understood John’s thinking and praised him publicly as the greatest man born of woman, yet he did not have the experience which each one of us can have of knowing the Holy Spirit come into our lives.

Millions of people consider themselves Christian, without any real entitlement. True they are Christian supporters, but there is no commitment. Many people feel inspired by the ceremony often performed and enacted in the Church of England, in which ritual take the place of real faith and belief. I have served in Churches where ceremony was a feature and which was very meaningful, and added much to worship, rather than the basic services, but it should be an aid to remind us we have been in the presence of an Almighty God and nothing more.

The message people always need to remember, is that we are worshipping the Jesus who died on the Cross for the forgiveness of all our sins, and as the Bible emphatically states, no can come to God the Father except through Him… He alone is the means of our salvation.

There are a lot of politicians, and other trouble makers, who want to airbrush our faith right out of existence and we are letting them get on with it., They are pathetic cowards who would not dare to say or do the things to Islam that we allow, and to the credit of Islam they stand up these cowards.

If you have trusted God for some purpose and feel like John let down; if your faith becomes weak, be like John and tell God to speak to you. Listen or read the great hymns of Charles Wesley who wrote in one hymn ‘my faith looks up to thee, O Lamb of Calvary’ Above all, never let anyone cause you to doubt or lead you to spiritual rejection so that you drift away from Church. You may think it could never happen, but it could and will if you are not careful.

May God bless you and be at Church each Sunday.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

I have always thought of myself as an evangelical, and so did my first Bishop who sent me to a very High Anglican Church to experience the alternative side of Anglicanism. This was a new and at first disturbing experience as coming from a city like Liverpool, Catholic practices either Roman or Anglo were not the thing for a good Protestant.

During my service in Ministry| I have served at Churches of both Evangelical and Catholic persuasion, and have received greater recognition and been more received in those Churches which had a Higher form of liturgy; but I stress that I have always maintained a belief in the full authority of Scripture.

During the 1980s like many people with a love of the Bible, and a desire to see it preached faithfully, I was favourably impressed by Pope John Paul who appeared to be as evangelical as any other man. When he was succeeded by Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope, I felt here was a Church leader who had everything. A man ready to speak frankly, fearlessly, and positively; deeply evangelical, yet gracing with fine ceremonial, and ready to oppose all those who wished to see the Church adopt a soft line on moral issues, especially a tolerant attitude on sexual morality.

The Roman Church seemed to be in the ascendancy with these two men and fine Archbishops in Basil Hulme, Peter Smith, and Vincent Nichols, as against some of the indecisive Bishops in the Church of England. Now we are swinging back with the present Pope who would appear to be more of a public relations, headlines seeking person.

I am not impressed, as I suspect millions others are not, to read he likes to live in a small flat rather than at the Vatican palace; that he prefers to drive a clapped out old Renault rather then be driven in a luxury car; that he sneaks out in the night to hand money to the poor , etc etc etc. More especially that he is soft pedalling on traditional Catholic teaching.

What is most disturbing is to read newspaper adulation by the words he is the religious equivalent of Obama. That must terrify the faithful. The last thing the Christian world needs is a disaster.

Monday 9 December 2013

Mark 1
Mark begins his gospel with the words, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." At the beginning of creation, as Adam and Eve sinned, God was already speaking of the coming of the One who would save men from their sins, and in the Old Testament God spoke of the One who would come as the forerunner, John the Baptist.

So, as Mark's Gospel opens, John the Baptist is there to prepare the way so that the people would be ready to receive Jesus. He was a voice crying in the wilderness. This is where God sent him to preach and many went out to hear him. They went because of the message which was being preached which had a significant effect on them.

John spoke in a way that touched their hearts. Within all of us there is a conscience which is often dulled and needs reawakening. In their hearts people know they are sinners and it weighs on their minds.
What is sad is that in today’s world no one is supposed to be made to feel guilty. There is a distinct lack in the preaching of the Church to point out the consequences of sin lest we upset people. We have got to a stage where there are no absolutes, as long as one feels something is right, that is all that matters.
As a result, many in our day fix the blame on someone else for their behaviour. Now, while there may have been someone else involved, the fact remains that you are still responsible before God.

So whilst the Church now is reluctant to speak of sin lest it upsets people, John proved the opposite effect is true. People went miles just to hear him tell them words that would enable him to touch something in their hearts and minds. They were able to confess and have peace of mind.

When Billy Graham first came to England, many pompous clergy were derisive before they had even heard him speak. Whilst they were preaching to small numbers of people in sweet soporific tones, Billy was speaking before crowds of many thousands ranging from 20 to 60 thousands, with overflow meetings in theatres and church halls. He was never reluctant to tell them they were sinners and needed to turn to Christ. When people think of great evangelists, Billy Graham is often the name which comes to mind.

Just as did John there was a conviction of sin combined with a message of hope which offered relief. If the Church is content in observing state law assiduously and declining to speak of judgement, which determines heaven or hell, then it becomes little more than a social club with a spiritual flavour. We need to have more teaching based on the Bible rather than that identical to some social based magazine.

Then John called them to publicly acknowledge their repentance by baptism. Baptism at that time symbolised the washing away of the past and the beginning of a new life. This was performed when someone confirmed their faith repented and promised to lead a new life. It was not the frivolous act performed in too many churches where it is mainly children being baptised, which is in fact just the prelude to a party, and where the parents of children are not required to make any commitment other than just say the words on the service sheet.

John was the forerunner for Christ pointing to Jesus as the Messiah, the One who would come and baptise with the Holy Spirit, but his message can mean as much to today’s generation as it did to the people of his day.