Friday 26 December 2014

Luke 2 v 21-40

In this passage we see Jesus undergoing three ancient Jewish ceremonies.This part of the Christmas story is essentially Jewish from beginning to the end. There is something illogical in many people today which doesn't want to recognise anything Jewish and ignores the fact Jesus was a Jew.

First, like every Jewish boy Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after birth. This was the only ceremony that could be carried out on the Sabbath it was deemed to be so sacred. The boy also got his name on that day. Today when most of the world seems to be anti-Jewish, Christians should bear well in mind that Jesus was a Jew, born of a Jewish woman, we worship the God of Israel, and we revere a Bible written by Jewish men. If Jesus had not gone through this ceremony He could not have been accepted in the line of David.

The name of Jesus was given by special command of God meaning Saviour, so we know Him as one to deliver us from sin and evil. He had submitted to this ancient ceremony although it was no strictly necessary as the Son of God, which should encourage us to make sacrifices and perform tasks readily in the service of God

The second act related to Jesus being the first born son, which made Him sacred to God. According to Jewish custom the parents could buy back their son for the price of five shekels which had to be paid to the priests within 31 days after birth.

This ritual was to remind the Jews that one night when the Israelites were in Egypt and all the little boys were slain, the Jewish children were spared. Mary and Joseph publicly consecrated their child.

There was also the ceremony of purification of Mary. When a woman bore a son she had to wait 40 days before she could rejoin in worship, and 80 days if her child was a girl. When she returned a woman was obliged to take to the Temple a lamb and young pigeon as an offering, but if she was poor and could not afford such just two pigeons. The fact that Mary took the poorer offering indicates the home in which Jesus was brought up in was not a luxurious one.

For a period of 450 years in Jewish history God did not speak to his people. God had promised his prophet Malachi that he would come personally into the world by a Messiah who would bring about salvation and judgement, preceded by a messenger who would prepare the way for him. For all that time the people of God had been waiting for this promised Messiah who would bring judgement and salvation into the world, who would destroy God's enemies and who saw their rightful place in the world as supreme and would one day be realised by another king like David who would attain world supremacy

We meet two older people, a man named Simeon and a woman Anna. Simeon believed things had to be left in God’s hands and God had through the Holy Spirit given him assurance that before he died he would see God’s own appointed one. There was therefore excitement in Simeon's soul when he heard that promise that he would actually witness this great coming. After all those years of silence, at last the promise was going to come true.

When he saw Jesus, he knew that time had come, and he was ready to depart in peace. So we heard him recite the words which have been sung in Anglican Churches through the centuries at Evening services, in which he praised God and foresaw Jesus to be the light of the world.

But, Simeon finishes with some disturbing words. This marvellous salvation through Jesus had a dark side. There will be many who will not accept and follow Jesus; there will be a falling as well as a rising of many in Israel. Jesus will be a sign of division and will be spoken against. He will cause division and conflict; decisions will have to be made for him or against him.

Anna too had been waiting. She was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. When she saw the holy family, at that very moment she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke shows us there is a place for everyone in God’s Kingdom. Older people able to wait on the Lord; a young woman having a baby to dedicate to God; a husband going to Church with his wife (Not a very common sight now); every person having a role to play.
So in this story we have read that Jesus was born into this world as a baby, offered to God as a child, grew into manhood and faced all the emotions of human life and able to empathise with us in every aspect of life. And tells us He was the true Messiah who would one day give His life in a cruel death that we may be made righteous in Gods sight.

Friday 19 December 2014

Luke 1 v 26/38
If this gospel message was told as a story in one of our daily newspapers, and so posted on their website, it would receive numerous scornful mocking comments, questioning as to why anyone would believe it. In fairness, if a daughter or friend came and told you she was pregnant but had not been intimate with a man, you would reasonably think she was mad or trying to cover up a moral lapse.

Such was the situation experienced by a young Jewish girl in a remote Israeli village, risking disgrace and shame and also the loss of her fiancée. It has to be accepted that the birth of Jesus was unique. God took the initiative, and Jesus was born of a virgin, such is a basic doctrine of the Church,

But such was the faith and courage of that young woman that she trusted God, and so became the most famous woman in all history, the most blessed of women. The Roman Catholic Church has tended to make rather too much of Mary whilst the Protestant Churches have made too little.

Is it not amazing how peoples’ minds reason. Thousands say they will not believe what they cannot understand. If I should go out on to the car park of this Church and take out a little plastic box, and press a combination of 13 numbers, within seconds I would be speaking to my son in Hong Kong. Yet if I wished to speak face to face, it would take a journey of 13 hours to do so.

I can’t explain how this can happen, and I doubt there is anyone I know who could explain, we take mobile phones for granted. We watch events as they happen from across the world in a box in our homes and take it for granted. Who can explain how a brown cow, which eats green grass, produces white milk, and yellow butter, yet we eat and drink both. Why on earth if we can accept all the marvels of man, we cannot accept the miracles of God.

This causes me to turn with you to verse 37 of this morning’s passage, ‘for nothing is impossible with God’. Our minds are not meant to understand all the miracles and mighty deeds of the Lord; the Cross and atonement; the resurrection; the power of the Holy Spirit. We may not understand the virginal conception, but we accept all these by faith.

Mary did not doubt what the angel told her, she was just puzzled, as she might be, as to how this would happen. It was as if the angel was saying ‘Mary you are thinking as a human being and humanly you are right, but this is God at work and He shall come upon you with the power of the Holy Spirit, for nothing is impossible for God’.

Nobody chooses to be born, it just happens to us, but with Jesus He chose to come here. His mother had Him born in lowly circumstances, was visited by shepherds, had the angels sing Gloria in excelsis, and heard Simeon warn her of a sword which would pierce her heart.

The whole purpose of Jesus coming here was to act as a substitute for our sin, and to do so would face a painful crucifixion, something rejected by so many people for whom all Christmas means is an orgy of feasting and riotous behaviour.

I read about a party of tourists being taken around Westminster Abbey and they stopped by a beautiful stained glass window which the guide had led them to. As they stared in silence an American lady asked, ‘has anyone been saved in this Church lately?’ The guide drew himself up to his full height and replied, ‘Madam, this is a Cathedral’. But the lady was right, the function and mission of the Church, whether it be a Cathedral or small chapel, is to bring people to salvation.

We have 580 members in General Synod, costing the Church far too much money, debating issues for which Scripture has already given answers, rather than trying to devise means of halting the exodus of people. It is like arguing which is the best room in the house when the whole house is on fire. The primary aim is to put the fire out never mind the furniture.

We need to teach that God made us for a purpose, and we have turned our backs on Him who gave us Jesus to be born and live on this earth, and eventually to die to save us. There is the tendency to ask how an event which occurred over 2000 years ago in a country across the world can affect us now. The answer is that God acted and still acts in our lives by the Holy Spirit. We need Christ as a Saviour.

We all have a choice. We can refuse to believe, or react like Mary who although she could not understand when told of God’s purpose for her replied, ‘behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to your Word’. That is the question for you to-day. To accept, and yield yourself.
We talk glibly about peace, often implying a lack of combat. It is all very well to talk of love and applying a social gospel to the problems of life. Politicians and social workers have been putting forth their lofty aims and to consider their effect, look at the broken homes, the bribery corruption drug dealing and divorce.

God’s meaning of peace is a solid one joining ourselves to Him. God reaches out to us whose love makes Him forgive us and mercy is boundless. It is God who takes the initiative as He did when He chose Abraham, who inspired Isaac and Jacob and founded the nation of Israel.

This is why we should have concern for the nation of Israel from which all our teaching emanates. We worship the God of Israel; we worship a Jewish Saviour; born of a Jewish woman; and are taught from a book written (under the inspiration of God) by Jewish writers. One day Jesus will return to there.

The Israelites constantly sinned and strayed away from God but He still looked after them, fed and clothed them, protected and revealed Himself to them. The Old Testament is the history of the Israelites resisting God’s will and the New Testament shows God cannot be limited. It was |God who sent His Son to prepare the great salvation after His prophets were rejected; it was God who raised His Son from the dead; God who gave teaching on how we should live and respond to Him.

If our Lord was to return now would He be happy about the religious teaching. Would He wonder why we Christians treat our faith in such casual manner rather than the aggressive evangelism of other faiths?

There is often a reluctance by clergy to speak out for fear of offending people. It is true to say Christian preachers tend to modify teaching of traditional values to appeal to contemporary thinking. All this causes a problem for parish priests, and especially for itinerant preachers like me.

In effect there are three options open to preachers
One is to avoid all contentious issues.
2 To go with the flow.
3 To be true to Scripture.
We all want to please and satisfy our audience, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to cause offence. But if preachers are to be true to their calling, and preach with integrity and honour, there are times when I suppose some people may be upset. If that happen that is sad. But perhaps you may see we are not here to that be like a spiritual dispenser giving out soothing word potions, but rather to make people think out Scripture.

Saturday 13 December 2014

John the Baptist
Sunday next is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, and the theme is on John the Baptist. We do in fact honour John on the 24th June and on that day in Spain, which is still largely a Catholic country, they do so in style with ceremonial processions through the streets. John was a very special character in the Bible, being described by Jesus as ‘one of whom there being none greater.’

A period of 400 years elapsed between the Old and New Testaments and John acted as a bridge between the prophecies of the Old Testament and the coming of the Messiah. God chose John to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus.
John attracted huge crowds to see and hear him; they came from all directions, North and South, East and West. They came from all levels of society

He was a fearless preacher giving a message of confession and repentance, and did so in the most direct way accusing them of being a brood of vipers, and told them there was a wrath to come. Most preachers would rejoice in being able to emulate his appeal, although they would hesitate the language he used in today’s atmosphere where the least criticism raises accusations of phobia or bigotry.

Because of his successful appeal to people a delegation of priests was sent out to find out if he was acting in an orthodox manner. The Jews believed, and were proud of the fact, that they were God’s chosen people and He would one day send a Messiah who would be a great national leader who would lead them to world conquest. It was also believed that prior to the Messiah coming Elijah the great Old Testament prophet would come back to herald the Messiah’s coming.

The priests wanted to see who John actually was. When John spoke of baptism it was not the meaningless kind that is sometimes practised in churches today and I will explain in detail subsequently what I mean by that. Baptism was a symbol of admittance into the Christian faith, taken by someone who had come to need a personal Saviour in the person of Jesus Christ, who they would take into their hearts and lives and live according to His teaching.

John wasn’t concerned with numbers or adding to some Church roll, he wanted genuine commitments. The Bible is clear in all four gospels that the Christian life involved repentance and the following of a new way of life. If we analyse our lives we will find there are things we have said and done and sincerely wish we hadn’t, but there is nothing we can now do except pray that God will forgive us, and that others will accept our flaws.

The place where John ministered was way out in the wilderness a bleak and desolate place, living off the land, getting his clothing from wild camel and food from whatever grew there. There is a wilderness in many people’s hearts.

John calls us to a new life in Jesus Christ and it was with such a desire that people sought out John. Jesus can come to us in very different ways. It may be through a poster we noticed, which is why we need well thought out poster displays which will catch people’s eyes and strike them and they ought to be relevant. Thousands have been led to Christ through reading posters placed on the London tube system by the London Christian Mission. Other people have been influenced by the words of a preacher, but the most telling witness is that of other Christians drawing in others by their way of life.

It is possible to become so engaged in religious activity dressing ourselves with religion without changing our hearts. We Christians need to be more aggressive about our faith and be prepared to act and rebel as other faiths do when bloated bureaucrats try to stifle expression.

We are now approaching Christmas and the secularisation of it is almost complete, which is why all who hold the Christian faith dear must be prepared to support Christian worship. Advent is a time when we come out of the wilderness and be inspired by the ministry of John the Baptist.
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Friday 5 December 2014

(reading 2 Timothy 3 v16 to 4 v8)

For centuries the Second Sunday in Advent was designated as ‘Bible Sunday’, when we particularly thank God for the gift of His Holy Word, something we should do every Sunday, but on this day we particularly direct our minds to the Bible and consider how it can help us on our spiritual journey.

In their disregard for the Bible, the Church establishment some years ago decided to move Bible Sunday to the last Sunday in October, when in fact and practice it became optional as to whether the day was observed as such or the normal Lectionary readings applied.

We should be ready to turn to it and study it more, not less. For most Christians I fear Bible reading is confined to someone else reading it in the service.

The Bible states, ‘all Scripture is inspired by God’. There is no pick and mix option. Biblical integrity demands you accept what is written, and not choose just those parts that fit in with your own desires.

There are 66 books in the Bible, 39 of which are in the Old Testament and 27 in the New, written by 40 men all but one being Jewish. God used their individual personalities to communicate His words, and none of them would claim it was any thoughts of their own. God wants us to understand and know Him and the only way we can do that is by Him telling us, which He does in this book.

Many people say they cannot understand much of the Bible. We must first realise it does not solve every problem we have in life, nor answer all the questions we would like to ask. Some things remain a mystery which God has chosen not to reveal this side of heaven.

When Billy Graham, the most successful preacher of all time, was starting out in ministry, he was troubled as to whether the Bible really was God’s Word or man’s idea. There were passages he could not understand. He was so concerned he went up into the mountains near his North Carolina home and read and re-read his King James Version of the Bible, then turned to God and said, ‘I have seen enough of your transforming ability in this Word to know you are behind it. I know there are many questions I do not understand, but I take it by faith that it is your Word and will preach it as your Word and trust you.’ The rest is history. He always encouraged people to take their Bibles with them to his crusades and meetings.

The Bible is in fact a collection of books with different styles, all written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is history, poetry, prophecy, as Paul here states, ‘to instruct unto salvation’.

The Bible is essentially a book of salvation. It unfolds the divine plan of God, who having created us in His image, and we having fallen away through disobedience, so placing ourselves under His judgement, can now be forgiven by the coming of Christ to die on the Cross.

The whole Bible focuses on the coming of Christ, after prophet after prophet in the Old Testament foretold His coming.

The Bible is given to teach us and guide us in the way God wants us to live. This is a very stressful world in which we live. In this post Christian age when most people under the age of 40 have little if any knowledge of the Christian faith or Church, the aim of many public officials is to erase Christianity from public life in which no mention or expression of the faith is allowed. To compound this, senior clergy in the Churches are openly advocating certain parts of Scripture which condemn some forms of modern living should be ignored, and some Christians are swept away by the tide of opposition.

In some intellectual and academic circles, the Bible is seen as some form of hate literature, and this is being taught in schools, colleges and universities, simply because it doesn’t fit in with some modern thought.

Paul feared that Timothy, young and timid man, was in danger of yielding to the anti-Christian pressure facing him. His message to Timothy, and applies to us, is to stand firm even if it means standing alone. Don’t weaken under pressure.

Timothy was brought up in a Jewish background and so was taught the Scriptures from an early age by his mother and grandmother. It was customary for Jewish boys to be taught the Scriptures from age five. Whilst these would be the Old Testament, he had also been taught by Paul and Peter, who between them had written most of the New Testament, so he would in fact have virtually the whole Bible as we know it in his knowledge.

There is a great tragedy in the fact that children are growing up here without ever hearing the stories of Jesus or the main biblical characters, as parents do not have the time, inclination or knowledge to help them. Take that in addition to the omission of religious teaching in (state) schools, and a great part of their education is missing.

Compare the situation in other faiths’ homes. Muslim children are faithfully taught the Koran and will never allow their holy book to be abused in the way our Bible is. Similarly in Jewish homes, where children again are taught about Judaism and made to learn the Ten Commandments.

The argument that because the Bible was written so many years ago we can look at it with a different approach to the present day, doesn’t hold. God was not just the God of the first century, but for all time. So is His Word.

The Bible gives us access to the mind of God. The more we read the more we will know God’s intention for us. Just as you spend more time in a person’s company you get to know them better, so as you spend time with God through His Word, the better you will know Him. For in the Bible God speaks His mind.

Now we come to Chapter 4, with verses which are so relevant to our time. Paul having stressed the importance of the Scriptures tells Timothy to go and preach them.

Paul shows the unseen realities before which every Christian lives. Like Timothy we find ourselves in a minority situation, where the majority do not believe and live lives which are often steeped in immorality and unworthiness.

If we were to be fair and honest, we would have to admit there is so much in today’s society which leaves much to be desired. The state of the world proves all the Bible has taught. Too often we feel we cannot speak out with any impact and can do nothing to stop the onrushing tide. Our voice is a whisper amongst the tumult of voices against us.

We can trace the link between moral decline and the rejection of the authority of Scripture. The Bible says, ‘in the last days perilous times shall come for men will be lovers of their own selves, unholy, without natural affection, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God ‘ people will not put up with sound doctrine, but instead will find those who will say what pleases them, and will turn away from those who teach the truth.’

Paul says they will cover their ears to that which they do not like to admit, and refuse to restrain their passions. They have itching ear disease which they want someone to scratch

If preachers were to so preach the Bible faithfully, Churches would be emptier than they are now. Society has forced a morality upon us, which people in and out of the Church have been ready to accept, and which the Church nationally was never ready to combat, but instead let it grow, a sort of attitude if you can’t beat them join them adage

Today preaching is being devalued. If we truly believe Christianity is all we claim it to be, we should boldly preach it. The Bible states, ‘we do not have a spirit of timidity.’

All this causes a problem for parish priests, and especially for visiting preachers. We face a problem; and none more so than those of us who want to be true to Scripture, when not everyone is prepared to accept what is written. I personally have been told by one Vicar that she would rather I did not take services in her Church as she didn’t think the Bible should be taken literally.

In effect there are three options open to preachers
One is to avoid all contentious issues.
2 To go with the flow.
3 To be true to Scripture.

We all want to please and satisfy our audience, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to cause offence. But if preachers are to be true to their calling, and preach with integrity and honour, there are times when I suppose some people may be upset. If, sadly, that happens, there must be doubt in your mind about the way you are living.

The lowering of standards and rise of lawlessness and promiscuity, combined with lack of authority from the pulpits, has caused the average person to think the Church is out of date and the Christian message irrelevant, which is why they live without any reference to God or any thought of eternity. Few believe in the reality of heaven and hell.

So these verses are descriptive of our day, of a society which will 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 principles of their own.

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.

Within each one of us there is a need for things which money can’t buy, and desires which we cannot express. 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. We all need stability anchored in the Word of God.

Friday 28 November 2014

This coming Sunday 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.

The Bible warns 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.

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 and without warning, leaving no place or time for hiding.

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.

Thursday 20 November 2014

Two recent reports have suggested the demise of the Church of England is foreseeable; one reckons in twenty years, the other in six. The Methodist Church is similarly assessed, A radical re-think and some initiatives are called for.

One commentator discussing the reports has called for the Church to go to the public rather than the other way round, and have bible studies and prayer meetings in pubs and clubs. The mind boggles. Can you imagine going into a pub in Liverpool, or other town or city for that matter, and trying to have a bible study. I guarantee the idea would not be taken up again.

Another commentator added the unhelpful comment that church services are not the important part of the Christian faith.

I believe Church services are a vital part of the Christian faith. We have had Messy Church gatherings; café services and services in Asda stores, and whilst the initiatives are worthy and well meant, they just do not bring lasting commitment, if in fact any.

People expecting, and more importantly wanting, spiritual nourishment expect to find it in a Church, that is after all why the Church exists. But if we examine why the Church is falling apart, it is not hard to see. Many services are casually put together because something has to be offered, they are poorly constructed and are lifeless.

In a desperate attempt to maintain services in every parish Church we have put several churches together where one Vicar or Minister has to be responsible for. I remember when I was in training I was with a Vicar who had three Churches which he was expected to attend on a Sunday morning, dashing from one to another. I was supposed to take the sermon and when I asked how long I should speak for, I was told just two or three minutes.

Scattered around the country there are evangelical Churches which do offer wonderful acts of worship. There are also High Churches with glorious ceremony, each ministering to large congregations, but this is only due to serious effort and attention.

The Methodist Church has a glorious history but the belief in itinerant ministry in today’s culture is leading to confusion. I may go to a Church one Sunday and preach a conservative sermon with strict fidelity to Scripture, (in the Methodist tradition) and the following week another preacher will take a liberal line and find what the Bible says unacceptable; in fact it has happened. When there are so many clergy who just will not accept the authority of Scripture it leaves people in the congregations bewildered.

A recent poll suggested 16% of clergy in the Church of England don’t even believe in God!! I am sure the Church of England is not an exception. Let us be honest in equal desperation we have appointed men (and now women) who are not in the profession not so much for reasons of belief, but rather career reasons or status.

We must accept we will never get a majority of people to attend Church, we never have even in the good old days, and Jesus only foresaw one I four responding. But I have enough faith to believe that if we have services where the hymns have the right tunes, the readings are read by able people, and the sermons are based on Bible exposition, with faithful acceptance and communication of Scripture, we would see attendances rising and not falling.

It would also be helpful if certain men in the Church of England could keep their ideas to themselves and their mouths firmly closed, however frustrating to their egos. When a bishop can encourage other clergy to ignore the Church’s stance on same sex marriage, and when we have the majority of senior clergy openly rejoicing in acting against the teaching of Scripture, and so breaking off union with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, then we really are in trouble.

Is it not significant that the Eastern, Chinese, African and South American Churches, which are so loyal to the Bible, are growing in such large numbers?

Wednesday 12 November 2014

I want you to turn with me to Paul’s 1st Letter to the Thessalonian Church, which is the set Epistle for this Sunday.

In this 4th Chapter, Paul answers a question most people have asked at some time of their life, more so as they get older. What happens to me when I die? Here, Paul is responding to that problem which is disturbing this young Church. Paul had established this Church and most of the members had come from worshipping idols, but had become committed and devoted Christians. Paul had only three weeks with them before he was driven out of the city by opposing Jews, so had not had time to fully explain as much as he would have liked. They had been told about the death of Jesus and His resurrection, and how He would one day return and claim all His believers, but they were afraid that some of their members would die before Jesus returned and so miss being with Him in heaven.

In this passage before us, Paul deals with this important doctrine of the Church, one which is mentioned 300 times in the New Testament. Whilst it is a vitally important message which non believers should hear, it is also very desirable that Christians should hear and be reminded of, and reassured what the gospel states concerning our eternal future.
Paul begins by saying he does not wish us to be unaware of what happens to those who have fallen asleep. Here he is referring to Christians as asleep to make the point that they will awake from the grave when Christ returns. Paul states whilst we may grieve when we lose someone dear, which is in fact what Jesus did when His friend Lazarus died, we are not like unbelievers who have no future hope. When the Bible speaks of ‘hope’, it is not the vague meaning we might have when we say I hope you have a good day; it is something more positive. Christians do have the belief and expectation that whilst there is parting, there will be reunion with those we have lost for a while.

We have been considering our future so far as believers; what can we say to unbelievers.
I have been using the word ‘Christians’ in the biblical sense. Most people would like to call themselves Christians if they are not atheists or members of another faith; that is not how the Bible sees it. A Christian in the truest sense is someone who believes Jesus died on the Cross, and rose again. His death was the price He paid that our sins may be forgiven so that our relationship with God can be restored. His risen state is to assure us that we too will rise with Him, provided we accept Him as Lord and Saviour, and commit ourselves to live as God has shown us how, that is to be in the words of the Bible.

So if unbelievers have no hope, what is the consequence? People scoff at talk of the return of Christ and of a Day of Judgement. Such talk becomes the butt of their jokes and is dismissed out of hand. Later in our passage Paul states they will suffer wrath because they will have rejected the only means of escape for any of us, and that is Jesus. This is a sombre warning for us all and should make us concerned for those members of our families who have rejected Christ. It should make us want to do all we can to persuade them to turn with us to a Saving Lord. I have taken many funeral services over the past thirty years, and in every case there has been no doubt in the minds of the people attending the service that the deceased is going to be in heaven, but that is not how the Bible tells it.

The Bible is very clear that there will be a Day of Judgement, a day of accountability, a day when all the books will be opened, a day when all the wrongs will be righted, a day when justice will be done.
Jesus always made two distinctions. He spoke of tares and wheat; of sheep and goats in today’s gospel reading; of two roads, one leading to eternal life and the other to destruction. He spoke of heaven and hell in equal measure.

For many people today hell is a forbidden word in the religious sense. I was at a clergy meeting and at the Church there was a mural which had faded and when I asked why it had not been restored I was told by a fellow Minister that it depicted sinners being consigned to hell and he added, but we don’t preach about hell now do we. I answered that I did and he looked at me with complete horror. But Jesus did too; you can read His words in this book.

Jesus used different terms in which to describe hell, but simply it means just being separated eternally from God. It is strange that whilst people dispute any notion of hell as ridiculous they use the word constantly for all kinds of things and in all situations.

One of the great questions that people have to the Christian faith is, how can a loving God send people to hell. It is not that God does or wants to send anyone to hell; it is rather people choose that course by ignoring God and all He stands for. It may be something you have felt, you can’t understand how the Bible can teach that there is such a place.

The Bible teaches quite clearly that there will be a final Day of Judgement, a final day when we will be held accountable, and Jesus left us with a clear message of the alternatives.

In verse 15, Paul mentions having had a word from the Lord, something which the Lord revealed to him personally, so we may be assured that what Paul is telling us can be relied upon. Those who die are in conscious fellowship with Christ in the first stage, and will rise with Christ with new bodies when He returns.

I have never been to Hong Kong, but my son can tell me about it, because he has lived there. There is only one person who has died, experienced life after death, and is able to tell us about it, and that is Jesus. What he says we can rely on. He speaks the truth. Paul is one of the chosen spokesmen for the risen and ascended Christ.

After a funeral service people offer words of comfort to the bereaved; Paul is saying here we should do so, but as Christians, not in the same way, we can comfort one another with the assurance of a further meeting with the deceased. Of course we will grieve when those we love die and were separated from them, for now. But the nature of our grieving can and should be rather different from the hopeless grief of unbelieving people.

Having set out the future Paul then answers the question of when this will happen by pointing out that God in His wisdom does not reveal this. Therefore there will be no time for preparation .He says it will be like a thief who comes in the night unannounced, or like a woman delivering a baby; both events come on suddenly and can be painful. When Jesus returns it will be just the same, His coming will be sudden and painful for those not having believed in Him. It will be like the householder who gets burgled and has no insurance; he was intending to get cover but just didn’t get around to doing so. Families will be divided with one taken and one left, some destined to be with Him others not. Paul is not trying to frighten or threaten, he is actually reassuring believers who may be feeling insecure.

Paul talks about light and darkness with believers being children of light; we don’t live recklessly as unbelievers do, but we stay sober and awake. He uses the metaphor of being drunk and fallen asleep referring to unbelievers living in a dark world.
Drawing upon the Old Testament where the Lord is portrayed as a warrior wearing armour, so the Christian puts on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of salvation.

I realise this passage is one which can be a message which disturbs, and even distresses, but the doctrine
of judgement is one of the basic and fundamental doctrines of the Church and is put in the Bible to help and save us; it helps to explain some of the seeming unfairness in the world. If there was no doctrine of judgement, it would mean that we live in an unfair world, one in which the evil and guilty would have prospered, where there would be no distinction between goodness by the countless millions who served the Lord faithfully, often in much hardship, and the barbarism of men like Hitler and others like him. Heaven and hell are clear demonstrations that God is a just God.

The passage ends with words of encouragement. The Christian Church is a community of mutual comfort and Paul is urging them to give one another help in their anxieties with the fundamental truths of the gospel, that the Jesus who is coming again is the very same person who died and rose again. The supreme result of the death and resurrection of Jesus is to bring us into a personal union with Him, one which neither death, nor bereavement, nor judgement can ever destroy. So let us be comforted by these words; and let us try to bring to know Christ, those nearest and dearest to us, who have yet to find Him. We must let it be known no one is beyond redemption, and God will receive all who turn to Him who accept that Jesus died for them and their forgiveness.

Friday 7 November 2014

Sunday is Remembrance Day and services will be held to remember those men and women who gave their lives in the cause of freedom, and others who were badly wounded 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. The memories however do not fade as we recall how this nation stood alone on the brink when all seemed lost and there was talk of surrender. But God raised up a man (Winston Churchill) who would rally the nation to perform such heroic deeds.

Sadly so many young people do not and will not learn of this glorious chapter of our history, never having to endure the horrors and hardship of war. Such has been the parlous direction of education for so many years in (state) schools under a government which seemed to have no pride in our past, that children have little if any knowledge of what was achieved in order that they have all the privileges they now enjoy.

We think of those shot down over German skies; who perished on the beaches on D-Day; drowned on Atlantic convoys, or were brutally tortured under Japanese prison guards.

Now we have to add those who perished or have been injured, blown up on dusty Afghan roads; or Iraqi ones. This has been the most wasteful loss of life, as young men were sacrificed for a mission which never had any realistic hope of success. Iraq was once a secular nation in which Christians could worship freely, now this ancient Christian territory is being rid of Christians mercilessly. We went in on a false premise, and like virtually everything Tony Blair touched, it has ended up disastrously.

If a nation like Russia with all its might, and without being held to account for its actions, could not win in that country, we certainly could not when our army is answerable to strict human rights law, with greedy lawyers searching for cases to launch compensation claims on any grounds. Successive Prime Ministers have acted as if they had to have a war to fight, and if David Cameron had not been restrained by Parliament, we would have been engaged in Syria.

The present government got over excited about the so called ‘Arab Spring, lauding their progress and Cameron even went to celebrate in Libya with the rebels. We may have got rid of some tyrannical dictators along the way, but we have only succeeded in replacing them with even more tyrannical regimes who also hostile to the Western nations.
This should make us reflect of the sacrifices made with the hope that what they died for would be practised and honoured.

The world has largely rejected Christianity, without having anything to put in its place to combat the evils of the world. Yet in all walks of public life, even to the highest level of government; we have flagrant lying, deceit, corruption and unrestricted immorality, conduct which can only destroy. Anyone who speaks out is branded as being narrow minded. There has to be concern when so many in high public office cannot be relied upon to speak truth, and not make false expenses claims, and are now revealed to have destroyed all evidence against them

This nation was built on the solid foundation of God’s law, and its moral standard and values were based on Christian principles this was the basis of our legal system. Now, in the midst of the most serious economic and financial crisis a country can face, we have a Prime Minister whose most urgent priority is to oppose God’s law with a ‘passion’ to legalise same sex marriage. This violates God’s law and destroys centuries of tradition. We must look forward to having men and women holding high office who have a set of principles for the good of all rather than their own private ambitions. We need leaders who will accept 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. Our prayers must be for them and also reach out to their families in what must be anxious times. We should not subject them to scrutiny by those living in legal ivory towers in their every action, realising the tensions under which they live.

I spoke at a Veterans Day service, after the service I received a letter from a lady who wrote, ‘I grew up in the 20s and 30s in a free country with principles. We joined the forces because we thought we were fighting to preserve a way of life which other countries envied. We grew up in God fearing families. For a long time I have felt like a lonely voice crying in the wilderness. The only answer I have had is we have moved on. I feel as though I am losing my faith.’ I don’t believe she is a lone voice crying in the wilderness. I think there are many people in sympathy with her. I am sure there are many who would agree with her and such sentiments

Those veterans knew what counted in life as they fought for a safer world. The men on the fighting lines knew things had to get better. Many suffered great hardship in enemy prison camps; others were maimed for life; what would they 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?

Those making compensation claims for minor injuries? 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 or objecting.

Those men and women had a faith and belief for which they fought, and now we as Christians have to take over that fight. Legislation is being made, and has been made, with laws so distinctly contradictory to Christian teaching, with public officials so ready to try and erase Christianity from public life. Forty five case of discrimination against Christians are being pursued through the Courts. It is therefore intensely important, that we should positively let people know the true message, according to God’s Holy Word.

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.

There will be 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. Let us pray that those leading services will boldly proclaim the faithful gospel, casting aside all acknowledgement of political correctness, so that others mayto come to know the Lord Jesus.

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!’

We need a daring programme of revival, which God is challenging us to make. We within the Church need to ensure our services are always meaningful and encouraging. 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. All who treasure the Christian faith, and the memory of those who gave their lives to preserve a Christian heritage, must work and pray for a spiritual revival of the Christian Church.

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.

Soldiers refused service because they were in uniform

Wednesday 5 November 2014

I have just seen the morning’s papers and found the Republicans have done so well in the United States elections. Whilst it was widely forecast, it has now been proved how unpopular Barack Obama is as the nation’s President. I could never understand why the American public ever voted for him in the first place, he was obviously a political actor from the start with his staccato like phrases and dramatic pauses. America is a great country and has assumed (rightly) the role of leading the world’s freedom. Under Obama’s time it has lost a lot of its moral authority, as the world sees a leader who has no qualities of leadership.

Like Obama Mark 2 in Britain with his publicity obsession and the ever seeking photo opportunity, David Cameron has been an equal disaster, pouring money we haven’t got into countries which are engaging on pursuits we could never think of doing. We withhold financial aid to any country which penalises homosexual acts, yet take no action against those countries which sentence Christians to death for simply being Christian.

Whilst the prospect of the Labour Party winning next year’s election is a horrendous thought and prospect, at least there would be the satisfaction of seeing David Cameron looking for a new job.

Cameron has boasted of his pride in getting his passion for same sex marriage legalised, just as Barack Obama has done so in the United States. We have now witnessed what has happened there, should make Cameron do a little reflection and preparation for life after May next year.

Friday 17 October 2014

1 Thessalonians Chapter 1

This Letter of Paul which we are looking at this morning is thought to be the first of his thirteen New Testament Letters, and one which is very relevant to us to-day. We can learn from this small passage what the Bible teaches us is a successful Church, and what it means to be a Christian in the purest sense.

Paul had been on a mission with Silas and Timothy and chose to visit Thessalonica. This was a proud capital city of Macedonia with a large population, a fine harbour, and was a busy trade centre, strategically situated on the main highway between East and West across Europe. What happened there tended to happen along the way.

The three missionaries preached in the Synagogue for three weeks and converted a number of people, mostly Greeks but also Jews. Instigated by Jewish opponents, rioters attacked supporters of Paul, causing Paul Silas and Timothy to have to leave the city. Timothy was later sent back by Paul to review things and found the Christians were responding well, causing Paul to write two Letters to the Thessalonian Christians, of which this is the first one.

1 Thessalonians is one of the oldest books in the New Testament. Scholars date it at approximately 50-51 A.D., meaning that it was written only 18 years after Jesus’ life and death. This is the first of Paul’s thirteen Letters in the New Testament, and tells us why Christianity spread so far and fast, without all the modern means of communication we have, and why the Church was so successful.

Paul begins this Letter in a different manner from others in that he writes, ‘to the Church of the Thessalonians, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’. This is to show he recognises they are truly Christians, who have fully accepted God and Jesus Christ. It is a Church IN God, not a Church of God. They had listened to Paul, their minds were engaged. They were the church in God. They knew the Lord Jesus Christ. They had experienced the grace and peace of God. Paul prayed for them. He thanked God for them always.

Most of the believers at Thessalonica had come to Christ from idol-worshiping. Paul’s brief ministry resulted in a congregation made up mostly of converted Greeks, along with a few believing Jews.

Most people would think of a successful Church as one which had a large congregation, well financed, perhaps in a big building, but that could be a complete misconception. Here was a Church which started off with people new into the faith, but such was their commitment and enthusiasm, it made others want to join them.

Such was the vibrancy of their faith that it had spread widely and people were speaking of their devotion, their past practises were behind them. The result here was that the believers shared the good news widely through the area, telling what God had done for them. The friends of those believers began to ask questions about what had happened to make such a change in those believers’ lives.

Research has shown that the most successful form of evangelism is that of ordinary men and women Christians telling others of how Christianity has changed their lives

Paul commended them for the main element of a Christian life, faith love and hope. For a faith that works, a love which labours and a hope which endures. Faith is not merely belief, it is something that changes you, making you turn from what is wrong to that which is right; love which causes you to work for the gospel; and hope which makes you steadfast in the faith and enable to endure. This is the whole Christian life, which begins in faith, continues in love, and culminates in the hope of eternal life.

There is a story of a farming village which was desperate for rain to fall. They decided to have a prayer meeting to pray for rain and one young woman went to the meeting carrying an umbrella. That is faith.

So we may think of a successful Church as one where there is commitment, enthusiasm, and the teaching is that of that given by the Apostles, passed down to us in the New Testament.

Remember in Acts we are told how the Church grew as the people listened to the teaching of the Apostles. This is Christianity in its purest and rawest form, stripped of centuries of man influenced additions and ritual, which transformed the ancient world. This is how it was in the beginning. This is what makes a successful Church. It is not a religious club united by common interest; it is a people chosen by God, receiving power through Jesus Christ, who demonstrate this in faith. We all have to consider how deep our commitment is to Jesus Christ

God does not choose large Cathedrals to perform His plans, nor pick rich influential people. He chose a humble Jewish village girl to bear the Saviour of the world. None of the Apostles had a degree between them, they were ordinary working men. God acts when people respond to His Son. It can be in the smallest of Churches; God acts when people turn to Him

Now let us consider what we mean when we say a person is a Christian, in the Biblical sense.
For most people a Christian is someone who is not of another faith, or is an atheist; that is not the Bible’s definition. A Christian is someone who is a fully devoted follower of Jesus. You are not born a Christian nor are you a Christian simply because you were born into a Christian family, or in a Christian country. There must be a desire to become accepted by the Lord.
Paul tells the believers they had been chosen by God. . The Bible tells us that God knows the secret working of our hearts, and when He knows we are ready to acknowledge Him through Christ, by whom alone we can come to God, He by His amazing grace chooses and calls us into His family. God finds us before we find Him.

In order for a person to be converted two things must happen first—something from God’s side and then something from the human side; but God’s side must always come first.

Paul wrote, ‘our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction’. The Word was preached with the power of the Holy Spirit.

People come to know Jesus by various means when the Holy Spirit touches them. The most effective way is through preaching, although there are other ways such as someone close telling them of their own faith, or by a message on a poster, the London City Mission touched many by their message posters on the London underground, but the majority come to know the Lord by preaching

This why preachers should always endeavour to preach a gospel message, for more people are converted through listening to preachers than any other way. The Billy Graham meetings were evidence of this, as so many millions over his forty years of preaching became committed Christians. He spelled out plainly the consequences of rejecting Christ. Sadly now, too many preachers are afraid of upsetting congregations, but if people are upset, perhaps they should search their conscience lest the Lord is telling them something they don’t want to hear.

Preaching should not be on human opinion, or be a re-interpretation of the gospel to suit the time. That’s why we ought to pray for the preaching of the Word, that it might be accompanied with the power of the Spirit.
When the Word is based on Bible preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit, it produces deep conviction in the hearts of the hearers and people become convicted of their sin and their need for a Saviour, and accept Jesus as that Saviour who died on the Cross that they be forgiven of all sin.

There does however need to be a personal response. It happens that a sermon will be preached and one person, maybe more, will ne touched by the message of the sermon, but the rest of the con congregation will not. The reason for people to respond differently is one man hears words, while the other man hears the message. It is the Holy Spirit who takes human words in preaching and makes them alive inside the human heart.

I never know in advance who my sermons will touch. Sometimes I am told right away, but in other cases I have been told quite some time later of how I helped. I had a lady who attended my Church infrequently and one day she said to me I always feel you are getting at me when I come. I told her that as I could never foretell when she would come, and as I prepared my sermons in advance, it may be someone higher than me was getting to her. God does use men to speak on his behalf.

It is quite interesting to watch the Billy Graham Crusades where you see the different reactions. Most people are listening intently whilst others look as if they wished it was all over. At the end of the meeting, thousands respond to the call to make a commitment, whilst similar numbers do not. The reason is that some are willing to have an open heart and let God speak to them, which He does through the preacher. This explains why some members of a family are Christians and others are not.

Jesus always warned that following Him would be costly and involve suffering. Such may be the mild kind of mockery or losing friends. It may lead to suspension from work or similar penalty when there is a government which does not want any opposition to its legislation, as we have seen in our own country. On the other had it may mean violence, imprisonment or even murder, in non Christian lands as we read of in Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt or other Middle Eastern lands.

These Thessalonian believers faced suffering for like us they lived in a culture which did not appreciate Christianity, but such was their faith and devotion that they triumphed and the Christian faith spread far and wide around them.
Paul who had suffered much in the gospel cause called on them to follow his example and be imitators of him, which they did. Many of us are inspired by people who leave a great impression upon us, and whilst we may not match up to their brilliance, we can benefit by following a similar path, and it is good to do so. A lot of young people imitate footballers or pop stars with dreams of becoming the X factor, neither of which materialise do them any good.

We all owe it as a duty and a privilege to be able to do something in the cause of evangelism in however small a way. This can be done by simply letting friends know you attend Church, ordering your life in a way which clearly demonstrates you are a Christian, and you don’t have to go to the other end of the earth to do so.

Remember Jesus told one man to go to his own town and tell what the Lord had done for him. We just start living for Christ in our daily lives to show others what a difference he makes. Having responded to Gods’ Word you live it on a daily basis and others will notice. Robert Louis Stevenson once said he lived opposite two Salvation Army people and it changed his life.
A Christian is a person whose changed life changes others, because of a commitment to be like Jesus and to follow him wherever he heads.

It is possible for people to come for Church for years, listening to the Bible being read, listening to preaching, singing devotional hymns, yet never opening hearts to God. You have to come with ears and mind open so God can enter your heart, and strive for the fruits of the Spirit, namely love, joy kindness peace and gentleness, faithfulness and self control. I have seen too many who have the opposite characters and do not reflect any credit on the Church.

So let us pray that we will always hear sound doctrine preached, and pray for the Holy Spirit to be upon us, and then we must depend on the Lord to give people the grace to respond with saving faith, and so that we may be true Christians worshipping in a successful Church.

Monday 6 October 2014

Anyone reading the week-end papers could have wondered if the Christian Church has gone made.

We have the story of a Catholic bishop who strayed from the dictate of his Church by having a normal relationship with a woman and has been obliged to resign his Office. Such refusal by the Catholic Church to accept priests may marry is indefensible to Scripture as we know the Apostle Peter, who was so close to Jesus, was married. Such edict is purely a Church one without any proper foundation.

We have the story of a bishop in the Church of England who has written a book (it states in the paper) who is advocating relationships, which are an offence against God, against the policy of his Archbishops and the Church, and wants to encourage same sex marriage, and for all homosexuals to declare their feelings. He even goes as far as alleging one in ten bishops as being homosexual.

The general public will not differentiate between denominations and will rather see it as the Christian Church uncertain as to what it believes. Mind you they would not be far wrong.

A person’s sexuality is a matter for them personally and as such they are not expected to be the source of criticism. Criticism is justified against those who practise or advocate same sex relationships, when holding a position within the Church which disapproves, thus reneging on one’s vows to acknowledge Scriptural teaching.

Even a person with half a brain can understand the Bible’s statements that homosexuality is against the will of God; the verses are unequivocal and cannot be misunderstood. (Lev.18v22;Romans 1.v27; Jude v7) Of course, if a person does not accept God's Word as authoritative none of this matters, but if not then one should not hold Office within the Church.

For a bishop to attempt to justify homosexuality on Scriptural grounds is shameful. If the bishop advocated the gospel as forcibly as he does homosexual rights, there would be a mini-revival in Buckinghamshire.

Unfortunately many people will think here is a bishop writing, so he must know what he is saying, and so accept his remarks. Those of us who aware of the bishop of Buckingham will consider him as a man of disloyalty, who has openly and strongly opposed his Church’s policy; a man of dishonour in that he must have taken vows to recognise the authority of Scripture both when being made a priest, (‘to be ready with all faithful diligence to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word’) and similarly later as a bishop, (‘same vow, plus ‘to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts and call upon God for the TRUE understanding of the same holy Scriptures’).

Those who love and cherish the Church look with anguish at the state of the Church today. There was a time when the Church was viewed as a respected and indeed holy institution, and the clergy were similarly treated with respect and reverence. Most of such attitudes have dissipated as the public read of Vicars engaging in unseemly pornography, and behaving in a way less seemly. We see Vicars with bright coloured shirts and earrings, and that is before we get to the women. We had dancing and rap music at one wedding (at least) and at another a man dressed as a cowboy.

Our services are meant to be holy; God said ‘be holy as I am holy’.

Is it any wonder numbers in the pews are falling when we cannot even have bishops being true to their calling?

However, let me end on a very positive note with a quote from a very distinguished cleric who was both Catholic and Evangelical in his ministry. Here is a quote from Pope Benedict

"In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection."

Wednesday 1 October 2014

America has the most beautiful national anthem, inspiring, emotional music and words, but how irrelevant the words are in the present politically correct society of modern America. The land of the so called free and the home of the brave seems to belong to another age.

The news reports of how Christians are harassed and prevented from declaring their faith in public, appear endless. A student was told that if he referred to God in his graduation address his microphone would be switched off. There have been similar stories of restrictions on Christians in various educational establishments.

The display of the Ten Commandments are banned from many public places as is the Cross, even one placed in remembrance of veterans, and a baker is threatened with legal action if he refused to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual couple on account of his religious beliefs. A highly respected business man is told he cannot supply goods to a charity because he made a religious remark to display his faith. There seems to be a plethora of left wing anti-Christian judges backing all this up.

The President could surely give more support to Christians in the same way he tried to enforce employers to provide free contraception for women employees, for abortion rights and same sex marriage.

I have much fondness for America and have admiration for some of their fine Churches which I watch on television. I have been disappointed at some of the Southern Baptist churches at their support for same sex marriage; I thought there was one denomination holding fast to Scripture.

Sunday 28 September 2014

2 Timithy 1v15/2v11

This Letter is one of two Paul wrote to Timothy, known as the Pastoral Epistles, and are as relevant to the Church to day as when they were given to Timothy, if not even more so,

Paul is nearing the end of his life, he is in a Roman prison, and has chosen Timothy to take over the mission he is ending. Paul was most concerned that impostors were entering the Church, just as they are now, people who have no real Christian conviction, who are not Christians in the true sense, and so give false teaching. They take up positions in the Church for personal reasons.

There had been an explosion of false teaching inside the church so Paul expressed concern that there were those within the Church, preachers who deviated from the gospel, threatening the purity and the life of the church. He speaks of teachers who no longer put up with sound doctrine, and that is very much what we find in the church today.

If you have been a Christian for some time you will know that wasn't only a problem in the early church. You will know that's exactly what we find in the church today. They say we live in the 21st century; we live in a modern, scientific age, as if God only intended to give His Word for the early age. They say, we need no longer accept Paul's teaching, and rather than God's word standing in judgement of us as it should, we stand in judgement of the Bible. Our final source of truth is no longer the Word of God.

When you buy a car or electrical instrument, you are given a manual which tells you what you must do (or not do) and if you fail to comply with the instructions the maker is absolved from any responsibility and you must pay the cost for your mistake. When God made the earth He gave us a manual, the Bible, which tells us the maker’s instructions for living. When we fail to comply we are responsible for the cost, but God in His amazing grace provided the payment for us through Jesus’ death on the Cross.

In the preceding Chapter, Paul is preparing Timothy giving him advice and encouragement. He reminds Timothy he has had a wonderful upbringing, having been instructed in the faith by his grandmother and mother, and he now has to rekindle that Spirit which has been laid in him having a sound Christian heritage.

I suspect many of us here this morning were brought up being told Bible stories, going to Sunday School. We have had the privilege and blessing of having a solid foundation. At school we had school assemblies and sang the lovely hymns. We may not have been 100% perfect in Bible knowledge, but we knew the basic requirements and the main stories and passages. Sadly so many have fallen away from the Church over the years, and even sadder is when someone has been a member of a Church and falls away, rarely it seems are they followed up to find out why they have left.

Children for some years have been deprived of this and have not the slightest knowledge of the Bible, this is in direct contrast to Muslim and Jewish children, and if it were not for the contribution of private schools a whole generation would be Christian illiterates. Successive governments have been more concerned with giving sex education rather than Christian.

Paul tells Timothy God gave a spirit of power and not timidity, and must not be so timid as to become ashamed of the gospel. This exhortation applies to us. How timid are we in declaring our faith; the fact we attend Church; the fact we deplore the moral slide of the nation. If we hide our Christianity it can only be because we are ashamed, we do not like friends criticising us. Jesus said he who fails to acknowledge me before men I will not acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.

There is a message to all Christians that we have to take a stand; to stand up and be counted. We have been saved by grace, and we have to pass it on.

Preachers have to declare the faith boldly. People want to hear those who speak with conviction, which is why so few have any faith in our political leaders. If you look at those leaders who spoke with conviction, they got support I don’t want to get deep into the political arena, but most people if honest would admit such a person was Margaret Thatcher. Even if you disagreed with her policies, you cannot deny she had conviction and was able to win three general elections handsomely. This is why so many people in Scotland supported Alex Salmond in the Scottish referendum, even if he was economical with the truth, and had little if any idea of economics

Even within the Church there is often the desire to move away from people with conviction. Some years ago a new Archbishop of Canterbury had to be appointed and the outstanding man was Graham Leonard, one with a firm faith and not afraid to speak it, but the man chosen was one known to sit on fences.

Paul gave a double exhortation, give sound teaching with the steadfast faith which Timothy had heard from him.. Steadfast faith is that which is not distorted or weakened, Sound teaching is that which is in accordance with what the Apostles gave and which Timothy heard from Paul. . He is saying sound teaching bring spiritual health whilst false teaching brings spiritual disease. We are an Apostolic Church in that our faith is based on the teaching of the Apostles. The Church of England and Roman Catholic Churches often refer to being Apostolic on account of the bishops being in direct line of succession from the Apostles, but I doubt that could be substantiated from the Bible.

Paul warned Timothy there would be suffering in the preaching of the gospel. Paul told how he had suffered much for the sake of the gospel and every Christian must be prepared to suffer in some way, it may be just a little annoyance and mockery from fellow works or friends, or more direct in being suspended from work for mentioning your faith or wearing a Cross. Of course if anyone is of ethnic faith they can be as open as they wish. This is why I recommend anyone who is looking to support a charity to consider Christian Concern, a legal centre which represents and defends Christians who suffer penalties for their faith. This is led by a lady barrister who is a Christian speaker and an inspiration to all who hear her.

Paul says, join me in suffering for the gospel by the power of God who called us. God calls all who are Christians and some respond when the Holy Spirit enters their heart. This is why two people may hear together a message being preached, one will respond whilst the other does not. God takes the initiative, and we decide to answer Him.

Paul demanded that doctrinal convictions must be taught in love with sincere belief. Timothy is to guard the gospel so that it is not damaged or lost, for there were those intent on corrupting the gospel and robbing the Church of that priceless treasure. This will require Timothy to be strong and able to resist pressure by those who wish to adapt the gospel to their own desires. We can surely appreciate what Paul meant as we have witnessed the gospel being adapted to meet the requirements of those in high places. There are bishops in the Church of England who openly challenge Scripture.

The lesson all through this Letter is that the gospel is good news of salvation; our duty is to communicate it using old ways and seeking new ones to make it known. We must not trim or eliminate those parts which jar on modern ears.

The primary reason we gather at church on Sunday is to learn about God and to grow closer to Him. Everything else is secondary. Knowing Christ, becoming like Christ, is what we are here for. This is achieved through the Word Of God

The bible should be the supreme court of the church, the final authority in deciding all controversies. Alas in the modern church that is not so. A church which rejects the teaching of the bible loses its authority.

People have a right to expect men speaking as Ministers of the Church to do so, based on the word of God and not expressing personal opinions or preferences. When Ministers substitute personal views for political rhetoric they are exceeding their remit. If we expect God to bless and build the Church, we must follow His guidelines.

Whilst Paul’s Letters to Timothy are an excellent guide for pastors, he was including advice for all Christians. He realised it takes courage to be a Christian in the world. You may be the only Christian in your family, amongst your friends or where you work, and things can become difficult for you. Some people find it difficult to be faithful to their faith, but Jesus always warned there was a cost in being a Christian.

Paul uses three examples as to how a Christian is to compare him/herself. They are a soldier, an athlete and a farmer. Each of those occupations requires sacrifice in terms of what one gets engaged in. Some actions in life will harm their fitness to carry out their tasks and a firm discipline is needed to devote oneself to the task set before them, with a determination to get things done well.

Similarly a Christian may have to give up some pursuits which compromise his/her faith, and have determination to see things through to the end.

You and I are called to be active in service to advance that work. Do not let anybody tell you that your life as a Christian does not count. It counts tremendously. It is the most significant thing taking place on this earth today, Glory in what God has called you to do, and be faithful to his command.

You know as well as I do that it's very tough to be a Christian. When you are the only Christian in your family, in your office, in your classroom, it's tough. It's tough to go against the flow, it's tough to swim upstream, it's tough to stand for gospel principles when everyone else is looking the other way. People who say that Christianity is a crutch - they have no idea what they are talking about, do they? It's tough to stand for Christ. It takes guts, it takes courage to stand for the gospel and for gospel truths and for principles. That's why we can only do so with God's help, with God's Spirit, with God's grace.

Come to church then, prepared to feast on sound doctrine. This combined with the work of God's Spirit, will not only transform you, but it will transform others as you seek to become one who faithfully accepts and practices the Word of God. Amen

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Phillippians 1 verses 1/11

Paul is writing to the Philippian Church to give encouragement and enable them to live their lives as a sort of heavenly colony amidst an unholy environment in an area we know as Macedonia. This Church was special to Paul in that this was the first Church he founded, and now he is writing to them from a prison cell.

He begins by expressing his gratitude to them and his affection for them, followed by praying their holiness would increase. Along with Timothy he gives the standard greeting of Christians at that time, grace and peace, and calls himself a servant.

Paul found joy in the Church, a theme which runs through the Letter despite the fact that it can be sometimes a heartache; which is the reality of any Church. The Church was his life as it has been mine for many years and I love the Church, and now without having the responsibilities of a parish, I have the added joy of going to so many lovely Churches.

Paul had visited Philippi some years before writing this Letter and had preached the gospel and brought many to faith in Christ Jesus. They had supported him financially and after a period had elapsed, had sent him another gift which caused this response.

We live in a far different world, but the essential doctrines of the Church are the same, which indicates that this Letter speaks clearly to us and we can learn from it what makes Christianity distinctive from other faiths.

The foundation for spiritual growth is to recognise that it is God who calls us, and spiritual progress depends on what God does. God is faithful and promises believers He will be with us until Jesus returns. Paul is confident that God is at work in their Church because He always finishes that which He creates.

There are times in a Church when you feel God at work, but this has to be recognised. Just as some people will go to a building site and see a mass of rubble, others will recognise a building under construction. We have to be conscious of God’s presence and respond.

In verses 7/8 Paul speaks of loving this Church and having it on his heart. He longs to see them and of all the Churches this was his particular one, the one he is most fond of, probably because it was his first founding Church.

I can understand his feelings. I now visit a lot of Churches, and whilst I enjoy going to all of them, there is one I love being placed at above all others. The reception I get probably appeals in a way it shouldn’t, and to be told how the people appreciate traditional Bible preaching makes all the preparation feel worthy, but most of all we believe in the same doctrines of faith.

Paul was passionate about gospel partners. There was a bond, and whilst he could have reminded them of many things, what excited him was their partnership in the gospel. There is one thing in coming to Church, and yet another to let the Church into your heart. Paul is telling us it is a whole hearted commitment to living and telling the truth; to have a 100% commitment to the work of fellowship in the family of the Church, and you give yourself fully.

Paul likened the Church to a body, when one part is hurt it is felt right through one’s system. We feel the same when a member of the Church acts in a way which is detrimental to the faith, for it rebounds on the wider Church. We have seen how one denomination behaves in a way which is contrary to Scripture and receives massive publicity, which is then attached to other more faithful Churches.

There is a call to see one another as a family related in a different way to our biological family. We may not have the same genes, but we have the same grace. We trust in Jesus, and His death on the Cross assures us we are sinners forgiven with a promise of eternal salvation.

In he final verses of this passage Paul tells them he is praying for them and for what is best for them. We should all do this for our own particular Church, and seek God’s will for us and not that of the most vociferous member.

It is difficult at this time with a shortage of preachers. A Church needs a consistent message which it cannot get if it is receiving a variety of preachers. One week there is a preacher with an evangelical message, the next week there is liable to be one with a totally different belief where the connection with Scripture is purely coincidental. This was a weakness Charles Wesley noted with an itinerant ministry.

Paul prays for an abounding love which can overflow to others. This does not mean sentimentalism or emotionalism. And also calls for excellence in the Church. A| Church should delight at being known as place where the gospel is boldly and faithfully preached. We should aim to have the kind of life depicted by Paul, and stand out in the world as place which has something special to offer, rather than a community centre with a religious flavour. Most of all we should avoid trying to imitate society and adopt its practices; the first Christians conquered just by being Christians. Unless we observe Biblical conditions we will never experience the blessings.

My God bless you and be with you. Be at Church on Sunday

Saturday 13 September 2014

I draw your attention to the words of the Collect.

‘Almighty God who called your Church to bear witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself; help us to proclaim the good news of your love, that all who hear it may be drawn to you, through Him who was lifted up on the Cross.
In this morning’s Epistles, the words of Paul are particularly relevant, be reconciled to God.’

We are living in a world which is hostile to Christians, materialism and hedonism are big factors in people’s lives, and God is seen as a restrictive force. But there is a need for a spiritual dimension in every person’s life, and the Church is the only body which can provide that need.

When God looks at our world He sees the hurt in people's lives, the misery they are going through. He sees all the hatred, violence and bitterness.

This is a troubled world; so many people with problems, financial, moral, domestic, spiritual, breakdowns. There are people in our towns and cities living lives isolated from family and friends, victims of broken marriages or romances, or just lonely people. Some have become prisoners of alcohol, drugs, or some other addiction and long to break free from that addiction and find freedom. The Bible gives a simple answer, turn to God

There can only be liberty and freedom when the Holy Spirit is present, and that means turning to God. There is a need for them, and indeed for all of us to turn to God.

There is a very widely held belief that everyone, irrespective of lifestyle, will end up in heaven when their life here is over. I have taken many hundreds of funerals over many years and I imagine barely 100 have been Church members. Yet in everyone, relatives have assured me their deceased will be in heaven. One lady told me her niece didn’t believe in God but was a lovely Christian girl. (I am still trying to work that one out) Another asked me not to make the service too religious.

There is no such thing as universal salvation. It is elementary theology that there would be no need for people to attend Church or have any religious belief if that were so. It is only as you accept the call and have a relationship with Jesus Christ, making Him your Lord and Saviour, that the benefits of His death are assured.

The Bible states that people turn away from God at their peril, and the greatest need to day is for reconciliation with God. Jesus Christ died on the Cross for that. He held out two arms, one reaching out to us, and the other reaching out to God to bring us closer together. His message was that all could be reconciled to God.
God seeks reconciliation, bringing together those separated for any reason. It is because we have turned away from God and decided to our own way that so many have become separated from Him. Nothing could be more sad than to be estranged from God who made us; but we have the assurance that God has found a means of reconciliation and it is our duty to declare it to those willing to hear.

In the Epistle today, Paul writes, ‘God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them’. This does not mean that God is not concerned about our sins; He knows that we cannot be free until something is done about them.

The Bible states we have all fallen short of the glory of God because we are sinners, but what God wants us clearly to understand is that our sins do not keep us from coming to him. We can come to God knowing we will be received and forgiven.

The New Testament never speaks of man seeking reconciliation with God, God is the One who takes the initiative and provides the means by which we can be reconciled by sending Jesus to the Cross to accept the punishment we deserve, so restoring our relationship with Him. That means that the cross of Jesus Christ was substitution. Christ stood in our in order that our sins were placed upon the head of Christ.

But we have a part to play. We have to respond to God’s call for repentance, which means to turn around and adopt a new way of living. It means putting God and Jesus first in our lives, to let God be God and not be forced out by other things. We may have to admit we have fallen short of what God expects from us. Only when we have submitted ourselves to Him will God grant us forgiveness and we will be reconciled to God.

The apostle Paul was very anxious that the truth of what God has done in reconciling us, His people unto Himself, through the work of Christ, be declared through preachers. This great fact, he says, must be proclaimed.
God has called on His Church to witness that He has reconciled the world to Himself and given us the privilege and responsibility to proclaim the gospel and it is important we do so because of the eternal consequences that depend on what we say; and let it be known that all who hear it may be drawn to Him because of the work of Christ upon the Cross.

The Church is the body of Christ and belief in the Church is essential. The doctrine of the Church however must be based on the teaching of the Apostles which has been passed down to us in the New Testament.

We have the awesome duty of bringing people back into a living relationship with God; that is what we are here for, to lead people to God. We are the hands, feet and mouth of God on earth. Jesus said He would build His Church and He meant He would do this through His followers.

Many of us here will remember when the Church was held in much greater respect that it commands today. It was seen as a place set apart from the ways of the world; a place seen as holy with something special to offer, something spiritual and supernatural. This is no longer the case, which means our task is much harder. We can only truly perform the task God has set us when we preach the doctrine handed down to us by the Apostles, and we have to be careful that we do not wander away from the true gospel in order to achieve the approval of society..

The Church at large in the Western nations has not been united in proclaiming the gospel as handed down by the Apostles, partly because it is something people do not want to hear, and partly because many preachers don’t want to tell it, fearing unpopularity, if in fact they really believe it themselves. I doubt you will hear many messages in the pulpits of our land such as you hearing

Some may say I am a good Church going person and this call to be reconciled is really for other people. If anyone thinks all Church going people are good, they are living in a world of make believe. People go to Church for various reasons, not all worthy; business advantage, giving a false appearance of being holy. I have seen Ministers driven from their Church by embittered people who were upset at not being given the attention they felt they deserved.

Charles and John Wesley were religious men, Ministers of the Church, but it was some years later when first Charles and a few days later John, after a meeting realised there had to be a complete realisation of salvation in Christ alone.

This is not just a call for so-called ‘bad people’. The Epistle calls on us all to come to God with all our hearts. But all this is done through the action of Jesus on the Cross.

The Bible states, ‘salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to man by which we must be saved’. Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.’

These are not welcome statements to make these days being seen as politically incorrect. It is more popular to say all religions lead to God and there is only one God, both of which are incorrect. They are false statements and not biblically correct. We worship the God of Israel, other faiths do not. Islam states God has no son, and worships Allah and would not recognise any God of Israel. So whilst we must accept other faiths and the fact that some good moral precepts are held, we cannot depart from Apostolic teaching.
There is only one way to God.

The Bible states, ‘ by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is a gift from God’ God is His gracious spirit had mercy on us and gave His Son as a sacrifice, so that all who believe on Him shall not perish but have eternal life. We have to accept there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation; we have to depend on Jesus for that. Our only hope of salvation is based on a total and whole hearted faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

The Cross is at the very heart of our faith, but not of any other faith, and it is all about judgement on human life which many may not like, but that should not stop us from preaching about it. There is a reluctance to speak of judgement; of heaven or hell, yet Jesus spoke about such 46 times.

The Cross makes a judgement upon human life. Jesus taught this when He gave the parables of the sheep and goats; the tares and wheat; of two roads, giving warning of our eternal future.

We cannot preach any credible message without the Cross being at the centre, it has been the standard for God’s people and the Church. The Cross is displayed outside and inside Churches to remind people of its importance.

There are people in our Churches who are dissatisfied with life and don’t know why this is. The reason is they are trying to please God and mankind, to serve God and the world at the same time. Their conscience tells them what they should do, but their mind is calling them to do something different.

Let us heed the words of Paul, be ye reconciled to God' May God bless you. Be at Church on Sundays.