Saturday 31 May 2014

OHN 17
It is the night before the Crucifixion. Jesus is with His Apostles at the Last Supper and is spending His last hours before going to the Cross.
In a few hours He will be dead so He is telling them He is going to leave them and they will be left to face life without Him. He then concludes with a prayer, which makes this one of the outstanding passages in the New Testament, telling His followers then, and by extension to those who follow Him through the ages, what they will have to face as Christians.
For Jesus, life was life with a climax and that was the Cross. When He spoke of the Cross as His glorification it had a deep significance. It is one of the facts of history again and again, that it was in death that some people’s greatness was recognised and they would never ever know how they influenced others.
I once took a funeral of a young man who virtually gave up his life by the way he lived, suffering from acute depression and a feeling of achieving nothing. Tributes were paid in the most sincere and outstanding words by men of his profession who went to considerable effort to do so, and it was sad to realise the young man never knew how much he was valued. We see this in the life of religious figures and in the world of music and art.
The Cross was the glory of Jesus because it was the completion of the work God had sent Him to do. God had given Him authority over every man and woman on earth; He had come to show the love of God and what He was prepared to suffer for mankind. In His glory He brings glory to God, and if He had not gone to the Cross, it would have meant His work was not completed; to stop short would have suggested there was a limit to that love. Jesus showed there was nothing the love of God was not prepared to do and suffer for us.
The Bible makes it clear that Jesus could have escaped the Cross by never going near Jerusalem. The Cross was proof that men could do their worst yet He could rise above their worst, and the Cross would not be the end, for the resurrection was to follow.
In verse 6, Jesus says ‘I have revealed you to those whom you have given me’. Jesus is here thinking of particularly of the Apostles with Him in the Upper Room; those who turned and followed Him in His ministry; those ‘kept the Word’, meaning they were obedient to the faith. But this also equates to all who would one day follow Him.
Then Jesus goes on to say He was not praying for the world, but for those who God had given Him. Jesus is teaching us that we are rescued from the world. The world means all who are opposed to God’s standards and way of life; those who live without reference to God.
This means there are two types of people in the world, which the gospel makes clear over and over again, those who are loyal and obedient to God and those who are not Jesus was always quite unequivocal, that we are either for Him or against Him, there is no neutrality or sitting on the fence. Jesus is firmly black or white in how you respond to Him
It is like being on a mountain top; you can keep to the laid down path and be safe, or make your own way which will likely end in disaster. Jesus spoke of two roads, one leading to eternal life, the other to destruction, so we have to decide our course in life.
Sometimes we feel buffeted by the storms of life, the stresses and strains, the problems of work and family, and personal relationships. We ask will I be strong enough to do the work God wants me to do. Jesus is praying here for all who believe in Him, and particularly for the difficulties to be faced.
In the Bible names mean not only how we are addressed, but also refer to people’s character. When Jesus says that God will protect us by the power of His Name, He means the power associated with God’s character that He will keep us and watch over us and guard us spiritually from falling from Him. The Bible makes it clear we need to obey the Word of God
In verse 11 Jesus prays that God will leave His disciples in the world and will protect them from the evil one, because like Him, they do not act to the world’s standards. He wants His disciples to be active in the world. God will rescue us from people who in rebellion are opposed to Him, but that does not mean we should gather in holy huddles out of contact from others, who need to hear about Jesus from us.
There are of course, religious orders who lock themselves away from the outside world. They are truly dedicated men and women who sincerely believe they are serving God. The kind of Christianity however, which shuts itself off in a monastery or convent, would not have seemed to Jesus to be Christianity at all. The kind of Christianity which finds the essence of the Christian life in prayer and meditation in a life secluded from the world, would have seemed to Jesus to be a sad version of the faith the He died to bring to people.
It was Jesus insistence to be in the hurly burly of life that we must live out our faith. Christianity was never meant to withdraw men and women from ordinary people. It does not release us from problems, but equips us to deal with them. It offers not always peace, but triumph.
Jesus is saying He wants His people to be in the midst of the world, mixing with non believers. Just as a lifeboat is of no use set permanently polished in a station, but is needed to go out and rescue people trapped in stormy seas, so we need to be rescuing those dear to us, trapped in the perils of life in this world. Jesus was saying His people are not meant to be little ships which stay in harbour, although it is much safer, that is not what ships are for, they are meant to be on the high seas.
Jesus prayed for the unity of His disciples, and that they would be one as He and His Father were one. There can be no divisions between Christians. If there are, the cause of Christianity is harmed and the prayer of Jesus is rejected. Jesus never considered different denominations which would be criticising one another, or considered one denomination could claim exclusive access. Jesus prayed we would be one, and there is no prayer of Jesus which has been so hindered from being answered by Christians
Jesus warned us of the hostility we face from a hostile world which hates Christians. If you find that hard to accept, just consider the violence, even murder, of Christians in Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia.
On a more subtle scale, in Australia and Canada; where Bible preaching is under threat, and proposals have been made to ban parts of Scripture.
You may say well this is England it can’t happen here. Consider scientists, intellectuals, to whom the Bible is a form of hate literature, arty types, who have shown their dislike and contempt for the Christian faith.
We have people like Richard Dawkins and Polly Toynbee showing quite manic attitude to Christianity. Now we have our faith under threat from politicians and public servants who want to ignore Christian festivals, ban Biblical teaching. ‘Christian Concern’, the organisation which legally represents Christians suffering from secular repression, has undertaken many cases.
The world hates biblical truth, and if you take a stand publicly for the truth of the gospel, you will not be popular and are likely to be called narrow minded at best, and a bigot at worst.
Finally Jesus prayed that His people would be made holy by the truth, set apart for a purpose, and have the character necessary for he task. If we are Christians set apart through the death of Christ we must go into the world with the Word of God.
Remember Jesus words and be encouraged, for He has told us that we are protected by the Word of God who gives us the strength to be the kind of people He longs for us to be.

Sunday 25 May 2014

I want to speak this morning on our Epistle, from Acts Chapter 2 verses 42-47. To think about the Church in general, without any reference being intended to any particular Church.
I was speaking with a fellow clergyman about the future of the Church in this country and he expressed his concern about his Church, which like so many others, had a congregation largely of the older age range, and inevitably there is a regular decrease through either death or illness, and not being replaced.

This of course is happening right across the country. I have taken 31 services in and around Bedford over the last few years and apart from five Churches, the congregations have numbered less than 25, and in two cases not even reaching double figures. This should be a worrying feature to all Christians, especially as the closing of Churches will inevitably increase.

These are dark days for the Church in this country. We live in a post-Christian age, in a society which largely rejects God and regards Church and Christianity as totally irrelevant to their lives. The world, and indeed even within the Church there are those who, see the Church standing for values it no longer considers acceptable. This makes it more important that we in the Church get things right, and we all have a part to play.
We are not helped by the actions of politicians, who make legislation which affects Christian beliefs; the judiciary who always rule against us in matters of conscience; and educationalists who fail to hold assemblies in schools.

There are however, still Churches attracting large congregations and a closer examination of their style of worship, usually evangelical, shows they are offering something which touches people.

I want us to consider, what are the marks of an active, committed Church? The reading follows on from Peter’s stirring sermon on the day of Pentecost where 3,000 people turned to Christ. We are told they then ‘devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles’.

The heart of the Christian faith is knowing God; not only knowing about God, but having Him as your God. In order to have this knowledge there has to be factual teaching, but we have false teaching and none teaching. For instance, a service was held in one of our country’s Cathedrals on Easter Sunday, a momentous day in the Church calendar, yet the sermon was on social justice and a critique of the English Defence League.
Jesus appointed twelve Apostles and taught them, then they went out and spread that teaching. We have that teaching at our disposal; it is called the New Testament. Jesus warned against false prophets who will reject fundamental doctrines and such can cause people to be misled and controversy to arise. We see the consequences in the way the Church of England (particularly but not exclusively) is in such disarray.

I think it fair to say that in some Churches there has been a turning away from the Apostles’ teaching. This is because people both within and out of Church life, want to adopt a way of living which is more consistent with contemporary culture than with Bible teaching.

I was told recently that cultures change and we should. Paul warned of this when he said people will turn away from sound doctrine, but he also called on preachers to preach the Word that God gave us.
Those early Christians were devoted, that means they were committed, no half-heartedness. They believed Jesus was Lord and they were blessed by the Holy Spirit. They wanted to learn and live the way Jesus had taught.

The Word of God must be the foundation of the Church and we must focus on Jesus Christ; that He was the Son of God, who came to earth to do the will of God, which was demonstrated by His words and actions; that He died a cruel death on the Cross so that the sins of all people may be forgiven by God because He paid the penalty, and all who accept Him as Lord and Saviour will earn eternal salvation.

Each Church if it is to be blessed by God, must be built around the Bible and have its teaching at the heart of the services. If it does not, we have nothing special to offer and we just become another social place with a religious touch. The Bible sees the Church as much more than a social organisation; it calls it the household of God and pillar of the truth, with a special place in God’s plan.

The second mark of a renewed Church is that it is a caring one. We share a relationship to God and to each other, based on a common spiritual life. God put us with a variety of people we may not ordinarily like, but God expects us to grow together. We are to care for one another, and when others need encouragement and support, we are to give it.

The Bible uses several names to describe God’s people, and the most powerful is that of a family. In families we are related to one another, a bond based on allegiance and fidelity. A family consist of
different ages, sexes, and it is God’s way of providing for His people to grow together. This is why we need to come and share in all the aspects of worship.

When visitors come we should make a special effort to welcome them. I have been in Churches where a visitor is looked upon as if they were an intruder venturing into a holy huddle. And each should try and relate to other members and not be like someone just driving on to a forecourt to fill up and then drive off as quickly as possible.

There are people who are looking for a biblical preaching ministry that relates the Word of God to the modern world, and where there is a loving, supportive, caring fellowship.

Thirdly, they were a committed Church.
They met regularly. There are those for whom the Church is a second choice. There are times in all our lives when personal situations arise which call for our attention, but for some Church will take second place in their list of priorities, something which Jesus Himself condemned.

It can be so easy to go with the flow and give up, which is why the Bible urges Christians to be together. Each year hundreds of people give up worship. There many reasons, pressures of the world, ridicule from friends, family trouble, and worst of all a bad experience at a church, all of which are expressly good reasons for going to church.

I know people have busy lives, but there are many men and women who do attend Church who have equally busy lives and yet manage to arrange their lives to enable them to come. Time can be found for other things, so it is all down to priority. Those first Christians were ordinary people just like you and me, with the same demands on their time, but their actions reflected their priorities.

Members of Islam don’t seem to have any problems attending worship. You need only stand outside a mosque and see how many men and women come out of their meetings. How can their lives be so different from Christians?

So what about you and me today? There is always the temptation on a Sunday morning to think ‘they will not miss me if I don’t go to Church.’ I am sure your fellow members will miss you, but more so, God will miss you. Don’t fall prey to the devil.

As we examine ourselves today, let us ask ourselves, ‘are we half hearted or wholehearted in our commitment to Christ?’ A tepid commitment is no commitment at all. We must ask ourselves how important our faith, God, and Jesus to us is. If you consider yourself a Christian and a believer, then failing to attend church is not an option.

The Bible repeatedly tells us that Church attendance is an essential for a Christian. It is necessary
for your spiritual well being, it pleases God as you obey the 4th Commandment. It shows our love and worship toward God. It demonstrates our faith and trust in God,

The great American evangelist D L Moody told the story of a young man who had fallen away, and as they sat round a coal fire, Moody knocked one of the coals into the hearth and it died out. He picked it up and put it back on the fire, and it glowed. He pointed out to the man that this is what happens when a Christian falls away from Church, they burn out

Fourthly they were a growing Church, their numbers increased rapidly. We must remember Christianity spread throughout the ancient world without any radio, television, or any means of mass communication. If we expect great things from God great things will happen.

If we today want to see the Church grow we have to be devoted to the task. When life gets hard for people they are more inclined to think of the Church and for a lot of people life has become very hard.

A major fault in the Church today is apathy. It is tempting for older people to say I won’t be here in X years so it is not my worry, which is to dismiss the young and prejudice their future.

There is also too ready an attitude to accept the situation as it exists. We don’t let people know exactly what the Church truly stands for. We allow the forces of secularism to overcome us.

We have an election in which the parties have posted through our doors letters telling us all the wonderful things they can offer. I believe the Church should be telling what we are doing as we have more to offer, and more truthful also In simple terms let people know we care, have good music, tell Bible stories in plain words and would really like to see them.

Business spends millions of pounds advertising and they wouldn’t advertise unless it paid off. Because of bills pushed through my letter box I think I know of every Indian restaurant in Bedford.
We are in the Lord’s business and should not be reluctant to advertise. In spite of living in a world of opposition, we must hold fast to the faith in which we believe and draw near to God with a sincere heart, and without compromising to those who would dilute our faith.

The messengers of Islam and other faiths are not ashamed or reluctant to boldly proclaim their message, nor will they allow their faiths to be abused, neither should we.

Let us take inspiration from those Christians who daily face terrible persecution of their faith in Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia, Pakistan, and many other Islamic countries, having their Churches and homes burned down, assaulted and imprisoned, and even murdered, but never give in or lose faith.

People have an image of indifference, ancient language and solemn music. It need not be any of that. We have wonderful music to choose from, and the most vibrant message that can be offered. We just need to proclaim it.
The closing verse of the passage tells of those early Christians praising God as He added to their numbers. Only God can add to our numbers. Jesus said He would build His Church, but He needs workers to help Him. If we offer reverent, dignified, joyful worship, with music people can relate to, God will reward our efforts

Believe His promise. Read the Scriptures, keep coming. Never give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, and let us always give each other encouragement

Friday 23 May 2014

John 14 v.12/21

In order to fully appreciate this gospel passage we must remember that Jesus is dining with His Apostles and knows He is about to face the Cross. He tells the Apostles that He was leaving them and though they would seek Him, they would not be able to find Him or come to Him. This revelation by Christ to His disciples devastated them. But then in this passage Jesus is continuing to speak to His disciples and is now telling them that in His place they will have help in the form of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus went on to explain to them that though He was leaving them He was leaving them in order to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house. And after He had done that He told them that He would return and take them back with Him. The good news for the men was that He would come back by means of the Spirit and would stay with them
In verse 12, Jesus told them that while they waited they would be doing the works that He had done and even greater works. This was proved when Peter preached his Pentecost sermon and 3,000 were converted as a result. This was more conversions at any one time than Jesus Himself had made.
Jesus goes on to say that praying in His name would make it possible. When we pray in the name of Jesus, it means that we want to obey Him, seeking of what He would approve, and wanting to pray as Jesus Himself would pray if He was with us. Jesus promised that if we ask Him for anything in His name, He will do it, for this will give praise to God His Father.
Jesus said, ‘if we love Him and obey Him, He will ask God to give us a Comforter, in other words help, and that help will be for all time.
Love is a word which can have a shallow meaning. Men and women swear they will love one another, but so often there is unfaithfulness, and in the same way Christians can say they love Jesus, then, by their way of living totally betray Him by their disobedience. Obedience means living our lives according to the teaching by Jesus, which we find in the pages of the New Testament. He makes the point that if we do truly love Him, we will have no difficulty in obeying Him.
Jesus tells His disciples when He leaves them they will not be alone for God will send another who will stay and never leave them. He refers to the Holy Spirit as the ‘Comforter’, and just as God sent Jesus, He is sending the Holy Spirit who will help them to do their mission in the same way as He did.
Jesus will be in heaven continually making intercession for them, from His seated position at the right hand of the throne of God, but they would also have the Holy Spirit right alongside of them in every situation that they would ever face, whether or not that situation was good or bad. The Spirit will lead us into all truth, and by truth we mean understanding the mind of God.
He indicates that the Holy Spirit is someone other than Himself, and is only given once and it is not a repeated experience. Some people have believed receiving the Spirit is like going with a car to a filling station and constantly topping up, but Jesus makes it clear this is not so, which Paul and Peter will stress in their Epistles.
Jesus tells His disciples they are to go on doing the things He commanded and the Holy Spirit will help them to do so
He goes on to say the Holy Spirit will live in them and will be in all Jesus’ followers for all time. When He returns to heaven to His Father, the Holy Spirit will take His place to
create a relationship with God, so uniting Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Trinity.
There has always been difficulty in people’s minds in understanding the person and work of the Holy Spirit. If asked most people would be able to say who God the Father was; who Jesus the Son was; but many would find themselves struggling to answer who God the Holy Spirit was. Often people describe the Holy Spirit as ‘it’, referring more to a form of power when in fact ‘He’ is the right word; Jesus clearly refers to Him’, in verse 17.
The word helper in the biblical sense literally means, ‘called to the side of.’ During His time here the Apostles had lived with Jesus and He had always been there to help them in every kind of situation and experience. He had been able to rejoice in the good times and comfort them in the bad.
As an example to those now faced with Christian teaching, He told them not always what they wanted to hear so much as what they needed to hear. And Jesus is now assuring them that even though He would not be there for them physically in the future as He had been there for them in the past, another helper was going to be supplied for them by His Father.
He reassures them that they will continue to see Him by means of the Spirit and even know Him more deeply after the experience of Pentecost. In the lives of many Christians there is a new spiritual experience after they have made a commitment to Christ, which is the gift of the Spirit.
Jesus said the world at large cannot receive the Holy Spirit. In today’s society God has little relevance, if any, in many people’s lives, and anyone so minded to exclude Him will not have that gift of the Spirit which God is graciously providing; that gift is only for the believers in Christ.
This is a motive for Christian believers to bring those they love to know Christ in the way they do, for belief is not something one inherits, it is decision time for all.
Through the amazing grace of God, the disciples had by faith come to experience the Spirit, but from thereon they would experience this much more because the Spirit would live with them. Jesus said after Pentecost they would know that He was in His Father, and they would be in Him.
Jesus was explaining that when we turn to Him we join a family, we become children of God, and Jesus works through us as try to serve Him.
Jesus said to them, "I will not abandon or leave you as orphans in a storm; I will come to you." In just a little while I will be gone from the world, but I will still be present with you. He did not mean His resurrection; He was speaking of coming to them in the person of the Holy Spirit who would indwell them
If we do not through disobedience or sin offend, then we will with the eyes of faith be able to see our resurrected Lord living in us and through us.
One of His disciples asked Him why He was only going to reveal Himself to them and not to the world at large. Jesus replied that He would only reveal Himself to those who loved Him. By that He meant those who would keep His commandments, and pray to Him, something unbelievers will not do. If anyone doesn’t obey Him they obviously cannot love Him.
Jesus says the gift cannot be for the world because it will not accept Him or seek to know Him. There appears a sustained attempt made by government, judiciary and educationalists to keep God out of life, although you are allowed to refer to Allah. You are not supposed to speak or mention the name of God unless in a profane manner, and whilst no credit is allowed to be given to God, He gets plenty of blame when any disaster occurs. In America it appears to be worse than here as their Civil Liberties Union seeks to exclude all religion from public life.
Once again Jesus is calling for full commitment on behalf of His followers, and by those words we must presume that love comes before obedience. A true Christian is one who has been drawn to Christ through a sincere desire to live as Jesus taught, and because of the sacrifice Jesus made. There are people who claim to be Christians for unworthy reasons; to advance business, to get in with the right set of people.
Some years ago it was learned that a very senior Officer in the Liverpool Police attended a Methodist Church in one part of the city. It amazed people how many policemen suddenly realised they were Methodists at heart.
At Pentecost the Church became born, a community of people who believed in Jesus Christ; people who belong to one family of God and to each other as well.
This tremendous event of the giving of the Holy Spirit, which saw eleven frightened men restrained from preaching, turn into new personalities strengthened to go forward boldly witnessing in Jerusalem and throughout the ancient world, has been followed over 2,000 years of human history. In that period men and women with brilliant minds, have been ready to forego the opportunity of earning large incomes in order to serve their Lord, often in the most primitive conditions. Such people do not do this without great motivation. Thus we can fully believe that Jesus knew what he was talking about when He said ‘you will do g

Monday 19 May 2014

On Thursday next the country has the choice of voting to elect members to serve in the European Parliament. This election does not usually attract many people but I hope it will do so this year. I personally hope the United Kingdom Independence Party sweep the board.

The manner in which the Press has attacked that party has been deplorable. Nigel Farage has been vilified for saying things which most people consider factual, but which the Press have so blatantly twisted to make him sound a militant racist, yet other even more established politicians have been far more outspoken.

For instance, Farage stated openly that Romanians were more likely to commit crime than other nationalities. He also said Germans were more likely to be accepted than Romanians. For this he was castigated in every paper I have seen, and James O’Brien from London Radio wrote an article in the Daily Mail criticising him for racial remarks. This is the same O’Brien who, when interviewing the Archbishop of Canterbury recently, called African people ‘less enlightened’ because they opposed same sex marriage.

The Attorney General referred to people coming from some countries where corruption is endemic; Jack Straw spoke of Pakistani men targeting white girls, both remarks accepted because they were generally considered to be true. Yet no campaign was waged against them.

The Daily Mail stated in 2013 that 27,000 Romanians had been detained for criminal offences. The same nationality has been criticised in the Sun newspaper and Daily Express.

I have always considered the Daily Mail a fine paper, but its recent vicious campaign against UKIP has been unworthy of such a prestigious newspaper.

At least when Nigel Farage speaks you can think he means what he says, which is more than you can with other leaders.

Think; David Cameron prior to his last election comment stated he had no intention of introducing same sex marriage. David Cameron promised a Consultation on the subject and totally ignored the result. Be a Conservative and vote UKIP.

Friday 16 May 2014

John 14 v1/6
Jesus was speaking to His disciples shortly before going to the Cross, teaching and giving guidance, and that same teaching is passed down for the benefit of all Christians throughout the ages.

Jesus is here telling His Apostles He was going to leave them for He was going on a journey He had to take alone. The Apostles were devastated at the thought. Perhaps you can imagine their feelings if you reflect on how people feel when a Minister they are happy with suddenly tells them that he is moving to another Church. This invariably causes sadness unless there is a poor relationship. I have experienced this on three occasions in ministry and it is hard to disassociate oneself completely

Peter is very concerned about His Lord’s departure and swore he would even lay down His life for Jesus. The exact opposite would be the case and Jesus told Him so.

Jesus said, ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’. The heart is the seat of all our emotions and when that is upset it affects thoughts and actions and causes personal disturbance. Jesus wanted to reassure them He was not forsaking them.

He told them they were to believe in Him as well as God. He was putting Himself alongside God and wanted them to trust Him

He said there were many rooms in His Father’s house, meaning there was room for all in heaven, and He was going to prepare a place for them. This meant there was the prospect of living for ever with Him in heaven being given to the Apostles, and by extension to those who are prepared to give their life to Jesus.

Jesus said He would come back to take them with Him so that where He was they could be also. At present our contact with Him is through faith, but one day we will see Him face to face.

When Jesus said they knew the place where He was going, Thomas asked Him how they could know when they didn’t know the way. This brought forth from Jesus that profound immortal statement, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’

This passage is widely quoted in funeral services when people assume that everyone is automatically going to heaven. I have taken thousands of funerals over the years and there has never been doubt in anyone’s mind that the deceased is going to heaven irrespective of the life led. Nowhere in the Bible is this view upheld. Jesus was very clear in His teaching that it certainly was not so. In parable after parable He spoke of two roads, of sheep and goats, of tares and wheat, of heaven and hell.

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 Church has not always given sound teaching on this and some misguidedly preach that Jesus was giving a blank promise for everyone when He is clearly addressing His followers, and if we do not follow Him our end will not be in the rooms of His Father’s house.

If we say to someone who has no Church commitment, has only a tenuous belief in Jesus Christ, never reads a Bible or prays, that they are going to heaven, then we are leading them astray.

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 major 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. Taking the lead from politicians, people can look you in the eye and lie without any qualm of conscience.

In this passage before us He is talking to His followers, people who have made a personal commitment to accept Him as Saviour. 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.

The Bible is all about commitment. We are reminded that 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 bothered to think of Jesus, even less to do anything about it.

What exactly does Jesus mean when he says, we can only come to the Father through Him alone. Some time ago I went to Birmingham and had to find an address. I asked a man passing if he could tell me the way and he answered, ‘it is pretty difficult for you to get there on your own, but I am going that way and could take you’. He got into my car and we went directly there. That is what Jesus does for us. He says you can’t get there on your own but I will direct you, guide you, and take you myself. He is saying there is no other way. This is an exclusive offer.

Jesus spent His entire ministry telling that we are separated from God through sin and only He could obtain forgiveness for us, so we have to make a choice whether to follow Him or face the consequences.

The common belief these days is that all religions lead to God which Christians cannot accept. No other faith had a man who died on a Cross to grant universal forgiveness, no other faith had a man who rose from the dead.

Jesus said He was the truth. If a person is to teach moral truth that person must have an impeccable reputation and have no hidden misdoings. It is not enough to just say the words, one’s life must exemplify morality. This is why it is so wrong that the Church is condoning immoral action and appointing homosexual bishops, when the Bible does not approve of such conduct. This does not mean we discount people, but rather seek to preach that which Scripture states. Only Jesus can claim moral perfection, which is why He can say ‘I am the truth’.

Thirdly Jesus says ‘I am the life’, meaning the opposite of death. He is the source of life and gives life to His own. Just as death mean separation from God, so life means being in communion with Jesus.

Jesus claims exclusive way to God and since we are totally dependent upon Him for the understanding of truth and for eternal life, it naturally follows that no one can come to the Father other than by and through Him.

I cannot understand how we can share in multi-faith worship and maintain Biblical integrity. Whilst I believe we should respect other faiths and try to live amicably with them, in view of the unique teaching of our Lord (here set out in verse 6 that He alone is the way to God) we cannot justify sharing in multi faith services when our beliefs are so different, and it is matter of recognising the unique authority of Jesus.

Only Christianity maintains that Jesus Christ as divine and salvation was earned by Jesus on the Cross. But we have the words of our Lord Himself, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’. Jesus is quite unequivocal. This is not generally liked as it is seen as being too restrictive, too bigoted and intolerant, and to be judgmental is not liked.

All other faiths see Jesus as a good man in the social sense or a prophet at best. Indeed, the Islamic faith states, ‘God has no son’, which is in direct contravention of Jesus nature.

I do admire the devotion and loyalty of Islam. Muslims in Islamic countries are Muslims in the full sense of the word, and they find difficulty in understanding how people who live in Christian lands reject their faith so completely. Why, on the Lord’s birthday so many get drunk and engage in orgies. They will fight and defend their faith, and the men will not feel embarrassed or ashamed to be seen going to worship. Put many Englishmen in a Church and they feel lost and disorientated.

Jesus warns us that there must be a clear acceptance of His teaching and total obedience to it. Just to recite a creed and attend Church is not enough. We honour Jesus by calling Him Lord and sing hymns expressive of our devotion to Him. The lips that sing His praise should never be the lips that start trouble.

Friday 2 May 2014

Acts 2 v.37/42
Our passage this morning contains the story of what took place when the followers of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem, when the Church was effectively born. The promise of our Lord that the Holy Spirit would be given was then fulfilled.

Peter, with the other eleven Apostles, were there together with the 120 who were in the Upper Room after the Lord’s Ascension. Peter made a tremendous sermon in which explained the mighty rushing of wind and the tongues of fire, telling the crowds about Jesus who had been crucified and had risen from the dead, and who had now ascended to heaven.

We are told the people were cut to the heart and asked what they should do. Being cut to the heart means they were deeply convicted. They realised the man they had nailed to the Cross had the power of God.

Peter told them how they could become Christians. He made them realise that their lives did not correspond to the teachings of Jesus. I think many of the people who call themselves Christians would do well to ask if their lives were in line with the teachings of Jesus.

Peter told them they needed to repent and be baptised. Repent does not mean saying sorry, it means much more. There has to be a turning around, a change of direction whereby you stop doing those thoughts and actions which contravene Scriptural teaching, and confess your misdoings with determination to live righteously.

Secondly, Peter called upon them to be baptised. Baptism had a different meaning at that time. People now understand baptism to be little more than bringing a child to Church to have its name authorised, and giving a nod to the words the Minister tells them they have to say, albeit without any further requirement or commitment.

But baptism is all about commitment. It should take place after a person has come to faith in Jesus Christ, having accepted He died for the forgiveness of their sins, with a commitment to live according to His teaching, and the act of baptism is a public declaration by symbol that you have died to one’s old way of living, and risen to a new life in Christ.

Peter told them to save themselves from this crooked generation, in other words to give up living in accordance with the way ungodly people live. Three thousand people responded to Peter’s call. We then read these people devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles.

What then can we learn from this first Christian Church, which was able to subsequently reach out across the ancient world without television, mobile phones, or computers?

Firstly, that we as Christians, have to live worthily of our Lord. We cannot live according to worldly standards from Monday to Saturday and then come to give a token statement of regret on Sunday. We must be seen to be Christians by the way we live our lives. Sometimes people get to a point where they are going through the motion of religion, having the ritual without the real thing. There is now a problem that many people believe they can live according to the law of the State and forget that God’s law overrides that of the State for a Christian.

Secondly, we can do what that early Church did, and devote ourselves to the teaching of the Apostles. We have that same teaching available to us, it is called the New Testament.

The most important thing for a Christian is to know God; that is at the heart of our faith. Jesus said, ‘this is eternal life that they may know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent’.

What made the early church so attractive was down to one thing and one thing only: they shared a common faith in Jesus Christ.

On the Day of Pentecost, people gathered in Jerusalem from all points of the world and their shared faith in Christ. In today’s Church there is too much difference in what is believed, even within one’s own denomination, which makes it difficult to convince outsiders we have something positive to offer them.

Today there is much false teaching, as well as none teaching. On Easter Sunday a service was broadcast from a major Cathedral in this country, a day of first importance to Christians, and a golden opportunity to present the Christian message. The address was on social justice and a condemnation of the English defence league. Imagine what a man or woman who went hoping to hear a spiritual message to help them would feel. When people come to Church they should expect and be able to hear the Bible expounded and not listen to someone’s opinion on topical issues.

It is the responsibility, and indeed the duty, of all who have the privilege of being allowed to preach, to say it does not matter what my opinion is, this is what the Bible says.

A few months ago the Methodist Church conducted a survey from members, and the first question asked, was should the Church which believes marriage is between one man and one woman consider revising that policy in consideration of society’s thinking.

Can you imagine that ever being asked of either John or Charles Wesley? Marriage was given by God at the creation of mankind; it is God’s first building block for society, and to change that would be to rip the heart out of God’s plan and purpose.

The Church in the West has been steadily moving away from the Bible Our duty is to lead people to the place where they will hear God’s voice speaking to them; where they will hear of the wonderful things he has done to put wrong things right; where they will hear words of forgiveness and power for a fresh start- the gift of the Spirit. And that place is the Bible. If it is not the Scriptures which are being opened, we are just another organisation with a spiritual flavour.

The Bible is all about salvation. John Wesley once stated “I want to know one thing, the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God!

The greatest revival of Christianity in this country came during the ministry of John/Charles Wesley If they were alive today they would have much to say at the way the Church has failed to proclaim the message they left, that salvation was through Christ alone, the value of a person’s life was measured by their faith, and the doctrine of heaven and hell.

For many preachers these are forbidden subjects fearing they may upset people, yet they are essential biblical doctrine and were not forbidden by our Lord. Today people are being drawn away from the doctrines of the Bible as judgement is becoming a censored word.

It is hard to quote the Bible without someone saying ‘Oh you shouldn’t say that.’ The Bible states, ‘salvation is found in no other name under heaven except Jesus Christ’.

The Bible states’ Jesus said no one can come to the Father except through me’, yet many preachers are dodging quoting this. If we avoid telling these verses how are people ever to come to know the gospel.

It appears that the Church in the West is fearful of causing upset and being criticised for being true to the Bible. The Prime Minister recently spoke out for the Church in this country, and however much you may doubt the sincerity as opposed to political campaigning; the words he spoke were welcome. Yet within one day 50 angry liberal atheists got together and organised a protest widely circulated by press, radio and television.

Now compare that with the Church’s failure to respond as strongly when the same Prime Minister redefined marriage to destroy 2000 years of Christian teaching; who in a submission to the Court of Human Rights opposed protection for the unborn child; who submitted to the same Court that the Cross was not a Christian symbol; and if you dared to speak out against same sex marriage you could resign rather than being dismissed. If anyone speaks about human rights and religious freedom, especially at that level, they must include Christians’ human rights and freedom.

Our faith is not like other faiths which someone has made up, but rather comes from God. It was taught by Jesus to the Apostles who taught it to His followers, so when we read the New Testament we are being taught by our Lord Himself. It is now under sustained attack by the judiciary, one of whom stated Sunday was not at a core factor in Christianity, and from press and educationalists.

If we are to face the challenges of our time, living in an aggressive secular society, we have to be people of the Bible. It teaches us how God wants us to live a good and moral life worthy of our Lord; it teaches us when we are going wrong; and when feeling depressed and sad encourages us to trust in Jesus to share our burdens. Whilst the preaching of Scripture may be one for the pulpit, every Christian has a duty to carry the blessings of the Bible to those not yet acquainted with it.

If the Church is to be at the centre of life in this country we need to pray for the Lord to pour that Pentecostal power of the Holy Spirit upon us, and we all need to be devoted to that Apostolic teaching, which is the way to Godly Living and the future growth of the Church.