Wednesday 25 June 2014

How the West was (won)Lost

In 1962 a spectacular movie called ‘how the West was won’ was made, with a host of stars, telling the story of how pioneers from New York and the East coast made their way across the vast American lands to reach the Pacific. The story has thrilled many people with the tale, and the names which will last through the nation’s history gloriously; but will future generations look back at the present era and see how the West has been lost, view it as an inglorious chapter over the Obama presidency.

Because the influence of America over the years has become so all pervading, and most of it has been good and commendable, nevertheless the not so welcome has also been adopted.

Like his ardent admirer in Britain (David Cameron), the present president who has earned the distinction of being the lowest rating president, has systematically destroyed the Christian tradition of that great country with his passion for ‘gay rights’ and a determination to encourage States to adopt same sex marriages. We have the same here of course where a person faces some form of penalty if they dare criticise same sex marriage.

America was founded by godly men and their Declaration of Independence was formed by men who trusted in God and created that hallowed phrase 'in God we trust'. Britain too has a long Christian heritage with our laws and values based thoroughly on Christian principles. We have recently seen celebrations to commemorate the landings in Europe on D Day seventy years ago when so many young men from both our countries lost their lives and many more were injured severely. I wonder what their reaction would be to events in our nations.

Not content with pushing and encouraging same sex marriage, he has extended that passion to creating laws that will mean some charities will not be able to deal with federal contractors due to employers being forced to accept employees irrespective of their religious beliefs. He also plans to extend family leave to gay couples. In addition employers are being forced to provide contraception facilities for employees regardless of religious beliefs.

As I understand it he is acting rather like a dictator than a President, as he has acted beyond his constitutional authority in excluding Congressional approval. We can be reasonably sure that what Obama does to day, Cameron will try to do to-morrow.

I read lawyers are reticent to defend people who have criticised same sex marriage, and in colleges and universities in America, left wing political correctness prevails over open debate. A baker is even told what kind of wedding cake he can make and what he cannot, after refusing to bake a wedding cake with two male figures on.

In the nation’s Cathedral a special service was held for Lesbian, Gay, bisexual, transgender people, hosted by a bishop who had divorced his wife and abandoned his children to marry another man, who he has now divorced, and the Dean of the Cathedral thinks it a wonderful event. And we wonder why people are being turned off Christianity?

The same liberal attitudes are being introduced here. As I write, a woman from England is appearing before the European Court of Human Rights. This lady worked in a shop at London airport and she defended a friend who was mocked for wearing a Cross, and when Muslim workers who said it offended Islam complained against her, her employers dismissed her. An employment tribunal upheld the dismissal and now she is appealing to Europe.

Anyone here speaking about same sex marriage is likely to have action taken against them. Street preachers face being arrested for just speaking Bible verses. Christians are prevented from expressing their faith by symbol or dress, a restriction not applied to other faiths.

Whilst these restrictions apply to Christians, no action is taken when Muslims make the same observations. This is no doubt due to the fact that the same authorities who harass Christians know they will not be allowed to do so without reaction. When we Christians show the same commitment to out faith as the followers of Islam commendably do to their faith, we too will be respected and appreciated.

One certain factor is that Islam would not allow their holy book to be so abused, mocked and ridiculed as we allow the Bible to be by so called comedians and satirists, whose inane comments, and often language, would not appeal to more intelligent people.

Christians could help the Christian cause if they supported Christian Concern Charity which does so much to assist Christians who are made to suffer discrimination or dismissal on account of their beliefs. They also strive to promote the Christian gospel.

Friday 20 June 2014

OBEY THE WORD. 1 Corinthians 1 v 10/17
Matthew 7 v.21/27
One thing on which all Christians should have concern over is that of falling attendances in our Churches. We are failing to attract people in the younger age ranges, especially in the middle age group.

We have to accept that we live in a godless age, where the Church is a no go area to a lot of people, except of course when it suits their purpose. We get told pressure on combining home and business life makes it hard to attend Church on Sundays, but Muslims seem to manage it without much difficulty.

There are of course Churches which can attract large congregations and when I drive home this morning I will pass a Church where the roads outside it are like a huge car park. Logically it appears they are doing something right, which other Churches are not. It might be helpful therefore if we looked at what is happening generally in the Church at large.

Worldwide the Church is growing massively, and China once seen as the epitome of the anti-Christ, has now more Christians than any other country, such is the power of God to respond to those committed to His Son. Nations in other Eastern parts, Africa, South America see similar responses with mega Churches because they are faithful to Scripture instead of dismantling the Bible, and are impervious to the insults hurled at them by those in this country who find the Bible restrictive.

In his Letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul was addressing a situation similar to that which we face now. The Church was situated in what was a godless society, immorality was prevalent, and people’s main preoccupation was pleasure.
Tension had grown within the Church at what it was supposed to be and how it was reacting; a conflict between the ideal and reality. Worldly influences had crept into the Church membership and internal disputes had arisen causing some members to follow the world’s agenda, with society’s view of spirituality and wisdom being adopted.

If we face up to reality, the same thing is happening to the Church in this country as we have modified Scripture to avoid offending other faiths and those with no faith, and reinterpreted the Bible to meet the culture of society. When we try to please man rather than God; when we depart from the Bible by adding to or subtracting from, we are causing cracks in the foundation of Apostolic teaching; we are building on sand rather than rock.

In Corinth unity was broken as it became people-centred instead of God centred, and when rival groups fight to establish their own agenda, there becomes breakdown.

There is an un challenged reluctance to be really faithful to the Bible for fear of being called a bigot, or accused of having some sot of phobia if one speaks out against the culture of society or the terms of the (In)equality Act. It is our duty of all clergy to keep our Ordination vows to be true to Scripture in our preaching, and also by practising what we preach. Secularists, humanists, and followers of Islam will not allow their beliefs to be suppressed, and Christians have a reasonable expectation that the Churches will stand up for them.

If we allow ourselves to withdraw from plain speaking of the gospel we are failing our Lord and reducing ourselves as a Church to little more than just another social organisation perhaps with a spiritual touch, in which case we have nothing to offer those lost souls seeking real spiritual help.

We do have a moral duty and responsibility to speak out and challenge actions against our beliefs and faith. Women have been dismissed or suspended from their employment for the simple acts of wearing a Cross; a care worker of many years service was dismissed for praying for a sick person who actually asked, and in the presence of the woman’s family; street pastors have been arrested without just cause. In all these cases only ‘Christian Concern’ a foundation formed to represent Christians legally has raised a protesting voice and action which I earnestly recommend to be supported.

When this Prime Minister forced same sex marriage, ignoring the massive petition signatures opposing, there was barely a squeak from the Churches; in fact some senior clergy in the Church of England were actively campaigning for in direct contravention of Scripture. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who publicly opposed same sex marriage, wrote in ‘Pink News’ how great it was that the Act had been passed.

When the same Prime Minister sent a Minister to the European Court to oppose a woman’s right to wear a Cross, with the comment that there was always the chance to resign, after saying in Parliament he thought it should be permitted to wear a Cross; when the same Prime Minister challenged a person’s right not to be forced to act in their employment against their sincerely held religious beliefs, such as a civil registrar being forced to perform same sex unions, or a doctor not wishing to perform an abortion, the Church remained largely silent. However, other faiths have been permitted to opt out of rules enforced on others.

As Christians we have to make sure our nation continues to hear about Jesus Christ and of the attempts to push Him out of public life. We have to make sure an authentic Christian message is heard. At the moment people hear many different voices speaking in the name of Christianity, some of which are not faithful to the Bible’s teaching. People need to hear that the Christian message is not just for individuals, but that it has answers for the big issues our society faces to day.

I believe we must be committed to letting people know what the gospel is in simple, unabridged terms. We let so many opportunities pass. I have attended baptism services where there have been large congregations and the preachers have talked about themselves, stuttered aimlessly through long winded sermon or deep theology.

There are so many people with cares and worries and the Bible offers encouragement and hope, but it must be preached without fear or reservation. The Church is for men and women to be united in Jesus Christ, separated from the old life, and set apart for Jesus Christ. We should be like citizens of a heavenly state here on earth.

When people come to Church they have a right to expect to hear a spiritual message, a biblical one, and some of the preaching I have heard at times would not encourage me to make a second visit.

The gospel reading has a message for Christians personally; it is not addressed to those who do not believe in Him, but to those claiming to be His followers.

Jesus in this last part of the Sermon on the |Mount is giving His followers two choices, not multiple, two. He sets before us radical choice between obedience and disobedience and calls us to unconditional commitment of mind and will to His teaching. The way He does this is to warn us of two unacceptable alternatives, first a verbal confession, and second merely intellectual knowledge, neither of which can be substitute for obedience. Jesus emphasises that on a competed obedience our eternal destiny depends. This passage shows that neutrality is not an option.

Jesus speaks to warn that in the day of judgement there will be those who appear before Him and claim to have servedHim yet He will disown them. They may have said all the right things and done the proper actions, but are not seen by our Lord as genuine followers, although they are personally convinced they are real Christians deserving of a place in Heaven.

You may be able to relate to such people, who create an impression of piety, yet can be quite unpleasant when things happen in the Church which do not please them. If you haven’t you have led a charmed life. There also those who claim to give or accept all the right teachings of Scripture, but do not live their lives accordingly.

Jesus told a parable of two houses one securely founded on rock the other built on sand. Both houses will look the same only a storm will reveal the difference. In the Bible a storm is often understood to mean the wrath of God.

We see how important foundations are. Two types of men (or women) are portrayed. They have listened to and read the words of Jesus and decided to follow Him. One says all the right teachings of Scripture, using all the right kind of language, then sees television where people seem to be having so much fun doing things he has given up, so thinks religion is meant to be fun so I should be all right doing the same, and the foundations begin to crack, and so is not a real disciple. His faith is based on sand.

The other man determines to be obedient and faithful to the Scripture teaching because he has a firm foundation.

There are many folk we see at funeral services in memory of a departed relative or friend who has never been near a Church in years, or had any communication with the Lord, but because they have been nice kind and honest people deemed to be given a room in the heavenly mansions which Jesus spoke of in John 14, a passage so used in those services.

The marks of a true Christians are not just claims of great spiritual experience or strong professions of belief. Obedience to God’s Word and performance of God’s teaching, with a commitment to see the Kingdom of God established here on earth is what the Lord seeks. It is not enough to say how wonderful the words of Jesus are, you have to live them out. The commands of God are not negotiable. We all slip up, sometimes knowingly, other times accidentally, but we should strive to do the right thing.

Each week Scripture is spoken, preached and heard in our Churches, yet from Monday to Saturday lived in a way which is in direct contrast to that teaching. Well may Jesus say I do not know you. False claimants can delude themselves into mistaking loud profession for true spirituality. There is a lack of obedience to God’s Word.

When the Bible states a doctrine, or gives teaching, we are honour bound to accept the same. Preachers especially must be true to Scripture and expound its meaning, not give personal opinions as to its relevance in today’s society.

A chat show host was asking a prominent evangelist for his opinion on a sensitive subject, hoping to embarrass him, but he replied wisely, ‘I have no opinion; if the Bible says it is wrong I say it is wrong.’

Paul was very accurate when he wrote that people will not like sound teaching. A Vicar in a wealthy Southern county was teaching from Ephesians 5 on the duties of wives to husbands and husbands to wives, a very daring act in that part of the country. Again he was not giving personal opinion just explaining Paul’s Letter, but some women walked out of the Church taking their direct debits with them.

The man who builds on sand is likened to the one who hears the words of Jesus, but neglects to put them into practice, whilst the one who builds on rock hears the words of Jesus and acts upon them. The difference is obedience as opposed to disobedience.

In earlier verses Jesus had been speaking of destruction for all who travelled the broad road, now he is suggesting the one who does not put into practice His teaching is like a house shattered by a storm. Jesus is giving a strong warning concerning our future destiny, and now at the end of this great Sermon on the Mount is in effect pointing to two different destinations

I have been told more than once by fellow clergymen that the Church does not talk of ‘hell’, which is equal to saying ignore the words of Jesus.

Whether you believe in hell or not will depend on how much you believe the words of Jesus. Whenever He spoke of heaven he also spoke of hell, and His parables all offer two alternatives.

The Bible has various terms to refer to hell; outer darkness, destruction, place of rejection, place of torment etc. If you dismiss such a place, you inevitably dismiss the words of Jesus; if you believe in Him you will have no difficulty in concluding He is saying it is the only alternative to heaven.

If the Church was truly fulfilling its responsibilities it would be warning people, but there is a reluctance to upset people. I was told recently we should make people feel happy in our preaching. If you were walking down a road and saw a house on fire and a person leaning out of a window, you would try to help them; you wouldn’t try to tell them a funny story.

The paradox is that history’s greatest Christian preacher was Billy Graham. He spoke to 220 million people in 185 countries over 40 decades. He constantly told people they were sinners and unless they repented they had no eternal future, and spoke plainly of heaven and hell, and people flocked in their tens of thousands to hear him.

The Sermon on the Mount ends with the threat of judgement, and can only be avoided by obedience to Jesus Christ and conformance to His teaching.

Friday 13 June 2014

Matthew 28 v 16/20

We are at the end of Matthew’s gospel for this week’s reading and the Apostles have gone to the mountain in Galilee to which Jesus had directed them to go. Jesus had chosen this place to meet them for it was where their homes were. When they saw the Lord they bowed down and worshipped Him, but some doubted that it was Him for they could not accept the resurrection, and they wondered if it really was the risen Christ.

We know from earlier accounts that ten of the disciples had met the risen Jesus, Judas having killed himself and Thomas later met and was convinced, so the doubt may have been due to the fact that they saw Jesus appearing in the distance, for we are told He came nearer and spoke to them.

Jesus claimed all power and authority had been given to Him and has the right to exercise it. He has the power to do as He pleases both in heaven and on earth. He is about to give authority to Hus disciples to go out into the world in His name.

He told them to ‘go’, meaning that they and all followers of Christ in all ages must go and take the gospel to others. Before however we can go, people must first ‘come’ and know Jesus, not know about Him. But know personally. We are to go because the Lord has so commanded and has promised to support us in all our efforts for Him. He gives us the right to speak in His name so we have justification to call on people, our friends and families to follow Christ.

We sometimes hear politicians and others criticising us for trying to convert people, but if we accept the words of Jesus there is no nation or culture beyond His authority. In ancient times news was announced by a herald who was the King’s messenger and would proclaim the King’s message word for word without any interpretation or alteration, faithfully delivering it. We are to be the messengers for the King of Kings

Jesus laid a duty on the Apostles not to confine their knowledge and faith to themselves; they were to tell the world that Jesus died for sinners. He also called for observation to be given to all things which He commanded.. The Apostles were to reach out, which applies to His Church for all time.

They are to ‘make disciples’, which is slightly different to make converts, in that the mind, heart and will must be captured for God. By disciple the Bible is inferring a learner. There was a responsibility placed on the Apostle to proclaim the truth and will of God, and the disciple having understood mentally must put that understanding into practice.

The Apostles are to baptise in the name of one God, not names, name in the singular of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A name in Jewish thought represents the one whose name it is, so being baptised into the name of God means being brought into a relationship. The one who has been baptised is stating he/she has been brought into union with the three-in-one God.

The early Church insisted that before the person to whom the gospel had been preached be admitted to Church membership, evidence had to be given of sincere repentance and knowledge of basic Christianity. This meant that teaching should continue so that all Christ had said and done were made known to that person.

Finally, Jesus’ last words were of comfort and encouragement. There is no doubt about His assurance, it is a promise. Jesus in earlier chapter has told them that His grace is sufficient for them and He would never leave them nor forsake them. All through the gospel Jesus has given promise of His constant and comforting presence.

Friday 6 June 2014


Jesus had been crucified and had risen, and then appeared to His Apostles in the Upper Room where He greeted them with the words, ‘peace be with you, receive the Holy Spirit’. Whilst Jesus had breathed on them imparting the Holy Spirit, they were not then able to use it.

Jesus continued to spend six weeks teaching them and giving guidance for them to continue His work after He had left them. We then came to the stage when He ascended to His Father in heaven and gave the Apostles His final instructions.

The Apostles were told to stay in Jerusalem and wait. Jesus pointed out they would have to wait for God to give them the gift that had always been promised when they would be baptised with the Holy Spirit. All they could do was pray, which we later read they did.

Imagine how the apostles felt as they waited. For three years they had been following the most unique person in all history. They had witnessed miracles and heard wonderful teaching from the greatest of teachers. They had suffered the sorrow of seeing Him die but had rejoiced by His resurrection.
He had told them to go to Jerusalem and to wait. But would they be able to cope without Him by their side.
Eventually after ten days the day dawned at Pentecost. On that day God came down in power and changed the lives of them and so many others. The Church was born and carried on the life of Christ and we see it was empowered to do so by the work of the Holy Spirit.

How would the Church of today we react if they had been there. Waiting is against our culture. We all have credit cards so that we can obtain things instantly for we view waiting as a nuisance. Those of us in the older generation know the rewards of waiting, the saving up to get married, and looking forward to being able to buy what we wanted, which gave us a sense of achievement and joy. Waiting however can be hard at times; waiting for the result of an examination; for the result of an operation; for news of a loved one.

We have now no need however to wait for the Holy Spirit, it is freely available to all who choose to follow Jesus and make Him Lord of our lives. We receive the Holy Spirit when our faith comes alive, but there may be a period before we have the power of the Spirit. If God makes us wait there must be a reason, so giving us time to meditate and seek His will for us. Just as the Apostles had to realise their dependence on Jesus, so we Christians need to realise we too need His power.

In the Bible we find a confession of faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit happen together. Nowhere in the Bible is there a separation. I believe this means that within Churches we need to have a deeper understanding of baptism and confirmation. Whilst I have often preached on baptism, I have never been at a service when this has been preached upon by others. In fact I have never been in a congregation where the preacher gives an explanation of what baptism should mean. We allow false promises to be made with impunity.

Looking at the events recorded in Acts, the normal pattern to becoming a Christian is that someone ‘repents, believes, is baptized, and then receives the Holy Spirit’. This, however, is not a chronological order. These are the essential components to becoming a Christian, but God can change the order in which they happen as was the case with Cornelius and the Ephesian believers.

It is because Acts and the New Testament do not give a chronology that has lead the overwhelming majority of Christians over the Church’s history to feel that it is right to baptize the children of Christian parents. However, it is the fact that, in Acts, it is the normal order that has also led some equally sincere and committed Christians to refuse to baptize anyone not old enough to decide for themselves.

Most of us, I think, can agree on the first three components of the Acts formula, but how many of us feel comfortable in saying that we, personally, have received the Spirit? Received, that is, in a way that we know it to be true.

God comes to us in different ways as we seek to serve Jesus. There is the infilling of the Spirit, which is for all believers. There is the anointing of the Spirit, which is given to those who will fulfil a certain task, such as is given by the Bishop to a priest, and then the power of the Holy Spirit, which is for us to minister for the Lord.

For some people there is indeed a dramatic experience such as Paul had on the Damascus Road, whilst for others there is a growing in grace.

Charles and John Wesley, who are in our minds at this time, experienced the Holy Spirit in special ways, too. Both were ordained into the Church and ministered as such for some years, yet both had deep spiritual experiences which changed their lives in May 1738, and went on to do greater things as a result. Charles wrote his most loved and famous hymns afterwards. Charles experienced a "strange palpitation of heart," and just a few days later John felt his heart "strangely warmed." From that time on, the Wesleys were used powerfully by God to spread the news of salvation.
We may take as an analogy two situations from life. A man and woman may meet at a social occasion and such is the chemistry between them they fall in immediate love and marry soon after, which may or may not last. Another couple may meet, find they enjoy being with each other, and gradually become totally dependent upon each other and spend the rest of their life together. (They may even have a diamond wedding)

Thousands attended the great Billy Graham Crusades in the 1960s/80s and were immediately affected by the atmosphere of massed choirs leading joyous praise with so many people, and hearing the preaching of the most successful preacher in all Church history. They rushed forward to the altar call, committing their lives to the Lord, but on returning to their local parish Church found 1662 Matins with chants of canticles and indifferent preaching were disillusioned. Others just grow in grace to love the Lord. We each come as the Lord calls us, but should know when there was that moment we understood what the gospel was all about. For me, it was being at a Pentecostal meeting in Mombasa in Kenya when also I first heard one of the lovely hymns you are about to sing.

Jesus told the Apostles they were to be His witnesses and that duty has now been passed down to His Church and all its members. The Church can be His witness by faithful preaching of Scripture, as all its Ministers vow to do at their ordination, and offer people a credible and united teaching. Individual members can do so by their manner of living, reflecting the image of Christ rather than the ungracious kind we too often see.

When Pentecost came it was a transforming happening when God took over and filled all gathered with His power. God came down in power and the lives of all present were for ever changed. Our lives will be changed when we have that same power.