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.