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.