Saturday 28 February 2015

Matthew 16

I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. These are the words of Jesus as He makes His way to the Cross. He has met with His Apostles and asks them who they say He is. They tell Him various names but Peter responded by saying ‘you are the Christ, the Son of the living God’. Jesus is thrilled by this answer and said on that statement He would build His Church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Various people and bodies were trying hard to prevail against it, so now let us consider how the Church can respond.

When Jesus used the word ‘Church’, He was referring to an assembly of believers meeting together in worship. The Church has a special place in the plan of God and we have to know how we are to live and function within that plan Having delegated first to Peter and the Apostles the task to continue the work He had begun, Jesus now passes the responsibility down to us in our age to continue to preach the gospel, and every Christian has the duty to play their part in the spread of the gospel.

Every Christian who values and loves their Church must at times feel depressed at the level of attendances at Church, unless of course a baptism or wedding is desired when people feel the Church can be useful and offer them something. I accept that numbers are not the be all and end all of Church worship, or a verdict on any particular Church, but there must always be a need for every Church to consider whether the worship offered is as worthy as it ought to be. In many cases I do not think it is.

There is much that can and should be done to make a Church appeal to non-members. The building itself should look smart and be clean looking, which is not always so. Selected men and women, recognised for their engaging personalities, need to be appointed to greet people attending so that visitors feel we are glad to see them and make them feel welcome. Regular members too need to be encouraged to speak and be friendly with visitors, rather than look at them as if intruders.

In Anglican Churches the services can be confusing to strangers as there are so many alternatives offered. I have officiated at numerous Churches and not found the same service exactly at any two Churches, so an offer to help and guide may be appreciated. Having changed the worship of the Prayer Book to the Alternative service Book, which had meaningful forms of service, we now have Common Worship in which the formulators couldn’t make their minds up as to which Eucharistic prayer should be used.

I used to advise my Church stewards to try and introduce a stranger to someone of like age and sex to make them feel more comfortable. When leaving after the service, the Minister(s) should always be at the exit to meet people.

However the most important part is that between the coming and leaving. Services should be bright with tuneful hymns, perhaps altering tunes to hymns that are felt necessary if the set one is of the mournful type. I was at a service where for ten minutes a choral rendition of Purcell’s ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ was sung, followed later by Stanford’s ‘Te deum’, which is fine for the right place, but an ordinary parish Communion is not my idea of the right place.

I don’t think it is generally recognised how important music is in a service. Music stirs the mind and moves the heart. In every Crusade, from Sankey and Moody, the Welsh revival and most notably the great Billy Graham Crusades, the singing of hymns and spiritual songs has been a dominant feature to complement the inspirational preaching. The Evangelical Churches mostly pursue this format, which needs to be introduced into more Churches, and dispense with the philosophy that seems to pervade that as long we put something on it will suffice.

The sermon has been relegated in importance where once it was a central feature. Sermons are there for a purpose, namely to tell the good news about Jesus Christ. How can people be taught to believe the good news of the gospel if the Church fails to tell? This is our business first and foremost. The pulpit is there for the declaration of the gospel, and any Church which fails to respond cannot justify its reason for being there. Ministers are to be messengers from God, bringing God message to congregations.

Sermons often lack sound teaching however, with preachers watering down the message to provide spiritual potions which will make people feel happy and guiltless. One Vicar tells me regularly sermons need to be nice and friendly so people won’t be upset. This always amuses me for Billy Graham use to preach to audiences of up to 80 thousands and beyond regularly, and tell them they were all a lot of sinners who would go to hell if they didn’t repent, and people flocked to hear him.

In the Church of England we have softened our messages, had all sorts of changes, introduced women priests and now women bishops, and all sorts of gimmicks, and we are still losing members. One Vicar was quoted in the (London) Daily Mail as telling people on Easter Sunday to stay in bed, eat chocolate and have sex. Don’t bother attending a stuffy building it’s not cool or funky. When you have men like that who needs the devil. In any well organised institution that man would be looking for alternative employment. The statement was not only spiritually irresponsible; it was morally irresponsible for it was directed to people generally.

Surely we need to rationalise our number of Churches. At one time every village and neighbourhood had its own parish Church (in addition to Catholic and Free Churches) and congregations were strong enough to maintain them. This is no longer the case yet we are still trying to keep that system going. To do so we have Vicars fleeing from one Church to another offering a token service which does no one any good, or a local preacher who however well intentioned often has not been properly trained and rides his/her own hobby horse rather than preaching the Bible. It would be far more sensible and realistic to prune the number of Churches.

We have seen evangelical Churches drawing people from a wide area and offering inspiring worship, and similarly High Churches offering beautifully conducted and meaningful worship. People find no difficulty travelling to Tesco or Sainsbury’s, which are not on their doorstep, and with some innovative transport offers the Church could be in a like position. The Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast had a bus which picked people up, and whilst most Churches could not afford this, alternative arrangements could surely be made

Attending Church is not optional. The Bible assumes people who are believers are connected to a local Church where they live out their faith. Individual or independent Christianity cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. Whilst Jesus is present bodily in heaven with believers, He is also present on earth by His Spirit so that when people are gathered Jesus is amongst us just as surely as when He was present with His Apostles.

The Bible uses several terms to describe the Church, the most powerful being a family, consisting of people of different backgrounds, experiences, class, ages and gender. This family extends right across the world, so that wherever you go you can have fellowship with other believers. I lived in Mombasa for two years, into which port sailed missionaries of different denominations from various countries, yet we could meet and enjoy each others company in a way no other group of people could. There is a uniqueness about the Church, was we are separated from the world’s standards and from the others of society.

But of course the Church does not exactly encourage people when it is seen to be unable to resolve theological and procedural problems quickly and quietly. For a long period the Labour party was unable to attain office because the public saw them squabbling and unable to determine what they stood for. Then the Conservative party followed the same path and they remained unpopular with the public. So indicating clearly that people have no respect for any body which cannot state positively what it believes in and stands for.

This is the situation relating to (at least) the Anglican Church, dominated by people with personal ambitions and desires which they are intent on pursuing irrespective of what damage is done to the Church at large. It has to be faced there are men (and women) with a personal agenda who seem determined to undermine the Church. The Leaders of the Church have firmly opposed ‘gay marriage’, yet, what is loosely called senior clergy, are challenging in a disloyal, irresponsible and shameful way with no respect for unity within the Church or for Bible teaching. This and other issues are liable to split the Church of England within, but separate it from the universal Church which includes Catholic and Orthodox Churches. It would be less damaging if we followed the example of the Anglican Church of North America and formed a new Anglican Church of Great Britain based on the same foundations as of our American friends.

In the meantime each Church should strive to be true to its calling with vows honoured, and work independently of the national scene. I firmly believe that if a Church is a welcoming one, offers a well constructed service with tuneful hymns and an inspiring message, it will surely attract members.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

The Church and Politics

Writing in the Daily Mail, Amanda Platell stated after fifty years attending the Church of England she was considering whether to become a Catholic. Having read the same newspaper today many will think like her.

Last week the bishops of the Church of England issued a 52 page letter advising ‘Christians’, (not Anglicans) of their duty to vote in the forthcoming General Election. This might be thought to be presumptive in its all embracing term. Baptists, Methodists, and indeed Catholics might ask what motivates the bishops to advise them.

However, the Roman Catholic Church has now issued its own guidance, and strikes a totally different tone which will resonate with many Christians of all faiths, and perhaps with those of none.

The C of E document was in fact a barely concealed left wing promotion, with of course a knock against UKIP by supporting European membership.

Bearing in mind one expects bishops to be men of integrity and intelligence, this was a further let down. In this latest letter which has done neither them, nor the Church they are supposed to represent, any credit, they have written things which are at best inaccuracies or alternatively lies. It caused Norman Tebbitt, the popular ex Cabinet Minister, known for his common sense and down to earth character to state,I suggest, his disgust at the latest foray of the bishops into the political arena.
‘In my experience, when people are not doing very well
in their own job, they become very much better at telling
other people how to do theirs. This is a classic case of
At a time when Church attendance is in sharp decline, it seems wholly inappropriate for bishops to be criticising a government which has done much to restore the country to economic stability, after inheriting the largest financial deficit in the country’s history. This is some feat when you consider the Prime Minister is not really a true Conservative; they have to do so whilst having to accommodate a coalition party led by a male who has acted like a spoiled brat, who has reneged not only on pledges made to the country, but also to his co-partners in government, when he spitefully blocked boundary reforms.

The bishops claimed the Government caused unemployment has been rising when in fact it has fallen to its lowest level for years; poverty has not been rising as alleged; nor has inequality has been widening; and the cuts in government spending have been felt right across society. Under Ian Duncan Smith’s reforms, more people are earning a wage and are off benefits.
The bishops refer to firms which are not paying the living wage, which has caused it to be revealed that Canterbury and other Cathedrals are not offering the living wage to employees. I would have thought the most elementary task would have been to make sure your own business was on a sound footing so as not to be subject to criticism.
It is significant that the Church of England never seems to find fault with Labour Party policies, always Conservative, yet the end of every Labour government has meant economic chaos. It used to be said that the C of E was the Conservative party at prayer; now it is more a collection of left wing academics, both in Offices and parishes, many having lived a privileged life style, with no experience of working class life, and certainly no experience of either living or working in such an environment.

‘Thatcher’ and Thatcherism of course got its usual attack, no credit given to the LADY, many of us consider to be one of the country’s greatest Prime Ministers, who also inherited a disastrous economy and made Britain a world power.

I think the letter was a total disaster; it will offend the very people most likely to support the Church, and will not encourage to attend those it pleases,

The bishops have written letters to the press about food banks, (alleged) poverty, and money lending firms. Some of their comments have been worthy, but that has not been matched by letters to the press protesting at the re-definition of marriage, support for the traditional marriage, or support for children being raised in a male/female family, abortions, or gender manipulation in babies.

The Roman Catholic Bishops letter however calls on their members to support and only vote for candidates who promote marriage, and the Catholic view of marriage is (properly) man and woman. The Cardinal Archbishop states stable families are key factors, and the Bishop of Shrewsbury highlights the moral issue involved, and points out the high human and social cost of family breakdowns. He stresses support for marriage which is in direct contrast with the omission of the mention of marriage by the Anglican bishops.

Friday 20 February 2015

John 14 v.6
I am the way, the truth, the life
The passage I have chosen to write about this week contains words which are so relevant to Christian living and belief. 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. Most people believe in God but have less thought for Jesus. 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. We do not need to wonder what heaven will be like, it is enough to know we will be with Him, and for a Christian, heaven is wherever Jesus is. 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 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. 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.

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 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’s character must be worthy. 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.

The Church in general in its desire to be nice and friendly to all, with a craving to please society in general, has sought to promote not only a soft line on salvation and judgement, but to seek a close dialogue with other faiths.

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 do not speak the truth.

Sunday 15 February 2015

God said, (to Israel), ‘for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the earth to be His people’. (Deuteronomy 7 v6)

A Vicar in the Church of England has for a number of years carried out a very anti-Jewish campaign on his social media site. Recently he appears to have overstretched himself by going too far by alleging that Jews were somewhere complicit in the 9/11 attacks in America. This has resulted in him being suspended from social media sites by his new Bishop, something that the previous bishop should have dome. He has openly supported those groups opposed to Israel.

I cannot understand why any ordained priest (or Minister of other Christian faiths) can attack Israel, especially one who claims to be evangelical. We worship the God if Israel; we worship a Jewish Saviour, and preach from a book written by Jews.

Last month the world remembered the Holocaust and the 70th anniversary of the freeing of Auschwitz, with the recalling of the horrors and scenes of heartbreaking emotions. It is almost impossible to imagine any human committing such atrocities against another human simply because one was a Jew.

History has been amended or erased from people’s minds, that in 1938 the American President Roosevelt called an International Conference in Geneva to discuss what action could be taken to save the Jewish people from persecution in Germany. Of the 82 nations attending, only the Dominican Republic offered to help Jews into their country. This was seen by the Nazis as a free hand being given, and Hitler boasted that the Jews would disappear.

In 1948 as the Jews began to return to the land of their inheritance in Israel, despite opposition, they faced a land which Mark Twain once described as a wasteland. The country was swamp filled with malaria rampant, which the new Jewish settlers wiped out without using chemicals, and planted vineyards, growing citrus fruits, creating cherry tomatoes and special shed to protect products from the climate.

Over the years Jews have dominated in major professions.
In the world of medicine pioneering cancer treatment, creating vaccines, restoring sight with the bionic eye, treatment for diabetes with insulin, and aspirin for pain.
In the world of science and technology, produced chips for telephones, keyboards; Einstein discovered the theory of relativity, and won more Nobel peace prizes than any other nation.
In the world of arts and banking they have excelled.
In all these fields they have been ready to share their knowledge with other nations.

It is the only real democracy in the Middle East, and the only nation where Christians can display their faith without arrest or persecution.

They were God’s chosen people from the first Biblical times, and God promised that as long as the earth existed He would never abandon them, and history has shown when world leaders rejected Israel, they were not leaders for very long after. The only nation that has offered support to Israel is America, and only under the present President, who seems to favour the other side, is that in jeopardy. (He doesn’t appear to be very successful either now)

We are now seeing a new wave of anti Semitism spreading across Europe the old Juden frei is replaced by Zionistfrei. Protests are being organised to boycott Jewish shops, and in Leicester (England), references were made of Israeli impurity, and several places have refused to stock products made in Israel. The irony is that is that the factories in Israel employ Arab labour so giving employment to many who would otherwise have none.

Sadly people are being led astray by zealots who have some unjustifiable hatred of Jews without a corresponding reason for that feeling. The bbc. is noted for its anti Israeli bias, and one reported was allowed to go uncensored after offending a Jewish lady he interviewed.

Israel, like any other nation is not perfect and when attacked can be very aggressive in retaliation, but invariably it is another nation which first starts aggression. If Scottish Nationalists started lobbing rockets on to England, as some of them it would seem would like to do, there is no doubt we would start lobbing them back.

Saturday 7 February 2015

Luke 2 v 21-40
Last Sunday was observed in some Churches as for ‘the Presentation of Christ in the Temple’, otherwise known as Candlemass. In this passage we see Jesus undergoing three ancient ceremonies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We meet two older people, a man named Simeon and a woman Anna. Simeon believed things had to be left in God’s hands and God had through the Holy Spirit given him assurance that before he died he would see God’s own appointed one. There was therefore excitement in Simeon's soul when he heard that promise that he would actually witness this great coming. After all those years of silence, at last the promise was going to come true.
When he saw Jesus, he knew that time had come, and he was ready to depart in peace. So we heard him recite the words which have been sung in Anglican Churches through the centuries at Evening services, in which he praised God and foresaw Jesus to be the light of the world.

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

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

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