Sunday 24 May 2015

To-day is Aldersgate Sunday, and each year on this date, or a Sunday close to it, we remember this day especially because it shaped the ministry of John Wesley, when he had a spiritual conversion three days after his brother Charles had a similar experience.

John had been to minister in America and it had been a dismal failure so had returned to England. On this date he had gone to a small chapel in Aldersgate in London when there was a discourse on Luther’s Letter to the Romans, when his spirit was strangely warmed and moved. He then understood that forgiveness of sins and acceptance by God was a free gift from God, and there was nothing we can do on our own to make us acceptable in God’s sight; this was all accomplished by God through the death of Jesus on the Cross.

We are called to believe that we too can have the biblical doctrine of assurance, that we can by God’s grace and through faith know our sins will be forgiven and be assured that by His death on the Cross Christ has given us eternal salvation.

The events of that week-end, which was also Pentecost Sunday, culminated in the start of an evangelical revival that spread throughout the Kingdom. When that spirit of evangelical preaching ended I often wonder, but there seems little of it about these days. I fear Charles and John would hold their heads in shame at some of the words being used today in our Churches.

We are celebrating Pentecost today also, when Peter made that dramatic sermon which led to the conversion of three thousands of people. That was a great day in the history of the Church, for it was then that the Holy Spirit came on the Church in a very special way. The Holy Spirit was the source of all guidance for the Apostles, bestowing power and courage, and was that which Jesus had promised.

This was one of three great Jewish festivals which every Jew who lived within twenty miles of Jerusalem was obliged to attend, and was also known as the festival of weeks, because Pentecost fell on the fiftieth day after the Passover festival.

We are told they were all together in the one place, which was the Temple Courts, when suddenly a sound like a blowing wind and fire filled the whole place. A breath of wind was understood to be a symbol of the Spirit of God, and they able to speak, and fire his holiness which destroys all impurity.

The Apostles were able to speak in other languages of all the people present. The list of nations represented covered most of the area where the Jews had dispersed.

When people are confronted by something they cannot understand they generally respond in one of two ways; either by trying to work out what was meant, or by dismissing with contempt. The crowd accused the disciples of being drunk, which was dismissed by Peter as it was at nine o’clock in the morning.

Peter who had taken over leadership of the Apostles, stood and preached his sermon. The pattern and theme he followed was common in the early Church; an explanation of events followed by relating the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This was accompanied by a call to repentance and to be baptised.

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

The people who heard Peter were cut to the heart, meaning they wee deeply convicted. They began to realise God was involved in their daily lives.

Repent is a word generally misunderstood. Most people think it just means saying sorry. The word biblically means to change your way of living and acting. You accept Jesus was not just a great teacher and social worker but was the Son of God.

No Christian doctrine has been so abused as that of baptism. Everywhere in the New Testament before baptism has been administered there has been a declaration of faith and a commitment made.

During the early years of the Church the practice of baptising infants of practising parent believers who would bring up their children within the family of the Church. As the years passed the practice has developed where outside of the Baptist denomination, someone telephones the local Vicar or Minister to arrange a baptism and are told to be at the Church at a time and date. Vows and promises are made which everyone present knows will not be honoured.

Having seen the discord caused by those attending who invariably take over the Church with little or no regard for the rest of the service, I find myself not attending such services, and would certainly not take one of these indiscriminate baptisms.

I love the Church, which has been the major part of my life, and I hate to see it so abused.

God comes to us in different ways as we seek to serve Jesus.
It may be we see a poster outside a Church with a message which immediately touches us; others through friends telling them of the Church and their own experience. But most are brought to Christ through biblical preaching, which is why it is so important for all preaching to be thoroughly bible based.

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, and 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.

For others there is just a steady grow in grace. 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 without ever being able to determine exactly when that came about.

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.

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.

The Chapter today goes on to tell us that the people converted to Christ on that first Pentecost Sunday continued to meet to listen to the teaching of the Apostles, and the Church grew. When the Church today preaches and listens to the teaching of the Apostles, it too will grow.

Wednesday 20 May 2015

What an eventful week in the Christian world.

We have had a judge state a Christian bakery has discriminated against a homosexual man because they refused to put the words ‘support gay marriage’ on a cake. This was an activist who must have known beforehand this was a devout Christian family business. We have the usual ‘hurt feelings’, bearing in mind they did not refuse to bake a cake, only objected to the offensive slogan. Bear also in mind same sex marriage is not legal in Northern Ireland. The Equality Commission which is supposed to be impartial, does support such unions.

This week there is to be a debate in a Methodist Church on the question of whether there should be an offer of prayers of blessing for same sex relationships and/or a service of thanksgiving. Can you imagine how John/Charles Wesley would feel if they could be aware of what is being discussed in a Church of a denomination which they founded? How can anyone possibly suggest blessing (in God’s name) what is totally contrary to His teaching?

Another Socialist with the usual tolerance for those who hold a different point of view.

A pastor in a Church in Manchester has written to the Prime Minister (and of course made sure the press knew) asking him if he was prepared to live on the minimum wage and visit a food bank. He accuses the Prime Minister of not counting the cost his cuts will cause, although the forecasted cuts are not yet known. He states the Conservatives did not win a majority of the electorate, but seems to miss the point they scored a lot more than Labour, and many of the millions of votes UKIP got were Conservatives who only did so because they could not stomach Cameron’s same sex marriage bill. One interesting fact was omitted from the pastor’s letter; is he willing to live on the minimum wage and visit a food bank?

Sunday 17 May 2015


It is the night before the Crucifixion. Jesus is with His Apostles at the Last Supper and is spending His last hours before going to the Cross.

In a few hours He will be dead so He is telling them He is going to leave them and they will be left to face life without Him. He then concludes with a prayer, which makes this one of the outstanding passages in the New Testament, telling His followers then, and by extension to those who follow Him through the ages, what they will have to face as Christians.

For Jesus, life was life with a climax and that was the Cross. When He spoke of the Cross as His glorification it had a deep significance. It is one of the facts of history again and again, that it was in death that some people’s greatness was recognised and they would never ever know how they influenced others.

I once took a funeral of a young man who virtually gave up his life by the way he lived, suffering from acute depression and a feeling of achieving nothing. Tributes were paid in the most sincere and outstanding words by men of his profession who went to considerable effort to do so, and it was sad to realise the young man never knew how much he was valued. We see this in the life of religious figures and in the world of music and art.

The Cross was the glory of Jesus because it was the completion of the work God had sent Him to do. God had given Him authority over every man and woman on earth; He had come to show the love of God and what He was prepared to suffer for mankind. In His glory He brings glory to God, and if He had not gone to the Cross, it would have meant His work was not completed; to stop short would have suggested there was a limit to that love. Jesus showed there was nothing the love of God was not prepared to do and suffer for us.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus could have escaped the Cross by never going near Jerusalem. The Cross was proof that men could do their worst yet He could rise above their worst, and the Cross would not be the end, for the resurrection was to follow.

In verse 6, Jesus says ‘I have revealed you to those whom you have given me’. Jesus is here thinking of particularly of the Apostles with Him in the Upper Room; those who turned and followed Him in His ministry; those ‘kept the Word’, meaning they were obedient to the faith. But this also equates to all who would one day follow Him.

Then Jesus goes on to say He was not praying for the world, but for those who God had given Him. Jesus is teaching us that we are rescued from the world. The world means all who are opposed to God’s standards and way of life; those who live without reference to God.

This means there are two types of people in the world, which the gospel makes clear over and over again, those who are loyal and obedient to God and those who are not Jesus was always quite unequivocal, that we are either for Him or against Him, there is no neutrality or sitting on the fence. Jesus is firmly black or white in how you respond to Him

It is like being on a mountain top; you can keep to the laid down path and be safe, or make your own way which will likely end in disaster. Jesus spoke of two roads, one leading to eternal life, the other to destruction, so we have to decide our course in life.
Sometimes we feel buffeted by the storms of life, the stresses and strains, the problems of work and family, and personal relationships. We ask will I be strong enough to do the work God wants me to do. Jesus is praying here for all who believe in Him, and particularly for the difficulties to be faced.

In the Bible names mean not only how we are addressed, but also refer to people’s character. When Jesus says that God will protect us by the power of His Name, He means the power associated with God’s character that He will keep us and watch over us and guard us spiritually from falling from Him. The Bible makes it clear we need to obey the Word of God

In verse 11 Jesus prays that God will leave His disciples in the world and will protect them from the evil one, because like Him, they do not act to the world’s standards. He wants His disciples to be active in the world. God will rescue us from people who in rebellion are opposed to Him, but that does not mean we should gather in holy huddles out of contact from others, who need to hear
about Jesus from us.

There are of course, religious orders that lock themselves away from the outside world. They are truly dedicated men and women who sincerely believe they are serving God. The kind of Christianity however, which shuts itself off in a monastery or convent, would not have seemed to Jesus to be Christianity at all. The kind of Christianity which finds the essence of the Christian life in prayer and meditation in a life secluded from the world, would have seemed to Jesus to be a sad version of the faith He died to bring to people.

It was Jesus insistence to be in the hurly burly of life that we must live out our faith. Christianity was never meant to withdraw men and women from ordinary people. It does not release us from problems, but equips us to deal with them. It offers not always peace, but triumph.
Jesus is saying He wants His people to be in the midst of the world, mixing with non believers. Just as a lifeboat is of no use set permanently polished in a station, but is needed to go out and rescue people trapped in stormy seas, so we need to be rescuing those dear to us, trapped in the perils of life in this world. Jesus was saying His people are not meant to be little ships which stay in harbour, although it is much safer, that is not what ships are for, they are meant to be on the high seas.

Jesus prayed for the unity of His disciples, and that they would be one as He and His Father were one. There can be no divisions between Christians. If there are, the cause of Christianity is harmed and the prayer of Jesus is rejected. Jesus never considered different denominations which would be criticising one another, or considered one denomination could claim exclusive access. Jesus prayed we would be one, and there is no prayer of Jesus which has been so hindered from being answered by Christians

Jesus warned us of the hostility we face from a hostile world which hates Christians. If you find that hard to accept, just consider the violence, even murder, of Christians in Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia.
On a more subtle scale, in Australia and Canada; where Bible preaching is under threat and proposals have been made to ban parts of Scripture.

You may say well this is England it can’t happen here. Consider scientists, intellectuals, to whom the Bible is a form of hate literature, arty types, who have shown their dislike and contempt for the Christian faith.

We have people like Richard Dawkins and Polly Toynbee showing quite manic attitude to Christianity. Now we have our faith under threat from politicians and public servants who want to ignore Christian festivals, ban Biblical teaching. ‘Christian Concern’, the organisation which legally represents Christians suffering from secular repression, has undertaken many cases.

The world hates biblical truth, and if you take a stand publicly for the truth of the gospel, you will not be popular and are likely to be called narrow minded at best, and a bigot at worst.

Finally Jesus prayed that His people would be made holy by the truth, set apart for a purpose, and have the character necessary for he task. If we are Christians set apart through the death of Christ we must go into the world with the Word of God.

Remember Jesus words and be encouraged, for He has told us that we are protected by the Word of God who gives us the strength to be the kind of people He longs for us to be.

Monday 11 May 2015

The Election is thankfully over and we have a new government which we never expected. Many will be pleased and naturally others disappointed. The swing to the Conservatives surprised even those within the highest level of the Party, and if there had been a different leader would have been greater still. So many people refused to trust someone who had reneged on promises previously made.

I am reminded of a story about a Vicar who was asked which way he was voting, and replied that a man in his position could not express voting intentions. However, he added that if the Conservatives won they hymn on Sunday would be ‘now thank we all our God’; if Labour won, ‘O God our help in ages past’; and if the Liberal Democrats won, ‘God moves in a mysterious way’.

But the new government will reflect the hopes of many that things will only get better, but there is no really pure political party, and none could seriously hope to fulfil all promised. We are dealing with the ambitions of men, their thoughts and plans.

Morally we are bankrupt; everyone does what is right in their eyes. We have had deplorable legislation from the Conservative Party, which would never have once been credible of that Party, which is due solely to the fact the leader is not a true Conservative, but largely a political chameleon.

Rights and liberties of decent people have been dismissed; any conviction of sin is ridiculed and greed has been overlooked. A whole generation has been encouraged to think that religious belief is of no importance. The world neglects the Church until it feels we can offer a touch of ceremony to an otherwise secular wedding or baptism.

Within Churches ministers have been prepared to make a give and take policy. Those of us who have a profound respect for the authority of Scripture, for which men fought and died, are mocked.
Many of the old and sure foundations are up for grabs and have been cast aside.

The urgent need now is for the Church to return to the old faith, recovering purity of worship and pursuit of holiness. We have no right to ask God to bless Churches which spend their time disputing the essentials of faith.

Many years ago the great Welsh preacher, Martyn Lloyd Jones, pointed out there were true believers in all the main denominations who were worshipping with those who did not share their beliefs, a contradictory situation. He suggested a coming together of all those with true evangelical persuasion to worship together, in other words to form a National Evangelical Church. He likened it to the Reformation when the Reformers called upon believers to maintain faithful witness. H asked how we could expect the Holy Spirit be called upon a Church which spent time arguing over the faith, but the Spirit of God could be expected when all were united in true belief.

John Stott, the leading Church of England evangelical at the time, spoke strongly against such a move, not in the sense that he disagreed with the intention, but such was his loyalty to the Church of England, he knew the consequence if such a union was joined.

Who knows what blessings for the Church might have occurred if these two great men had ministered together, and indeed which proved right. Certainly events suggest Martyn Lloyd Jones have proved prophetic, as a liberality has taken over and time held beliefs have been abandoned. Who could have foreseen Bishops calling for support for same sex marriages, and the following of ways of life contrary to the Bible.

Friday 8 May 2015

How refreshing and encouraging to read that religious leaders in the United States have warned the Supreme Court that if they decide to approve the right to same sex marriage in all States, the thirty nine States that have so far not authorised it will have their religious freedom taken away. In a statement they stated, "While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross." If only the Church leaders in this country had the same courage, and of course conviction.

Civil Partnerships were legalised and provided all the material benefits such couples would share with heterosexual people, and many homosexual men and women were content and satisfied with that provision. Unfortunately activists inside the movement, and vote seeking Prime Minister had to insist on challenging the divine order.

But the most aggravating aspect has been that those who cannot accept such (marriage?) are facing intense pressure to do so, with facing penalties of varying degree. We find businesses and organisations facing entrapment by such couples in order to have legal action taken against them; with of course financial compensation for ‘hurt and emotional distress’.

The country is celebrating the anniversary of VE day when the Second World War ended. I wonder what those brave men/women who lost their lives, or were badly wounded on a battle field in that war would say, in response to a man complaining of hurt feelings just because he couldn‘t have a cake baked with a caption on that was offensive to the bakers.

In England we even have school inspectors interrogating young children about sensitive personal matters. Shocking reports emerged of inspectors asking primary school children, that is children of a tender age, to explain "what lesbians did" and whether they knew pupils "who had two mums".

Parents naturally complained and the body overseeing these inspectors held an internal enquiry, which of course found no grounds to take action. In typical fashion under this present government, the matter has been closed despite the enquiry not interviewing any of the pupils or parents.

Inspectors also swooped on Jewish and Christian schools questioning pupils for their views on same sex marriage. This is in no way surprising as the new Education Secretary, described as a committed Christian, who once voted against same sex marriage, had a change of heart when offered a Cabinet post by the (then) passionately committed same sex marriage Prime Minister, and to prove her change of heart, appointed as a principal adviser a man from the homosexual lobby. Schools were suspended without proper investigation or examination.

The Conservative Party, once known for its conservative views, have not only changed the divine definition of marriage, but have created legislation to prevent people opposed from being able to express that opposition. I accept the other parties supported the Same Sex Marriage Act, but they did not take action to institute legislation. Only David Cameron was prepared to do that, despite saying categorically prior to the 2010 Election that he would not do so. (Just another promise broken.)

There is a video on Christian Concern website of Cameron making a speech telling how please he is that this is a Christian country and portraying himself as a Christian. This is the same David Cameron who brought in the above mentioned legislation, and sent one of his government lawyers to the European Court to argue that a Cross was not a significant Christian symbol. Is that a sign of duplicity or a split personality?

I wonder why politicians can make false promises then have the nerve to claim they are such devoted Christians?