Saturday 26 September 2015

Mark’s gospel, Chapter 8 verses 31-38,

Jesus has asked the Apostles who people say He is and they tell Him various answers. Peter then made his famous confession that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. (Matthew describes it a little more fully by telling how Jesus was pleased with this answer and said He would build His Church on that reply)

At the start of our passage Jesus tells them that He is going to suffer at the hands of His enemies and then be killed. Peter challenges Him, causing Jesus to tell Peter he doesn’t understand the plan of God. Jesus was pointing out that it was necessary for Him to die as a sacrifice on the Cross, which is why He came to earth so that He could pay the penalty for our sins.

We cannot preach the gospel unless we refer to the Cross. The death of Jesus cannot be kept out of any gospel message. Billy Graham, who was more successful than any other preacher in Christian history, made clear every message he preached would contain the message of the Cross.

This passage could be titled ‘what it means to be a disciple’, for Jesus went on to tell what He expects from those who want to follow Him and be His disciple.

Firstly, to deny oneself. One of the most favourite pieces of music requested at funeral services, as well as being a universal favourite, is Frank Sinatra’s record, ‘my way’. You cannot be a disciple of Jesus in the Frank Sinatra style. Jesus requires us to live the way He taught, and to put Him first rather than oneself. We are to deny doing the things that contradict a way of living to that laid down in Scripture. This does not mean we have to give up enjoying the luxuries and joys of life; it is our self we are to deny, if it causes us to act against His way.
Jesus wants us to submit ourselves to His leadership and Lordship. There can be no discipleship apart from this; it is an essential part of that discipleship.
Society is generally motivated in trying to acquire wealth and material possessions, sometimes by any means, and a priority in putting oneself first and enjoying oneself with little or no time for God or Christ. Worship is very low on the list of priorities, if at all. People who live only for this life will find that in the end they will lose it without having attained anything lasting. They will have wasted so many years on transient matters.
Secondly, we are to take up the cross. For Jesus the cross represents intense suffering, a rejection of Him by the world, but a sign of His complete obedience to God. To us the Cross is not just a story from the Bible; it is accepting God’s will for our life. As Jesus went freely to the Cross on our behalf and gave up His life for us, we must be prepared to put aside all that hinders our following Him, and give our life in service to Him. This will no doubt entail some suffering on our part, and even rejection by people we thought to be friends, but it is not likely to be physical suffering. The cross stands forever as a symbol of those circumstances which humble us, and offends our pride.

Thirdly, our lives can only be truly fulfilled and be worthwhile by following Jesus. He said if we hold on to our lives in this world we will lose the chance of living with Him in eternity. We can attain all this world offers, but if we do so and forsake Him we lose our soul. Jesus is calling for complete obedience, ready to do or say whatever He commands

Finally, Jesus stated if anyone is ashamed of Him now they will pay the price when the day comes when we will all face Him and give an account of our lives here. If we reject Him now, He will reject us on the day when we answer to Him.

Christianity is regularly attacked on radio and television, mostly by rather coarse and vulgar people, who think it a subject for amusing rebuke. Ministers of religion are portrayed as odd characters totally removed from normal people. One advertisement shows a Vicar acting in a befuddled way, to be associated with food which is boring, in contrast to jolly people enjoying the advertiser’s food.

We can be deemed to be ashamed of Jesus if we allow such attacks to go unchallenged, and we should remember the words of the hymn ‘stand up for Jesus’ and be prepared to let other know we resent such abuse.

Jesus is calling for commitment, which means picking up the Cross for Him. There are many people who claim to be followers, without having any justification. They have no intention of denying themselves and giving up things for Him.

Think, if you asked your friends or members of your family what they thought of Jesus, what would they be likely to say? But more importantly, if someone asked you ‘who do you say Jesus is’, what would be your answer?

Let each person ask oneself that question, and let us hope and pray the answer will be, ‘He was the Son of God who came to earth to give His life as a ransom for me by dying on a Cross so that the sins of all mankind could be forgiven, and was raised on the third day by God to prove He conquered death, and now reigns in glory where one day all who have denied themselves, taken up the Cross and followed Him will live with Him in heaven.

And which way will you choose, the way of the cross or the way of the world?

Thursday 17 September 2015

Turn with me to John’s Gospel, Chapter 13, verse 31 to 14.v6. This is all about the uniqueness of Jesus.

The passage I have chosen to speak to you about this morning is one of the best known passages in the New Testament, even to non Church people.

There are many people who will not live in a house which is numbered 13 and some roads omit the number, going from 11 to 11a or 15a. The superstition originated from the story in this Chapter, not because of the number of the Chapter, but from the story contained in it. I lived with my parents in a No.13 for years without any harm.

The scene of this story takes place in what is known as the Upper Room. Jesus is with His 12 Apostles for the Last Supper, so making a total of 13.

Jesus has just told the Apostles one of them would betray Him, knowing it would be Judas and within hours of doing, so both He and Judas would be dead. Judas would commit the greatest betrayal in history as he left the room to ‘go out into the night’ (darkness) to sell out Jesus. He told the remaining Apostles that the time had come for Him to be glorified.

What Jesus meant by this was, this was the last time He would speak to them before He was to die. His glory is that He is on His way to the Cross, His work on this earth is over and the crucifixion will also bring glory to the Father.

Jesus then for the only time called His Apostles, ‘little children’; this was obviously an endearing term of affection, like a father who is about to go away from his family. Jesus noticeably waited until Judas had left before saying it. It is the end of a close relationship of three years and time to say goodbye.

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.

He calls on them to love one another, a fundamental principle of our faith, yet we find some awful failings to obey that command. He was calling on them to stay together and be faithful to each other, something all Christians should show as an example to the world. So often Christians are seen to be fighting with each other, due to some following a false line of teaching and not obeying Scripture, when they should be seen as a happy family. This is a complete turn off to non believers

When Jesus said ‘love one another’, He meant we should get along with each other. We are not talking of physical love or even sentimental feelings, but rather fellowship, compassion, tolerance and loyalty. We are not called upon to ‘like’ everybody, indeed, there are people in the Church you just couldn’t possibly like, they are so unlikeable.

If we are true to our faith we can’t be at odds with each other, yet we find people walking out of Church if they can’t get their own way, or are not given the deference they feel due to them. We should be able to resolve any issue calmly and amicably.

When non-Church people see Christians as a mixed gathering of different ages, different sexes, different backgrounds, getting on and being happy together, they will be inspired by us and respond, but if they see us as an arguing fractious lot, falling out all the time, they will justly say ‘look at those hypocritical Christians.’ .

Jesus tells them He is leaving them but they cannot go with Him, and that leaves them devastated. They had only managed to stay together through His unifying spirit, otherwise they would have parted. Peter spoke up first to plead to go with Him, but Jesus refused and even foretold what would happen to Peter.

I can relate to the feeling of the Apostles when they heard Jesus was leaving them. They had been in a three year intimate closeness to Jesus, and it is like the occasion when a Vicar or Minister gives notice he is leaving a parish, and both he and the members are sad.

Prior to coming to Bedford, I spent the happiest and most rewarding three years of my life in a Church on the Wirral, where I had such a marvellous time with the loveliest congregation possible. When I gave notice I had to leave for family reasons there were tears and much sadness, but I still have such wonderful memories of three golden years. I am sure the Apostles had even more to grieve over.

Seeing their grief, Jesus told them to not let their hearts be troubled. The heart is the seat of all our emotions and feelings and if that is disturbed our whole body and mind is. He calls for trust in Himself as well as in God, meaning have a personal relationship. Although troubled Himself, Jesus shows concern for the Apostles and tries to comfort them.

He refers to heaven as His Father’s house and tells them He is going to prepare a place for them; which He will accomplish by dying on the Cross and rising, to ascend back to heaven with God. He promises to come back and take them with Him so they may be together again.

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.

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 major road it is safe for him to cross when ready. 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, we are leading them astray.

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.

It is easy to say I am a Christian, easy to say I read the Bible. 95% of the population today believe as long as you are honest, kind and helpful to others and do no harm, you are a fully fledged Christian

Jesus speaks firmly and rather profoundly when He says not all who think they are to enter the Kingdom of heaven will in fact do so

In every action of life we are confronted with a choice, where we must make a decision to do one thing or another. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus confronted us with a hard or an easy way. He makes uncompromising and tough demands of commitment, which many people cannot take, and are not prepared to commit. Then as now, some are ready to listen and walk with Him, learning to depend on Him, whilst others are just occasional supporters.

I believe the Church has encouraged people to so think and believe rather than make our Lord’s meaning clear. The Church in general in its desire to be nice and friendly to all, with a craving to please society in general, 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.

In verses 4/5 we read Jesus suggests they know the way to the place where He is going, Thomas answered that they did not know the way, how could they.

Then in verse 6 Jesus makes a profound statement which goes to the heart of Christian faith and belief. He states He is the only way to God. This is not generally liked as it is seen as being too restrictive, too bigoted and intolerant, and to be judgmental is not liked. Consequently some clergy will not quote it, whilst others just will not accept it. Frankly, I think if any man/woman does not accept this verse then they should not be allowed to preach for they are betraying the Lord who said it, and the Church whish they serve.

The temptation for us, as Christians, is to say what makes us popular. Too many preachers have forgotten about being authentic; about being true to the Gospel we have been entrusted with by our Lord; to be true to our values, and to proclaim them without embarrassment and fear.

I stated in a sermon last week that clergy hold a respected position in many people’s minds, especially more so in the Church of England perhaps than the Free Churches, so that what they say is often accepted.

Whilst I personally like the freedom of the Methodist Church service where the Minister can set his own order of service, I think a weakness exists in these modern days of having a different preacher each week when there is so much difference in the interpretation of Scripture. One week a preacher may take a biblical line, but the following week someone wishing to make the Bible say what fits in with modern cultural belief and morality will follow; this just causes confusion.

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 challenge Holy Scripture.

It is widely claimed, erroneously, that we all worship the same God and all religions have the same way to heaven. Islam worship ‘Allah’ and 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.

We Christians worship the God of Israel; we worship a Saviour who was a Jew; we have Apostolic teaching from Apostles who were Jews; our Bible was written by Jews: no Muslim could accept that. We should each respect the right of the other in their belief, and try to live peacefully together.

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

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’.

He is the way from God to man, bringing the blessings of God, and He is the (only) way for us to reach God. He is the embodiment of all truth, and came to give us life everlasting.

We are called arrogant and discriminating when we make this claim; and this government is trying to restrict us making any exclusive claim about our faith, or quoting verses from the Bible about morality, by making legislation which deems it hate crime.

Jesus is quite unequivocal. To state otherwise is to challenge the word of the Lord, never do that for one day we will appear before Jesus and He will want an answer.

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, ‘I can’t see you getting 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.
It is an offer you cannot afford to refuse.

Sunday 13 September 2015

This morning I ask you to turn with me to the 3rd Chapter of James’ Epistle. It is a very practical letter, and this passage is all about the use/misuse of the tongue.

We all know how destructive the tongue can be and I am sure we all have regrets over things we have said whether cruel or just embarrassing. Most human sin is facilitated by speech of one sort or another, anger, seduction; the tongue is the wind that whips up the embers into a fierce blaze. So, James wants to guide us to let the influence of Christ be uppermost in our minds.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying ‘I would rather be thought a fool for not speaking than to speak and prove it.’

James begins by referring to teachers (or preachers) who held a prestigious position within the Church and were directly responsible for instructing new converts. This enabled them to use the tongue to promote their own ideas and opinions and give false teaching. This is still a concern today, when those privileged to lead services find the Bible does not match up with their belief that we should adapt to the culture of 21st century society’s ways.

When people gather together for worship, they should hear what God has said and wants to be, not what any man or woman thinks should appertain. Some of the men (only in those days) were not truly qualified either by learning or faith to be teachers, and there is at the present time a tendency in all denominations to be too ready to appoint preachers just to be able to have someone available. This can do more damage and irreparable harm to the Christian faith as agitators for a particular cause have free rein.

The problem is exacerbated when the position in society of clergy is considered. In the Church of England, perhaps more so than in the Free Churches, a Vicar carries considerable respect so his words can materially influence a person’s mind.

In verse 2 James points out how easy it is to offend with the tongue as well as doing good. Two examples are Hitler who could mesmerise a nation with his oratory and spread evil, and on the other hand Winston Churchill who could inspire and motivate his country to goodness.

We can all slip up, a term |James infers, quite easily and unintentionally. Words more than anything else form impressions that stick, especially are they damaging when bitterly criticising. James wants us to grasp this so that we may control ourselves and uses two examples to demonstrate how powerful the tongue is. Once words are used they can never be fully retracted, even with apologies the words remain in the memory of the one used against. However much we are warned, we never completely avoid hurt.

When a bit is put into a horse’s mouth we can control the whole body and make it do what we wish. When the tongue is controlled the whole body feels the blessings.

Secondly, a ship is large and heavy and can be driven by strong winds, yet a very small rudder can divert whichever way a pilot wants to go. So when applied to the tongue, it may help the whole person control the pressures which threaten to drive us off course, and a gentle word may turn off anger.

Nothing warms our hearts more than sincere expressions of love and esteem, and nothing hurts as much as hard words of bitter criticism or reproach. Christians must learn and accept that there can be difference of opinion and belief between us, which must be respected and discussed in a civilised and above all Christian way.

In verse 5, playing with fire is a menacing figure of speech. A great forest fire as we now often see in the United States is set off by a small spark, sometimes deliberately used; words too can spread like wildfire and cause much harm. In to-day’s world with computer, mobile phones, texts and emails, rumour and gossip can be sent around the world, as numerous people have found to their embarrassment, not knowing if what was sent was true or not. Reputations are destroyed over coffee or more so with alcohol in the equation. Tongues rattle away and slanderous remarks fly freely.

Verse 6 refers to the tongue set on fire by hell. In ancient time there was a place called Gehenna on the outskirts of Jerusalem, seen as hell on earth. This was where children were sacrificed in burning furnaces to the god Moloch. Later in Jesus time it was the city rubbish dump where all refuse was taken. It was dark, smelly hellish place and seen as a picture of hell. Sometimes lips are unclean and the fuel for the tongue is said to come from hell in those cases.

Humanists think because God allowed us to have dominion over all other creatures, and to a great extent mankind has been successful in taming most animals, he is invincible. But what we ought to recognise is that the ability to tame animals was not made possible by our powers alone, it was a gift from God. Our achievements are ultimately received from God so there should be no boasting in our way of self sufficiency or ingenuity.

So the reality of our untameable tongue and the problem of human wickedness should leave us in no doubt that there is need of a Saviour, because we are helpless inI our own strength.

People generally are not all bad, we have lapses, but most people are relatively restrained. James defends his criticism by the inconsistency of our speaking. It is in those times of stress and anger that the viciousness of the tongue is revealed. It is not only in bad language or unguarded remarks spoken in the heat of the moment, it is the fact that good and pious words come from the same lips. We sing prise to the Lord and then go out into the worlds to curse our fellowmen and spread poisonous words.

The Christian who speaks to God in exalted tones but speaks ridicule to everyone who upsets them is a contradiction in terms. This was true of Peter when he cursed and swore and denied the Lord on the night Jesus was arrested.

In verse 10 James states ‘my brothers this should not be’. He is highlighting the abnormality of double speak. We have politicians anxious at time to state their Christian credentials, and then create legislation which penalises Christians who try to exercise their beliefs. Those who love the Lord cannot afford to speak out of both sides of their mouth.

James closes this section with two illustrations. He speaks of a spring which cannot produce both clear and salt water, nor can a tree provide two kinds of fruit.

He takes his readers to the words of our Lord and to the very heart of the gospel of saving grace, which is able to transform the whole person. Jesus said ‘if anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink; whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within’. Christ is the living water who gives to all who come to Him in faith, that water which will become within a spring of water rising up to heaven and eternal life.

It is one of life’s hardest duties yet also the plainest to ensure our tongues only ever speak such words as we would wish God to hear.

Saturday 5 September 2015

Acts 2 verses 36/47

We come to the first Sunday in the Methodist Church calendar and members will be returning from holidays, some with hope and anticipation for the coming year, whilst others will have regrets at the empty seats where friends no longer sit, either because they have gone to be with the Lord, or just fallen away as so many have done. It is reported that 100,000 members have been lost over the past ten years, which should be a matter of concern for us all.

Whilst we live in very different times and culture, we could learn much from the passage you have just heard read, which is our Epistle today.

We have the story of how the Church began on the day of Pentecost. Just Twelve Apostles in Jerusalem stood before the assembled
crowds as Peter gave his sermon He spoke of a corrupt generation who had rejected God and lived their lives as if God did not exist and so they were under God’s judgement and needed to be saved. Such a situation could be said to exist today and is a reality for us. God is still rejected, and this is the reason Church congregations are so small.

Peter’s words had an immediate effect so that 3,000 responded as they were ‘cut to the heart’; in other words they were deeply convicted. They began to realize that life was not what it appeared to be, and that behind all the normal events of everyday life was the power of God. This is always what happens when the Spirit of God is at work. He makes us aware of the Lordship of Jesus, the fact that Jesus is Lord.

The early church was a good model of what the church should be. As we compare ourselves today to that early church, we need to ask ourselves if we are an accurate representation of the kind of church that God would have us be.

Peter told the people they needed to repent and turn to Christ and 3,000 people committed themselves to do so. They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, who in turn had been taught by our Lord Himself. So what they heard would have been Jesus’ earthly teaching plus what He taught in His 40 days of resurrection appearances. The wonderful thing is God has graciously made possible for us to have that same teaching; He has left us with copies of those Bible classes, it is called the New Testament.

We are told they devoted themselves; they didn’t need persuasion or coercion, they were eager to learn. They were filled with awe, and their praise and worship was so inspiring others who saw and heard joined. I wonder how many of our congregations could say they were filled with awe and felt inspired. I believe much of the cause of our empty Churches has been that the worship could not reasonably be said to have been inspiring nor filled with awe. Too often in some cases it has been ‘we have to offer something’, without much further thought, and in others instances, ‘we have always done it this way’, which just shows a lack of commitment.

There is a very significant sentence at the end of the passage; and the Lord added to their number day by day. Every day, there would be new converts to the faith. That should not really be surprising. The apostles were getting the gospel of Jesus Christ out to the people around them by their teaching. They told of Christ coming to this earth in a unique way; of the miracles Jesus performed; how He gave up His life for us by dying on the Cross so that our sins could be forgiven by God, so assuring us of eternal with Him.

In addition, unbelievers were seeing the grace of God being displayed in the lives of the believers and were impressed with what was happening and were attracted. God was using these things to draw people to himself and the church grew. This tells us that it is God who builds up a Church, for He alone can move a person’s heart to repentance and faith. Jesus said on one occasion, ‘No man can come unto me except my Father draw him’. God is drawing people to himself all over the world.

It is in God’s plan that His Church will grow. In that first Church it was growing all the time; from that little band of men, the Christian gospel spread across the world.

Why is it that the Lord is not adding to our Churches now? He is in Africa, South Korea, China and South America. I suggest it is because in Britain and other Western nations we are not teaching, and certainly not practising, the teaching of the Apostles. These men were speaking in the name of and on behalf of the Lord Himself who told them what to say. If we choose to teach and preach in a manner to align ourselves with society’s culture and ways rather than with what God has lain down, we cannot expect God to bless our ministry.

It is a fact of life we live in a free and easy country where virtually no behaviour is considered to be morally wrong, and the moment anyone dares to criticise or suggest something is wrong, they are labelled as phobic or bigots. Unfortunately many people within the Church have adopted the way of the world, it has somewhat been accepted, and even applauded. This is so wrong, the Church should be setting an example and making its voice heard instead of secularists setting out their agenda.

A Danish philosopher once stated, whereas Jesus came and turned water into wine, the modern Church has managed to do something altogether more difficult, to change wine into water. . Many will agree with him as we have watered down the gospel of our Lord so that people are confused as to what they exactly should believe.

There is a false Christianity around today. There are people who put on a Christian front. They act like Christians, they read the Book, and sing the hymns, but they have no reality of Christ in their lives. That kind of Christianity is worthless. If we want to be men and women of God, we are to follow the teaching God has provided for us. This clearly set out in the Bible and readily available for all to follow.

Having seen how that early Church responded under apostolic teaching, we need to consider how the Church now in this critical time responds with its teaching of the Scriptures.

Paul commanded Timothy to preach the word, and by the word he meant the Scriptures, which is still the primary task for all preachers. He gave a clear instruction for all Christian pastors and teachers that they were commissioned to teach the truth and to refute error.

He also warned that a time would come when people would not want to hear sound doctrine, by which he meant the teaching given by the Apostles, but would find teachers who were willing to say what they wanted to hear. Sadly, such false teachers abound who are prepared to defy God.

At a time when the Church of England is haemorrhaging so fast, a bishop calls for the Church to hold a fast day once a month to pray for climate change; that was his concern not the gospel. On Easter Day last year, such a prominent day in the life of the Church, in a televised service from a Cathedral, the preacher lost an enormous opportunity to tell about Jesus by giving instead an attack on the English defence League. These are only two examples of a lost cause which affects all Christians and not just Anglicans.

We have to ask ourselves, why is the Church here, and what is our responsibility to God? Our primary task is to preach the gospel. If we do not do that there is no purpose for the Church. Both Jesus and Paul put that before any other work they did. We are here to tell about God and Jesus; about His unique birth, miracle works; His sacrificial death on our behalf, and how God resurrected Him as a foretaste of what can happen to us.

Jesus said the heart of the Christian faith is eternal life and that we may know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent, which we can only have through Jesus Christ.

There is a reluctance by some clergy to speak out for fear of being labelled as a bigot or being discriminatory. This always likely to occur when someone wants to join the politically correct crowd and tell you sanctimoniously you shouldn’t say that, so there is the tendency to re-interpret the Bible to make it acceptable.

This once great Methodist Church was built on strong Biblical foundation. The greatest revival of Christianity in this country came during the ministry of John/Charles Wesley If they were alive today they would have much to say at the way the Church has failed to proclaim the message they left, that salvation was through Christ alone, the value of a person’s life was measured by their faith; by the manner in which they lived their lives, and the doctrine of heaven and hell.

A few months ago the Methodist Church conducted a survey from members, and the first question asked, was should the Church which believes marriage is between one man and one woman consider revising that policy in consideration of society’s thinking. Although over 60% opposed any change, it was decided to defer any decision for two years.

Can you imagine that ever being asked of either John or Charles Wesley? Marriage was given by God at the creation of mankind; it is God’s first building block for society, and to change that would be to rip the heart out of God’s plan and purpose.

The Prime Minister recently spoke out for the Church in this country, and however much you may doubt the sincerity as opposed to political campaigning; the words he spoke were welcome. Yet within one day 50 angry liberal atheists got together and organised a protest widely circulated by press, radio and television.

Now compare that with the Church’s failure to respond as strongly when the same Prime Minister redefined marriage to destroy 2000 years of Christian teaching; who in a submission to the Court of Human Rights opposed protection for the unborn child; who submitted to the same Court that the Cross was not a Christian symbol; that if you dared to speak out against same sex marriage you could resign rather than being dismissed.

Obviously if we are faithful to Scripture we are going to upset many people, not out of a desire to do so, but simply because we will strike at their conscience. The Bible clearly states all people, even those who have never heard the gospel, have a sense of right and wrong. We have to tell of the consequences for them when this life is over.

If you were walking down a road and you saw a house on fire and also saw someone in side trapped, you wouldn’t just wave to them, you would seek to save them; so we have a Christian duty to try and save them spiritually.

One day every man and woman will have to give account for the way they have lived their lives, and preachers bear a much heavier responsibility, for as Paul warned Timothy, they have been given the privilege and task of proclaiming God’s Word and failure to do so will have to be answered for. We still have men/women preaching false doctrine, living in a way contrary to the Bible they are vowed to honour, then attempting to justify doing so by misinterpreting Scripture.

If ever the Word of God was needed it is never more so than now. Never let us be reluctant or ashamed to proclaim it. Proclaim the good news be
bold and positive.

Sometimes a problem does arise when there are a range of preachers. For instance, I am here this week with a conservative evangelical message and next week or soon after someone with a liberal approach will be here, a situation which arises in numerous Churches and understandably causes confusion in people’s minds as to who is right.

There is however one way of deciding; turn to your Bibles and see which message can be verified.

I want to close with words of John Wesley who once stated “I want to know one thing, the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God!

Tuesday 1 September 2015

The Epistle for Sundays this month are from the Letter of James, which has always seemed to me to be a very practical Letter, from which we can take a relevant lesson. The passage this week, the first thirteen verses from Chapter 2, relate to actions of favouritism and forming quick judgements, which can be contrary to Christian teaching.

There is a story of a man appearing before a Court for jury service who asked to be excused on the grounds that he had already formed an opinion that the accused was guilty from his appearance. The judge asked how he could have done so when the accused had not been brought before the Court. When the man pointed to someone sitting in the Court the judge scowled, ‘that man is not the accused he is a barrister’.
(From my previous life I have sympathy with the juror; I often thought some lawyers were as bad as those people they were defending)

But we all have our prejudices and for many years it was on the subject of colour. In fact I read that a well known black politician was at one time flying to Kenya from South Africa and was uneasy when he saw the pilot was black. For a white girl to be seen with a black man was at one time considered to be shocking, but now of course we have become more civilised and realised that it is quite wrong to judge on colour, although in some cases we have inverted prejudice against white people by other white people who want to show how perfectly politically correct they can be. We also see people alleging prejudice when they fail to get employment or positions when their own unsuitability is the true reason.

We are often guilty of trying to stereotype people on the basis of imagined as well as real differences and we assign certain characteristics to those people. We also judge people on appearance and it is this that James is concerned about as he opens this passage.

There is a scene in the movie ‘Pretty Woman’ in which Julia Roberts went into a very select shop in Beverley Hills dressed very poorly and the staff showed their disapproval of her. Later she returns with Richard Gere, a wealthy business man and the staff fall over themselves to serve. This reflects real life.

The Bible calls on us to love one another and James points out that what can be a hindrance to doing so is prejudice and favouritism in an unfavourable way. Billy Graham on so many occasions said the problem with so many people is that their heart is not right and they suffer with a heart problem.

As Christians in a secular world, we are like ambassadors in a foreign land; we represent our Sovereign the king of all kings, Jesus Christ, so we must act like Him. The aim of all Christians should behave in a way we think Jesus would have acted.

James was concerned that snobbery may enter the Church and draws a comparison of a situation in which a rich man enters Church and is fussed over whilst a poor man is virtually cast aside. We see this in practice often. It always annoyed me, and still does, to look at civil services in which the first set of rows in a Church are set aside for ‘dignatories’. I accept that a Mayor or head of an authority representing that authority should be catered for at a special civil service, but for the rest, who are often pompously strutting up to be noticed when they would never otherwise go to Church, and thereby deprive others who of a place, is quite wrong.

Pandering to one class of people is wrong, and that applies to both rich and poor; we can have inverted snobbery. The Apostle Peter learned that God has no favourites when he was called to meet Cornelius. There is unfortunately at times an eagerness to fuss over someone who thinks he is an important person, and to be influenced by social status, and this was prevalent in James’ time when a landowner would be in Church with his servants present. People should be welcomed as people and never because of who they are. Jesus was never a respecter of people. The whole Bible unites in condemning favouritism which gives credence to a person’s social standing

The Church must always be a place where distinctions are not tolerated as we meet in the presence of God. It is both a tragedy and a disgrace that there are Churches were people attend and frown on others from a less advantaged background, or even because one is not part of a ‘set’.

Abraham Lincoln once stated, ‘God must have loved the poor because He made so many of them’, and Jesus said He came to preach to the poor. Indeed the Gospel offered so much to the poor.

A truly well-mannered person will respect others no matter who they are. There is the story relating to the late Queen Mother, sitting next to man at a banquet who picked up the bowl meant for finger dipping and drank from it. To avoid him being embarrassed the Queen did the same.

James tells that it is our duty to love one another which is the royal law for if one keeps it one becomes a king of oneself and a king among men. A fact is that if you break one part of the law you are considered to have broken the whole of the law. It is like a chain, if you break one link the chain becomes useless for it loses its power.

There is a practical truth which one can apply to life. A person may be a prominent person in Church life with a moral reputation and recognised as being a devout Christian, all of which appears to have been displayed by that person. But there can be one aspect of life which has been secretly guarded which could destroy that image, however small, and all that public persona would be for nothing worth.

James ends the passage by teaching that the Christian lives a life of tolerance and concern for others, and does so not for fear of punishment but because they are trying to emulate Christ and for love of Him. There are time when we are justified in getting angry and perhaps even being aggressive, but that should be the exception and not the rule. We should be eager to forgive as well as being eager to be forgiven.