Saturday 23 July 2016

Luke 11 v. 1-13

The Gospel reading for Sunday contains the giving by Jesus of the Lord’s Prayer.

I am often in mind of a scene broadcast on the Christian Broadcasting Network in America when I say or hear this prayer. It is of the first English settlers who landed at Viriginia Beach in April 1607.planting the Cross and reciting the prayer. They were the forerunners who were joined by others to make that such a great and powerfully Christian nation.

We read that a disciple asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. This is a reasonable request for praying is hard for a lot of people. I had a Vicar who was masterly at praying at any given time for any possible reason, but others find it hard to do so without a book of set prayers.

Jesus gave His disciples and by extension us, a model prayer simple in its composition but profound in its teaching. The prayer begins with us thinking about God and our relationship to Him, and then moves on to our own concerns.

We have to remember that prayer is talking to God, who we are encouraged by Jesus to call Father, so we begin by recognising God as ‘our’ Father who cares for and loves us just as an earthly father cares for his sons/daughters. The Jews would not recognise such intimacy and not until Jesus spoke to us had anyone ever done so.

We recognise His holiness and that He reigns in heaven, and approach Him in reverence. We also acknowledge that in being holy, God is above and beyond us. In Jewish thought a name reflected the character of the person so we recognise God’s holiness and seek to display it in our lives. We cannot see God but He is present in heaven and all authority is His. If we trust in Him He is always ready to hear us in time of need.

We pray for the time to come when God’s name will be honoured on earth as it is in heaven and His rule will be established. This is the mission of the Church which is often overlooked as other (worldly) causes are pursued.

In saying ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done’ we are praying that God’s rule be established more and more. We want God to be fully present in life and not just an invisible hope. We want to see more and more people converted and obey His will and that those who disobey and hate His commands will decrease. We are praying that all God’s plans and purposes will be fulfilled.

We pray that God will provide for our daily needs, bread being the basic food which sustains our physical life, so we are asking God to supply for us as He did for the people of Israel when in the wilderness and He sent manna from heaven. This reminds us of our dependence on God and approach each day as a separate entity in our life.

We recognise God’s grace as we seek forgiveness for the debt we owe to God for sinning, and lay our sins on Jesus Christ. The Bible states ‘there is no one righteous, no not one, we all fall short of the glory of God’, so here we confess we are in fact sinners. There is the need to forgive those who offend us, forgiving the person not the sin, for only God can do that. This is a hard call for many people and even harder to put into practice. It is important to remember that the word ‘sin’ has a far greater meaning than just sexual matters, which people usually have solely in mind.

Finally, we plead with God to so order our lives that we do not face temptation beyond our ability to resist. God will never lead us into temptation, but we face this every day of our lives and will do so as long as we live on this earth. At this point we also want Him to protect us from evil which abounds so much all around us, and so order our lives that we may not be faced with anything we cannot bear.

The words of this prayer have passed over our lips many times. How many who recite it, sometimes automatically, really desire is petitions to be granted. Do we really see God as our Father and truly care for His will and name, and wish for the kingdom to come.

This prayer is read at almost every funeral service and said by people who have little if any religious faith and do not appreciate its wonder or meaning. The prayer is factually for believers who are entitled to call God ‘Father’, for Jesus stated no one can come to the father except through me.

Jesus went on to give a parable. In Palestine travellers often travelled late in the day to avoid the heat. Jesus tells of one traveller who arrived at his friend’s home at midnight and put his friend at an embarrassment.

In the East hospitality was a sacred duty, it was not sufficient to give a basic meal; the guest had to be given a full spread. Bread was baked at home because if it was kept it would go stale and be uneatable. The late arrival meant the householder had en empty larder and could not therefore fulfil his obligation of hospitality. He went out and asked a neighbour to help but no one would normally knock on a door which was shut for that was an indication that the householder did not want to be disturbed.

The home would have been one room with two thirds on ground level and the other third raised. It was also the custom to bring their animals into the house at night, so when there was persistent knocking on the door the whole family would be disturbed. The neighbour gave what was asked of him.

Jesus said the lesson of the parable was that we must persist in prayer and knock on God’s door until we can persuade God to answer. Jesus was pointing out that if a rather unwilling man can eventually give what was asked of him, how much more can a loving God give to supply His children’s needs.

This does not mean we can treat God as something like a heavenly beneficiary and make a list of things we want. We often pray for things to happen and sometimes God will not answer directly because He thinks they are not for our own good, just as an earthly father will deny his children because they make come to harm or not be for their good. We must pray with intensity and passion knowing we are asking the One who knows all our needs and will act for our best interests.

In Church intercessions some think it necessary to pray for every conceivable person and thing, or to use flowery phrases, whereas Jesus in this prayer He gave was a model of simplicity. We share this prayer with millions worldwide.

Our Lord’s prayers were short when offered in public but when alone with God mean a whole night in prayer. Long prayers in public can weary listeners. The publican’s prayer was, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’. The Syrophenician woman was shorter still, ‘Lord help me’ and her prayer was answered. Let our prayers be to the point, just telling God what is on our mind.

Some people try extemporary prayer and then find it hard to terminate. The secret is to keep it short and get to the point of the prayer. There is a lady in my Church who is quite superb in her prayers; she is concise, relevant to the intercession, simple and brief. I don’t think she has had theological training, and in fact I don’t think she realises how good she is.

This passage shows how wide and encouraging are the promises which the Lord holds out to prayer. Ask and you shall receive seek and you will find knock and it shall be opened unto you.

Be at Church on Sunday and may God bless you

Monday 18 July 2016

Some recent events on the Church scene indicate that the Church of England will eventually have to split. Alongside other denominations and provinces in the Western world there seems to be a determination to abandon the Bible’s teaching.

The Anglican Church in Canada has just approved same sex marriage’ the Episcopalian Church in the United States has already done so. The Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church in England have also done so, and many within the Church of England are anxious to do so. Thank God there are still within all those Churches who will remain faithful to Scripture, remembering if you challenge the Bible you are challenging God. Our Christian brothers and sisters in Africa, Far East, and South America are still faithful to God's Word.

At the recent General Synod a meeting was held to discuss the issue of same sex marriage. Titled ‘shared conversation’, it might more appropriately named, ‘biased conversation’.

Each speaker was allotted eight minutes to present their case, and the first to speak kept to that agreement when presenting the argument against the issue. The two following speakers ignored the time limit and were allowed to do so for twelve and significantly they were the last speakers, which is generally considered an advantage for a cause.

There was no opportunity offered to challenge what was said when claims were made that sexual orientation was a given fact, and any scientific research to the contrary was stated to be a non consideration.. Whilst the Bible unequivocally condemn same sex relationships, it was incredulously stated that only referred to ‘bad sex’, whatever that is supposed to be. The writings of Paul were of course cavalierly dismissed.

Well has it been stated "Of course, we can and we must relate to one another in our shared humanity, but we can't stay together if the church wants to bless what is not holy."

The LGBT lobby may be small, but it is incredibly powerful. However, in fairness it must be acknowledged that many people in same sex relationships were content with having civil unions, and this was generally accepted by all society, it was only the activists, and men like David Cameron anxious to win political points who forced the issue of so called ‘marriage’.

I stated at the time of his ‘passionately described’ legislation he may one day regret such action in overruling a divine decree, despite having through marriage a relation in such a situation. Is it just coincidence that despite winning a stunning and sensational election against all odds, he had only a year to enjoy it before having notice to move out within a matter of hours?

Friday 8 July 2016

Luke 10 v.25/38

The bible passage for this week is one which has become part of religious folklore, the story of the Good Samaritan.

The word ‘love’ is one which many Church people like to hear, something soothing rather than worry about whether what they are doing is acceptable to God. In the secular world, thousands of songs about love have been written over the years, yet there seems to be a shortage of it in real life.

If anyone has the courage to speak out and make an adverse comment on one of the several minority factions, there is uproar and shouts of bigotry, but it is open season on mocking Christians.

We see violent barbarism perpetrated in the name of religion in the Middle East, and in our own nation and others in the Western way, there are broken homes, bitter divorces by men and women, who at one time professed much love for each other.

Jesus often faced people who wanted to catch Him out, just of course as we experience in Christian ministry. Oprah Winfrey once asked a leading American evangelist for his opinion on same sex marriage, hoping no doubt to lead him into a controversial debate. Wisely he answered that he didn’t have an opinion, it was his duty to tell what the Bible stated.

Such a sensitive question was once put to Martin Luther when he was asked what God was doing before He made the world, and Luther replied, ‘he was making hell for people who asked stupid questions’.

A lawyer asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life, but was only trying to justify himself. Eternal life was meant to mean entering the Kingdom of God. Jesus saw the Old Testament as the unerring standard of faith and practice, so asked the man what did the Law state. When the man answered, Jesus told him to do what it said; namely loving God with all the heart mind and strength and one’s neighbour as oneself. In other words, having faith in God and seeking to please Him in all things with deep conviction and total devotion, and having concern for those in need.

The lawyer asked him ‘who is my neighbour’, merely to justify himself for ignoring some people, and Jesus went on to tell the parable of a man travelling through hostile countryside where robbers hid and attacked travellers. The man was badly injured and was passed on the road first by a priest and then a member of the tribe of Levi who both ignored what was thought to be a dead man, for anyone who touched a dead boy was considered unclean for seven days. There was also the possibility of it being a trap for people to stop.

A Samaritan man passed and saw the dead man (a Jew) lying there. Bearing it in mind the Jews and Samaritans hated other, and the Jews stated the only good Samaritan was a dead one, yet he got off his horse picked up the man and took him to an inn, and paid for his stay.

God looks upon us with the same compassion as the Samaritan did to the Jew. He sees us with filled with spiritual sickness unable to help ourselves, and as we lie impotent like the Jew and despite casting aide how He wants us to live according to His Word, He sent Jesus to the Cross and by the blood Jesus shed there, we are healed and cared for.

We are reminded that we live in a very evil world, where the vast majority are only concerned with themselves, ready to exploit by any means fair or foul, ways to obtain money. Television advertising is filled with lawyers tempting people to seek compensation on the back of the slightest mistake made by some business or a service, to a ready public with eyes blurred by £ or $ signs. And of course, lawyers to make money for themselves.

Christianity is often likened to utopian socialism, and whilst Christianity does have what might be described as the perfect theory for living, in the practical application people fail to uphold its creed. In fact, the professional socialists often prove to be more, or at least as, capitalistic as those they criticise.

The parable was told in response to a question from a lawyer as to how to obtain eternal life. Like many people he was confident he could earn his passport to heaven, and the moral of the story is that such is not possible. Jesus made it clear He was the only way to God, who is not interested in how successful we were in life, or how rich or influential we became, God just wants us to acknowledge we need to accept His Son as our Saviour and way to eternal life.

The question who is my neighbour, should be, ‘how do I become a neighbour’?

We all live busy lives, but this story calls on us to reflect if there is some person close to us, either in our family or circle of friends who is in need of some care or attention.

Especially we need to reflect on whether there is anyone in our Church with whom we may have a tense relationship. If there is, the words of Jesus to the lawyer apply, ‘go and do likewise’.

Sunday 3 July 2016

Romans 1
One of the outstanding passages, and perhaps one of the most encouraging, is that in the first chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: the righteous shall live by faith’.

Paul is writing to Christians in Rome, the mightiest city of the day, a city full of learning yet also full of immorality, where Christianity would not be appreciated, and he was ready and eager to go and preach the gospel no matter what the cost even though Christians were in danger of persecution; a sort of London of the day. We need to look at particular words in the passage.

Paul says he was not ashamed, in fact he glorified in the gospel and that is what all Christians should do. But sadly I fear we all do not. How many Church members are embarrassed when asked if they believe? Indeed how many are ready to acknowledge they attend Church? How would we answer is asked to give our opinion on moral questions? If you are not ashamed you are ready to speak out about your faith. Some people are fearful of their friends finding out they attend Church in case they get mocked, or because it might restrict the way they want to behave. Remember the words of Jesus, ‘for whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this sinful and adulterous generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of the Father’.

Preachers should be prepared to tell the Bible as it is written, telling people what need to hear rather than what they might like to hear. Preachers can however be intimidated and be frightened of upsetting modern susceptibilities. To preach fundamental truth will inevitably cause some upset. But let us take heart from Paul who faced all that could be put against him, and so caused Christianity to spread throughout the ancient world.

I have been to three service in recent times when there has been a child being baptised, with people who have not been to Church for a long time if ever. What an opportunity of preaching the gospel, yet there has been a nebulous sermon meaning absolutely nothing.

Then look at what is meant by the gospel. How many Christians I wonder would be able to answer if asked what the gospel is? The gospel is a simple story of a baby born to a young Jewish girl by virginal conception, who lived a sinless life until God called Him to die on a Cross, so that all who truly believe in Him and accept Him as their Lord and Saviour, will have all their wrongdoings forgiven, so that one day they will live for ever with Him in heaven.

There is false teaching being given from within the Church that all will go to heaven. It is said that God would not send anyone to hell, and that is right, but people choose to go there by there own neglect. To believe as some do and preach that everyone will go to heaven is nowhere stated, nor can be found in the Bible.

We Ministers are constantly meeting bereaved people who sincerely believe their loved ones are bound for heaven despite never having a religious thought or action in their lives. We are too compassionate to make any comment in such a situation but it is a terribly sad feeling and situation to be in when you know the Bible’s teaching.

The gospel is the story of Jesus Christ who gave Himself to be crucified for our sins in order to reconcile us to God. Why should anyone be ashamed to tell that story? We all no doubt are ashamed of things we have done in our lives, and the things we have said but wished we hadn’t, and that is understandable. But we allow ourselves to become ashamed of something for which there is no need to be ashamed of.

Righteousness. We cannot make ourselves righteous before God, but we can be through Jesus’ atoning death. Jesus acts as a bridge between God and us, putting us in good standing in God’s eyes, making it thus possible for us to be acceptable to God. This is God’s powerful way of bringing all who believe to heaven. We are saved by grace (Great Riches At Christ’s Expense) through faith. The gospel is the power that gives us salvation. But the gospel is bad news for non believers, for it offers no future hope.

Faith. You must have faith and believe. We are prepared to place our faith in many people, but reluctant to trust in God. We travel by plane and put our faith that the pilot knows what he is doing although we know nothing about him. If you go to the doctor for some illness and he gives you a prescription, you then get dispensed and take, trusting the doctor and the chemist, but you don’t just leave it in a cupboard if you want to get better. So with the gospel. There is no point in just seeking a spiritual prescription; you have to take that by faith which means reaching out to God and accepting the gospel.

For all who believe. This power is for everyone who believes. This means more than just believing there is a God, the devil accepts that; believing means making a commitment. Too many say they believe but do nothing, which is why regular preaching of the gospel is important so that people may come to live by the Scripture. .

They are religious and even show some outward inclinations toward Christianity. They come from a Christian background. They think that Jesus was a great religious figure. But they have not believed in Christ. Though the gospel is God's power for salvation, because they have not believed, they have not experienced this power nor have they known the gospel for what it truly is.

The reason so many people are not willing to accept the Bible is because the message is too simple. We know there are many people who are not prepared to accept the Bible story as they find it too incredible to believe. They are more ready to listen to the strident outpourings of nauseating, insulting, self indulgent secularists. For others accepting the gospel would mean a change of hedonistic lifestyle. It means accepting a standard of morality they are not prepared to accept.

You will find theologians complicating matters by having all kind of discussions on who wrote this and that, and it is all very well for academics sitting in their common rooms to do this for their amusement, but it sends out a wrong message to the masses.

Martin Luther was so inspired by this passage it caused him to start the Protestant Reformation and if all preachers were inspired similarly there would be less empty seats in Churches.

Let us proceed by faith and never ever be ashamed