Friday 30 September 2016

Turn with me now to the 2nd Letter of Paul to Timothy.
This is the last letter Paul wrote in 64AD, and is his last will and testament. He is now an old man in chains in a Roman prison, and wants to pass on the ministry he has pursued and considers Timothy the man best to do so. But Timothy is likely to be overawed by the opposition.

Paul had lived for the gospel and does not want to see it banished. His primary desire was to make more people Christian, and strove bravely to do this, anything else was supplementary.

Paul is writing to encourage Timothy to persevere in what he has learned and believed, and to pass on the gospel of Christ and the teaching of the Apostles, and the letter calls on us to do the same.

Nothing clarifies the issues of life and death so much as the prospect of death does.  Some of us have come close to it when we have had a near death experience, and people in such situations  reflect on things most important to them. This is what is in Paul's mind as he writes what is in effect his last will.

But Timothy is facing a difficult task for the Church was facing much opposition. The Church had spread after Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, but as that generation was being followed by a younger one, which Paul refers to later in the Letter, they were unholy and self concerned.

To-day we see Churches which have been largely supported by middle and older age people faithfully, now being turned around to allay with modern culture, therby turning away from sound doctrine causing the longtime members unable to adopt to contemporary worship(?) 

In addition false teachers had crept into positions of influence within the Church, and their teachings were acceptable to those who wished to follow a loose sort of Christianity, and of course such is happening today as we find the Bible is being cast aside, so people are not caused to feel guilty and made to feel there are no moral restrictions.

Further, the Romans did not like Christianity as it claimed to worship the one true God, and they preferred there to be pluralism with many gods, which is very much the preferred option of authorities today. You may be getting to see how much we have in common with that which Timothy faced.

This Letter was, and is, for those who are discouraged by the situation within and without the Church, and is a bold call for perseverance in the face of suffering and persecution.

For anyone who is a committed Christian, and anyone who holds the Church dear, this can only be depressing. Attendances at Churches are falling dramatically as the older members die or become unable to attend. The younger generations have no interest in the Church. We are fast becoming a secular state.

When you go to Church, what do you hope to hear?  is the sermom something you find boring and wish there was none? or do you look forward to hearing the exposition of God's Word?

The primary reason for attending Church is to learn about God and how we can have a relationship with him, all else is secondary.  This is why he Bible is so important, it brings us into contact with God.  

The Letter begins with Paul asserting his Apostleship, which he stressed was by the will of God; in other words he was specially chosen to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, and was always keen to assert this specially given authority so that what he stated could be accepted as approved by the Lord.

In verses ½ Paul greets Timothy and reveals his fondness for him, he also reminds him that he (Paul) is an Apostle. Timothy would know that, but Paul knew this Letter would be passed on for many people through the ages to read.

He then in verse 3 assures Timothy that he prays for him and constantly thinks of him. Most of us can remember someone who has inspired us, and those who have cared enough to pray for us.

In verse 5 he shows his affection for Timothy and remembers how Timothy was brought up in the faith by his mother and grandmother, leading to his ordination by Paul, and calls on him to keep that faith in mind and practice. Something children miss out nowadays, and are deprived of a good foundation.

We are reminded that God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but one of power and there is no greater strength than the power of God. This should encourage us to be as vocal in proclaiming our faith as other faiths do. Muslims vigorously reveal their faith, and to their credit.

Paul then calls on Timothy not to let that gift be wasted. This is why we must never ever be ashamed of being Christians, or of speaking of the gospel; God has called us to stand up for Him and the Lord Jesus. Our faith is not something someone has made up, it is factually based on historical grounds.

Paul says he was not ashamed of the gospel, 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 reluctant to answer if asked to give our opinion on moral questions? If you are not ashamed, you are ready to speak out about your faith.

I know it can be hard when you are the only person in your work place, or amongst friends and you are Christian. Criticism can be harsh, even vitriolic so that there is reluctance to take a stand. Be encouraged by remembering our Lord went through so much more for us, so we must stand up for Him. 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’.

More importantly, there is a tendency by those within the church who are ashamed because the bible speaks against what they want to believe.

Preachers now 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.

Some preachers are terrified of being criticised as being bigoted, or of having some sort of phobia. A bible based ministry is likely to make you unpopular or mocked, (believe me). When therefore you are in a minority, you have to decide whether to keep quiet and say nothing; go with the flow, or stand up and fight.

Paul has been telling Timothyhow to manage the Church by inspiring confidence in him and emphasising the imortance of Scripture, he wants Timothy to preach the gospel, and warns him there will be those will not want to hear.  Paul tells Timothy to keep sound teaching, which he learned from the teaching of the Apostles. Paul will repeat this call in Chapter 4 when he commands Timothy to ‘preach the word’, and to be urgent in doing so.

There are peole who expect the Church to be like a spiitual dispensary, giving out soothing words which will relieve them. Others will hope to hear things which make them feel happy, telling God is a God of mercy, forgiveness, love and tolerance, without hearing he is also a God of justice, judgement and wrath. In too many Churches the Bible's authority is openly challenged, and made to fit in with society's
standard of miorality (or immorality)

We even witness Churches giving up on Bible teaching, to re-interpret to avoid any sense of judgement. I have great sympathy with all those people seeking spiritual guidance, both in Church members and outsiders. It must be very difficult and frustrating to find out what the gospel answer is.

;It is so easy to be blown away by every new spiritual wind that causes us to drift from our moorings. We are not to be superficial believers, but to hold fast to the gospel given by the Apostles, who were themselves taught by our Lord Himself.

Jesus in His preaching had two effects; He either saved people or upset them. If we study the preaching of Jesus, the people did not always go away smiling, even His own disciples walked away from Him at one time.

We may offer what is hard for sceptics to believe, but that should not stop us telling it. The gospel does annoy people, so the Church has tried to dilute the message to please and conciliate people to such an extent that it has nothing special to offer. If it is just another social organisation with a religious flavour, there is no cause for people to support it.

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?

Unless we know what we believe and why, we will not defeat the creeping spread of secularism and the cultural trends which challenge our faith, and we must resists the tendency to allow society to impose itself upon our teaching, or we are in danger of sentencing the Church to a very small part of our national life. When we reject Apostolic teaching we fall into error.

We hear it said that all religions are the same and all lead to the same God, but his is both wrong and irresponsible. Islam for instance teaches that God has no son and their God is Allah, they hate the Jews. We worship a God who has a Son, and who is the God of Israel, and we claim no one comes to the Father (GOD that is) except through Jesus Christ, we teach from a book written by Jews and worship a Saviour who was a Jew.

Most religions believe good living and deeds lead to God. Christianity alone makes the claim that only atonement  for sin is through the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross.  To teach that all can go to heaven regardless of belief, is like telling a blind person they can cross a major road, and walk safely when they wish. Jesus made it unequivocally clear in the Bible, that the only way to God is through him, and to suggest otherwise is to challenge the authority of Jesus.  it may be popular to say you can believe anything which your conscience feels right, but is sinfully misguiding, and important to remeber consciences can become dulled and confused.  
The second significant words come when Paul writes; ‘join with me in suffering for the gospel.’ There are many ways we may suffer, but be sure you will experience one when you state what you believe. Some people will try to avoid you, you may miss out on promotion in your work, as many of us have experienced, and you will surely be subject to innuendo, but what man denies us God recompenses. Christianity was never meant to be a bed of roses. It is not easy to stand for Christ; people have received death threats even for doing so. We have to decide if we stand for Jesus or Caesar.

Looking at v.9, Paul is pointing out the gospel that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation; God saves us by His grace, not because of anything we have done. We are put into a right relationship with God when we repent of past sins and accept Jesus Christ as Saviour. The Bible states Jesus is the only way to salvation. I know it is hard to say this without someone saying, ‘oh you must not say that’, but we need to ignore such comment because that is an essential element of our message

Paul describes himself as having suffered many beatings, deprivation, hardship, now prison and soon death. In spite of all this he knows WHOM he has believed; not what or in whom, but whom, Jesus Christ Himself. But he is not ashamed of being where he is.

In the last verse, Paul tells Timothy to guard the gospel. We live at a time of theological and moral confusion. The Church itself is confused and divided as to what it stands for, and for what is its purpose. One part believes the Bible is the infallible Word of God, which should be respected and obeyed, whilst the other sees it as a sort of guide to be adopted to suit the occasion. Jesus warned any kingdom or house divided among itself will fall.

This letter is essentially a message for those who may be tempted to give up in times like now, when it often seems that those in positions of leadership do not really know what they believe in or stand for. Paul reminds us the gospel is worth standing up for; is worth fighting for; and in this Letter Paul goes on to encourage people. Never give in; if you feel frustrated, fight.

If the Churches and people of this great nation do not return to Biblical foundations, Christianity which has been the faith of this country for over 1500 years, and has given stability and kept this nation as one, will be phased out of public life by ideologues in public service, who want to take Christianity right out of public life.

The first Church grew rapidly because the people listened to the teaching of the Apostles and God added to their numbers. He is not going to add to any Church which accepts the morality of a decadent society. Church members should never choose to adopt State law above God’s law. 

Now more than ever, this is a requirement for all Christians to remember the sacrifices made by martyrs, who gave their very lives that we may have Bibles to freely read.

For our brothers and sister in Christ, living in Islamic countries, being a Christian is a life threatening existence, daily facing horrific persecution, even death, with Churches and houses being burned down. We have seen horrendous scenes on television of them being beheaded, just because they declared themselves followers of Christ. In some countries even having a bible in your possession is enough to incur the wrath of the authorities.

When Christians lose the beliefs that have kept the Church together, they begin to fall and disintegrate. It is fatuous and irrational to suggest that biblical injunctions, which do not conform to modern requirenents can be rewritten.  If people do not know the truth, theywill not be saved.

God has made us custodians of His Word; never may the Church and its members fail Him. But if we are negligent and indifferent we will find another faith will take our place

I pray that you will only hear the gospel boldly and faithfully preached in your Church.

Saturday 24 September 2016

Luke 16 v19/31

May the Lord bless His Word to us this morning, and may His Holy Name be praised.

The gospel reading for today is 16th Chapter of Luke. This story is known as the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. There are three points to note from the passage, namely that this life is not all there is; there are two destinies when we leave this earth, heaven or hell; and thirdly that we make a decision in this life which will determine which one is for us.

This will not be popular for many preachers in all denominations, for there are an increasing number of clergy who do not accept the doctrine of heaven or hell. Such should not apply to Methodist preachers, for it was well proclaimed by John and Charles Wesley, apart from the facts that it is taught throughout the Bible and Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone, for whenever He spoke of heaven He spoke of the alterative.

I once attended a clergy meeting at a Church where there was a famous mural, and whilst I was looking at it a young Vicar asked me what I thought of the painting. I said I couldn’t understand it. He told me it was supposed to be the devil chasing men to hell, and he added, ‘but we don’t preach that these days do we?’ When I said ‘well I do’, he gave me one of those looks you give someone when you are not sure if they are completely with things.

In our story there are two men, one rich having all the trappings of luxury in his life, and the other a poor beggar covered with sores who has nothing, and even dogs licked his sores. He longed to sit by the rich man’s table so that he could gather up the crumbs which would fall from the table for his food. In those days they did not use knives and forks, instead they just picked at the food with their fingers and some would fall to the floor. The rich man had no pity on Lazarus, and as he used to beg at the city
gate the rich man would have seen him, but did nothing to help.

They both died and the rich man went to hell where he was in torment, whilst Lazarus went to Paradise in heaven. He called on Abraham to have pity on him and send Lazarus with some comfort because he was in such agony. But Abraham said, "Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from here to us. Abraham because of his faithfulness to God was honoured and is recognised as the father of believers.. We are all sons or daughters of Abraham in that respect, and therefore go where Abraham is.

This tells us that Jesus was our Lord intending to draw a deliberate and vivid contrast between the rich man and the poor, and that man must love God and use money, instead of using God and loving money., The Pharisees were lovers of money, which they put first, and the modern equivalent is that of men (and now women) putting the interests of their careers before serving God.

People like to speculate where heaven and hell are, sufficient it be to know heaven is where Jesus is, and hell is anyplace where Jesus will never be.

Of course there are many people who mock us for being Church members and being religious, but will one day realise the mistake they made, but there will be no going back, no second chance, the Bible is unequivocal that we make the decision here as to where our resting place will be.

I have been watching a series on television where a young policeman is partnered on his duties with an attractive young policewoman who is fond of him, but he does not respond. His Sergeant tells him he should make a decision to go with the woman or he will one day regret not making such a decision. Then he adds, the two saddest words in the English language are ‘if only’ One day such a lot of people will say ‘if only’.

It is common to hear it said that a loving God would never send anyone to hell, and of course He would not; but by the decision we make here, we make the choice ourselves. I have heard it said so many times by people who misunderstand verses in John’s gospel, and think we are all guaranteed a place in heaven irrespective of how we lived here. No need to go to Church, read a Bible or say prayers, Jesus they say promised He would prepare a place for us, without realising Jesus was talking only to His followers not those who have no time to give to Him.

There was a limerick I read which referred to words on a gravestone. It was. Remember, Friend, as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, soon you shall be
Prepare for Death, and follow me.
Someone added the words: To follow you I’m not content, until I know which way you went.

The passage suggests we will be fully aware of our condition at whatever place, for the rich man asked that pity be given to his five brothers. The rich man is told by Abraham, ‘if they do not hear Moses and the prophets neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’

We can see an analogy in modern life where people start looking for God to help them when in trouble, when for the rest of the time he is an irrelevance to them. When someone asks you ‘where was God’, when some particular incident occurs, tell them ‘He was where he always is, when you were not interested.’

The rich man was in hell because he refused to listen to Moses and the prophets of the Old Testament. His whole life was all about his own comforts without any concern for others, and that is why he is where he is. Lazarus, on the other hand, is in heaven because he believed Moses and the prophets and trusted in God.

This then is the explanation of the parable which is the only one which describes he feelings of the unconverted after death. What lessons are there to be learned form it?

Firstly a person’s worldly condition is no test of their state in the sight of God. The wealth or position does not earn God’s particular favour. The poor man lived by faith whilst the rich man was a selfish thoughtless man.

Secondly, death is what happens to all of us, which many people do not seem to realise; they think they can go on enjoying themselves forever.

Thirdly God cares specially for the souls of believers in the hour of death. Jesus tells us when Lazarus died he was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom. We know little or nothing about the feelings of the dead. When our last hour come it shall be like going into an unknown country, but we know that all who fall asleep in Christ Jesus will be in good keeping.

Fourthly, the reality of there being an eternity of hell, and the certainty of the punishment for the wicked. Jesus gives us a fearful picture in one of the most awful passages in the Bible.

Lastly, the unconverted, those who have not called Jesus into their lives, will find out too late the real value of being a true Christian and the folly of ignoring Jesus.

The Bible tells us all that we need to be saved for heaven, simple faith in the Scriptures is the first thing needful to salvation.

Monday 19 September 2016

I wonder if there is anyone in this congregation can stand up and say, ‘I have no worries in my life?’ If there is, would you like to stand up so we can all admire you?

There must be very few Christians or non- Christians who have not experienced some worry, some anxiety.

We need hardly ask whether worry harms,it causes us to lose sleep Takes the joy out of living Causes our hair to fall out or turn grey Even leads to an early grave.

There are so many fears in modern life.Young people facing life away from home for the first time The fear of marriage breakdown
Of serious illness Fear of losing someone dear.Others are "weary and burdened" by the stress and strains of this life or by sadness or by sickness. These are all perils faced by people every single day.

As Christians we need to ask, ‘what is life all about’? So many people, especially the young, have no meaningful purpose. They have a hard outlook of, ‘live life to excess, get what you can out of it by any means whatever’.

The Bible says life has no meaning apart from God, but for many God is unreal.

The Bible says that God is separated from us by sin. Sin is not just immorality; it is an attitude of rebellion and independence, saying ‘I go my own way’. The Prodigal Son went his own way to be free and independent, but failed to find any true purpose in life, and found he was cut off from the only person who really loved him. Yet this is a common situation.

God is willing to pour His grace upon all.
You can’t however come to God except through Jesus Christ. Not by Mohammed, Buddha, or anyone else. Jesus came, sent from God with the sole purpose of bringing us into a living relationship with Himself.

Christ came to seek and to save the lost, the fearful and the lonely, the worried and the broken hearted. To all who are worried, afraid or anxious, Jesus says, ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light’

It is said that these are the most wonderful words spoken by our Lord, the very heart of Christianity. They speak of the failure of men and women to solve the problems of the world.

Come===, just as you are; He is waiting. Jesus has said, ‘Here I am. I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me’. But the door handle is only on the inside, and it has to be opened from within, you are the one who can turn it, in faith.

In the East to receive an invitation to eat with someone was considered to be a most generous, honoured and favoured act, and the greatest act of friendship is to dine with someone Jesus is ready to be faithful to His Word; we come at His invitation in a spirit of simple trust. Jesus was brought up in the East, and is offering to dine with anyone who invites Him.

The invitation was given in a chapter where John the Baptist had expressed doubt about Jesus. The task of telling of God’s love, mercy and compassion had been given to Jesus, but many had rejected Him as they are doing so now.

So who can come? All those who are weary and heavy laden with care. This is a selective invitation. There has to be recognised a need and be prepared to admit it. The problem may not be despair, it may be something quite different. All who are weighed down, to all these Jesus speaks.

The Bible says, ‘there is no distinction since all have fallen short of the glory of God’. It doesn’t matter what the past has been, if you repent and turn to Christ, God is ready to blot out your sins and give you a clean sheet.

We have all broken God’s laws but if we are prepared to admit this, then Christ’s invitation is for us.

What happens if you come? Jesus said, ‘I will give you rest’. These are words spoken by someone who fulfils His promises. So many people make promises they either cannot, or have no intention, of fulfilling. All the changes in the world will make no difference. On the other hand, if heart and mind are at rest, that is a priceless feeling. It is constant peace that Jesus is offering. He says, ‘I can set you free for I am the Way, the truth, and the life. He is able to do all He promises, and is faithful and willing to do what He promises. Rest is what we all find pleasant, but so many are restless and weary. Comfort offered equips and strengthens us to live on as Christians.

Jesus said I leave you with peace of mind and heart, and the peace I give you is not fragile like the peace the world gives.

The Bible tells of men who went to Him blind, sick and poor. Jesus gave them sight and riches beyond measure, releasing them from restlessness enabling them to face the future.

Jesus said, ‘take my yoke upon you and learn from me’. A yoke was a wooden frame used to put over a pair of animals to enable a load to be shared. So Jesus is saying ‘let me help you carry your burden. Instead of going your own way turn around and come with me’.

The moment you come to Him is the time a lasting and new relationship begins. But it is not just mouthing words. It is truly believing that Jesus died on that Cross for your personal sins, and because of that alone, you can be forgiven totally by God and earn your place in heaven.

It means putting Him as a priority. If we give preference to some other activity we are putting God in second place, and in the Commandments He tells us He is a jealous God and will not be relegated.

Jesus will welcome all, pardon any failures, cleanse your heart and relieve your anxieties and cares, because of the promise He made in John’s gospel, that whoever comes to Him will never be turned away.

The Bible tells us that the love of Christ goes far beyond human understanding, to break every barrier down. Only pride, fear or doubt can hold us back

You see it is not just being religious or even coming to Church that brings peace and rest, or indeed makes you a full Christian. A person can be baptised, confirmed and be regular at Church and not be a true Christian. Many Church people are really unpleasant, arrogant and very un-Christian. Coming to Church should be a delight, like sons and daughters coming to meet their (heavenly) Father in complete harmony, as children go their earthly parents’ home, giving support to each other.

It may be someone’s life is in a mess. It may be God seems far away. It may be after long time searching there is still a reluctance to commit. It makes no difference, if we are humble enough to admit our need.

The words of the hymns this morning have so much meaning, telling of God’s faithfulness, and 10,000 blessings beside. Of the friend we have in Jesus who will all our sins and grief He bears; no need to be discouraged in our trials and troubles; in His arms He will shield you and give you peace without needless pain. We are invited to take it to Him in prayer.

A question often asked is, ‘does God answer prayer’. One Minister said dependent on the prayer the answer was yes, no, maybe or you got to be kidding.

Being serious the true answer is yes, even if God says no to your prayer, because just like an earthly father who will refuse a child’s request on account of it not being good for him/her, so God our heavenly Father acts to protect His children.

There are some qualifications, you must have accepted Jesus as your Saviour; be free of un-repented sin, for instance living a life which in total contradiction to God’s teaching in the Bible, which increasingly many Church people are doing, and as Jesus stressed have faith

Jesus said, ‘and whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son’.

I believe the burden most borne for which we seek Jesus’ aid is regarding sickness, of ourselves and those dear to us.

The gospels record 41 separate healing miracles in the life of Christ. People with various maladies were brought to Jesus from Galilee and Syria and he healed them all. Some were blind, others deaf, some were demonized, some paralyzed, and still others were sick with various diseases. He healed them all. There is no record of Jesus ever failing to heal anyone who was brought to him.

In the last few years a whole host of studies has validated the fact that when people of faith pray for the sick, the sick get better. And in recent years there has been a reemphasis on the importance of praying for the sick. In some churches this has become a major ministry involving healing services, as indeed in my Church for a number of years.

There is a need to be careful. I have seen some excesses in the practises of some charismatic services, and I have known people suggest we throw away all medications. The healing by the use of medicine can be used in combination with prayer, for we pray for God to help mankind to discover was to find cures.

Some illnesses stem directly from our sinful actions and attitudes, such as excessive smoking and drinking. Until those things are confronted and confessed, it is pointless to pray for healing.

It is an undeniable fact that not everyone we pray for is healed. This is a mystery here that cannot be fully explained in this life, but perhaps one day we will understand the reason.

Let us then in all circumstances when weary or heavy laden, come to Jesus.

Believe His promise, take Jesus at His word, come, just as you are.

Monday 12 September 2016

Quote from speech in the House of Commons

‘Hands off the Church of England, it is he only thing that stands between us and Christianity’.

This was supposed to be a jocular remark, made no doubt with an input of cynicism, but it contains quite an amount of truth. When you consider the attitudes and response to same sex ‘so called marriages’, and general re-interpretation of Scripture, there is nothing to be jocular about; rather sadness, frustration and a touch of disgust.

I read there is to be a meeting of all the bishops in Oxford at which discussions will be held and the question of allowing the Church to perform blessings for same sex unions. It is suggested there will be varying views, which shows how much the Church has departed from the original Articles of the Church of England, and more importantly the way in which it is allowing the liberal lobby to change the Church’s approach to Scripture where we are more ready to adopt culture’s agenda rather than God’s. Many of us with a defined Catholic or Evangelical belief will reasonably ask, why discuss the issue; the Articles of our Church clearly define what we must believe?

When the Church decided to consecrate women as bishops it was stated there would be no great effect on the Church. Within a very short time and with the first female appointment came the call to address God as Mother. If same sex blessings are to be authorised, it will be accepted as a first step to call it ‘marriage’, and there will be wailing of unfairness and discrimination if not followed up.

There are no possible reasons to justify having same sex blessings in Church. How can we possibly bless what is distinctly against God's will as expressed in the Bible? If such blessings are authorised there will inevitably be a section of the Church which will want to break away, and I cannot see how anyone who respects and is faithful to Scripture can remain in what will be an Apostate institution. Unfortunately it cannot be expected to find any denomination willing to stand up against society's culture,and the remorseless pressure of the liberal lobby within the Church; there are those in the Methodist Church straining to do the same despite a poll among members was overwhelming against doing so. The leaders of the denomination meekly decided to delay a decision until next year.

The Episcopal Church in the United States accepted what they called same sex marriages and consequently a large number of Anglicans decided that they could no longer belong to such a Church that had reconfigured the Apostolic teaching and left.

The new Anglican Church in North America now has 28 dioceses, one thousand congregations and over 100,000 members. There will undoubtedly and justifiably a similar breakaway here in England.

The Church of England has already offended the Roman and Orthodox Churches by appointing women bishops, now it appears ready to offend the wider Anglican Communion.

When Justin Welby was made Archbishop of Canterbury there was much surprise, but also joy and hope that now a product of the country’s most evangelical Church was appointed we could move forward with an authentic and traditional programme. Such joy and optimism was soon shattered as he wavered, dodged, and prevaricated going both ways at the same time. I read that only recently he was reported in the press to have advised. ‘don’t evangelise unless you are asked to, and have promised to attend a ‘gay wedding ceremony’.

It will be noted that there has not been an unequivocal statement that the Church will only recognise marriage as between a man and a woman. It will also be noted that neither the Archbishops nor Bishops have taken positive action against those clergy who have ignored the Church’s ban on such ‘so called marriages’. This reveals just how much integrity there is within the Church.

Credit and admiration should be given to Bishop Inwood, who acted during retirement as stand in for a diocesan bishop, refused to grant a Licence to officiate to a clergyman in a chaplaincy who defied the ban. The case went to a civilian employment tribunal, where despite an activist bishop opposing him, Bishop Inwood’s action was upheld.

Sunday 4 September 2016

Acts 2 verses 36/47 Luke 14 v 25/33

Today is 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. As each year passes we find those empty seats are not getting filled, which should make us all feel concerned for the future of the Church, and indeed Christianity. There are politicians anxious to faze our faith right out of the public sector, and even restrict what messages we give. Now that we have a woman, who is a true Christian, things can only get better.

The Bible asks, ‘when the foundations are being destroyed, what shall the righteous do?’ We have witnessed the destruction of many of the traditional moral and spiritual foundations where there are now no absolutes, all is relative and everybody does their own thing. But what should be our major concern is that the foundations of the Church are being destroyed; even here there does not appear to be any absolutes, as preachers and theologians interpret the Bible to meet their own preferences. This in turn means it depends on which Church one attends, and which preacher is there; which is why the Churches are having difficulty in attracting people as we send out confused messages.

The Bible states ALL scripture is inspired by God, and does not require any subtractions, additions or amendments. This means there should be no cause for confusion if the preaching is based on the Bible, as it is written. Any one who challenges the Bible challenges God, which is an unwise thing to do.

What then should the righteous do? 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 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 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.

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 by the worship.

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. 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.
From that little band of men, the Christian gospel spread across the world.

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.

Why is it that the Lord is not adding to our Churches now? He is in the Eastern Churches where the Bible is faithfully taught, but in Western nations we are not teaching, and certainly not practising, the teaching of the Apostles. 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.

The main denominational Churches need to re-commit to strict Bible teaching, for the people who will seek spiritual need will seek those Churches which provide it. Churches are here to offer what no other body or institution can offer.

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
people are confused as to what they exactly should believe.

A lady once told me she heard a man say he had attended Church for years yet had only just become a Christian, what did he mean? Like most people, she thought if you were neither an atheist nor a member of another faith, you were a Christian, with a passport to heaven; nowhere in the Bible is that taught or implied.

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. Jesus always taught there were two destinies when this life was over, heaven or hell.

The Bible teaches that God wants all people to be saved, that is to be with Jesus in heaven, but this means each person must make a personal decision to accept that Jesus died on the Cross so that they may be forgiven for all their wrongdoing (sin) and they let His teaching determine the way they live their lives. The alternative is eternity without Christ, which is hell.

I was watching a play on television where a young policeman is partnered by a very attractive young policewoman who is fond of him, but he does not respond. The Sergeant tells the man he should make a decision him as some day he will regret not doing so. He then says, the two saddest words in the English language are, ‘if only’. One day many people will regret not making a decision for Christ and will say, if only.

This is where the Church fails badly in that it does not make the Bible’s teaching clear to people, so that they are completely unaware of what they need to believe. It is therefore the duty of the Church to fully explain the doctrine of salvation.

The Bible goes on to state, a time would come when people would not want to hear sound doctrine, by which is 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, and in so doing lead people astray.

Commitment is the missing ingredient which Jesus speaks about in the gospel reading. He uses opens with words which frighten at first sight. Jesus said we must ‘hate’ those nearest and dearest to us. Our Lord did not mean we should literally hate our parents and wives, etc, for this would have contradicted the fifth commandment, and Jesus regularly spoke of the need to love one another; nor fall out with our friends as an essential part of being a Christian. He was just trying to emphasise the point He was making, and in that time and sense He was meaning ‘choose’. God said he loved Jacob and hated Esau, indicating He ‘chose’ Jacob.

Jesus did mean that if the claims of our friends and family clashed with His, then He should prevail. For instance, its is well established that in many families husband/wife disagree, or parents do not want their children, to get involved with the local Church, and this can be unpleasant. This can be painful and a heavy cross to bear, but thousands of Christians will bless God for the decision they took for their faith.

We are told secondly that those who are thinking of following Christ should count the cost of doing so. It is not easy being a real Christian for you will be mocked, scorned, and made to look like a kind of freak It has to be accepted that if you wish to follow Christ, you have to make a serious decision; it is not a social club you are entering. I think it fair to say that women are able to cope better than men with this, for other women may not share your faith but are ready to accept you, perhaps even with a little admiration. Many men think religion is a woman’s business. I have known men who pleaded with me not to visit them in hospital.

It can be so easy to be a nominal Christian. In fact 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. There can be no justification in preaching or listening to Scripture and then act contrary to what is written there.

Why did our Lord seem to be discouraging to people following Him? He knew what harm it could cause for someone to confess being a follower and then fall away. Jesus was seeking quality not quantity, He knew a lot of people followed Him for what He could do for them so He tells them it will men taking up your Cross daily. In all this Jesus is looking for commitment.

I have spoken about the Church sending out confused messages, not giving full authority to Bible, and not being fully committed. Have you ever known of a Muslim cleric who challenged the Koran? Compare with Islam where young men are so committed they are ready to give their lives, and many do. Christianity does not support such action, and desires to win people by love not hate, but the Bible does call on us to surrender the living of our lives in the service of Christ.

The 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.

They left a great legacy; let us pray the Church does not ultimately betray them by abandoning what they left.