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.

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