Wednesday 28 December 2016

"What is the purpose of the church?"
This Sunday is the first day of the New Year, a time when we all think of what lies ahead for us. There will be mixtures of anticipation or fear, joy or sorrow, hope or dread. There will be many resolutions made, some of which will last a day, some a little longer.

But what for the Church? Some of us however much goodwill we have, despair for we can already visualise more problems. Such will continue until all involved accept that the Church is here because God gave us it for a purpose. In addition, He gave us a manual as to how we must believe and act, which He inspired 40 men to write over hundreds of years, men from varied occupations using their own characters; it is called the Bible.

Why did God create the Church?
The church is a creation of God. Jesus Christ said, ‘I will build My church’. We need to follow His purpose for the church and His mission for it. In Acts 2, v42 we read, they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. The passage then goes on to state, ‘and the Lord added to their number daily’. From this we can reasonably believe that when the Church teaches that which the Apostles taught, God will continue to make that Church grow. We can also reasonably deduce that when it fails to give the teaching of the Apostles, it will not grow. Let us bear in the front of our minds that the Apostles were taught by the Supreme Teacher, our Lord Himself.

The church is to teach biblical doctrine and proclaim how God intends us to live, to know what is true and make us realize what is wrong in life. We preach that such perfection of life can only be obtained by people turning to Jesus Christ, who alone can bring us close to God, for there is salvation through no one else, Jesus is the only way to the Father. This is the teaching of the Bible, the complete manual for Christian living.

The Church is failing in many places by placing the teaching on peripheral issues, and in doing so is turning people away. If, like many of us did, vote to leave the European Union, at least three Cathedral Deans called us racists, and countless Bishops expressed their disapproval. Such was not only unwise, it was positively stupid, clergy should realize when they take open political sides they will inevitably alienate people who think differently; there was nothing remotely racist, many of those so voting are fully desirable of being friendly with European countries, we just don’t want them to rule us.

A favourite topic of preachers is climate change; this not an issue which merits itself as a subject for a main Sunday service. It is reported that such was a topic at a Remembrance day service, which upset some veterans who allegedly left the Church.

Whilst social issues are part of the Church’s mission, these are for attention at times out of the Sunday sermons, which is for spiritual teaching. The Bible states when the Apostles met after Pentecost they stated they would put others in charge of the social matters, ‘so they could spend their time in prayer, preaching and teaching’. This was also at a time when there were not the social services we have today.

It is good and commendable we can play a part, but I fear some Churches are providing such to alleviate the need of biblical preaching. A Church is to fill people’s spiritual need; they can go the appropriate place for all other needs. We have something special to offer, which only the Church can, and if not given there is no purpose in our existence.

A second purpose for the Church is to provide fellowship where believers can share and build each other up. Just as a father loves to have his children visit him, so our heavenly Father loves His (spiritual) children to visit Him, and we show our commitment by regularly attending worship. There will of course be times when we are genuinely unable to attend, but as a general rule we should aim to be in Church on Sundays.

According to our passage the church is to be a place where believers can observe the (Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist) the service of breaking bread in remembrance of our Lord’s sacrifice for us.

If we are to halt the falling away of members from the Church we must concentrate on teaching how to know and love Christ, and demonstrate that we represent Him and His values accurately, and vividly to the world.

At present there is too great an obsession on the subject of sexuality. God has given us all free will, and each person is allowed to choose how he/she exercises their sexual desires. We do not need to get involved in name calling; that is not for us to do. What we do need to do is tell faithfully what the Bible teaches on this subject. It is not a question as to what I or any other clergyman(woman) believe, we are here to say what God believes, and He has spelled it out clearly in Scripture.

The Church of England is behaving dismally and unworthily on same sex (so named) marriage. This is wrong biblically, and no amount of obfuscation or verbal athletics can refute or deny what is written. It is appalling that bishops are pleading for the Church to drop the ban on clergy so engaging in such unions, when as a matter of integrity and honour, they should be exercising discipline on those clergy who have ignored the Church ruling and entered into same sex ceremonies.

I read the Bishop of Liverpool is supportive of same sex partnerships and appointed two women bishops from America, (surely a theological oxymoron) who support same sex (marriages?).

The church’s mission is to present Jesus Christ to the world and the Bible exhorts pastors to be strong in the grace of Christ and pass on to faithful men who will be able to teach others. We are also called to shepherd the flock of God, exercising oversight according to the will of God; by example.

When I was ordained, as with every other priest in the Church of England, I had to kneel before my Bishop and affirm that I was persuaded that holy Scriptures contained all doctrine required of necessity for eternal salvation and I would instruct and teach nothing but that which may be proved by the Scriptures; that I would also banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word. Why then, it may be asked, is this not being faithfully adhered to in general?

There can be no clearer example of the value of faithful and bold bible preaching than that of Billy Graham, the most successful preacher of all time. For forty years he preached in 185 countries to over 220 million people. He told them exactly what the Bible said, and told them they were all sinners who needed to repent, for there were two destinations when this life was over, heaven or hell and a choice had to be made in this life, and they still flocked in their tens of thousands to listen to him.

Today in this generation of preachers there is marked reluctance to speak of hell; or be faithful to scripture on controversial issues for fear of being called a bigot or accused of having a phobia if you disagree in the smallest way with some vociferous minority. They are not flocking to the Churches in any sizeable numbers now.

A modern parable?

Sunday 18 December 2016

Christmas Message
I watched an American news broadcast which reported on how the American Civil Liberties Union were going around posting anti-Christmas messages, calling for all references to Christmas to be removed from public display, and objecting to Nativity scenes. What happened to the land of the free?

Here in Britain we have something of the same, when jumped up public officials rejoice to be offended on behalf of other faiths and none, and object to Christian messages and expression, thinking their efforts will earn them some praise for political correctness and a few moments of fame; councillors who have never contributed much to public life other than to benefit themselves, objecting to prayers before Council meetings, replacing the word Christmas for winter festival or other ridiculous terms.

What is it about these people? Why does Christianity strike such fear in their tiny minds? Why do they not have the courage to attack other faiths? Does a guilty conscience come into play when they consider the sort of lives they live? Why is it that they have no reluctance to join in all the festivities which only take place because Christmas is an essentially Christian celebration?

The vociferous secularists and humanists, whose publicity is out of all proportion to their tiny numbers, see any religious ceremony as a threat to their unworthy cause. Is it not amazing that when an American evangelist came over here and offered to enter into debate with them, they all went into hibernation refusing to take part.

In a few days time Christians will be attending Christmas services. Some will be attending Midnight Mass, a glorious inspiring service of praise, as we herald in Christmas Day and celebrate the birth of our Lord. Others will prefer to go to Church on Christmas morning, but at whichever service we will be thinking of God’s love in sending Jesus here, born of a young Jewish girl by the power of the Holy Spirit, in which we all glory. I know that there will be difficulty for some in accepting the doctrine of the Virgin birth, which means of course they must explain how Jesus entered the world and then they could be on dangerous grounds.

We remember the lowly circumstances of His birth and the reason He came, namely to grow into manhood and be our Saviour.

It is a matter of great sadness that now in the 21st century the mass of people have forsaken the Christian commitment of previous years and chosen to ignore the religious significance of Christmas. Some reject all religious belief with undisguised contempt, and just see it as an excuse for an orgy of drink and pleasure.

I look in amazement as I see trolleys in supermarkets overflowing with food and drink, especially drink, and then hear and read of how protests are made regarding cuts by the government and how people are finding it hard to exist, and certainly cannot afford to pay more for their gold plated pensions.

I accept everyone is entitled to have enjoyment, especially at this time of year, but let us keep it in proportion. There will be many who just now see Christmas as a secular time for enjoyment.

But let us remember with much compassion those for whom Christmas is a time of great sadness, namely those who have just lost a married partner, a child, parent or loved family member. This will be a very lonely time for them and we should remember them in prayers and intercessions.

I wish all who read this posting a very happy and blessed Christmas. May God bless you

Friday 9 December 2016

The gospel reading this week is about John the Baptist who is incarcerated in a dungeon and is awaiting death, and comes from the 11th Chapter of Matthew. The place where he is held is one of the hottest places on earth and he is there because he has criticised Herod for his immoral lifestyle.

John is a sad and disillusioned man as he realises his ministry is over, Jesus is now predominant, and whilst John has always preached about Jesus, he finds Jesus appears to be doing nothing to help him. Consequently John begins to have doubts about his faith, as most thinking people will have. He had believed the coming of the Messiah would bring blessing on all who repented and judgement on those who did not. He was wondering why Jesus had not sorted Herod out. One day Jesus will make judgement.

In order to resolve his fears he sends his disciples to ask Jesus to confirm He is the Messiah, and Jesus responds by telling them to return to John and acquaint John with what Jesus is saying and performing, namely restoring sight, healing the lame, raising the dead and preaching good news. He also mildly rebukes John by saying, ‘blessed is the on who is not offended by me’.

Jesus also points out all things happen in God’s appointed time. The people generally expected Jesus to lead them in a political campaign against the Roman power, but Jesus was not One who would command military action. Jesus knew people would be disappointed and fall away once their expectations were not fulfilled, and the same thing happens today. At the same time Church members can be very cruel and their conduct can cause havoc in a Church.

God answers prayers in His time so we have to bear the wiat patiently

I had a lady in one Church where I was acting in an honorary capacity who worked so hard and demonstrated her faith in a very practical way. She was one might call a perfect Christian in action. If a person became ill she would be the first to see what help she could offer in a practical way, shopping cleaning or just visiting and offering comfort. She was a PCC Secretary, a lay reader, and generally active in all Church social events. Sadly a new Vicar was appointed whose wife who would have been more suited to a prison guard. She was jealous that any other woman could even have a say never mind being so popular, which led to my friend’s life becoming unbearable there, and at the wife’s behest caused her to leave the Church. She drifted away from Church, which lost a valuable servant at a crucial time as both the Vicar and his wife left soon after. There should never be any animosity within a Church family.

If you feel disappointed or downcast, if you feel no one cares for you and you feel you have laboured in vain, remember there is some One above who is watching over you and will recognise your efforts. He records all we do and sees the goodness in us. One day he will say ‘come ye blessed of my Father and receive the Kingdom prepared for you’.

We do face times of personal weakness in which doubt enters all our lives, and if it has not happened to you (yet), then perhaps you are not thinking things through.

The devil is always active and can influence our thin mind, especially in times of personal sadness and worry, and then like John we begin to wonder if we have got it right. Jesus understood John’s thinking and praised him publicly as the greatest man born of woman, yet he did not have the experience which each one of us can have of knowing the Holy Spirit come into our lives.

So what is the message for us from this passage.

Millions of people have religious belief and consider themselves Christian, without any real entitlement. Religion can be an obstacle to true faith. True they are Christian supporters, but there is no commitment. Many people feel inspired by the ceremony often performed and enacted in the Church of England, in which ritual take the place of real faith and belief. I have served in Churches where ceremony was a feature and which was very meaningful, and added much to worship, rather than the basic services, but it should be an aid to remind us we have been in the presence of an Almighty God and nothing more.

The message people always need to remember, is that we are worshipping the Jesus who died on the Cross for the forgiveness of all our sins, and as the Bible emphatically states, no can come to God the Father except through Him… He alone is the means of our salvation.

There are a lot of politicians, and other trouble makers, who want to airbrush our faith right out of existence and we are letting them get on with it. They are pathetic cowards who would not dare to say or do the things to Islam that we allow, and to the credit of Islam they stand up these cowards.

If you have trusted God for some purpose and feel like John let down; if your faith becomes weak, be like John and tell God to speak to you. Listen or read the great hymns of Charles Wesley who wrote in one hymn ‘my faith looks up to thee, O Lamb of Calvary’.

Above all, never let anyone cause you to doubt or lead you to spiritual rejection so that you drift away from Church. You may think it could never happen, but it could and will if you are not careful.

May God bless you and be at Church each Sunday.

Friday 2 December 2016

As Mark's Gospel opens, John the Baptist is there to prepare the way so that the people would be ready to receive Jesus. He was a voice crying in the wilderness. This is where God sent him to preach and many went out to hear him. They went because of the message
which was being preached which had a significant effect on them.

John spoke in a way that touched their hearts. Within all of us there is a conscience which is often dulled and needs reawakening.

In their hearts people know they are sinners and it weighs on their minds.

What is sad is that in today’s world no one is supposed to be made to feel guilty. There is a distinct lack in the preaching of the Church to point out the consequences of sin lest we upset people. We have got to a stage where there are no absolutes, as long as one feels something is right, that is all that matters.

As a result, many in our day fix the blame on someone else for their behaviour. Now, while there may have been someone else involved, the fact remains that you are still responsible before God.

So whilst the Church now is reluctant to speak of sin lest it upsets people, John proved the opposite effect is true. People went miles just to hear him tell them words that would enable him to touch something in their hearts and minds. They were able to confess and have peace of mind.

When Billy Graham first came to England, many pompous clergy were derisive before they had even heard him speak. Whilst they were preaching to small numbers of people in sweet soporific tones, Billy was speaking before crowds of many thousands ranging from 20 to 60 thousands, with overflow meetings in theatres and church halls. He was never reluctant to tell them they were sinners and needed to turn to Christ. When people think of great evangelists, Billy Graham is often the name which comes to mind.
Just as did John there was a conviction of sin combined with a message of hope which offered relief. If the Church is content in observing state law assiduously and declining to speak of judgement, which determines heaven or hell, then it becomes little more than a social club with a spiritual flavour. We need to have more biblically based teaching rather than that identical to some social based magazine.

Then John called them to publicly acknowledge their repentance by baptism. Baptism at that time symbolised the washing away of the past and the beginning of a new life. This was performed when someone confirmed their faith repented and promised to lead a new life. It was not the frivolous act performed in too many churches where it is mainly children being baptised, which is in fact just the prelude to a party, and where the parents of children are not required to make any commitment other than just say the words on the service sheet.

John was the forerunner for Christ pointing to Jesus as the Messiah, the One who would come and baptise with the Holy Spirit, but his message can mean as much to today’s generation as it did to the people of his day.