Friday 31 March 2017

John;s gospel in Chapter 12,verses 20-33. Turn with me to this passage which John alone tells.

Jesus had entered Jerusalem for the Passover festival having just raised Lazarus from the dead, and was receiving an enthusiastic welcome from crowds of people gathered for the festival. This was the major festival held annually to remember how God saved Israel. But there were some who did not welcome Jesus, and indeed were plotting His death.

At such a time as this many Gentiles would go to the city and although not Jews would join in the celebrations. Some Greeks were amongst the crowds who had heard of Jesus and were determined to meet Him. They were from a settlement in the North of Galilee and went to Philip who came from near their area and said to him, ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus’.

Having heard the stories of what Jesus had done they realised something was missing from their lives and wanted to receive from Him that something So when they said they wanted to see Jesus, they were in fact seeking a meeting with Him.

In many small evangelical churches in the United States, they have these words inscribed on the pulpit to remind the preacher that people have come to hear about Jesus Christ. . I had the joy of preaching recently at a small Methodist Church which had the same words inscribed on the pulpit. It is a call to the preacher that he must only preach Jesus Christ and not engage in philosophy, politics, or be submissive to political correctness. These words were the theme of the preacher when I was ordained at Chester Cathedral, one of the godliest men you could possibly meet

When Jesus was told of their request He was pleased and responded immediately. He had not gone to Jerusalem to enter for the same purpose as the crowds had in mind, events were building up and were leading to the time of our Lord’s road to the Cross. So when He heard a group of people were genuinely seeking Him, He said, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.

The Jews would not have understood what Jesus meant. For them the Son of Man conveyed an image of someone who would lead to world conquest and so attain glory, but Jesus meant it was time for Him to make the supreme sacrifice for the world by dying on the Cross so bringing glory to Him and to God

He went on to say "Truly, truly, I say to you." Whenever Jesus used those words, it meant that He was going to say something important. Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone." He was pointing out that when a seed died ir brought forth fruit, and death brings life through people.

As Christians were martyred for the faith, so the Church grew, and He was here meaning that He was like the grain of wheat and unless He went to the cross, His whole purpose in coming to earth will have been in vain. He knew what He had to face, and that He is going to be glorified through the sacrifice the cross, because by that cruel death the way to forgiveness for all believers was made possible. If He had not made the sacrifice on the Cross, you and I and everybody else, could not have forgiveness. His death meant eternal life for all who believed in Him.

When He met those Greeks it was as the first sign that the gospel was to go to all the world, and part of God’s plan to bring salvation to the Gentiles, the symbol of the great harvest for which He came.

If He had not died we probably would not know any more about Him for He would have just been another figure of history, of no greater significance than any other great religious leader. Because of the cross, He was able to do something He could never have done otherwise.

Jesus said the one loves their life will lose it. He was referring to those who live solely for themselves and out to get as much as they can without thought for others. Billy Graham received offers which would have made him a very rich man, but made clear his greatest desire was to preach the gospel for which he only took the salary of an ordinary Baptist Minister.

Christians generally are called to put service of the Lord first, and indeed there are many men and women who could have followed brilliant careers for rich rewards, but chose to go on mission fields far away from their homeland.

We see the humanity of Jesus displayed when He expressed his fear at the thought of the Cross, but was ready to give obedience to God and suffer much pain which would ultimately lead to triumph. God spoke to Jesus in His hour of torment, just as He did at His baptism and when on the Mount of Transfiguration. God is always ready to give strength when we seek it for the tasks we face in His name and cause

At the cross, Jesus underwent the judgement we deserve and paid our debt to God. His death gives us hope of everlasting life with Him one day. He wants to give you that hope in your life today. He alone can give you that new life that can never fade, and you can find that new life by meeting Jesus.

People in these high pressure days are so often weary and depressed and looking for that spiritual something. People are looking for something beyond themselves, looking for a way that gets the most out of life, yet carrying a load of guilt, fear and worry. Jesus said, ‘come unto me all you are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest’

A day is coming when we will all see Jesus. The Bible says everyone will assemble before Him as He sits on the judgement throne. Some will go one way with the goats, some the other way with the sheep. We will have either joy in the after life with Jesus, or eternity with the lost. The criterion is how we respond whilst we are here on earth. The bible says ‘now is the time of God’s favour, now is the time of salvation’. It will be too late after we have died, and no amount of intercession will then save us.

May we ever be like the Greeks in our passage today and want to see Jesus and seek Him with all our hearts.

Saturday 25 March 2017

A Minister started his sermon one Sunday by stating that his wife had found him the previous evening in the arms of another woman. This was one sure way of getting attention from a congregation. As they waited for the juicy bit, he said, it was my mother. A visiting Minister was in the congregation and thought he would like to use that in one of his future sermons, although he knew his memory was not good. The time came when he decided to use it and began, last night my wife found me in the arms of another woman….but for the life of me I can’t remember who she was.

Well those of us who fond memories of our mothers however many years have passed since we were in their arms; will not forget as we acknowledge the love for our mothers and all they meant to us. To bear a child is a costly and sometimes very painful act, calling for endurance sometimes beyond the mother herself. Mothering Sunday calls on us to remember it is the giving of oneself.

Today we are celebrating Mothering Sunday which falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent this having been decreed in the 17th century when most people went to Church. People would walk to Church, often to the one where they had been baptised, and some would carry flags and banners. Girls in domestic service would be given time off by their employers to visit their mothers, and some would bake simnel cakes as presents.

In the United States President Woodrow Wilson passed an Act of Congress in May 1914, that the 2nd Sunday in May would be known as Mothers Day for the public expression of love and reverence for mothers. This term has been claimed in the United Kingdom rather than our understanding which emphasises the religious significance.

So let us turn to the Bible
God having created the earth with all its elements and animals then created man. He then saw that man was lonely and loneliness can lead to depression. God saw that man needed a companion. So God gave woman as man’s helper, someone who can be at man’s side who will give life more meaning, pleasure and support; someone to love and cherish. God has now made two people, man and woman, Adam and Eve.

We must accept that God knows best, and when he wanted man to have a companion, He made a woman as the perfect answer, someone who could complement man in every way, physically and mentally in a way other men could not, and men throughout the ages have appreciated and recognised this. God wanted to supply what was lacking in man’s life, and together they could have children and create the ideal family. God planned the human heart to love, marry and have children, and the family is the bedrock of any nation.

When God made the world He intended man/woman to have different characters to fulfil different functions in life, equal in every respect but not the same. . It took the 20th century in the so called name of progress and equality to pull women down to make them like men, and some to be as the coarsest of men.
Female politicians, especially in modern government have tried to turn life upside down, and in the false name of equality have made some women to adopt the worst practices of men. For 2000 years women had in many respects been superior to men, but in the cause of equality and feminism, have adopted not only the worst vices of men, but have excelled more so.

An article in a newspaper once said that women were leaving Christianity for Islam because of the greater moral code. Without denigrating the strict Islamic moral code, it is also a fact that no religion has greater respect for women than Christianity, and the Christian code is as moral as any; it is just Christians do not adopt it. Jesus gave women a new place in human relations with a dignity that wherever Christianity has gone, women have been respected.

God intended women to be mothers and motherhood to be of the highest calling and endowed them with special gifts. Motherhood is a special privilege and a sacred duty. Abraham Lincoln once remarked that no nation is greater than its mothers for they are the makers of men. The Rabbis have a saying, ‘God can’t be everywhere so He made mothers.’

A mother's love is special and unique, and God gave woman a special and caring nature for His purpose. Today we have the ridiculous and offensive suggestion that children can be raised by two men after some woman, known or unknown, has provided the child by some means. An American psychologist stated a child will never come to full development psychologically without a mother in the home.

The traditional family now is under sustained attack from politicians, socialites, and secularists. We face the ridiculous situation where it is decreed two men can raise children after some unknown woman provides the child by some sordid way. No longer is a wife a woman exclusively, nor a man exclusively a husband due to the warped philosophies of the equality and diversity zealots. Now it is supposed to be parents 1 and 2.

A mother’s presence in the home is essential, and there has never been a more urgent time when good mothers are needed. I have worked in every social classes of society, but have never known a Jewish child get involved in anti-social behaviour or criminal activities. I once asked a Rabbi why he thought this was so, and he told me it was due to the control the Jewish mama has over her family.

When my two sons were growing up my then occupation required me to be away from the home for many long hours, and so much care fell upon my wife. She had a photograph of me to show the boys the strange man who kept popping in and out, and told them that was their father. It is to her credit that they both entered the Christian ministry after being youth leaders succeeding each other at their local Church. Today they are successful Vicars at Churches of their own where they have been a powerful influence in the Churches they have served, and having a prominent place in local government.

Mothers continue to care and worry for their children even when they reach adulthood, and stand by them no matter what they do and even when that is not deserved. Salome the mother of James and John sought favour for them from Jesus, to whom she prayed that Jesus would show favour on her sons; I wonder how many mothers today pray for their sons to Jesus.

Spiritual matters should be of concern to mothers. Promises are made at baptism services that children will be brought up in the fellowship of the Church, although few have ever any intention of honouring the promises made. We need women who will lead their families back to more old style morality decency and purity. Children are being brought up without any religious knowledge, knowing nothing about Jesus or Biblical characters, even in the homes of whatever class of home.

I would encourage every mother to teach their children the stories of Jesus, and other stories from the Bible; it will give them a sure foundation for life. An idealism prevails as to how children should behave, but it is often in modern phraseology, ‘cool’ for a child to be sexually aware. Explicit sex education is readily given, but there is a distinct aversion to giving Christian teaching. Schools play little part in educating children in religion or conduct unless the school is a private one.

This day gives us the opportunity to remember Mary the mother of Jesus and think of how our Lord honoured motherhood when He showed concern for His mother when dying on the Cross.
The Bible is full of stories of prominent mothers,

Jochebed the mother of Moses who let an Egyptian princess bring up Moses rather than have him killed; a

Eve who was the first mother

Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth, all who waited for a miracle.

Hagar driven away and disowned.

Rebecca had to raise her children in another country

Rachel wept for her children,

Naomi and Ruth who rose above all the trials of life, and turned hard situations into good.

Lois and Eunice , ready to share the love of Christ with their children

We dearly need mothers to day to teach their children to worship God, preferably by bringing them to Church. . I went with my mother well into my teenage years to Liverpool Cathedral each Sunday afternoon for Evensong, and it has lived with me all my life.

The Bible calls on older women who have an honoured place in society, to play a major part in guiding younger women in the bringing up of children from their years of experience. We must have concern for women bringing up children in a world where all moral values are being eroded. Theirs is a big responsibility, especially when the nation’s broadcasting system gives out such foul talk and explicit scenes that cause weaker minds to think that is the natural way of life.

Sometimes women are asked on television or radio what their occupation is, and often the reply comes, ‘only a housewife and mother’. There is nothing only; such is a most honourable occupation.

At this point we ought to remember all those women who do not have children and may be feeling distress today when presents of chocolates and etc are being passed. Some have chosen not to be mothers rather preferring to follow a career and contribute much to society. Other women through physical or medical reasons cannot be mothers and our prayers must be for them. In our Old Testament reading we had the story of Hannah who hurt deeply because she desperately wanted to be a mother, suffered much because it was it was seen as something wrong for a woman not to have a child, and in her agony she cried out to God. He answered Hannah’s prayer. So to all those women who so dearly long to be mothers, and would undoubtedly be good mothers, remember Hannah and make you pleas to God.

The Bible states ‘(Jesus said)if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is for my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit’

We also grieve for mothers who have lost a child. Whilst we may cherish memories of our mothers some will not have such pleasant thoughts.

So I close my words to you this morning by asking you join in mind with me in this prayer.
Loving God, we thank you for our mothers, for all they meant, for the love they showed and care given; for their patience understanding and kindness We thank you for the part they played in our lives and we ask that the Biblical mothers who we have thought of may be an encouragement for women everywhere We pray for those for whom this is a difficult time, one of heartache other than celebration; for those who long to be a mothers yet have no children of their own’; for those whose children have failed or abandoned them.

May God bless all mothers and those longing to be.

Wednesday 22 March 2017

On Saturday in the Church’s calendar it is the festival of ‘The Annunciation of our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary’.
The Gospel reading for that day is Luke 1 v 26/38.

If this gospel message was told as a story in one of our daily newspapers, and so posted on their website, it would receive numerous scornful mocking comments, questioning as to why anyone would believe it. In fairness, if a daughter or friend came and told you she was pregnant but had not been intimate with a man, you would reasonably think she was mad or trying to cover up a moral lapse.

Such was the situation experienced by a young Jewish girl in a remote Israeli village, risking disgrace and shame and also the loss of her fiancée. It has to be accepted that the birth of Jesus was unique. God took the initiative, and Jesus was born of a virgin, such is a basic doctrine of the Church,

But such was the faith and courage of that young woman that she trusted God, and so became the most famous woman in all history, the most blessed of women. The Roman Catholic Church has tended to make rather too much of Mary whilst the Protestant Churches have made too little.

Is it not amazing how peoples’ minds reason. Thousands say they will not believe what they cannot understand. If I should go out on to the car park of this Church and take out a little plastic box, and press a combination of 13 numbers, within seconds I would be speaking to my son in Hong Kong. Yet if I wished to speak face to face, it would take a journey of 13 hours to do so.

I can’t explain how this can happen, and I doubt there is anyone I know who could explain, we take mobile phones for granted. We watch events as they happen from across the world in a box in our homes and take it for granted. Who can explain how a brown cow, which eats green grass, produces white milk, and yellow butter, yet we eat and drink both. Why on earth if we can accept all the marvels of man, we cannot accept the miracles of God.

This causes me to turn with you to verse 37 of this morning’s passage, ‘for nothing is impossible with God’. Our minds are not meant to understand all the miracles and mighty deeds of the Lord; the Cross and atonement; the resurrection; the power of the Holy Spirit. We may not understand the virginal conception, but we accept all these by faith.

Mary did not doubt what the angel told her, she was just puzzled, as she might be, as to how this would happen. It was as if the angel was saying ‘Mary you are thinking as a human being and humanly you are right, but this is God at work and He shall come upon you with the power of the Holy Spirit, for nothing is impossible for God’.

Nobody chooses to be born, it just happens to us, but with Jesus He chose to come here. His mother had Him born in lowly circumstances, was visited by shepherds, had the angels sing Gloria in excelsis, and heard Simeon warn her of a sword which would pierce her heart.

The whole purpose of Jesus coming here was to act as a substitute for our sin, and to do so would face a painful crucifixion, something rejected by so many people for whom all Christmas means is an orgy of feasting and riotous behaviour.

I read about a party of tourists being taken around Westminster Abbey and they stopped by a beautiful stained glass window which the guide had led them to. As they stared in silence an American lady asked, ‘has anyone been saved in this Church lately?’ The guide drew himself up to his full height and replied, ‘Madam, this is a Cathedral’. But the lady was right, the function and mission of the Church, whether it be a Cathedral or small chapel, is to bring people to salvation.

We have 580 members in General Synod, costing the Church far too much money, debating issues for which Scripture has already given answers, rather than trying to devise means of halting the exodus of people. It is like arguing which is the best room in the house when the whole house is on fire. The primary aim is to put the fire out never mind the furniture.

We need to teach that God made us for a purpose, and we have turned our backs on Him who gave us Jesus to be born and live on this earth, and eventually to die to save us. There is the tendency to ask how an event which occurred over 2000 years ago in a country across the world can affect us now. The answer is that God acted and still acts in our lives by the Holy Spirit. We need Christ as a Saviour.

We all have a choice. We can refuse to believe, or react like Mary who although she could not understand when told of God’s purpose for her replied, ‘behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to your Word’. That is the question for you to-day; to accept, and yield yourself.
We talk glibly about peace, often implying a lack of combat. It is all very well to talk of love and applying a social gospel to the problems of life. Politicians and social workers have been putting forth their lofty aims and to consider their effect, look at the broken homes, the bribery corruption drug dealing and divorce.

God’s meaning of peace is a solid one joining ourselves to Him. God reaches out to us whose love makes Him forgive us and mercy is boundless. It is God who takes the initiative as He did when He chose Abraham, who inspired Isaac and Jacob and founded the nation of Israel.

This is why we should have concern for the nation of Israel from which all our teaching emanates. We worship the God of Israel; we worship a Jewish Saviour; born of a Jewish woman; and are taught from a book written (under the inspiration of God) by Jewish writers. One day Jesus will return to there.

The Israelites constantly sinned and strayed away from God but He still looked after them, fed and clothed them, protected and revealed Himself to them. The Old Testament is the history of the Israelites resisting God’s will and the New Testament shows God cannot be limited. It was |God who sent His Son to prepare the great salvation after His prophets were rejected; it was God who raised His Son from the dead; God who gave teaching on how we should live and respond to Him.

If our Lord was to return now would He be happy about the religious teaching. Would He wonder why we Christians treat our faith in such casual manner rather than the aggressive evangelism of other faiths?

There is often reluctance by clergy to speak out for fear of offending people. It is true to say Christian preachers tend to modify teaching of traditional values to appeal to contemporary thinking. All this causes a problem for parish priests, and especially for itinerant preachers like me.

In effect there are three options open to preachers
One is to avoid all contentious issues.
2 To go with the flow.
3 To be true to Scripture.
We all want to please and satisfy our audience, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to cause offence. But if preachers are to be true to their calling, and preach with integrity and honour, there are times when I suppose some people may be upset. If that happen that is sad. But perhaps you may see we are not here to that be like a spiritual dispenser giving out soothing word potions, but rather to make people think out Scripture.

Friday 17 March 2017

I am turning to the Epistle to the Ephesians, in Chapter 2

Our epistle looks at the hostility that existed between Jew and Gentile in Paul’s time. The Jews hated the Gentiles, so much so, that if a Gentile woman fell into difficulty during labour, they would not help her, in order to stop another Gentile being born into the world; and the Gentiles were not too fond of the Jews either.

The Jews saw themselves as God’s chosen people, anyone else did not belong to God’s people, which they saw as justification for despising them.

The Jews had a national home in Palestine but were scattered around the Mediterranean area. Wherever they went they took with them a high moral standard and pure faith in a holy and righteous God in contrast to the Gentile gods. They did not want to be dragged down morally by those who lived in a world of moral and spiritual corruption.

It was a multi-faith society, and like those today who have their own gods of money, property, etc, all of which do not give the spiritual satisfaction of belief in the one true God, they were without hope, for there is no fulfilment in an empty product.

The Gentiles felt like many people today in that they did not seem to belong to anything and had no clearly defined belief. They knew there must be something better within their grasp and wanted to find it.

We can see a parallel situation within the main line Churches to day. People see clearly defined doctrine being ignored and re-interpreted to suit and embrace modern culture, and to make the Church appear worldly friendly, but which lacks a clear moral basis. So each year there is a decrease in the number of members, whilst people go to the small evangelical churches or just drop away, which is extremely sad and very worrying for the future.

The evangelical wing has formed an association called the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, which is campaigning for a return to orthodox doctrine and biblical integrity, yet whilst everyone is entitled to an opinion, some of the remarks from the liberal establishment, you would think they were trying to destroy the Church and deprive people of their liberty.

Whilst Paul was an Apostle to the Gentiles, he still had great concern for the Jews and is striving to bring the two together. He saw the need for all to get right with God, and saw the answer for this reconciliation to be achieved as being through our Lord’s death on the Cross.

So anyone can come to Church without acting as if you need some special dispensation, not like the foreigner who needs a passport, but as one who has the full rights of a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

We should realise what a privilege and how wonderful it is to be a Christian and know the one true God, and to belong to a Church. The hymn puts it so well, ‘Christ is our corner stone on Him alone we build.’ Every Christian is like a stone built into the Church. It is so tragic that far too often Christians seem to be at war with one another just as much as the Jews and Gentiles were. When we are able to understand how God sees the Church, we will want to do all we can to make others want to become part of it and share together with no divisions.

We have to accept that our world has divisions. In every walk of life we find hostility, even regrettably within the Church. We don’t have to go back 2000 years however to find racial or cultural hostility. There is still bitterness between Protestant and Catholic keeping each other apart . Such rivalry in the name of religion is appalling, but even more shameful is the fact that such rivalry could have been cut out if the Church leaders of both faiths had got together and told their peoples to stop, for clergy in Northern Ireland have more influence and are listened to more than here, but on either side there was support for their own factions, one especially so.

There are differences between people, which God no doubt intended. We are not, despite the efforts of the equality zealots in Parliament, all equal or the same. Those inequalities and differences can be an asset. You don’t have a body which is all hands or heads. If the body of Christ is to be complete and functional, it needs to have various qualities. And each sex performs some functions in life in a better way than the other and should be allowed to get on, without interference. Equality does not mean we have to be the same, each sex has qualities the other does not have, and failings.

In the concluding verses of our passage Paul wants to encourage us to come into a living relationship with God. We are children of God who cares for us and has a purpose for our life. As Christians we belong to the heavenly family with one Father. This means we meet not with strangers but as brothers and sisters of God’s family.

The sooner all Christians appreciate that and act like Christians the sooner the Church of Christ will grow and become an influence in society. How a Church can deny access to its full communion to another Christian I have yet to understand; yet we have the ridiculous situation where even the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of a Church with millions of followers around the world, is not permitted to take Communion with the head of the Roman Catholic Church .

Make sure you are at a Church on Sunday, and make sure it is a Bible believing Church.

Saturday 11 March 2017

The majority of people in this country consider themselves both religious and Christian. This is often based on the fact of having been born here, baptised as a child, of British parentage. But thee is a fundamental difference between being a religious person and being a real Christian. So as we turn to one of the outstanding passages of the Bible, ponder which category you think is you. Look with me at the 3rd Chapter of John.

The passage begins by introducing Nicodemus. He was an important man in the community. He was a Pharisee, one of an elite company never more than 6,000, who took a pledge to spend all their lives observing every details of the Jewish Law. To a Jew, that Law was the most sacred thing in the world. He was also on the ruling council called the Sanhedrin, a Court of 70 members, the Supreme Court of the Jews. All the people looked up to Nicodemus, for he was a teacher and answered questions. He tithed a tenth of all his income, fasted and prayed for two hours each day. He was a man many Churches would welcome, but he had religion, but not Christ.

One night he went to see Jesus, which meant he was taking a great risk, for if found doing so it would have meant losing his position, so he had to avoid being seen. No one need to be afraid of seeking Jesus, He will take you however you come.

There are people now who don’t like to acknowledge that they are identified with the Church of Jesus for fear of embarrassment through being mocked. There are many who are too proud to seek Jesus. Here was a man who recognized that there was something missing from his life and wanted to go deeper, he wanted what Jesus offered. Sometimes it may be difficult to admit this, but Nicodemus was ready to face up to it. In his heart there was a great longing. He could see the effect Jesus was having on crowds and longed to have that ability. He knew it was beyond him.

So beneath a moonlit sky, on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, Nicodemus spoke to Jesus and said no one could help but be impressed by what Jesus had achieved. Jesus replied that it was not the acts that were important, but it was the effects on a life that mattered.
Jesus answered him with that phrase, which has been immortalized by evangelical preachers, ‘you must be born again’. Jesus didn’t say ‘you must think about it’ or ‘you must consider it’. He said ‘you MUST be born again.’ Nicodemus took Jesus’ words literally and asked ‘how can a man be born when he is old. Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb.
When we are born into this world our mothers endure great pain and heartache, but do so that we may have life. If you think of a birth, the body exists before birth and can move and feel, but knows nothing of this world. It cannot see nor communicate yet the world is all around it. At the moment of birth, the embryo comes in to the world and can see, breathe and make contact. The baby is born of the flesh.

Jesus told Nicodemus he needed an experience analogous to his physical birth. So that we may have eternal life in heaven with Him, Jesus endured great pain on the Cross so we may have spiritual life. So to be born again is to be changed in such a way that can only be described as a re-creation. To be born of the Spirit means to have the Spirit of Jesus Christ living inside of you. It means that God’s gracious love comes and lives inside of your heart when you are ready to believe that Jesus Christ was Lord and is the Saviour of the World.

Like many people today, Nicodemus felt he was too old to change, to set in his ways, but we can begin anew at any age. Billy Graham tells the story of a lady on a bus in America sitting next to a Bishop. She asked him, ‘have you been born again.’ The man answered, ‘I am a Bishop’. The lady said, ‘I didn’t ask you that. I asked if you were born again’. The bishop later said he went home read this chapter and realized his life had been missing something real and he realized what the lady meant.

So many people are desperately unhappy and unsatisfied because they are missing out in their lives. They seek refuge in alcohol or drugs or gambling or whatever. The thought of seeking spiritual help is beyond their minds.
Jesus then said, ‘no one can enter the kingdom of God unless born of water and the spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.’

Jesus is meaning we are imperfect and rebellious against God because our parents were. Jesus coming into our lives by his Spirit can break that chain and give birth to a new you. No one can be a perfect you or me this side of heaven. We become in the process of being changed from the inside out because deep down we now want to live for God.

The Kingdom of God is a society in which the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven. To lead a life in which we submit all willingly to the will of God. What Jesus calls for is a complete transformation in our lives. This means in our thoughts, words and actions. Something which goes beyond irregular attendance at Church, and a casual attitude to faith during the rest of the week.
People come to a point in life when they feel that they are going through the motion of religion, of having the ritual without there being any sense of the real thing. If you come to that point in your relationship with God, and it happens to people all the time, you need to come before Jesus and ask Him to come into your life and give you that new life.

At this time John had been baptizing and it was a sensational event. Many people now superstitiously think that if they have their babies baptized that will ensure their entrance into heaven, a sort of once and for life matter irrespective of a life in between, which is pure superstition. Water may cleanse and may make you smell nicer, but that is not enough in God’s eyes. What it stands for is important, but you have to grasp the full symbolism, which is repentance for sin, and the start of a new way of living.

Most people don’t want to admit there is anything to repent of, they are perfectly good and God should recognize that. A Vicar put a notice outside his Church which read, ‘this church is here for sinners.’ The next week two thirds of his congregation was absent.
Jesus referred to the wind blowing and being heard without it being seen or knowing where it came from or where it was going. When we are born again we feel the Spirit of God inside us. You don’t see God or control Him, but you see the effects when Jesus takes hold of your life. You get that missing motivation; worship becomes more meaningful and necessary to you. You don’t find so many excuses for not coming to Church.

When we are born of the Spirit we have a new power within us which enables us to be what by ourselves we could not be.
It may be asked how do I get it? Sometimes a man and a woman meet and immediately know they have met the person of their dreams, instantly they fall in love. The relationship may last for ever or indeed may fall apart after a while when they reconsider with the regularity of normal living. Another man and woman meet and meet again and again and suddenly realize how deeply they have come to love each other and they live on happily. If you asked them at what point they actually fell in love, they could not tell you it just developed.

So it is with religion. Many thousands of people went to the Billy Graham Crusades in the latter half of the last century. Touched by rousing hymns, massed choirs, sermon by the world’s greatest preacher, they immediately had a Damascus road conversion. Quite a lot of men became clergy and even bishops, other went back to their parishes and in the more mundane atmosphere of 1662 Matins, poorly put together services and indifferent preaching, fell away; whilst others with regular worship and a desire to know the Lord just grew in grace over time.

Jesus referred to an event in the Old Testament when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and complained about God who in His wrath sent snakes which killed people. When Moses prayed the Lord told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole and when anyone was attached they would be healed if they looked up at the pole.

God said, ‘ my son will be lifted up on a cross and those who look to Him will be saved from their sins’.
We have the whole message of the gospel in verse 16, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ God’s love is limitless; He SO loved the world, in other words He loved the world very much, and just as a mother will forgive her child no matter how badly behaved they have been, so will God forgive those who turn to Him in repentance and accept that the death of His Son Jesus on the Cross was for the forgiveness of their sins.

Saturday 4 March 2017

Turn with me to Mathew’s gospel in Chapter 4 verses 1-11, the story of the temptations faced by Jesus in the wilderness.
We are now in a period of 40 days when we are to reflect and consider our spiritual state. In the early days of the Church this was a time for converts to the faith to prepare for baptism at Easter.

In observing the 40 days, we are reminded of the period Jesus spent in the wilderness directly after His baptism, resisting the temptations set before Him by the devil, and we journey with Christ in readiness for His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to face the glory of the Cross and His resurrection three days later. We recognise we need a Saviour and accept Jesus was the One who came to seek and save us.

The story of Jesus’ trials is hard for modernists to accept and believe, and ask can you really believe this in 2017, but as Jesus was alone it must have been told by Him. Jesus and His Apostles clearly taught about the devil, and when see and read and hear of all the evil in our own world, it should not be hard to accept. Others ask why Jesus had to be tempted, but He was both human and divine and it was His human nature which was being tempted. . This human side is revealed in the Bible when we read the descriptions of His compassion, tears, gratitude and hunger.

In the Old Testament the Israelites were led into the desert to be tested and humbled to prove to God that they were able to keep God’s commands. Here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry He is going to prove that He will obey every word that comes from God and be faithful. It was important for Jesus to be tested, for if He had succumbed to temptation He could not be our Saviour.

When we talk of the devil people conjure up an image of some wild eyed creature with horns and a flaming mouth. By the term devil we mean that evil spirit which comes upon us and tries to influence our thoughts and actions for evil. There are times when we have to decide a course of action. In our minds we know one way is right, but the other is more appealing, and whilst we know what we really should do, we succumb to temptation, and do the wrong thing.

Is that not how we are tempted? Sometimes people turn to drink or drugs rather than face up to emotional problems. It is so much easier to turn to vodka and numb yourself than to delve into and solve your troubles. People move from one relationship to another rather than make a loving commitment, and avoid devoting themselves to one person.

When you listen or read news reports you can readily appreciate the powerful influence of evil, for the stories are frightening. When we read, ‘the devil said to Jesus’, or the devil took Jesus, we are to understand that in a vision Jesus had these temptations put into His mind. It is through our innermost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes to us and puts such evil thoughts into our minds.

The Bible teaches the Christian life is a warfare. The Christian life is a battle, a fight, a struggle, a warfare from beginning to end. We are told that we as Christians must be strong in order to wrestle against the forces of darkness. Much of the New Testament concerning Christian living has to do with warfare.
The Bible teaches that not one single Christian is ever exempt from fighting this battle. God calls every Christian, not to a religious playground, He calls us for a grim, terrible, conflict. And God says that the Christian life is a combat and a fight and a wrestling match from start to finish.
The moment you become a Christian, you have started a battle that will last the rest of your days. Now you are on God's side, and the devil does not like it.
Many times, the darkest hour of temptation comes after a spiritual victory. This time of adjustment is just like getting married. The first few months of marriage is fun and it's a wonderful experience, but there are adjustments to be made; there are difficulties too. So it is when you first come to Christ. You give yourself to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and you feel a new person, but the next thing you know, temptation is pulling you in a direction you had never dreamed you would be pulled.
We read that Jesus was led into the desert where He fasted for 40 days and nights, so would be extremely hungry. The place where Jesus went was between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea and was so barren it was called ‘devastation’. The ground was a mixture of yellow sand and limestone which created an atmosphere resembling a massive furnace, and was utterly deserted, there being no lonelier place on earth. There he faced temptations from the devil.
The first temptation was when the devil called on Jesus to turn the stones into bread. The desert would be littered with little round pieces of lime stone, each of which was exactly like a loaf of bread, so for someone in a starving state and who had supernatural powers, the temptation was there.
There is always the temptation to use powers God has given us for the wrong reason. God has given us all gifts and we have to ask not what I can make for myself out of them, but what can I do for others. A person may have a talent for making or doing something but will only do so for personal reward. It is perfectly acceptable to make profit for an ability, but wrong to do so exclusively.

Jesus could have turned the stones to bread, He would later turn a few loaves into food for thousands, but replied as in each temptation, ‘it is written’; then He quoted Scripture. In this case He said that we live not only by bread, material food, but also by spiritual food, God’s Word.

One sure way to get a following is to offer people something for free, but Jesus did not come to bribe people, and nor should His Church ever think of doing so. Jesus called people to give and not just to get; to feed the hunger in the heart. He relied on God for His power and when we are in some form of wilderness we need to remember to call on our God. Jesus did not ignore our physical needs, but directed our minds to the spiritual.

The Church has often tried to use gimmicks, and seems to be doing so more so now in an attempt to persuade people to attend, and some of them are quite silly. When someone comes to Church they do so in the belief they will hear the Christian message expounded and find something in that message which will fulfil the purpose for which they came. Now the Church seems to think if you entertain people by having a quiz or some guessing game instead of a sermon, it will attract more people, but results do not support that belief. Faith which needs entertainment is not real faith. A gospel built on gimmicks is doomed, which is why so many church efforts fail

Then the tempter tried in a different manner. In a vision Jesus was taken to the top of Mount Sion, where there was a level plateau and the Temple buildings were there. There was a drop of 450 feet and Jesus was asked to jump in order to capture the people into following Him with the devil recognising the power of Jesus saying, ‘you are under God’s control.’

Finally the devil calls on Jesus to worship him. There seems to be a similar call now as we are being asked to compromise and follow society in being modern, 21st century etc. Jesus laid down the uncompromising nature of the Christian faith, and we should never be ready to answer the call of those who are prepared to change our faith to be popular.

So many people are led to believe that there are many ways to heaven; that is where they are led astray. They are told you don’t have to make any commitment; you don't have to repent of your sins; if you'll just do good and try to please everybody, you'll be all right without having had any personal experience with Christ.

A very sad outcome is that so many people, who like to call themselves Christians, are following lifestyles which betray the faith laid down by God in the Bible. This is exacerbated when such are members of the clergy; and even bishops are not only accepting and embracing a secular culture, they are encouraging the same.

Jesus said we should not put God to the test. We are to resist the devil, and in the power of the Holy Spirit and with the Word of God, we can do so. You can't do it in your own strength. You can only do it if Christ lives within you and you have submitted yourself completely to God

We all have been in situations when we have to make a decision in some controversial matter and in our mind we know what we should do to act morally and honestly, but the alternative often seem more appealing. It is to our innermost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes into our minds. In today’s evil world we are confronted by so many temptations.

Sadly at all levels in the Church men and women are fulfilling their own desires rather than accept the spiritual guidance God has given. To do this and to try and justify their actions, and in some cases ease their conscience if they have one, they also try to re-interpret Scripture in accordance with their actions, to convince themselves and others that the Bible is on their side.

The ultimate sin is to ignore God and to live as if His Word is not binding. The Bible is not a pick/n mix option. Always be careful when the Bible is quoted to justify some action which is not what you would expect, even from a pulpit.

The temptations in this passage could only have overcome b y someone with special powers. Only Jesus would have known of these temptations, so the story must have originated from Him. Jesus made it clear He would live by the Scriptures and Christians and the Christian Church should do the same.

Wednesday 1 March 2017

For you CREATED my inmost being; you knit me together
in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139, v13).

The baby in my womb LEAPED for joy. (Luke 1 v 44)

The clear teaching of these verses from Scripture, is that a child is a human being ‘in the mother’s womb’.
Abortion has been a leading topic in the United States political arena and during the discussions the case of Roe v Wade has been much used. I wonder how many Americans know the real facts of this case, especially those in favour of abortion.

It appears people like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and many of their supporters, believe a child is not alive until it comes into the physical world; but any Christian or person who believes the Bible is God’s Word, will find such political statements and unqualified support for abortion unacceptable.

A more understanding and tolerant view would however accept in some circumstances, such as the mother’s health, a serious likely deformity with the child, or in cases of rape, abortion might be justified.

The United States Supreme Court heard the case of Roe vWade after it was referred there from the Texas Court in 1973 and has caused controversy ever since and resulted in 57 million abortions in the intervening period. It was amazing that 9 men and women who one could expect to be at the top of their profession and to be of high intelligence, could have been so deluded into making the decisions which they did.

Jane Roe was the woman involved, and Wade was the name of the Attorney General of Texas at Dallas. Roe’s real name was Norma McCorvey, a 21 years old mother of two children, both of whom she placed for adoption, and was pregnant for the third time. She began looking for abortion which was then illegal, but she was referred to two women lawyers in Dallas who were looking to use some woman to challenge the illegality.

It has been stated that McCorvey did not understand what abortion entailed, and was led to believe it was just like having a normal period rather than the destruction of a life. She is said to have signed an affidavit without knowing what she was signing, and was not further seen by her lawyers who took the case to Court and it was heard without McCorvey having to attend. In fact, she heard no more until she read in a newspaper the outcome of the case. She was in fact being used by the lawyers for their own purposes.

The decision meant that only in the United States and Canada was abortion allowed at any time of a pregnancy.
In fact, McCorvey gave birth to her third child before the case ended, and this was also placed for adoption.

She began a relationship with another woman so that further pregnancies did not occur, and subsequently worked in abortion clinics where she often consoled women going through the operations.

In 1995 she realised the effect her case had made on society, and at that time met two parents and their charming little girl with whom she became friendly and began attending Church. There the Christian gospel was told to her and she was converted to the Christian faith.

57 million abortions is a great amount of life destroying action for a nation which claims to be a nation ‘under God’; yet we do not hear the same protests from the feminist lobby which is so voluble in attacking a democratically elected President.