Saturday 27 January 2018

Luke 2 v 21-40
In this passage we see three ancient Jewish ceremonies. The story begins after the shepherds left having gone to visit the baby (Jesus).

The story is essentially a Jewish one with a Jewish father and mother; a Jewish baby, worshipping the |God Israel, taken from a bible written by Jews. This should remind those rather indiscreet and foolish clergymen who pen criticisms of Israel that we are part of a great and long Judeo-Christian heritage which has served the world so well. We do not need anti-Semitism in the Church, there is enough of that in the political scene.

Like every Jewish boy Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after birth, something that had been done for 2000 years and was very significant to a Jew as part of their history, which had been passed down the male line. This act was part of a promise made to Abraham by God,

God made the promise that Abraham would be the father of many descendants, and through him all nations would be blessed, and this would be accompanied by the sign, and Jesus was in that male line. If Jesus had not gone through this ceremony He could not have been accepted in the line of David.

The name of Jesus was given by special command of God meaning Saviour, so we know Him as one to deliver us from sin and evil. He had submitted to this ancient ceremony although it was not strictly necessary as the Son of God, which should encourage us to make sacrifices and perform tasks readily in the service of God.

Jesus being the first born son, made Him sacred to God, and every first born who was a boy was treated as such. According to Jewish custom the parents could buy back their son for the price of five shekels, which had to be paid to the priests within 31 days after birth. This ritual was to remind the Jews that one night when the Israelites were in Egypt and all the little boys were slain, the Jewish children were spared. God ahs the right co the first things in our life

That ceremony was followed by another which meant Mary and Joseph had to set out with the child to go to Jerusalem to fulfil another Jewish duty, the rites of purification and offering of a sacrifice; until this was done Mary could not be allowed in a Synagogue to worship..

When a woman bore a son she had to wait 40 days before she could rejoin in worship, and 80 days if her child was a girl. When she returned a woman was obliged to take to the Temple a lamb, or a pair of turtles or two pigeons as an offering, but if she was poor and could not afford such just two pigeons. The fact that Mary took the poorer offering indicates the home in which Jesus was brought up in was not a luxurious one.

Poverty was prominent in our Lord’s life. He was nursed and cared for by a poor mother and spent the first thirty years under a poor father and would thereby live the way of the poor. The fact that this is so should dispel any notion that religion is not for poor people.

For a period of 450 years in Jewish history God did not speak to his people. God had promised his prophet Malachi that he would come personally into the world by a Messiah who would bring about salvation and judgement, preceded by a messenger who would prepare the way for him. For all that time the people of God had been waiting for this promised Messiah who would bring judgement and salvation into the world, who would destroy God's enemies and who saw their rightful place in the world as supreme and would one day be realised by another king like David who would attain world supremacy

Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Synagogue and in his case did not but Him back. They said ‘Lord this is your boy’, which meant from the age of twelve the Lord would have Him completely. God left Him in the care of an ordinary Jewish village girl and a poor carpenter as parents for His Son. This meant further that when he was twelve the mother and father would take him and hand him over to the priest.

We move on now to meet two older people. The first a man named Simeon who is described as a devout man, but otherwise we know nothing about him. We are only told that the Holy Spirit led him to the Temple when the child Jesus was taken there. Simeon took the child in his arms and said the words which have been said in every Church of England since its inception, the words of the Nunc Dimmittus

Simeon believed things had to be left in God’s hands and God had through the Holy Spirit given him assurance that before he died he would see God’s own appointed one. There was therefore excitement in Simeon's soul when he heard that promise that he would actually witness this great coming. He was the only Jew who knew when the Messiah would come. Others had been anxiously awaiting for hundreds of years and were guessing just as some are doing now, but one day as he was worshipping the Holy Spirit spoke to him. After all those years of silence, at last the promise was going to come true.When he saw Jesus, he knew that time had come, and he was ready to depart in peace.

But, Simeon finishes with some disturbing words. This marvellous salvation through Jesus had a dark side. There will be many who will not accept and follow Jesus; there will be a falling as well as a rising of many in Israel. Jesus will be a sign of division and will be spoken against. He will cause division and conflict; decisions will have to be made for him or against him. And for Mary a sword would pierce her heart he warned, referring to the crucifixion.

Anna too had been waiting. She was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very -old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. When she saw the holy family, at that very moment she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke shows us there is a place for everyone in God’s Kingdom. Older people able to wait on the Lord; a young woman having a baby to dedicate to God; a husband going to Church with his wife (Not a very common sight now); every person having a role to play.

So in this story we have read that Jesus was born into this world as a baby, offered to God as a child, grew into manhood and faced all the emotions of human life and able to empathise with us in every aspect of life. And tells us He was the true Messiah who would one day give His life in a cruel death that we may be made righteous in God’s sight.

True Christians should be comforted by the fact that God never leaves the world without a witness. We have to remain hopeful and faithful that grace can flourish even when men and women who have been given the extreme privilege of serving God in His Church are in themselves traitors to the One they vowed to serve by instituting, endorsing and accepting false doctrine and forcing it on those in their charge.

The words of Simeon in which he saw the light of Jesus will one day shine bright if those who love the Lord work and pray.
Christ has been spoken against and had many darts cast at Him. He has been despised and rejected, but has proved to be the Saviour of many who at one time did reject Him.

Simeon and Anna were aged saints. They had kept the faith. They had run the course. They were pious and prayerful, devout and faithful. How much does that correspond with our experience? Can we say, 'Lord, dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation'?

What sort of response best describes our attitude to the birth of Jesus? After all, we've heard it many times before. Are we sceptical? Unbelieving? Dismissive? Or, like the godly remnant, faithful, believing and trusting?

The gospel He came to bring has saved many souls and lightened many hearts and bring to light the characters of many people.

Friday 19 January 2018

This morning we are going to study the 15th Chapter of John’s gospel.

The story begins after Jesus and His Apostles left the ‘Upper Room’ where Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples and told them that he was about to leave them. They then made their way to Gethsemane where Jesus will later be arrested and hours later crucified. On the way they would pass the Temple which Herod had built, and there was a globe with a great golden vine with clusters of grapes. This refers to the time Moses sent out spies to explore land and they returned with clusters of grapes from the valley of Eschol, to show the greatness of the land God was giving them. Many a great man counted it an honour to give gold to mould a new branch on the Temple vine.

Over and over again in the Old Testament Israel is portrayed as the vineyard of God, and the vine was a national symbol of Israel, the country chosen to be God’s special people. He had given them a land and cared for them, they in return were to be obedient to him and faithful to him.

Jesus is still teaching His Apostles and preparing them for his departure, and stressing the bond between Him and believers was very close. He told this parable using as He always did scenes and images from Jewish culture.

In verse I He said, ‘I am the true vine’, the real faithful and obedient servant of God, who is portrayed as the owner of the vineyard and the followers of Jesus were the branches.

What Jesus is saying is that he has come to do what the nation of Israel failed to do. The true people of God are those who belong to Christ whether Jew or Gentile. When Jesus says I am the true vine it’s really a judgement of the nominal religion of Israel.

Jesus had been thinking of the Jews who refused to listen, but He was also thinking ahead to when Christians who’s Christianity was profession but not practice. The bond between the branch and the vine is the closest possible, for the vine gives life, strength and fertility. If the branch is separated from the vine it withers and dies; it is the sap which flows from the vine which gives all the power to the leaves, blossoms and fruit. The fruitless branches are cut off and thrown away because they have no life. We can see they have no life because they produce no fruit.

Jesus is saying the bond between Him and His followers has to be like that of the vine and branches. In order to face life in His service we need to be attached to Him to draw spiritual life and energy. We also need that kind of relationship to be accessible to God, for Jesus warned He is the only way to God. The people who do not have the kind of intimate relationship with Jesus are like the non fruit bearing branches. By fruit we mean anything that shows that you are a disciple of Jesus and have spiritual health.

Jesus said if we abide in Him we may ask for what ever we wish and it will be done for you. Now obviously that’s not a blank cheque for a win in the lottery or the like. The promise is made in the context of bearing fruit. If you ask God to make you more and more fruitful, or to be more like Christ, it will be given to you.

Often in life we find a young man leading a wild kind of life until perhaps he meets a girl who cares for him, and whilst they are close, her influence keeps him strong and able to follow a stable lifestyle. Jesus wants to help us be stable.
The parable is setting out what Jesus expects from His followers; He is seeking commitment and obedience.

The last words Jesus spoke were to His Apostles when He said, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded’. Here in the words of our Lord, is the purpose for which He founded the Church. Many people are ready to accept the first part of that statement, but not to keen on the second for the commands of Jesus would make life different from what they are living.

There are people in every Church who might be described as nominal Christians, that is they profess the faith but do not practice it, and such is not confined to lay people. Jesus is looking for more than just attending Church and claiming Christianity, He wants people to live and act in a way which will make others want to follow Him

Jesus called on all to repent and believe in the gospel, a message not limited to that time. Repent was not just a case of saying sorry about that, it means having a genuine sorrow for sin and an earnest resolution to break with the past.

There is no case for living in ways which one’s conscience tells are wrong, but trying to justify by saying well we are in the 21st century now, society lives differently. When God gave us His Word, He didn’t put a time limit on.

Society is corrupt, lawless; bible literacy is at an all time low whilst immorality is at an all time high. There is a total lack of restraint, rather like a car which has been parked on a hill and someone releases the handbrake causing it to go out of control. We are either with God or against Him and there is no in between. There may not be absolutes in society, there are in God’s kingdom

Jesus said believe the gospel. The Bible states the gospel is the power of God leading to salvation for all who believe. This means more than just believing there is a God, the devil accepts that. It is not enough to just hear and say you believe, it demands a response. God wants all people to turn to Him. We have to try and know God, which we can do by studying the Bible, in which He makes clear how He expects us to live and act; the Bible is in fact God speaking to us.

In order to believe there must be faith; you must have faith to believe. it is perfectly possible to belong to the church, to work on the staff of a church or even to stand up here and teach the Bible and yet not have true faith and belief. We only have life if we are ‘by faith’ joined to Jesus, as a branch is joined to the vine.

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

A key word is righteousness, which means to have a right standing in God’s eyes. When we believe, repent and have faith, we are justified, just as if we had not sinned.

When we use the word justified in normal language, we mean we try to prove we were right in our actions. But we cannot prove ourselves to God; He is the One who puts us in the right when He forgives by His grace through our faith.

The sceptic will say I can’t believe all the Bible says could happen; such reasoning is amazing. If I take this mobile phone and press 13 numbers, in seconds my son in Hong Kong will answer. Thousands of miles away between us, with millions of others sending messages, yet he will hear uninterrupted. Ask any bible sceptic to explain this and they will waffle. Who could explain how can a brown cow can eat green grass and produce white milk and yellow cheese. Yet we eat and drink it.

We recently celebrated the Protestant Reformation, at least some of us did; I know it was generally ignored, although it was widely recognised in the United States where people are more religious than here. Martin Luther stated ‘the true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.’ This is the message the Church should now be preaching, but instead too many are more concerned with following an equality agenda which is obsessing the country.

Luther’s stance was that any issue which tended to overshadow the gospel must be ignored and abandoned. He recalled the Church to follow the gospel, and how we need to be recalled again. We really do need another Reformation.

Secularists are setting the agenda for society with an aggressive anti Christian assault, when the Church should be the moral voice of the nation. It is time for the Church to abandon its silence and wake up and speak up, before all our traditional values and God’s ordinances are totally destroyed.

You have come this morning to renew your Covenant. Be aware that the greatest revival in this country took place in the 18th century under John and Charles Wesley, two great men of the Bible, who left a great legacy on which the Methodist Church was built.

Today some preachers show a marked resistance to 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. Of course some people will be offended, something no sincere preacher wants, but if anyone is offended they should ask themselves why that is. The Church was appointed by Christ to teach the gospel, and when people come to Church they have the right to expect that to happen, not a discourse on climate change or political issues.

When we hear teaching on a regular basis, not only does our faith grow, but also our ability to defend and help others to understand, especially those most closest and dearest to us who are not yet followers of our Lord. We may not remember all we hear, but will be inspired by the power of what has been preached. We will learn to be guided by the Scriptures and will come to know more about God and His Son and how we should live according to His commands.

May God bless His Word to us this morning and us to His service.

Saturday 13 January 2018

Turn with me to John’s Gospel, Chapter 13, verse 31 to 14.v6

The passage I have chosen to speak to you about this morning is one of the best known passages in the New Testament, even to non Church people.

There are many people who will not live in a house which is numbered 13 and some roads omit the number, going from 11 to 11a or 15a. The superstition originated from the story in this Chapter, not because of the number of the Chapter, but from the story contained in it.

Jesus entered what is known as the Upper Room with His 12 Apostles for the Last Supper, so making a total of 13, and within hours of doing so both He and Judas would be dead. Judas would commit the greatest betrayal in history as he left the room to ‘go out into the night’ (darkness) to sell out Jesus.
Jesus knew what he was about to do and told him to do it quickly, and when Judas had left Jesus told the remaining Apostles that the time for Him to be glorified had come.

What Jesus meant by this was, this was the last time He would speak to them before He was to die. His glory is that He is on His way to the Cross, His work on this earth is over and the crucifixion will also bring glory to the Father.

Jesus then for the only time called His Apostles, ‘little children’; this was obviously an endearing term of affection, like a father who is about to go away from his family. Jesus noticeably waited until Judas had left before saying it. It is the end of a close relationship of three years and time to say goodbye.

Jesus was speaking to His disciples shortly before going to the Cross, teaching and giving guidance, and that same teaching is passed down for the benefit of all Christians throughout the ages.

He calls on them to love one another, a fundamental principle of our faith, yet we find some awful failings to obey that command. He was calling on them to stay together and be faithful to each other, something all Christians should show as an example to the world. So often Christians are seen to be fighting with each other, due to some following a false line of teaching and not obeying Scripture, when they should be seen as a happy family. This is a complete turn off to non believers

When Jesus said ‘love one another’, He meant we should get along with each other. We are not talking of physical love or even sentimental feelings, but rather fellowship, compassion, tolerance and loyalty. We are not called upon to ‘like’ everybody, indeed, there are people in the Church you just couldn’t possibly like, they are so unlikeable.

If we are true to our faith we can’t be at odds with each other, yet we find people walking out of Church if they can’t get their own way, or are not given the deference they feel due to them. We should be able to resolve any issue calmly and amicably.

When non-Church people see Christians as a mixed gathering of different ages, different sexes, different backgrounds, getting on and being happy together, they will be inspired by us and respond, but if they see us as an arguing fractious lot, falling out all the time, they will justly say ‘look at those hypocritical Christians.’ .

Jesus tells them He is leaving them but they cannot go with Him, and that leaves them devastated. They had only managed to stay together through His unifying spirit, otherwise they would have parted. Peter spoke up first to plead to go with Him, but Jesus refused and even foretold what would happen to Peter.

I can relate to the feeling of the Apostles when they heard Jesus was leaving them. They had been in a three year intimate closeness to Jesus, and it is like the occasion when a Vicar or Minister gives notice he is leaving a parish, and both he and the members are sad.

Prior to coming to Bedford, I spent the happiest and most rewarding three years of my life in a Church on the Wirral, where I had such a marvellous time with the loveliest congregation possible. When I gave notice I had to leave for family reasons there were tears and much sadness, but I still have such wonderful memories of three golden years. I am sure the Apostles had even more to grieve over.

Jesus told them to not let their hearts be troubled. The heart is the seat of all our emotions and feelings and if that is disturbed our whole body and mind is. He calls for trust in Himself as well as in God.

Since we are also disciples of Jesus, and can rightly include ourselves in words like this, we must ask ourselves, "Is it wrong for Christians to be troubled like this? Are we expected never to succumb to moments of pressure, or to feel anxious and worried? Are we supposed to be cheerful and confident all the time?" Many Christians think this is what this verse means. But they forget that Jesus himself was not immune to this kind of reaction to pressure. Thus it is clear that we may expect to feel troubled at times. Christians are exposed to pressure and danger. We have the record of the epistles to confirm this. The apostles went through times of great peril, during which they feared and trembled. Thus it is not wrong for Christians to feel pressured and fearful

In verse 3, the disciples were troubled that Jesus was leaving them, so He tells them He is going to prepare a place for them in heaven.

This passage is widely quoted in funeral services when people assume that everyone is automatically going to heaven. I have taken thousands of funerals over the years and there has never been doubt in anyone’s mind that the deceased is going to heaven irrespective of the life led. Nowhere in the Bible is this view upheld. Jesus was very clear in His teaching that it certainly was not so. In parable after parable He spoke of two roads, of sheep and goats, of tares and wheat, of heaven and hell.

Whilst it may be comforting to believe that we can all get to heaven regardless of one’s beliefs, and we like to please our fellow men and women, it is quite cruel to mislead if it is not true. It is like telling a blind person standing on the footwalk of a major road it is safe for him to cross when ready. If we say to someone who has no Church commitment, has only a tenuous belief in Jesus Christ, never reads a Bible or prays, that they are going to heaven, we are leading them astray.

Others say if you just follow your conscience you’ll be fine, but consciences become dulled and hardened. Taking the lead from politicians, people can look you in the eye and lie without any qualm of conscience.

In this passage before us He is talking to His followers, people who have made a personal commitment to accept Him as Saviour. This is why it is so important for each person to make his/her own decision whether to follow Jesus in His teaching, commands and demands He makes on us.

You see the Bible is all about commitment. We are reminded of the superficiality of commitment in our own time. Less than 10% of people think God worthy of one hour per week to visit a Church. Yet if you were to ask people their religion, the vast majority would reply C of E and seriously consider they were Christians. They would be mortally offended if you suggested otherwise. Very few
people seem bothered to think of Jesus, even less to do anything about it.

It is easy to say I am a Christian, easy to say I read the Bible. 95% of the population today believe as long as you are honest, kind and helpful to others and do no harm, you are a fully fledged Christian

Jesus speaks firmly and rather profoundly when He says not all who think they are to enter the Kingdom of heaven will in fact do so

In every action of life we are confronted with a choice, where we must make a decision to do one thing or another. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus confronted us with a hard or an easy way. He makes uncompromising and tough demands of commitment, which many people cannot take, and are not prepared to commit. Then as now, some are ready to listen and walk with Him, learning to depend on Him, whilst others are just occasional supporters.

The Church in general in its desire to be nice and friendly to all, with a craving to please society in general, has not always given sound teaching on this and some misguidedly preach that Jesus was giving a blank promise for everyone when He is clearly addressing His followers, and if we do not follow Him our end will not be in the rooms of His Father’s house.

In verse 6 Jesus makes a profound statement which goes to the heart of Christian faith and belief. He states He is the only way to God. This is not generally liked as it is seen as being too restrictive, too bigoted and intolerant, and to be judgmental is not liked. Consequently some clergy will not quote it, whilst others just will not accept it. Frankly, I think if any man/woman does not accept this verse then they should not be allowed to preach fior they are betraying the Lord who said it, and the Church whish they serve.

It can be hard to be a Christian in this country at the present time and many find the going too hard and strenuous and the opposition oppressive. We have come to a state in this country now where a Christian person may not express a personal view based on sincere religious belief if it might offend someone Any open expression of our faith is likely to lead to suspension or dismissal from work, and even the most innocuous adverse comment upon human behaviour will raise hysterical shouts of phobia or bigotry. There is so much harassment of Christians which is not reported here, and you have to listen to the American news channels to discover what is going on in this country. This does not apply apparently to other faith speakers.

I cannot understand how we can share in multi-faith worship and maintain Biblical integrity. Whilst I believe we should respect other faiths and try to live amicably with them, but in view of the unique teaching of our Lord (here set out in verse 6 that He alone is the way to God) we cannot justify sharing in multi faith services when our beliefs are so different, and it is matter of recognising the unique authority of Jesus. Only Christianity maintains that Jesus Christ as divine and salvation was earned by Jesus on the Cross. But we have the words of our Lord Himself, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’. Jesus is quite unequivocal.

It is widely claimed, erroneously, that we all worship the same God and all religions have the same way to heaven. Islam worship ‘Allah’ and see Jesus as a good man in the social sense, or a prophet at best. Indeed, the Islamic faith states, ‘God has no son’, which is in direct contravention of Jesus’ nature.

We Christians worship the God of Israel; we worship a Saviour who was a Jew; we have Apostolic teaching from Apostles who were Jews; our Bible was written by Jews: no Muslim could accept that. We should each respect the right of the other in their belief, and try to live peacefully together.

I do admire the devotion and loyalty of Islam. Muslims in Islamic countries are Muslims in the full sense of the word, and they find difficulty in understanding how people who live in Christian lands reject their faith so completely. Why, on the Lord’s birthday so many get drunk and engage in orgies. They will fight and defend their faith, and the men will not feel embarrassed or ashamed to be seen going to worship. Put many Englishmen in a Church and they feel lost and disorientated.

Jesus warns us that there must be a clear acceptance of His teaching and total obedience to it. Just to recite a creed and attend Church is not enough. We honour Jesus by calling Him Lord and sing hymns expressive of our devotion to Him. The lips that sing His praise should never be the lips that challenge Holy Scripture.

The temptation for us, as Christians, is to say what makes us popular. Too many preachers have forgotten about being authentic; about being true to the Gospel we have been entrusted with by our Lord; to be true to our values, and to proclaim them without embarrassment and fear.

Saturday 6 January 2018

The appointed reading this morning is Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesian Church.

In every bible study there are three stages; first you hear or read the passage; the fid out what it means; then thirdly consider how relevant it is to us and the Church in the present day.

You have heard the passage read, so let us try to see what Paul was meaning.

He is in a Roman prison awaiting trial by the Emperor Nero, and is writing to the Ephesian Church describing himself as a servant of Christ, and sees himself as a prisoner for Christ. He is in prison because he preached to the Gentiles so upsetting the Jews, who had forced the Roman authorities to act against him.

God had originally chosen the Jews to be the people to whom He sent Jesus to offer salvation, but when they rejected Jesus, God chose Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. The love, mercy and grace of God was now being extended to all mankind. The gospel is for all people, regardless of colour, race or gender.

Paul was proud of the fact that when Christ called him on the Damascus Road he had the revelation that God was going to send him to the Gentiles, giving him the special task of taking the gospel to the non Jews, and it had been revealed to him by God, of the secret plan to reconcile the Jews and non Jews who had hatred between them. Now both would receive all the blessings meant for the Jews alone, and Paul saw himself, having been given the special privilege of discovering the secret of God’s grace.

He points out that previously God never disclosed His intentions, but on this occasion God had told him of the plan to bring the non Jews to share with the Jews all the rich blessings inherited by those who follow Jesus, and which would be given to all who accepted what Christ had done for them on the Cross. In addition God had given to Paul the privilege of telling everyone, and endowed him with special ability to do so.

He admits he had done nothing to deserve this and had been totally unworthy as he did not claim to be much of a Christian, knowing personally of the way he had persecuted non Jews previously before his Damascus Road conversion. He was now able to tell all people of the endless treasures they could have if they turned to see Jesus as their Saviour, which God had planned from the very beginning through Jesus Christ as Lord. Now all the angels in heaven could rejoice that Jews and non Jews alike could share the inheritance.

We now have to consider how it relates to us and the Church in the present times.

This passage ought to be a lesson to those Church leaders in the West who adopt anti-Israel views and express criticism unjustly in any situation, and have unwisely endorsed a boycott of Israel made goods, when in fact they provided employment for non Jewish citizens. The United States Churches have on the other hand have recognised we Christians and Jews worship the same God, and are part of an ancient Judea-Christian tradition.

Paul was an example to all who are allowed to preach for Christ, he always remembered and acknowledged he had been favoured and never claimed credit or showed pride. He never expected others to look at him or seek praise, and was someone quite a few people I have met could learn from. He was never ashamed of the gospel and suffered mightily for preaching it without spirit of timidity, and never ever failed to acknowledge the gospel’s authority as the Word of God, or support any behaviour or action contrary to God’s commands.

Paul understood the grace of God meant it would enable us to face up to any situation in life. He constantly told that in Jesus we have free approach to God as a child to a father; we can turn to God as our heavenly Father, this only through Jesus Christ who had been deemed the only one to give us way to God. He now had the authority to be known as an Apostle along with those previously chosen.

The times of Paul were as decadent and immoral as those we now face, bible literacy at an all time low, whilst immorality has reached new heights; it may reasonably be said that one is consequent on the other.

Despite the evil they faced Paul and the Apostles were following the command of Jesus to make disciples and teach all that He had commanded, and they had much success. They taught that the Bible had the authority and completeness for all things in life; they told of the need for us to be in a proper relationship with God, which was only possible because of the death of Jesus on the Cross so that all who put their faith and trust in Jesus and accepted Him as Saviour would be seen as righteous by God, and the gospel spread quickly without any of the wonderful technological aids we enjoy. Over the years men added unnecessary and false doctrines which changed the message.

There are various ways we come to know Jesus; through a friend telling us; through a poster carrying a message; but primarily through hearing a preacher. Paul was intent that people could only hear and believe if someone told them, and this was the appointed task and duty of the preacher.

We recently celebrated the Protestant Reformation, perhaps more in the United States than in this country, which motivated Luther to write his theses, one of which states ‘the true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.’ This is the message the Church should now be preaching, but instead too many are more concerned with following an equality agenda which is obsessing the country. Luther’s stance was that any issue which tended to overshadow the gospel must be ignored and abandoned. He recalled the Church to follow the gospel.

Figures have just been released for Church attendance and are frightening; it looks as is the Church is falling apart. We desperately need to recall the Church back to the gospel as we see it flagrantly abandoning the teaching our Lord gave. Until we get back to the teaching of the Apostles there will be little improvement.

We have services of baptism in which we encourage people to make false promises; we tell that ways of living which are expressly deemed wrong in Scripture are perfectly acceptable; we hold funeral services which we infer heaven is open to all irrespective of their lack of belief in Jesus as the only way to God.

We have largely replaced God’s law to placate and win favour from the State and its people. Consequently fidelity to Scripture is avoided because preachers are ashamed to preach the Bible.

We live in a very aggressive secular society, one in which there are numerous minority groups who expect and demand consideration above their proportion. If we are to face the challenges of the day, we have to be people of the Bible, which is why sound doctrine has to be given.

The Bible should be the basis for ALL our preaching, it is the foundation of all truth. We cannot just pick and choose which parts we want, and cast out those which are not popular with society. We should all be preaching on the same lines. We have to also accept that the Church exists primarily for one purpose, to proclaim the Christian gospel. All other activities are subsidiary.

People have a right to expect a positive message when they attend Church, a biblical message. This is why Billy Graham became the most successful preacher of all time. His preaching was uncompromisingly based on the Bible, and people flocked in their tens of thousands to hear him, and they respected him for his directness

It is good and helpful to have involvement in social activities, but the primary means of bringing people to Christ is through the preaching of the gospel. If we restrict that then we have no claim to be here; people can get social amenities from many sources, they can only get the gospel from the Church.

The Bible states the gospel is the power of God leading to salvation for all who believe. This means more than just believing there is a God, the devil accepts that. It is not enough to just hear and say you believe, it demands a response. God wants all people to turn to Him.

In conclusion, never be ashamed of the gospel. When Paul wrote to Timothy he told him not to have a spirit of timidity, but be ready to preach the word that God saved us by His grace which He has given us through Christ Jesus.

Let us Christians be as proud of our faith as other faiths are of theirs, remembering there is salvation in no one else than Jesus, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we can be saved.