Saturday 24 February 2018

Mark 8 v31/38

Jesus is with his Apostles making his way to Jerusalem and the Cross. He shocks them by saying he must suffer, be killed and rise again. He meant this was necessary to fulfil the purpose for which God sent him into the world; it was necessary for him to make atonement for man’s sin, for without his blood being shed there could not be any remission. Without the Cross God’s holy law could not be satisfied. Jesus must die that we might live

This is at the heart of Christian faith and we must always be aware of the truth. This was the message Jesus taught his Apostles and they took it to the world as the foundation of our faith.

Peter had shortly before made the famous confession of Jesus as Lord, for which Jesus blessed him, but now he faces the wrath of Jesus. Peter did not mean to offend Jesus, he was just shocked that Jesus had to suffer so much and die, but Jesus suggested Peter had been influenced by the devil in one of the greatest recorded rebukes.

Jesus then spelled out what being one of his followers would mean. He always made clear that there would be a cost involved, and never offered cheap grace. Salvation is all of grace, offered to sinners who repent freely; by grace we are saved through faith, but all who want salvation must demonstrate the sincerity of their faith by carrying a cross.

There will inevitably be suffering when you decide to follow Jesus. You will lose friends, be mocked, frozen from groups, treated as going through some strange illness. You could indulge the world’s pleasures and be thought a grand person, get involved in any form of morality, but if you are seen as religious or read the bible, you become a person no one wants to be with. Yet bizarrely such perverse attitude does not apply to followers of the ethnic faiths.

All Christians need to realise the challenge we face. We must see we are engaged on a battlefield not a playground as we meet an evil world which wants to force us into a private sect.

Jesus called the crowd to him and told them whoever loved his life would lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus’ and the gospel’s sake would save it. He meant that the one who lives a self centred life focused on this world will not find eternal life with God, but if you give up worldly pleasures and a life of self rebellion against God for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, will find everlasting communion with God.

Our bodies have a soul or spirit within, and the soul is the image of God, which in turn means eternal life, for when we e the body becomes detached from the soul, which lives on in either heaven or hell. So many people go to great length to protect their body, take all sorts of measures to make sure it is cared for, but ignore the soul. They never look at the bible for guidance, and ignore God, who has no place in their hearts or minds.

We all have souls for which we will have to give account to God; it is an awful thought when we consider how little attention is given to anything except this world.

We can all lose it in many ways, by loving sin and cleaving to the world; poison it be choosing a religion of lies; believing man made superstitions; neglecting all means of grace and refusing to believe the gospel. Whichever way is chosen, the responsibility falls to each person. Of all foolish and unprofitable bargains one can make, is to give up the soul for the present world.

People are claiming to be Christians, attending Church, even preaching within them, but living unworthy lives in complete defiance of what God has laid down in His Word.

Jesus taught there were two roads in life and each of us must travel on one; one is broad and most people are inclined to follow that road with all worldly goods and thrills, whilst the other road is narrow and fewer take that one, for it means living a godly way of life with restrictions on how you journey.

There is now much reluctance to accepting belief in a hell, although most everyone accepts there is a heaven, to which all believe they are heading irrespective of how they lived their lives. There is going to be such disappointment one day. Jesus in his parables made clear two roads, two destinies, sheep and goats, tares and wheat. All Christians should make sure those nearest and dearest to them are aware of this. Whenever Jesus spoke of heaven, he also referred to the alternative as hell.

I have stated so many times I think it shameful as well as cruel, for the Churches to let people live under such a delusion and create liturgy which virtually assures people that a person can separate themselves from God, have no association with him, and yet still receive salvation. To say such is to flagrantly teach false doctrine, for the bible is quite unequivocal and patently clear, it means accepting Jesus death on the Cross was the price he paid for their sins. The Bible states, salvation is found under no other name under heaven than Jesus.

Jesus pictured a field with the good seed representing his gospel, and the tares were the seeds of the devil, and a lot of people are prepared to sell their souls to follow a hedonistic lifestyle. But God is long suffering and wants all people to be saved, which is why He calls on all to repent and turn to Jesus. Everyone has to make a decisive decision, remembering hell is total separation from God. The alternative is to spend eternity with Jesus, who makes the final judgement on death when we will be called to account for our life before him.

Let these words of our Lord sink deep into our hearts, yet words are inadequate to express their importance; remember them when temptation present itself and the matter of the soul seems of no importance.

The final call of Paul in our passage is for people never to be ashamed of the gospel.

How many Church members are embarrassed when asked if they believe? Indeed how many are ready to acknowledge they attend Church? How reluctant to answer if asked to give our opinion on moral questions? If you are not ashamed, you are ready to speak out about your faith.
Remember the words of Jesus, ‘for whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this sinful and adulterous generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of the Father’.

We may offer what is hard for sceptics to believe, but that should not stop us telling it. When we tell how God took a young Jewish girl and caused her to conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit; that when this child became man He performed miraculous deeds and eventually gave His life by a cruel death on a Cross, in order that God would forgive people of their sins: that three days late would rise from the dead as a sign that one day all who believe in Him and accept Him as Saviour, would live eventually with Him in heaven.

The gospel is the story of Jesus Christ, who gave Himself to be crucified for our sins in order to reconcile us to God. Why should anyone be ashamed to tell that story? We all no doubt are ashamed of things we have done in our lives, and the things we have said but wished we hadn’t, and that is understandable. But we allow ourselves to become ashamed of something for which there is no need to be ashamed of.

The reason he is not ashamed is,-- because the gospel is the power of God leading to salvation for all who believe.

Always bear in mind that only Christianity has a Cross at the centre of its faith. Only Jesus suffered an horrific death on the Cross as a Saviour.

Let us all pray for faith and courage to confess Christ before the world and never be ashamed of him who died for us on the Cross.

Saturday 17 February 2018

I want to turn to a verse in Acts of the Apostles, ‘almost you persuade me to be a Christian’.

The question I would like to look at this morning is, ‘what is a Christian? The word Christian was originally a term of derision against the first followers of Jesus, and it is fast becoming an abusive term in this country by public officials who want to eradicate Christianity, and all expression of the faith, and all it stands for, from public life.

In the simplest terms a Christian is a follower of Jesus. However, it is not that simple. Most people would say it is being a good and honest person, but many atheists are honest and good people, sometimes more so than many who are regular Church attendees.

During many years of ministry I have interviewed many people regarding baptisms, weddings or funerals, and the most common statement made is ‘we don’t go to church, but we are Christians’; or,’ ‘you don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian as long as you are a good person’. This is always volunteered, sometimes aggressively.

People like to divide the world into two groups the good and bad, with ourselves of course in the good category. God is believed to judge the bad but would not judge us. It is too easy to see people behaving worse than us, which convinces us we are fine.

A motorist may drive at 80 miles an hour along the motorway where the speed limit is 70, but when he finds others passing him he feels he is not that bad after all. The point is, some are offending worse than others, but we are all offending in some way. We may not plant bombs like some do, but the tongue can be equally explosive in its own way. So let us consider Christian living.

People have this mistaken idea that being born in a Christian country, to Christian parents, in a Christian home, means that one is therefore a Christian. You cannot inherit Christianity.

Jesus was on His way to the Cross when He spoke to His Apostles and told them He would be leaving them. They were devastated and Jesus told them to trust Him for He was going to prepare a place for them in heaven. He was talking to men who had been His devoted followers who obeyed His commands and accepted His teaching, not to all and sundry.

He said there were many rooms in His Father’s house, meaning heaven, and He was going to prepare a place for them. This meant there was the prospect of living for ever with Him there.

When Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for them this was referring to the fact He was going to the Cross to die for the forgiveness of sins for all people and by that death He was making it possible for them to go there.

If you desire to go to stay at a hotel in some foreign country you invariably go to a travel agent who arranges everything for you, and when you arrive at the hotel they have a reservation waiting. You cannot just turn up because you think you are entitled to stay there without some preparation.

Having taken hundreds of funerals there has never been any doubt in people’s minds that the deceased was going to be in heaven, pointing almost always to the verse where Jesus states He is going to prepare a place, which they confidently claim for themselves.

The Church has compounded such belief and in the funeral service liturgy, but of course it would be cruelly wrong to tell a grieving relative that they were misconstruing Scripture, but there is a duty and a responsibility for clergy to always interpret Scripture faithfully.

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. 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

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.

When Jesus said they knew the place where He was going, Thomas asked Him how they could know when they didn’t know the way. This brought forth from Jesus that profound immortal statement, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.’

Some time ago I went to Birmingham and had to find an address. I asked a man walking on a road if he could tell me the way, and he answered, ‘it is pretty difficult for you to get there on your own, but I am going that way and could take you’. He got into my car and we went directly there. That is what Jesus does for us. He says you can’t get there on your own, but I will direct you, guide you, and take you myself. He is saying there is no other way. This is an exclusive offer.

To say 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 for they are betraying the Lord who said it, and the Church which they serve.

Jesus said He was the truth. If a person is to teach moral truth that person must have an impeccable reputation and have no hidden misdoings. Only Jesus can claim moral perfection, which is why He can say ‘I am the truth’.

Thirdly Jesus says ‘I am the life’, meaning the opposite of death. He is the source of life and gives life to His own. Just as death mean separation from.

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.

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.

In every action of life we are confronted with a choice, where we must make a decision to do one thing or another.

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, 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.

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. Whilst Church attendance is an essential, however much it is part of Christian life itself, this does not on its own make you one. There are many ‘almost Christians’ in our Churches.

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.

We have reached a point where Christians are becoming frightened to speak out. We have the situation where the government, and a Conservative one at that, forbidding parents from withdrawing their children from explicit sex lessons where transgenderism and homosexuality are taught, or being abused if they voiced opposition.

Can you imagine the outcry if LGBT activists were told they must not speak of same sex marriage; yet we who support man and woman marriage are almost forbidden to speak in favour of traditional marriage. We are supposed to be good little people who keep to ourselves and not to bother anyone else

It's time for the Church to wake up and speak and making clear what we believe and why, how we think and act, not just in theory, but also in practice. Sadly there are not many in high office who have the courage and the will to speak out.

Saturday 10 February 2018

2 Corinthians 5 v 20.

In this Epistle, the words of Paul are particularly relevant, be reconciled to God.’

We are living in a world which is hostile to Christians, materialism and hedonism are big factors in people’s lives, and God is seen as a restrictive force. But there is a need for a spiritual dimension in every person’s life, and the Church is the only body which can provide that need.

When God looks at our world He sees the hurt in people's lives, the misery they are going through. He sees all the hatred, violence and bitterness.

This is a troubled world; so many people with problems, financial, moral, domestic, spiritual, and breakdowns. There are people in our towns and cities living lives isolated from family and friends, victims of broken marriages or romances, or just lonely people.
Some have become prisoners of alcohol, drugs, or some other addiction and long to break free from that addiction and find freedom. The Bible gives a simple answer, turn to God

There can only be liberty and freedom when the Holy Spirit is present, and that means turning to God. There is a need for them, and indeed for all of us to turn to God.

There is a very widely held belief that everyone, irrespective of lifestyle, will end up in heaven when their life here is over. I have taken many hundreds of funerals over many years and I imagine barely 100 have been Church members. Yet in everyone, relatives have assured me their deceased will be in heaven. One lady told me her niece didn’t believe in God but was a lovely Christian girl. (I am still trying to work that one out) Another asked me not to make the service too religious.

There is no such thing as universal salvation. It is elementary theology that there would be no need for people to attend Church or have any religious belief if that relationship with Jesus Christ, making Him your Lord and Saviour, that the benefits of His death are assured.

The Bible states that people turn away from God at their peril, and the greatest need to day is for reconciliation with God. Jesus Christ died on the Cross for that. He held out two arms, one reaching out to us, and the other reaching out to God to bring us closer together. His message was that all could be reconciled to God.

God seeks reconciliation, bringing together those separated for any reason. It is because we have turned away from God and decided to our own way that so many have become separated from Him. Nothing could be sadder than to be estranged from God who made us; but we have the assurance that God has found a means of reconciliation and it is our duty to declare it to those willing to hear.

In the Epistle today, Paul writes, ‘God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them’. This does not mean that God is not concerned about our sins; He knows that we cannot be free until something is done about them.

The Bible states we have all fallen short of the glory of God because we are sinners, but what God wants us clearly to understand is that our sins do not keep us from coming to him. We can come to God knowing we will be received and forgiven.

The New Testament never speaks of man seeking reconciliation with God, God is the One who takes the initiative and provides the means by which we can be reconciled by sending Jesus to the Cross to accept the punishment we deserve, so restoring our relationship with Him. That means that the cross of Jesus Christ was substitution. Christ stood in our in order that our sins were placed upon the head of Christ.

But we have a part to play. We have to respond to God’s call for repentance, which means to turn around and adopt a new way of living. It means putting God and Jesus first in our lives, to let God be God and not be forced out by other things. We may have to admit we have fallen short of what God expects from us. Only when we have submitted ourselves to Him will God grant us forgiveness and we will be reconciled to God.

The apostle Paul was very anxious that the truth of what God has done in reconciling us, His people unto Himself, through the work of Christ, be declared through preachers. This great fact, he says, must be proclaimed.

God has called on His Church to witness that He has reconciled the world to Himself and given us the privilege and responsibility to proclaim the gospel and it is important we do so because of the eternal consequences that depend on what we say; and let it be known that all who hear it may be drawn to Him because of the work of Christ upon the Cross.

The Church is the body of Christ and belief in the Church is essential. The doctrine of the Church however must be based on the teaching of the Apostles which has been passed down to us in the New Testament.

We have the awesome duty of bringing people back into a living relationship with God; that is what we are here for, to lead people to God. We are the hands, feet and mouth of God on earth. Jesus said He would build His Church and He meant He would do this through His followers.

Many of us here will remember when the Church was held in much greater respect that it commands today. It was seen as a place set apart from the ways of the world; a place seen as holy with something special to offer, something spiritual and supernatural. This is no longer the case, which means our task is much harder. We can only truly perform the task God has set us when we preach the doctrine handed down to us by the Apostles, and we have to be careful that we do not wander away from the true gospel in order to achieve the approval of society..

The Church at large in the Western nations has not been united in proclaiming the gospel as handed down by the Apostles, partly because it is something people do not want to hear, and partly because many preachers don’t want to tell it, fearing unpopularity, if in fact they really believe it themselves. I doubt you will hear many messages in the pulpits of our land such as you hearing

Some may say I am a good Church going person and this call to be reconciled is really for other people. If anyone thinks all Church going people are good, they are living in a world of make believe. People go to Church for various reasons, not all worthy; business advantage, giving a false appearance of being holy. I have seen Ministers driven from their Church by embittered people who were upset at not being given the attention they felt they deserved.

Charles and John Wesley were religious men, Ministers of the Church, but it was some years later when first Charles and a few days later John, after a meeting realised there had to be a complete realisation of salvation in Christ alone.
This is not just a call for so-called ‘bad people’. The Epistle calls on us all to come to God with all our hearts. But all this is done through the action of Jesus on the Cross.

The Bible states, ‘salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to man by which we must be saved’. Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.’

These are not welcome statements to make these days being seen as politically incorrect. It is more popular to say all religions lead to God and there is only one God, both of which are incorrect. They are false statements and not biblically correct. We worship the God of Israel, other faiths do not. Islam states God has no son, and worships Allah and would not recognise any God of Israel. So whilst we must accept other faiths and the fact that some good moral precepts are held, we cannot depart from Apostolic teaching. There is only one way to God.

The Bible states, ‘ by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is a gift from God’ God is His gracious spirit had mercy on us and gave His Son as a sacrifice, so that all who believe on Him shall not perish but have eternal life. We have to accept there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation; we have to depend on Jesus for that. Our only hope of salvation is based on a total and whole hearted faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

The Cross is at the very heart of our faith, but not of any other faith, and it is all about judgement on human life which many may not like, but that should not stop us from preaching about it. There is a reluctance to speak of judgement; of heaven or hell, yet Jesus spoke about such 46 times.

The Cross makes a judgement upon human life. Jesus taught this when He gave the parables of the sheep and goats; the tares and wheat; of two roads, giving warning of our eternal future.

We cannot preach any credible message without the Cross being at the centre, it has been the standard for God’s people and the Church. The Cross is displayed outside and inside Churches to remind people of its importance.

There are people in our Churches who are dissatisfied with life and don’t know why this is. The reason is they are trying to please God and mankind, to serve God and the world at the same time. Their conscience tells them what they should do, but their mind is calling them to do something different.

Saturday 3 February 2018

U.K v U.S.A

The United Kingdom has a long history of being a Christian country extending back hundreds of years, and for a lot of those years was a missionary source to other nations. One notable source was to our great friends and allies the United States of America, which was a beneficiary of British Christians who crossed the seas to establish a firm Christian base, out of which developed a great nation under God and whose motto remains, ‘in God we trust’.

Over the years led by the founding fathers who created a Constitution, often described as a masterpiece for government, and continued by Presidents from George Washington downwards, it has been and still is a great force for Christianity around the world, having a large evangelical presence. We remember with fondness that the greatest preacher in Christian history came from North Carolina in Billy Graham, as well as numerous others.

How sad that our two countries, which were over many years governed by men with strong Christian faith which they openly confessed, were in recent years supplanted by political pygmies in Obama and Cameron who were so ready to challenge and change what we hold dear.

Our two countries are now facing an unprecedented assault on the Christian faith by a thinly veiled agenda from secular bodies, left wing politicians, and factional lobbies, to annihilate our faith from the political arena and silence our voice.

I have quoted in a previous post the different approach between our two countries in the political world when a few weeks ago a Senator returned to the United States Congress following an absence caused by a Democratic activist who shot the Senator whilst engaged in a Republican v Democrat baseball game. The Senator responding to a welcome stated how he had trusted in God answering his prayers, and was applauded by members. He then referred to the prayerful support he had received from them and was further applauded.

Can anyone possibly imagine such an event like that happening in the Houses of Parliament in this country? Most people and members of Parliament would be horrified at the very thought of ‘doing God’; we would be getting told how dreadful it was and how offensive to members of other faiths and atheists and transgender people, etc and etc.

The difference was recently displayed further when we read of the new President Trump guaranteeing Christians the rights of their Constitution to freely express their religious beliefs when such rights were not safe under his predecessor.

President Trump recently stated, ‘ no American whether a Nun, nurse, baker, or business owner should be forced to choose between the tenets of faith and adherence to the law, exposing the outrageous examples where a baker and florist and other business owners were set up by LGBT activists who could have gone to other outlets but deliberately chose Christian businesses knowing under Obama law they could publicise their cause and win damages. In effect the activists caused unpleasant reaction and discomfort to their ordinary supporters who just wanted to privately get on with their lives and not intrude on other people. Catholic Churches were obliged also under Obama to provide free contraceptives to women when it was an affront to their belief.

Unfortunately we do not have anyone on the political scene in Britain who has such belief and courage to speak so forcefully for Christians. The leader of the Liberal Democrat party was forced out of Office because of his openly professed faith, even falling foul of his own members.

We have a Prime Minister whom we are regularly told is the daughter of a (late) Vicar and regularly attends Church, yet supports an education policy which challenges children of five years as to whether they think they are of the right gender, and causes alternative lifestyles of sexuality to be taught as part of a school curriculum.

Now we have the Chief Inspector of Schools telling us she thinks religious beliefs should not be taught as it leads to extremism, without defining exactly what she had in mind, which points to a euphemistic way of attacking evangelical Christianity. Teachers are being forced to teach what many will find to be offensive to them.

We also have business owners, service providers, street preachers, private citizen using social media all suffering sanctions, losing jobs getting arrested, thrown off university courses, even being taken to Court where one Court ruled quoting the King James Version of the Bible was criminally offensive.

We have reached the ultimate in Church apostasy this week when the Bishops of the Church of England issued a statement declaring the Church welcomes all those who have decided to change their gender. Point 4 in the bishops’ update also contains an emphasised passage, which refers to gender transition as a “moment of personal renewal”. Gender transition is actually a moment of personal rebellion against the way the person has been made by God. It is therefore a moment of personal rebellion against God. This should not be celebrated or marked by the church at all, let alone described as a “moment of personal renewal.”

Could we in the UK borrow President Trunp to sort things out here?