Friday 23 August 2019

      Almost a Christian
I want to turn to a verse in Acts of the Apostles, ‘almost you persuade me to be a Christian’. (Acts 26.v28)

In Acts 26 v 28 Paul is appearing before the Roman governors after Jewish leaders had made false charges because he was preaching about Jesus. Paul appealed to one of the governors feeling he might get a favourable response, but was told, ‘you almost persuade me to be a Christian’. In effect he was saying, you got close Paul but not quite made it.

Over the past years in ministry, the most repeated words I have heard, many hundreds of times, are ‘I (or we) don’t go to church, but we are Christians’; closely followed by ‘’ ‘you don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian as long as you are a good person’. Often these phrases are said in an almost challenging way. I suppose it eases the conscience, but for someone who has no religious association or commitment to say this to a clergyman may seem to be both arrogant and impertinent.

There are many people who have sympathy for the Church and wish it well, even follow its activities, but that is as far as it goes.  The Church does ceremonial well and is useful for baptisms and weddings, and they believe that is its useful purpose.

The popular reaction is to just assume that if one is not an atheist or member of another faith, one is per se a Christian; even going to church does not in itself is enough. There is a little more to it than that.

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, secularists and the judiciary, and in disdain by activists, who want to eradicate Christianity from public life.

To become a Christian there must be an encounter with Jesus Christ. People have been urged to declare themselves a Christian without being told what that entails.

The Church has been complicit in this by baptising, using language which encourages people to make false statements, and in funeral liturgy giving all and sundry assurance of an eternal life in heaven

Being born in a Christian country, to Christian parents, in a Christian home, does not make one a Christian. You cannot inherit Christianity. It is more than living up to a system of morals or ethics. Even Church attendance, however necessary and how much it is part of Christian life, does not on its own make you one.

There are quite a lot of people who attend Church for a variety of reasons.  They sing the hymns, listen to Bible reading, hear the sermon without taking a lot of notice, and far too many live lives which do not match up to Biblical teaching. We might reasonably say, ’they are almost Christian.’
There has to be a conscious decision made, in which one wants to invite Christ into their life. You realise you have been offending against God and now want to live a life as laid down by Jesus, and have Him come in to your life to give it new direction and be granted eternal salvation.

This means to say sorry for all things done which were displeasing to God and seek forgiveness and God will do so because the Lord Jesus Christ had paid the penalty for them on the Cross.  They would be wiped out for ever, and you can stand before God and know he has forgiven you

That deliberate decision, and subsequent commitment, may come from hearing a preacher. A lady used to visit my Church very irregularly and one day she came and after the service said, ‘whenever I come here, I feel you are getting at me’. I pointed out that as I was not aware she would be attending, it may be that someone higher than me was getting at her.

It may come reading the Bible; even if you have read something many times, one-time God will use that word to speak to you. God takes the first step by touching your heart, causing you to reject or respond to his calling, and then leads you to Jesus Christ, by whom alone you can have a relationship with God

It may come from seeing a poster with a religious message. The London City Mission posted many messages on the underground system, which spoke vividly to people. I found that posters with a catchy message on, placed on the Church notice board had an effect too.

People have on many occasions been introduced by a friend, which is why it is so important to let people know of our Churches and what they can offer. However it comes, you will know it has come. Christianity is not a vague feeling; it is something you can know and you know whether you believe it or not.

This will necessitate a change in living. You know there are certain activities which are no longer acceptable; the ways of the world are replaced by the ways of Christ. This will mean you will inevitably declare yourself to be a Christian, which will involve mockery and taunting, and mean you can’t join in any falsehoods, immorality or things unethical anymore.

It means being regular at attending Church to share fellowship with other Christians which make you and them stronger in faith and build you up to speak for God and Jesus. A commitment to bible reading, and living by that Word.

Of course, there will be temptations to face. There will be Sunday mornings when you will not feel like going out to Church and you think, ‘oh they won’t miss me at church this morning’. Never feel you won’t be missed. Whilst I am sure your fellow Church members will miss you, God will certainly miss you. Church should come before the golf club or shopping trip or whatever. It is only one hour per week for most people, and if we can’t give that, then there is certainly something very amiss in our life.

The reason there is so much unhappiness, trouble, and broken homes in the nation, is through the absence of Christian values. Children are facing a deprived life in many homes as parents do not have the time, inclination, or belief, to teach their children basic bible stories, and so many children haven’t the faintest knowledge of any character or major festivals of the Church. A lot of schools have virtually given up teaching Christianity, often in preference to other faiths.

Be ready to take a full part in Church life and enjoy the joy of coming to share worship with your fellow Christians. The Church is here to bring people to knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is not a spiritual dispensary to hand out soothing syrup, but to proclaim God’s Message as it is written.

We take the bread and wine at the table of our Lord to remember His sacrifice on the cross for us, and as we eat the bread, we remember the broken body given for us, and drink the wine to remember his blood was shed for us. And Jesus can become very close.

Jesus told there were two roads in life, one broad one narrow. The broad one is taken by many, which leads to destruction, whilst the narrow one was taken by few but led to eternal life. He spoke of two destinies, heaven or hell and said we all will face judgement. People find this too judgemental and want to put it out of mind,

The Bible tells when we stand before Jesus, we will be all alone and have to answer to him for the way we have lived and answered to his call.  Those who have found no time for him in this life cannot expect God to find time for them.

A Christian needs discipline in his/her life, for the Bible says we have to take on those who are out to make us give in. The Bible likens the relationship of Christ and a follower to that of a husband wife relationship in marriage. When a man proposes to a woman to marry him and she agrees, they remain unmarried until they promise their commitment to each other in the marriage service. They then begin their life together facing both difficulties and happiness together. So, in the Christian life it is when we declare our commitment to Christ, we become a Christian and face life with Him in all that life puts before us.

We all have to ask, ‘am I living the Christian life?’ 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, and convince ourselves we are all right. The point is, whilst some are offending worse than us, 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.

Some claim they have no time for they live too busy lives, but they find time for other things; Muslims live busy lives, but always find time to attend their worshipping.

People who do helpful things are described as being real Christians, but atheists and people of other faiths do helpful acts, but would be offended to think they were being defined as Christians.

Jesus said, ‘behold I stand at the door and knock and if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me.’ In the East inviting a person to sit and eat with you infers you are inviting that person to have a special place in your life.

If there is anyone reading this message who has not yet invited Jesus into their life, then I urge you to consider making that decision and give Him that special place in your life, He is waiting at the door for your invitation.

But let us have sincerity. Rogue traders make goods and put the stamp of a famous name on them. Rogue Christian teachers are putting God’s stamp on their own brand of Christianity, even supporting behaviour which at one time would not even be mentioned. It is total and disgraceful hypocrisy to loudly proclaim Christianity and advocate and support that which is un-Christian. 

The Bible says we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and so we need his forgiveness. In many people’s lives they sin not deliberately, but by carelessness or lack of concentration and God by his amazing grace is ready to forgive. But when people constantly lead a life which offends God’s Word, such is unacceptable for a Christian.

Our nation so badly needs Christian men and women who are altogether Christians, not almost ones.

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