Thursday 24 December 2020

 Matthew Chapter 1 v 18/25


The story we are looking at this morning is one of the greatest ever told, the birth of the Savior. It is a most controversial story for it is telling an extraordinary event, unique and once in all history. 

To the non-worshipping person, it is beyond their ability to accept, because no other person has been born so. But no other person was, has been or will be, like Jesus. He was by nature human in that he became tired, hungry, thirsty and weary. And yet divine by his miraculous deed; he was in fact God in the flesh. 

There are in the Church many hypocrites, who cannot accept the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, but will readily stand up in Church and recite the Apostles Creed each Sunday.

The Apostles’ Creed states: “I believe in Jesus Christ … who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” Here we come face to face with the Virgin Birth of Christ.  Both Church and nonchurch members claim to be Christian and believers in God, but believing means more than just claiming, even the devil believes in God.

The gospel of Matthew was written primarily for Jews, which explains the long line of descent in which the book opens, and many of those names would be to a Jew an historical one, and it also established the line of descent to Jesus through Joseph.
Jews were concerned for genealogies and in Palestine it was important to prove your Jewishness; and dependence on your line of descent was important in order to be allowed to enter parts of the Temple in Jerusalem.

David was so important in this lineage; the Old Testament said the Messiah would be born of David's line. The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus was believed to be the Messiah.

Isaiah predicted 700years earlier, that a young woman of marriageable age, who is also a virgin would give birth to a son - and he would be "God with us" - Immanuel. Matthew is wanting to teach us that Jesus is the fulfilment of the promises of God in the Old Testament.

God is directly concerned and involved throughout
history. God is faithful and always keeps his word. God promised to raise up a Saviour from the line of Abraham and the line of David.

Our passage opens at verse 18, where it is stated, ` now the birth of Jesus Christ took place this way.’ Such is the positive announcement, before it goes on to describe the betrothal of Mary and Joseph.

Betrothal of the Jews was something equivalent to our engagement in theory if not in practice.  The bridegroom and bride made a pledge in the presence of two witnesses, which was really the first step in marriage; the man and woman became husband and wife. The couple were then separated from each other for a period up to a year, and if during that time either became unfaithful, they were under Old Testament law adulterers liable to be stoned to death. 

If the marriage broke down, the couple were divorced, or if death occurred widower or widow. The marriage was consummated when they met again.  Often the parents caused the marriage by making arrangements, and same people think they do a better job.

This was in the New Testament  where the true marriage was heterosexual as ordained by God, one man one woman.

Before the couple lived together it was found that Mary was pregnant yet still a virgin. She knew she was pregnant, as an angel had foretold, she would be by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Joseph came to the natural conclusion that she had been unfaithful with another man, being unaware of the angel’s message.  He realized he could not live with her in such a case, but being a righteous man, he did not want to offend God, but was faced with the impression Mary had broken her pledge. He was however a compassionate man who loved Mary and did not want to expose her to public humiliation, so decided to divorce her or send her away quietly, which he did not really want to do because of his feelings for her. In addition, his place would be a stain in the line of David down to Jesus.

Whilst he wrestled on what he should do, he fell asleep and began to dream. During his sleep he had a vision in which he was told that it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that Mary was with child, and he should not hesitate to accept Mary as his wife.

Joseph was rewarded as he had turned to God in faith and his concern was ended.  The Bible states, ‘In all thy ways acknowledge God and he shall direct thy paths. This show us that Joseph obeyed. He not only trusted God, he obeyed. As the hymn states, trust and obey.

As so often happens when you honestly seek God's guidance and you plan to do things that seem right to you but are, in fact, wrong, God providentially corrects you.

The baby would be called Jesus for he would save his people from their sins.  Jesus is a name which helped many by giving inward peace and a rest for heavy heart; people have found Jesus has known their thoughts and hearts.

This passage begins the New Testament and contains the very words of God, who we must thank for giving us the Bible.  The poorest man or woman who listens and understands the Bible is wiser than many so called intellectuals and academics. We shall be judged one day by the way we have responded to God.

This means we should read the Bible honestly and reverently, and having done so, practice all it commands and pray the Holy Spirit will apply to our hearts.

These verses tell us of the entrance into our world by Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, and the doctrine of the Virgin Birth has been the doctrine of all denominations for centuries, and only in these liberal times has it been the subject of controversy. True, there were a few heretics like some modern bishops and clergy who deny these accounts in pulpits; don't be seduced by them. but we treat such talk with the contempt they deserve.

It is talk like that which does so much harm to the Church. Imagine you are on a jury and have to decide on evidence given. In such trial the Police will be represented by a prosecuting solicitor whose task is to lead the witness through their evidence.  The accused will be represented by their own solicitor, and his task is to get the accused off the charge. He will in a lot of cases put truth aside and make up all kinds of stories to refute evidence, which is par for the cause, such is the way 'justice' is defined.

If the prosecuting solicitor begins to cast doubt on the police evidence and suggested the policeman was mistaken or not telling the truth, wold you convict?  But this is what is happening in the Church when some of us are trying to follow our Lord’s commission and make disciples, bringing people to church, then we have clergy at all levels, challenging of all things, God’s Word. and we wonder why people are not attending.

Matthew and Luke are trustworthy. The evidence that they are giving you are facts - not myths. That brings us to Mary.

There have been denials of the biblical facts about Jesus' birth from the earliest years of the church's history. But people in the ancient world were able distinguish fact from fiction just as we can. The great body of believers said, they are not myths."

There are depths which are too deep for us to fully comprehend; be content to believe with reverent minds and not speculate that which we do not understand.  There are many things we do not understand, but fully accept without hesitation. How is it by holding a small plastic box without any outer connection, but by pressing a combination of numbers you can speak within seconds to someone on the other side of the world. Or by turning a switch on a television set in a room in any part of the world and watch one of the most exciting and greatest football teams in the world in Liverpool. Very few people can explain, yet we all use.

As we leave this passage, try to remember Jesus is both human and divine. He did the work God sent him to do, healing the sick and dying.

You will go on to believe Jesus has experienced more pain and suffering than we can imagine.  He endured a most horrific death on the Cross, the cruelest punishment man has devised. Prior to that he was lashed 39 times with a leather belt with steel studs and made to carry his own Cross.  Don’t be a fake Christian who lays claim to be a Christian just on the basis of believing in God, or by listening to Songs of Praise every Sunday.  Even the devil believes in God.

If you want the privilege of being a Christian you will fully believe as the Bible, which was given by God, states in this story in Matthew, and is also in Luke.  It is sometimes suggested it not to be correct as Mark and John don’t mention it, but they write on a different part of our Lord’s life. Many people follow the Sermon on the Mount and are deeply moved by it, yet that was only in Matthew and Luke.

They are drawing on different sources. It has been suggested that Matthew based his account information coming from Joseph, whilst with Luke was informed by Mary. But both agree about the central truth that Jesus was born of a virgin mother.  This information was before known by both Matthew and Luke. They did not make it up.
If Mary had not been a virgin and had a child by someone else, Luke who was a medical doctor, would not have suggested that she was a great example of obedience. He knew that in the moral climate of those days such an attempt would not have been well received.

It is by faith that, what we cannot see or words which cannot prove, we become true followers of our Lord, and millions of very clever men and women who have truly believed, have been prepared to go to the uttermost parts of the world and live hard lives in order to take the gospel to those who have not heard

People will sing carols, and over eat and drink and spend more money than they can afford; pop groups will sing of ‘chris.-ee-mus’ without ever giving a thought as to why it is Christ-mas. 

All very well Harry Belafonte telling us we shall live for ever more because of Christmas Day, when in fact we shall live for evermore because of what this baby Jesus went on to do on the Cross.
Above all trust in God and let this Christmas be one in which we remember the person it is all about—
The Lord Jesus Christ.

May you all have a happy and blessed Christmas

Saturday 19 December 2020

         John 14.  V1/6

Last week, as we approach Christmas, I wrote about the ,mother of the One who Christmas is meant to be what we celebrate. This week, think of the baby Mary bore, Jesus Christ.

In what has become a largely heathen country, there will be many who may ask, who was Jesus, what would you answer?  I would say you should be asking me who Jesus IS?, for he is not dead. As a hymn states,

              I serve a risen Saviour, He's in the world today
                I  know that He is living, whatever men may say
                I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer
                And just the time I need Him He's always near

               He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
               He walks with me and talks with me
              Along life's narrow way
              He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart!
              You ask me how I know He lives?
              He lives within my heart
                                        (Words by Alan Jackson)

 

Jesus was born over 2000 years ago and his name  has never been forgotten or overlooked; Kings, Queens and Emperors have been and gone forever, but Jesus lives on in the hearts and minds of millions of men and women all over the globe.  He continues to save lives these days.

Let us consider the three main stages of his life.

He was born in a squalid inn at Bethlehem, then a small Jewish village, but his family were forced to move to Nazareth when he was young. and he became known as Jesus the Nazarene.  The story of his birth is told in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and was unique and truly God given, when Mary was told by an angel she would be the mother of the world’s Saviour by the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.  The conception and humble circumstances of his birth were fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies for the purpose of God.

We know little of his life until he started ministry, other than he worked in his step-father’s carpentry business (David). When he was twelve years old he was teaching in a Temple in Jerusalem, but his ministry began fully when he was baptized by John the Baptist, after which he faced evil temptations in the wilderness rejecting all put to him by the evil one.  He chose twelve men who became his Apostles and who lived and served with Jesus for the three years of that ministry.

Moving on to his life’s work, he performed all God had called for him to do, travelling preaching and healing many people who saw him make the blind see, the deaf hear, lepers were cured and the dead restored to life.

He preached that the Kingdom of God was coming when men would see the need for righteousness, and sought to free people from sinning. He taught that whilst much was offered for the future, God was still acting then. Many thought he was a prophet and ruler for Israel who would establish the nation as a strong power.  Some recognized the relationship with God and gave their lives to him.

The third stage covers his journey to the Cross to be crucified as a common criminal after being convicted in a fake trial with false witnesses.

On his journey he met his Apostles in what is known as the Upper Room for the ‘Last Supper’ with them, which we remember when we celebrate the service of Holy Communion in our Churches. Whilst there he told them he was going to leave them, which left them devastated, for their lives were lived around him. He called them his ‘little children’, like a father would do if leaving the family for a period.

During that meal, Judas one of his disciples, slipped away to collaborate with the enemies of Jesus and betray him.

Jesus called 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 people who do not normally attend Church.

He told  them to ‘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 was speaking to His disciples, teaching and giving guidance, and that same teaching is passed down for the benefit of all Christians throughout the ages.

Jesus said, ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’.  The heart is the seat of all our emotions and when that is upset it affects thoughts and actions and causes personal disturbance. Jesus wanted to reassure them He was not forsaking them. He calls for trust in Himself as well as in God.   Since we are also disciples of Jesus, we 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.

He told them they were to believe in Him, as well as God. Most people believe in God, but have less thought for Jesus.  He was putting Himself alongside God and wanted them to trust Him and maintain a personal relationship.

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 one death He was making it possible for them, and for all who through the ages would turn and accept him as Saviour to be forgiven of all sin.

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, or never even thought of Jesus.  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. Of people who accepted him, and those who did not, so determining their future eternal life.

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 sidewalk 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 deliberately misleading them

     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.

If you suggested to many people that by their life and non-belief they could not consider themselves as true 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.

If you want 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.

In v 4/5Jesus suggests that they know the way to the place where he was going.  When Jesus said this, 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’

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

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. 

God is present in Jesus as part of the human scene. God wants to bless all people and save them, but God’s salvation brings judgement and all will one day face this for God has appointed Jesus to be the judge.  He warns those who do not do his will face the possibility of eternal loss.

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. 

The Bible tells us we must contend for the faith once given to Christians.  The faith once given means the faith that which was given by the Apostles, who had been taught by Jesus and which was blessed by God, when the Church was first established.  Let this be the faith we adopt,  and believe and not that now being re-interpreted to suit modern culture.  Our faith is not something someone made up, it is historical and spiritual fact.

May God bless His Word to us and enable us to give our service to Him.

God sent His son, they called Him Jesus

He came to love, heal and forgive

He lived and died to buy my pardon

An empty grave is there to prove my saviour lives

 

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future

And life is worth the living, just because He lives

 

(Words by Kristin Chenoworth) 

         

Sunday 13 December 2020


                Luke 1 verses 39-56

 This Sunday, the week of Christmas, all our thoughts and prayers of thanksgiving are on, and for the birth of Jesus.

 This week let us think of the young Jewish woman Mary, who was honoured by God to be the mother of His Son, and whose name would live on in all history. This was the fulfilment of the prophet Isaiah, who many years earlier in the Old Testament had said, ‘behold a young girl shall conceive and bear a child’.  

 In the past, the Roman Catholic Church has perhaps made too much of Mary’s position, whilst the Protestant Church has made too little. We should keep in mind that until the 20th century, in all the years prior, perhaps even more so when Mary was called on by to accept this call, that it would have been looked upon in society as scandalous, Women were expected to be married before having children, something these days seems unbelievable by many today. 

The gospel passage opens with Mary, a fifteen years old virginal girl from a Jewish village, having found she was pregnant, and been told by an angel of the Holy Spirit being upon her, decided to go seventy miles to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth, whom she had been told was also pregnant in her old age.

 On arrival the two women greeted each other, and Elizabeth in a loud voice proclaims how blessed Mary was. Until that time Elizabeth thought this was just a family visit, but now she realised how unique the situation is and feels she should have been the one visiting Mary.  At the same time Elizabeth felt movement of her own baby.

 Elizabeth’s joy inspires Mary to fully recognise she is to be the mother of the Saviour of the world and spontaneously sings a song, which has been sung at every Evensong in Churches all over the world for centuries since, the Magnificat.  The Lord God is magnified in this song of praise which is filled with Scripture.

 Mary expresses her glory and rejoices in being blessed, and how gracious God has been to her in her humility. She readily obeyed God.  There is a significant point made by her in that she recognises she needs a Saviour, which implies she recognises that only a sinner needs a Saviour, which tends rather to negate some Roman statements about her. 

 God therefore in His amazing grace has allowed this girl to be the mother of His Son.  This reflects the words of John  Newton in that wonderful hymn which he wrote, that God saves us by grace.

 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 fiancĂ©e. 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.  She would ever be the only woman to wear the red rose of maternity with the white rose of virginity.  

 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 16 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. 

 Mary knows that all future generations will speak of her and indeed throughout the ages she has rightfully been praised, and she has brought honour to her sex.  Mary has raised being a mother to the highest of professions, although now some feminine politicians are anxious to downgrade motherhood and their sex by trying to equate women on all levels with men.  In the process some women have demeaned their sex by not only copying men’s excesses, but furthering them.

 When God created the world men were intended to care and provide for the family, and women to be mothers, (primarily but not exclusively)and for that role were endowed with a more tender and caring nature. Now for their own selfish purposes, politicians and social workers want to meddle with gender identities..  We are all equal under God, but are meant to have different roles in life.

 The Pope has wisely stated that the future of mankind is at stake, when the understanding of what a family means is challenged through same sex marriage.  He said ‘In the fight for the family, the very notion of what being human really means – is being called into question'. He spoke of the falseness of gender theories and of the current attack on the structure of the family made up of father, mother and child.

.Mary told of how God is merciful to those who fear Him, and we should be mindful that whilst God is a God of love and mercy, He is also a God of wrath.  In that respect we should take note of Mary’s words,  ‘He has brought down rulers from their thrones’.   She has a profound view of God, who disputes the worldly values of status and misunderstanding of what it means to be equal.

 God chooses people who are lowly.  If the Church authorities had been given the responsibility for choosing the Apostles,  Christianity would have died in very short time.  They would have been looking for people with degrees, diveristy, and with an equal balance of men and women Apostles. (A cynic once said the Church is falling apart by degrees).  This is why God chose Mary and gave her everything, that He may be glorified.  Mary acknowledged her humility, her ordinariness, and the high honour God had given her.

 She ends her song by singing praise of how God has remained faithful to His chosen people, the Jews, by keeping His promise to Abraham.  Every Jewish boy and girl would know the history of Israel, and how God has blessed them.

 God chooses ordinary and lowly people to do His work, so that they will remain faithful and dependent on Him, and not be full of themselves and feel self important.  We should each seek to find out what God wants us to do and do it.

Next week we can think of the baby that Mary had, and how twenty one centuries later His name is still known worldwide, respected and adored, and how He has influenced millions of the most brilliant minds of men and women.

Sunday 6 December 2020

                                                     2 Peter 3 v.3/14

Advent is the time the Church prepares to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ; it is also to remember and prepare for His promised return to earth in glory. Whilst there is readiness to speak about the first coming, the second coming is often avoided. This is told in the gospels and by Peter and Paul in their Letters, and this morning we are looking at

Peter’s 2nd Letter in chapter 3 reading verses 3/14.

     The Bible states, during the ‘last days’ there will be a time when scoffers will be present who will mock God, saying he is dead, we can’t find him anywhere, and they will scoff at any talk of judgment or the return of our Lord’ When the Bible mentions last days, as it does numerous times, it is referring to the days between the day of 

Pentecost and the time of our Lord’s return.

     Many Bible scholars think we are in that period now, and they may well be right. The Bible lists terrible events which will come before the final end, and whilst these have in some way been seemingly applicable to past years, they seem to be most applicable now. When we look carefully at them we can claim they are very much relating to our time.

     By the word ‘scoff’, it is meant treating with contempt and the number of scoffers, and the intensity of their scoffing, will increase in the last days.  It is suggested that the reason for this is because they walk after their own lusts; in other words, they follow their own evil desires.

     Such scoffing was also being done by false teachers who had infiltrated the Church even then, and they wanted to please the people of the day. When biblical Christianity didn’t fit in with their preferences they thought Christianity should change. Often people express doubt due to moral overtones, in that they don’t want the constraints of true Christianity

     We have many scoffers today who do not believe that Jesus Christ is coming back again. The Bible distinctly declares that Christ is coming back again, that His kingdom will be established, and that the prayer which our Lord prayed will be answered some day.

     They reckoned that God was asleep as things had been the same since the world was created and God had not shown His presence.  They forgot that it was God who commanded the heavens to be brought forth, earth from the waters, and was One who kept His Word.

     They forgot too that God at one time was disgusted by people in the world and destroyed it by means of the flood. He also indicated that a time will come when the heavens and earth will be destroyed again, but not by water but by fire.

     Jesus said, ‘as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be when the Son of Man comes back’.  If you read the story of Noah in Genesis you will find it was a time when people began to travel; knowledge was increasing; people began to develop weapons and musical instruments; and there was an emphasis on sex.  And Jesus said when such things happened of that nature in the future the end would be near.

     Think of the amount of travelling we do now by land, sea and air.  People holiday all across the world whereas once Blackpool was a long way off.  Bible literacy is at an all time low and immorality at an all time high. Sex is used to advertise and sell almost all products on television.

     It was also a time of violence and lawlessness.  Look at the terrifying events and occurrences that are happening in the world today; the threat of nuclear war by the psychopathic leader in North Korea, who wants to take on the mighty United States; the seekers of world domination in Iran.  The acts of terrorism which arte proliferating in Western nations by people who have chosen to live here.

     As in the days of |Noah, people in this country have fallen away from true faith.  The Bible states people will not wish to listen to sound doctrine and will seek churches where they will hear what they want to hear, and this is truly happening.

     God recognised Noah as a man of faith who could be trusted.  He told him to go into the desert and build a huge boat and Noah trusted God.  You can imagine the humour this must have caused a man building a big boat in the middle of the desert, all because He believed God wanted him to do so.  If that was today you would have every television crew in the world going off to film the event.

     The bible consistently promises Jesus Christ will come back to earth, but this time He will not like the first time, a little baby born in poor surroundings, He will come as King of Kings and Lord of Lords in triumph to judge, and we will all have to answer and account to Him for how we lived in response to His teaching.  When He does come there will be no notice. He will just appear like a thief in the night.

     Peter said do not forget for the Lord a day is like a thousand years. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, He was not forgetting or being indifferent as He is long suffering and still giving people the chance to repent and accept Jesus as Lord so they will not perish, He does not want anyone to be unsaved.

     People say I can’t believe God would send anyone to hell, and that is right, but people make their own choice by ignoring His call.

     Verse 11 states, since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  Peter calls on all God’s people to live holy and Godly lives and avoid sinning until the day of the Lord comes.  Peter calls on Christians to be holy in conduct and godliness, and to make every effort, to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with God. Live in a way which if you met the Lord now, you would not feel ashamed.

     Having studied the words of Scripture together with their meaning, we have to consider how they relate to us in our lives.

     Jesus gave commands to His Apostles and told them to teach all He commanded; we have this laid out for us in the New Testament, and anyone who acts in a manner which is conflict with such teaching is offending the Lord Himself.   Holiness is God’s activity, and we have to respond.

     Recently I was told by a young lady who I would have thought to be highly intelligent and of sound mind, that people should see the Bible as a valueless book from 2000 years ago.  I was shocked as I thought if this was typical of the younger generation, we need earnestly pray and say God help us.

     The reliability of the Bible is beyond question and been attested by eminent writers of the day and has many of its prophecies fulfilled, and we some now taking place.

     In recent years we have seen biblical prophecy fulfilled by the return of the Jews to their homeland 70 years ago; the establishment of the Jewish States 50 years ago; the reclaiming of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

     There are good grounds for God to judge the sinful world now.  The Islamic faith is challenging the Western world, and whilst there is too much violent aggression in the process, we have to admit sadly and shamefully that there is generally a more ethical and moral basis in their faith than many Christians have.

     They saw millions and millions of abortions in America, with a President Obama, who gave millions of dollars to an abortion clinic in America, where there was evidence suggested of very improper dealings; and in other Western nations abortion has become alternative form contraception.  Nuns were forced to act against their consciences and belief, and he tried to export his policies across the world.

     They see drugs; the obsession with illicit sex; same sex (so called) marriage; the pornography and smut; the breakup of homes; young people smashing and looting and rioting; and they don’t want it in their countries. 

     Mankind is in rebellion against God. Our very natures have been twisted and perverted by sin, but most of our leaders are deliberately ignoring the wrath of God hanging over us. Biblical literacy is at an all-time low, and immorality at an all-time high; that suggests there is some co-relation.

    We have now seen a setback in America, where a President showing and supporting Christian beliefs and faith, has been replaced in very dubious circumstances by the man who was Vice President under President Obama, and already before in Office has intimated he will support much of what he then did so, and which was morally offensive.    

     In the face of considerable opposition, our churches have remained silent on all the moral issues, terrified of offending people who do not and never will have any concern for us. The Church of England, which as the established Church, should be giving a lead and speaking out against the abandonment of all absolutes, has in some cases joined in and embraced ways of life specifically opposed by the Bible.

     The Archbishop of Canterbury once revealed he would have difficulty describing sin! When asked if he thought ‘gay sex’ was a sin he is quoted as saying he was unable to answer.  This was quite inexcusable. Sin can be simply defined as being anything which offends God’s Word, as has been written down for us in the Bible. Surely this is as easy and basic for anyone to answer.

     I am reminded when I read that, of the difference when pastor in the United States, who when asked to give an opinion to the very same question, replied, ‘I am not here as a pastor to give an opinion, I am here to tell what the Bible says and if the Bible says it is wrong then I say it is wrong, but it doesn’t mean I love you less’.

     I am told people want to hear happy sermons to make them feel better; of clergy who take lessons on how to tell jokes in sermons; if they want to be comedians they should go for a stage career instead.   Jesus was never afraid to speak without fear or favour, and had two effects on people; He either saved them or turned them away

     We allow our bible to be mocked; our speech to be restricted; Christians made to act against their conscience, all of which are not enforced on other faiths

     Jesus said we need to be prepared, ‘prepare to meet your God’.  We do this by being certain we have accepted that Jesus died for our forgiveness, and we received Him as Saviour.  There are so many people who sincerely believe if they have been honest, kind and helpful to others they have accomplished all that is needed for a heavenly passport

     But preachers are not commissioned to say soothing words and tell people just what they want to hear, we are to tell what they need to hear for their salvation. This means we accept Christ by faith and believe, and we live a disciplined life under the guidance of His teaching

     I pray that under the Lord’s guidance you will always hear sound biblical doctrine, but from much experience I have doubts this will always be the case.


Wednesday 2 December 2020

 

1 Corinthians 1 v. 3/9

 Advent has begun, the first day of the Church’s year, when we think of the return of the Lord Jesus to earth. It is a period in which we can commit ourselves to accept him and his commands for the way we live our lives, as he taught.

Paul was on a missionary journey having visited Rome and Ephesus when he heard of dispute in the Church at Corinth.

This is the first of Paul’s Letters to this Church which was situated in the heart of Corinth, a trading and manufacturing centre. The city was a cosmopolitan and sophisticated place where there was sexual immorality, which likened it to - day.

Tensions had arisen in the congregation, and there was a request for Paul to give guidance.. The worldly view of spirituality and morality did not equate with the Church’s standards, but some members were influenced and were encouraged by false teachers. This was causing disunity and such grieved Paul who disliked Christians disagreeing. This is what caused him to write and give guidance.

It is disappointing and frustrating when Christians are disagreeing, especially as now when the press revel in seeing and reporting.  Then, as now, a major problem was sexuality which is particularly irritating.

We must decide, are we going to follow what God has laid down or not.  The Bible is unequivocally clear in what we are expected to believe and practise. If anyone in Ministry cannot accept, they should cease to minister, and if there was proper leadership, such would be advised. Unfortunately a number of our leaders are more confused and unfaithful to the Lord. (If a kingdom is divided against itself it cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself that house cannot stand Mark 3 v.24/5

One issue which all Christians should be concerned is that of falling attendances. Whilst we have to accept that we live in a godless age, where the Church is a no go area to a lot of people, except of course when it suits their purpose, occasions arise which demonstrate that there is still a lot of feeling for the Church. 

We will not be successful however when its is seen the Church is divided against itself. It is foolish to suggest we should preach the Christian gospel to intelligent people, who will readily recognise some in the Church don’t believe it.

I have taken services at over 30 Churches in and around Bedford over the last few years, many in villages, where congregations are small. The people live in beautiful surroundings with lovely homes, most in good employment, no anti-social behaviour, as some people are forced to endure, so it is not unreasonable to expect them to be grateful for such blessings and give an hour to thank God for such. 

We get told there is pressure on combining home and business life which makes it hard to attend Church on Sundays, but Muslims seem to manage to attend their places of worship without such difficulties. I can assure you if letters were sent to houses in these village parishes telling them the Church was closing, there would be an immediate outcry.  They would be denied the option of an old village Church to enhance the English village scene.

You will note how relevant this Letter has become to us as the same thing is happening here and other Western nations. Parts of the Church are embracing, encouraging and accepting society’s moral values, and have wanted to rewrite Scripture, which causes anguish to others.  The Bible is not like a computer or smartphone which needs constant updates. When we fail to accept God’s Word and embrace society’s we fail. We have to show we have something to offer which cannot be found anywhere else.

Paul then rebukes them for following and favouring particular preachers.  It is natural for us to like a particular one, but there is also a danger that we may be influenced more by the personality rather than his message.

Paul warned that some people did not want to hear sound doctrine, especially if it curtailed their actions, and so would find preachers who would say what they wanted to hear..

Paul reminded that Christ was not divided and neither should we be. He quoted the example of one planting the seed of the Word and another watering it, both playing an important role. We may still worship in different ways as some like a lot of ceremony, and others a more simple form of service; the important factor was getting the doctrine right.

 There are Churches where the practice is to have different preachers each Sunday, which can be most confusing. As a conservative Minister, I could be followed by a liberal one who would obviously be of totally different preaching.  The purpose of preaching is to help people to understand and appreciate the Bible, and this can only be worthily done by people being built up with consistent teaching.

Paul turns to baptism where some were boasting of who baptised them, when it is the act which is important, not who the baptiser is. We have situations where people who never attend Church on a regular basis ask for a particular Vicar because of a past connection of some kind. But baptism in Paul’s day was not the charade it is today whereby a person enquires about baptism and is told to turn up at the Church on a certain date.

Baptism is the most sacred sacrament of the Church. In its original form it took place when a person made a public confession of faith, repented of past way of life, and turned their life to Christ. This was the way people entered the Church. At some point the Church adopted the practice of baptising the children of committed Christian parents, but it was never meant to be of the indiscriminate kind we practice

I have witnessed Churches where the scheduled Minister was replaced because the parents, who were not even Church members, wanted their own man from somewhere else. Such is completely unacceptable and makes a mockery of baptism.

 In the final verse, Paul emphasised I have witnessed Churches where the scheduled Minister was replaced because the parents, who were not even Church members, wanted their own man from somewhere else. Such is completely unacceptable and makes a mockery of baptism.

 Let us make sure our nation continues to hear the gospel and of Jesus Christ, and stop the attempts of trying to have him pushed out of public life. The Church must awake from its slumbers for all to hear the Christian message.

 May the Lord bless us in this task, and may the Church here shine like   a beacon of life in  a darkened world.

Sunday 29 November 2020

 



Mark 13
This Sunday is Advent Sunday, the first day of the Church calendar, when we think of the coming back our Lord, and live our lives in the face of God's mercy, grace, and peace obtained through the death of Jesus on the Cross. This offers a new encouragement to get back to Church, which we can now reasonably do.

The Gospel lesson this Sunday comes from the 13th Chapter of Mark, in the first eight verses.
This Chapter has been described as the most Jewish in the whole Bible as it relates to Jewish history. The words and terms Jesus uses would be familiar to the Jews of His day. The Chapter refers to the Second Coming of the Lord, which many people decline to believe or just simply ignore.

The Jews always believed they were God’s chosen people and as such merited a special and predominant place in the world which they could only achieve by God’s help, and they were confident this would be given. This would be known as the ‘Day of the Lord’, which would be followed by a time of trouble after which God would create a new world and judgement would follow.

The Temple in Jerusalem was considered to be among the most spectacular wonders of the ancient Roman Empire. The original temple constructed by Solomon had been destroyed and when the Jews returned to the homeland 70 years later, they constructed the second temple. King Herod wanted to gain favour with the Jews so offered to rebuild their temple. The work began in 20BC and would eventually take 66 years to complete.

The building stood on top of Mount Moriah and literally dominated the skyline of the ancient city. Between the Temple and the city lay a valley and a bridge spanned that valley which led straight into the Royal porch. It could be seen from many miles away and from anywhere in the city, being 172 feet long and 20 stories high. The stones that made up Herod’s Temple were pure white limestone, and the doors, walls and floors of the Temple were overlaid with pure gold. 

Jesus had left the Temple with His Apostles who commented on the beauty of the buildings. Jesus knew that the Temple would by 70AD be destroyed by the Roman Army, and told the Apostles it would one day come down. When He was asked when it would happen, went on to say men would come and lead the Church astray with heresies.

This is done on various ways; by teaching doctrine to meet their own ends, and the same thing is happening in the Church today as men and women are moulding Christian truth to suit themselves. If such truth conflicts with desires, amend the truth is the practice.

Then there is teaching that God is a God of love and forgiveness who is ready to forgive all when asked, without telling that God is a God of justice and can be angered by sin. It is a false teaching that Christianity can be so ordered to look popular and attractive, irrespective as to whether it contradicts Scripture, as we see by the advocates of same sex marriage and loose morality

There is always the attempt to stop people from attending Church. Incredible as it may appear,a Vicar recently told people not to bother worrying about going to Church on Sundays but stay in bed and enjoy yourselves. This adds credibility to people who firmly claim that you don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian. If a person separates from Church there is something wrong with their thinking. 

In the Epistle to the Hebrews it is stated, ‘let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage on another.’

A Church family is unique in that it consists of different ages, backgrounds, experiences and sexes. It is where God provides for us to be come equipped to carry out His message to the world. We sing praise together, pray for each other and for the world's needs, share bread and wine in Holy Communion, and remember what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. 

We live in two worlds. We live in the earthly world, but we also live in the world of the Spirit, and there is always the danger we can forget about God and become so involved in earthly activities. 

We need to meet with others to have fellowship, to gain and give encouragement. Each of us has to make an effort. Most people believe in God and many have a respect for the Church, but that is as far as it goes. They don’t want God or the Church to intrude into their lives, unless of course they want a baptism or wedding and then both can become useful. 

There are many, far too many people in recent times, who have forsaken Church and it can be so very easy to give up, go with the flow and fall away. Once this is done it is often hard to get back into the practice of coming to Church. This is why the Bible urges the need for Christians to be with each other. 

There are numerous reasons for people giving up worship. There are the cynical voices pouring scorn, making people feel doubtful. There are forces of secularisation, now given so much attention and credence. There are pressures from within families, where some members are anti-church, notably husbands regarding their wives. The worry about taking a public stand, and indeed, from within the Church itself. So we should not be tempted to separate ourselves from those who are joined to us by a common faith. Meeting and following Christ can be costly but mostly well rewarded. 

We must always be aware of the fact that in many parts of the world Churches cannot exist, nor can Christians meet with other Christians for fear of imprisonment or even death. Increasing hostility is being displayed in countries like Egypt, Pakistan, and Nigeria, where Churches are burned down and bombed. Here we still have freedom to worship, but if not cherished and valued and fought for will be lost. 

But there is one thing I feel needs to be stressed. We should ensure the Church we attend is one faithful to God’s Word and seeks to build each other up through the Scriptures, and where the true gospel is preached.

We have to acknowledge however sadly this is not always the case, so it serves no purpose going to a Church which fails to do these things. Too many preachers have their own agenda, which is created around a morality not supported by Scripture, and where the teaching is given to subscribe to the culture of the day. 

You must find a Bible based Church. Research in America has shown that going to Church and meeting with fellow believers is good for your health. A survey in North America of 4,000 people, found that older people especially who attended Church, were less depressed and far healthier that their non religious counterparts. 

Let us therefore draw near to God, holding firmly to your belief. Don’t let unpleasant people, secularists, or anyone else hold you back. Remember too, Jesus said if anyone rejected Him, He will one day reject them. Such a fate is too horrible to consider.

The message for to day is that Jesus will one day return when He will be the judge of all our lives and to Him we will answer. We are warned there will be signs such as wars, famines, earthquakes; things which have taken place through the ages, although the threat seems more potent now especially when Israel is surrounded by hostile nations who are threatening to unite against Israel with the intention of destroying that nation. Israel will not lie down, but fight fiercely and who can tell the consequences. God has vowed to protect Israel, and the achoevements that small nation has overcome all manner of trials and tribulations, and the fact it is the only true democracy inthe Middle East, existing despite the hostility of much larger nations reveals they are still blessed by God. 

This Gospel passage should make any intelligent person who does not attend Church and/or worship Christ think seriously.

If you do not believe in Christ, the readings ought to make you reflect very deeply. The Bible states, ‘God is ready to welcome you, now is your time to receive salvation’. Don’t miss out.