Friday 31 January 2020

1 Corinthians 1 v18/25.
This morning I want to speak about the Cross, and have chosen a passage from Paul’s 1st Letter to the Church at Corinth.

Paul wrote to give advice and admonishment to the people there because of the way they were acting. He is showing us in this passage how the Cross is so important for us as Christians, and how it is involved in human affairs and thinking.

Each religious faith has its own symbol. Muslims have the crescent moon; the Jews have the Star of David, but for Christians we have the Cross.

Some Churches have a Cross outside and most also display the Cross inside. It is embossed upon our Bibles and prayer books and ladies particularly wear a gold cross.

Paul said he gloried in the Cross. He said, we preach Christ crucified, and when writing to the Galatian Church Paul stated, ‘God forbid that I should boast about anything except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’, to indicate how much he prioritised the Cross. He could have boasted about his own intellect, his mastery of languages; he could have boasted about the unique birth of Christ or the miracles performed, even the resurrection, but he didn’t, only the Cross.

The bible tells that God loves all people and wants then to be saved, and the whole bible from cover to cover is about salvation. The Cross has always been the standard for God’s people and the Church.

Let me now turn to Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians Christians.

The Church at Corinth was having problems which caused Paul to write to them.  Corinth was a cosmopolitan city which has been described as the Soho of its day, full of corruption and immorality. It was a trading centre and there was much wealth and a style of living which did not match up to Christian standards. The Church, which had started with much power, was allowing some of the culture to invade the Church, and some members were influenced by the rhetoric of some preachers who were deviating from gospel, and this caused division and dissension within the Church.

We have a similar situation here where there are men/women, occupying the most prominent position in the Church, openly accepting and even encouraging Christians to adopt the morality of society, despite the fact that the Bible expressly condemns doing so.

Paul begins this passage by saying Christ sent him to preach the gospel, not with profound words and high-sounding ideas, for there is mighty power in the simple message of the Cross of Christ. I think sometimes that a more social message is preferred.

If you see a restaurant advertising good class food and you enter, only to find you are served ‘junk’ food, you are not likely to visit again. People are now visiting churches expecting to hear spiritual messages, hearing what the bible states about the moral and spiritual issues of the day, and in too many places hear poor messages which are in direct contradiction of the bible, leaving them confused and dejected. We must tell the true meaning of Scripture so they can understand that which God wants them to know.

Paul always taught there are two distinct points of view, two black or white absolutes that can never be reconciled, because they produce two different responses to the gospel. We all have to decide now which we believe.
We have a choice to make for our future when this life is over. Many people don’t want to think of that and dismiss it from their minds.  Many more believe there is no need to worry, as long as one leads a ‘good’ life we are all going to heaven. Apart from the fact ‘good’ has not been defined, how would we know when he had done enough?

I have taken hundreds of funeral services in the past forty odd years, and irrespective that the deceased never read a bible, attended church, and being totally unaware of belief, it was always thought the relatives of the deceased, the person was heaven bound.

Unless you accept the Cross and its meaning, you are not able to make an assessment of the future. The Cross is the pivotal point of Christianity.  If you tell people that all their efforts and achievements will not put them right with God, and the only way is to believe the death of Christ on the Cross, and we can do nothing to earn our salvation, they will think it ridiculous.

The Cross strikes at the heart of human pride. Just as the Jews could never accept that a man hanging on a Cross could save the world, so today people mock the idea. Those who are blind to the truth of the gospel are said to be ‘perishing’, which means unsaved and are eternally lost. To them however, it is absurd, and they refuse to believe the Biblical teaching that states to achieve eternal salvation you have to believe that a man died on a Cross 2000 years ago, in a little country on the far side of the world, and did so that our sins may be forgiven.

The other reaction is that the Cross is the power of God to those of us who have accepted Christ’s death on the Cross as our means of salvation.

Why take a risk on your eternal future? If you were due to fly to America and as you were boarding the plane you were told there was a 1% chance the plane would not make it across the Atlantic, would you still fly?

Paul said he understood how foolish it sounds to those who are lost when they heard that Jesus died to save them, but God had said He would destroy all human plans of salvation no matter how wise they seem to be to men, even the most brilliant of them. He said ‘you come to me my way, or you do not come at all’.

If you wear a Cross you should ask yourself, why you are wearing it, what does it mean to me? Most people just see it as an item of jewellery, such an idea would have been horrifying bearing in mind the tortuous death it carried; it would be like wearing a model of the gallows around the neck. It was so crude a death it was never mentioned in polite company.

Paul asks where is the wise man, where is the scholar, where is the philosopher of this age, has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world.  Challenging them who think they can solve life’s problems.
Paul is speaking to those in the Church who claimed to be wise and proud of their wisdom, which they were using to divide the Church and to promote themselves by changing the message of the Cross to make it more acceptable. Paul is telling them it is worthless in the sight of God and will only destroy the Church.

The Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look to wisdom. This was a stumbling block which could not be overcome by Jews or Gentiles, but to those who do believe it is a message of power.

The Jews demanded that what Paul was teaching should be proved by some miraculous sign. Jews could not ever accept that the Messiah would be crucified; it was totally contradictory to their belief. The Greeks placed so much influence on human wisdom and intellectual ability to be the means of salvation.

God chose a way which ordinary people could understand. Abraham Lincoln once stated God must have loved ordinary people because He made so many of them. Paul gave them an ordinary and simple message, believe in Jesus Christ who gave His life to be crucified on the Cross and you will have eternal life. If we had to be very wise and academic, millions of people would never have come to know the Lord. Heaven would be only for the clever people.

The gospel message is the opposite of worldly wisdom and is hard for some to believe, but we do believe. But there are still people who want to see some proof for what we preach. The Bible states, by grace you shall be saved through faith’. If you have to see signs or other proof to believe, you don’t need faith. True faith means believing in what you cannot see.

God said, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate’.
The message of the world sees us as self-sufficient beings; there is no need of God. We have the ability to think and reason which will prove sufficient to eventually solve all of our problems.  Obviously, God doesn’t think so much of it.

Just where has all the wisdom of the so-called wise brought us? How well have we done in solving the world’s problems? Have we eradicated poverty? Has all our research and expertise in the fields of science and medicine rid our world of disease? Have we found a cure for cancer? There is more suffering now than history records.

With all the highly educated professional educators, how can we still have ignorant people wandering our streets, graduating from our schools and colleges not knowing basic maths or English?

Look at the enormous amount of hatred in the world with many of the Arab countries wanting to wipe Israel off the face of the map; the barbarity of Islamic militants. Paradoxically hatred has been introduced into our society by legislation. The (inequitable) Equality and Diversity Bill has caused considerable distress. Consider the hate mail and persecution experienced Christians who do not wish to surrender their beliefs to society’s morality. 

The unfortunate reality is that for all our so-called sophistication, we have not been able to solve the basic problems of society–– problems that have been around since the beginning. Certainly, we have been able to see great advances technologically. We have great new gadgets. But on the really important issues of life, we don’t even have temporary solutions.

But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The Cross upon which Jesus died was not only a place where he bore the sins of humanity and paid the penalty for those sins, it is also a way for our lives by his power. It is saying that God became weak in order to save us. It says that when we surrender our lives, we truly find them. It is the very power of God, concealed from the so-called wise and sophisticated and revealed to those who come as a child, in simple faith and trust.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength
Today the cross of Christ is still a cause of offence. The message of the cross of Christ is still foolishness to those who are perishing. To them the cross is the weakest link. In the Cross, we see the power of God displayed. God was powerful enough to become weak. And it will take the power of God in our lives to humble ourselves in complete surrender to him. The good news is that God has given us his power. It is now the duty and responsibility of the Church to boldly proclaim this.

There is one underlying message running right through this passage. ‘There is only one way to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ’. God gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. We do not earn our right to heaven by all the good things we do, being saved is a gift from God, if we could earn it would not be free. God accepts us when we believe in Christ.

May the Cross always remind you of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made for the salvation that can be yours.

Saturday 25 January 2020

I am turning to the Epistle to the Ephesians, which is before you. 
     Our epistle looks at the hostility that existed between Jew and Gentile in Paul’s time.  The Jews hated the Gentiles, so much so, that if a Gentile woman fell into difficulty during labour, they would not help her, in order to stop another Gentile being born into the world; and the Gentiles were not too fond of the Jews either. 
      The Jews saw themselves as God’s chosen people, which gave them the right to hate others; they had been promised the Messiah; and they alone had been part of God’s Covenant.  Anyone else did not belong to God’s people, which meant judgement with hell as the natural consequence.
     The Jew had a national home in Palestine but were scattered around the Mediterranean area.  Wherever they went they took with them a high moral standard and pure faith in a holy and righteous God in contrast to the Gentile gods.  They did not want to be dragged down morally by those who lived in a world of moral and spiritual corruption.  For them the Mosaic law was the solution, for it regulated every aspect of life.  So it was this law which separated Jew and Gentile.  The Jew was determined to maintain this separation and not let the Gentile have any share in the promise of salvation, unless he accepted and obeyed every line of the law
     The Jews considered the Gentiles had rejected God, which in fact they had, so causing a dividing line of hostility.  In the Temple Courts there were separate Courts, and there was an inscription on the wall which stated that any Gentile caught within the Temple area would face death.  The Temple was at the heart of Judaism and was a symbol of all the law stood for,    
      The Gentiles had their own gods. It was a multi-faith society, and like those today who have their own gods of money, property, etc, all of which do not give the spiritual satisfaction of belief in the one true God, they without hope, for there is no fulfilment in an empty product.
      `  The Gentiles had a mixed reaction to the Jews.  Some returned the hatred; others were attracted by the moral outlook of Judaism.  They saw in the Jewish Synagogue fellowship and brotherhood that contrasted with the disintegration of their own society.  They saw noble standards.  The barrier was the acceptance of 613 laws plus any Rabbinic additions.     
     The Gentiles felt like many people today in that they did not seem to belong to anything and had no clearly defined belief.  They knew there must be something better within their grasp and wanted to find it.
     We can see a parallel situation within the main line Churches to day.  People see clearly defined doctrine being ignored and re-interpreted to suit and embrace modern culture, and to make the Church appear worldly friendly, but  which lacks a clear moral basis.  So each year there is a decrease in the number of members, whilst people go to the small evangelical churches or just drop away, which is extremely sad and very worrying for the future.      
                The evangelical wing has formed an association called the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, which is campaigning for a return to orthodox doctrine and biblical integrity, yet whilst everyone is entitled to an opinion, some of the remarks from the liberal establishment, you would think they were trying to destroy the Church and deprive people of their liberty.  It may be significant the Queen has sent two letters of support to the leaders. 
     Paul was trying to explain the loss of not being Jews. The Gentiles were seen as foreigners, and as such were excluded from all the benefits of Israeli citizens, namely the promises made by God to Moses and David. 
       Whilst Paul was an Apostle to the Gentiles, he still had great concern for the Jews and is striving to bring the two together.  He talks of the dividing wall which prevents them from mixing, and says we all have to get right with God, and until we do so we will not get right with other people.  We get the answer by Jesus death on the Cross who brings reconciliation for us to be right with God and people. Jew and Gentile can now sit down together as one and form what became known as the third race, Christians.
     Paul uses illustrations which would be vivid to a Jew, to show hatred can be ended and unity achieved.  He said those who were far off had been brought near.  When Rabbis spoke about receiving a convert into Judaism, they said he had been brought near.  He assures the Gentiles and Jews that they can be followers of Jesus and end the resentment because of the peace earned for them by His death on the Cross.
     You Ephesians," he says, "are no longer strangers and foreigners. Once you were strangers, says the apostle. You did not know what God could do for you. Now that you have come to Christ you are no more strangers.
     And you are no longer foreigners, either. A foreigner is different than a stranger. A foreigner may be very familiar with the country in which he lives. He may have lived there for years, but he has no ultimate rights. He is living on a passport.   
     So as we come to Church, perhaps even on a regular basis, we have to be careful we come not like the foreigner with a passport, but as one who has the full rights of a citizen of the Kingdom of God.          
     Paul is writing as a Jew to a largely Gentile people and wants to show how wonderful it is to be a Christian and to belong to a Church. He sees the Christian as part of a great building each Christian a stone built into the Church.  Jesus is the corner stone and if you take the cornerstone away the building will collapse.  Unity comes from Jesus not from any organisation, ritual or liturgy.   When we are able to understand how God sees the Church, we will want to do all we can to make others want to become part of it
     We have to accept that our world has divisions, the clashes of interest are real.   Despite all the wonderful advanced technology and aids we have today, we haven’t advanced that much in relationships.  We have wonderful medical operations which perform heart transplants, yet many hearts are without compassion. 
     In every walk of life we find hostility, even regrettably within the Church.    We don’t have to go back 2000 years however to find racial or cultural hostility. There is still a wall in place in Belfast, erected during the troubles to keep Protestant and Catholic apart.  Such rivalry in the name of religion was appalling, but even more shameful was the fact that such rivalry could have been cut out if the Church leaders of both faiths had got together and told their peoples to stop, for clergy in Northern Ireland have more influence and are listened to more than here, but on either side there was support for their own factions, one especially so.   
     There are differences between people, which God no doubt intended.  We are not, despite the efforts of the equality zealots in Parliament, all equal or the same.  Those inequalities and differences can be an asset.  You don’t have a body which is all hands or heads. If the body of Christ is to be complete and functional, it needs to have various qualities.  And each sex performs some functions in life in a better way than the other and should be allowed to get on, without interference.
     Christians should be able to rise above strife. People sometimes see others through their own eyes.  Two ladies who had not tasted champagne one day decided to try some. It ended with one accusing the other of being drunk.  She said I know you are drunk I can see you have two noses.  We allow the emotional differences people have to be given greater significance than what they have in common.
     In the concluding verses of our passage Paul wants to encourage us to come into a living relationship with God.  We are children of God who cares for us and has a purpose for our life.  As Christians we belong to the heavenly family with one Father, and with Jesus, and we have a common spirit.  This means we meet not with strangers but as brothers and sisters of God’s family.

Thursday 23 January 2020

                    God’s Chosen People.

On Monday 27th January, it is International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorating the tragedy of the holocaust which occurred during the Second World War, and the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenhau camp.

The pictures we have seen will have brought tears to the hardest of hearts, and we particularly think of those few left still bearing the scars. It is beyond most peoples’ understanding how humans can treat fellow human beings so brutally.

The Jewish nation has given much to the world, but it appears the world has given mot so much in return.  Despite giving to the German nation money out of all proportion to their numbers in the 1930s, they were treated so badly and dispossessed of their possessions.

  God said,  I will gather you back from the nations where you have been scattered and I will give you the land of Israel once again.  They will truly be my people and I will be their God.’(Ezekiel 11 v 17)

Israel; why so much abuse?

Why is it so many people dislike and attack Jews and Israel without having any clear idea why they do so, and obviously know little or nothing about either?  This is especially exposed in the current Labour Party wrangle where extreme and vicious comments are being made and cheered on, and I am sure if challenged the people doing so would have no knowledge of Israel’s accomplishments or history. How many of the followers of Labour know one of the major influences of Socialism was a Jew?

There is constant criticism of Israel’s attitude to the Palestinians by Labour politicians, but they fail to tell many Palestinian workers are employed by Jewish traders and would be without means of living if otherwise unemployed.

As a consequence of such hostility and personal abuse on individual Jewish people by mindless people in this ‘me too’ generation, who just have to latch on to any craze of the moment, many Jews are preparing to leave this country of their birth which is regrettable and totally heartless. What kind of person throws eggs from a passing car at a Jewish woman, walking quietly along a street in Manchester?

Jewish children are being bombarded with unpleasant comments; imagine the uproar if this happened to Muslim children, which would have been equally offensive.

Israel does not pay huge sums of money to its people to go and kill non-Jews, but the Palestinian government pay well with money given for aid purposes by the United States, to any of its people who kill Jews.   

Even within the Church there are voices opposed to Jews with one Southern county Vicar regular pumping out vitriol which not only slanders Israel and its people, but shows how far off Christian charity and compassion he is.

Christians it must be remembered worship the God of Israel; we preach a Jewish Saviour Jesus, who was born of a Jewish woman; we read a holy book written by Jews; we follow teaching given by Apostles who were Jews. The destiny of Christians and Jews is to be one, as God said He would bring them finally together.

We must recognise therefore, there would not be any Church without Jewish participation.

Consider that Jewish medical teams were treating Syrian civil war victims, and when a British Minister appreciated the merciful compassion, directed foreign funds to help, she was dismissed from her Office. In fact, Israel sends medical teams out regularly into African nations to help them.

Happily, that Minister has now been elevated to one of the highest Government Offices of State, under a new Prime Minister.

Consider too the many inventions made by Jews over the years. Mobile phones, car engines, scientific formulae, vital medicines; when Israel became a State, they took over swamps and made them into fertile plains for fruit, tomatoes, and grapes. They have developed means of water purification to produce sufficient supplies for their land.

They have designed a dialysis machine which sis so small it can be carried around and used anywhere, yet the NHS in this country will not adopt it despite shortage of resources. If it was made by any other country it probably would be.

Millions of people have enjoyed entertainment provided by film studios created by Jewish men, and some of its leading ladies were Jewish women.

God promised to care for Israel and its people when they were faithful to Him. It is well for politicians to learn from history that it is unwise to turn their backs and attack Israel. When territorial and other disputes surface, our government rather tends to not support Israel.  However, a fascinating fact of history is that numerous British Prime Ministers who took sides against Israel, all subsequently suffered political defeat. Winston Churchill, Edward Heath and Anthony Eden, and most dramatically James Callaghan all learned. In 1979 as he faced a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons as leader of the Labour Party and was expected to win it, but on the night of voting it all went wrong and the Conservatives were in power for years.  Is that purely coincidental? Consider what happened to the leader of the Labour Party at the General Election this year; hostile anti-Jewish,  suffered a massive defeat.

If there is a feeling of self- righteousness amongst anti Israelis and such a feeling of hostility to Israel, why not take part in discussion instead of aggressive protests when Pro Israel meetings are held.

Any Bible believer must acknowledge God chose Israel as a special nation and stated he would defend it, and that has been shown.  Bearing in mind Israel has only to lose one war, yet it has faced constant attacks by a combination of nations and survived, captured the Golan heights when the enemy seemed in an impregnable position, suggests to any deep thinking person it must have had the support of more than national courage and ability; has anyone considered a divine presence?

A few short weeks ago a serious conflict broke out after Israel responded to persistent rocket attacks on the Southern part of the country from Palestinian territory.  Peace was eventually negotiated but already a leader of the Palestinian group Hamas has called for the removal of Israel and the establishment of the Palestinian capital in Jerusalem.
In 1993 Israel ceded the territory of Gaza to the Palestine
National Assembly following an agreement in Oslo, which was seen as a gesture of the desire for peace in the region.  Sadly, that was a bad move and has failed in the intention for there has been constant strife.

On 14th May 1948 the United Nations granted independence to Israel and the nation was born with its own distinctive ‘Star of David’ flag.  This fulfilled Biblical prophecy that God would bring His people home at last.  Ever since that time Israel has been under attack from hostile nations which surround this little country the size of Wales.  The nation has faced overwhelming forces and against such odds has fought off enemies in wars, which has resulted in a general consensus of opinion that God was certainly with them.  Anyone who challenges this should study the recapture of the Golan Heights, which was an achievement beyond human endeavour alone.

The significance of Israel in world affairs is immense in that the Bible story is based on Israel and Christianity begins and ends there.  Jesus was born there, (a Jew), our faith is based on a book written by 39 out of 40 writers who were Jewish, and our God is the God of Israel.
We must all desire to live alongside each other irrespective of race or creed, nothing can ever be gained by trying to blow each other apart. When trouble breaks out as it frequently does between Palestine and Israel, it is always the Jews who get the bad press, especially from the blinkered BBC. But it is not normally Israel who starts it by lobbing rockets over civilians, and by tempting Israel’s known culture of severe response, the nations whose stated aim is to wipe Israel off the map is self- defeating.

In Britain, during the repeated clashes between Palestine and Israel, the BBC has been less than impartial as prominence has been given to showing the damage caused by Israeli forces, without mentioning this was in response to attacks on its territory.  Palestinian spokesmen have been given air time to state their case, which has been subject to less severe interviewing than to the more measured tones of the Israeli spokesmen.
In numerous Biblical verses it is revealed that Israel was chosen by God, and whilst Jesus was sent to be the world’s Saviour, God has never abandoned His ancient people.

Let us not forget when Israel took over its traditional homeland, it was largely a swamp filled, untilled wasteland. Jewish settlers drained malaria infested grounds and made it a flourishing fruit and agricultural success, planting millions of trees. They can even grow tomatoes and fruit from sandy ground. Israel is not a fertile land, with having noriver within its boundaries water becomes a shortage, but such was their ingenuity they discovered how to convert sea water into use as normal water.

In the wider world Jews have excelled in science, medical finance, the arts, technology, and have a record number of Nobel prizes.

We must pray that both nations will strive to maintain a peace accord, but this can never happen if one party seeks to eliminate the other.  It is in the interests of each nation’s population to accept each other’s right to exist, even if they find it hard to be amicable about it.  How can life be pleasant for either nation if the threat of more violence is let loose on innocent people of each country?

Israel’s enemies have threatened to wipe Israel of the face of the map; with such vitriolic hatred how can there ever be peace. They have been attacked and suffered more than any other nation, and only seek peace, but are not allowed.

The Bible states, pray for the peace of Jerusalem. (Psalm 122 v6)

Friday 17 January 2020

1 Corinthians 1 v1/ 17

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

It was custom when writing a letter to someone to start by saying who it was from, and to whom, and often why it was written. Paul therefore writes establishing his purpose of thanking them for their presence in the city.

It came to his notice that tensions had arisen in the congregation. 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.

True Christians are disheartened, and it is infuriating to find disputes in the Church, and when this occurs it is almost always because someone wants to deviate from what the Bible has laid down, and they want to act as the world does.

The subject which causes the biggest problem in the Church is sexuality; it was in Corinth and it is now a bigger problem here, and there can be no justification for it. The Church, whether some people accept or not, is honour and duty bound, and has responsibility to God to teach only what is laid down in the Bible. Every ordained Minister in the Church vow to do so.

The Bible states, God made a man and then a woman, male/female, such is the order of God’s creation. He then laid down sexual relations were to be between a man and a woman, in marriage. Such is categorically laid down. Any deviation therefore is against God’s teaching, and whilst this is widely abused, and may condemn many people in the Church, that is what we are to teach.
I agree that this is wholly contrary to life in the 21st Century, and is a mixture of contempt and amusement to society, and whilst it is not accepted within the Church, there will be continual unrest.

It does not help however, when men holding positions at the highest echelons of the Church, support and co-operate with activists to abandon Bible teaching.
Over the years, politicians in both major political Parties have learned that when there is in-fighting within the Party, people do not support them.  Jesus stated, anyone who is against his teaching is against him, and a kingdom divided amongst itself will be laid waste.

In the opening verse of our passage, Paul calls on Christians to agree and be of one mind and judgement. We can only achieve this if we are all one in Christ Jesus. He alone is means of unity and the only way to God.

One issue on which all Christians should be concerned, is that of falling attendances. As I travel around the Circuit, on repeat visits I notice a distinct fall in attendances, and this is happening all over the country. Part of this is through deaths, people too infirm to attend, without being replaced by new members. Whilst the Church cannot make up its mind what doctrine it believes in, the two main denominations will continue to lose people, weekly.

Either through ignorance, naivety, or plain cussedness there is a refusal to recognise Pentecostal Churches are growing, especially the black Churches. I wonder if it is because they are being faithful to the Bible?

My wife is disabled and we have needed Carers over the years, and almost all
have been from Africa, and so black ladies. EVERY one brought a Bible, which they read, and didn’t just carry as an accessory.

If we look at Eastern nations in Africa and the Orient, there is massive growth in the Church, even in China, where they are often persecuted. In those nations they have not been dismantling the Bible as we have been here.

Whilst we have to accept that we live in a godless age where the Church is a no-go area for a lot of people, except of course when it suits their purpose, the number of people who attend Christmas Night Mass, and Remembrance Day services show there is a harvest to be gathered, if properly cultivated.
 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 attending their places of worship without much difficulty.

Jesus Christ said, ‘I will build my Church.’ And the last words he used to his disciples were, ’go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, teaching all I have commanded you.’

In Acts we read the first Christian Church was devoted to the teaching of the Apostles, in consequence ‘the Lord added to their numbers daily’. There is a message, follow the teaching of the Apostles, who were taught by the Lord Himself. God graciously provided us with a copy of their teaching; it is called the New Testament. That is the purpose of the Church, to preach the gospel, not social or political issues. When we do the Lord will bless and help us, when we fail and follow the world’s agenda rather than God’s Word, we fail.

When we try to please man rather than God; when we depart from the Bible by adding to or subtracting from, we are causing cracks in the foundation of Apostolic teaching; we are building on sand rather than rock.

If we allow ourselves to withdraw from plain speaking of the gospel we are failing our Lord and reducing ourselves as a Church to little more than just another social organisation with a spiritual flavour, in which case we have nothing to offer those lost souls seeking real spiritual help. We have to show that we do have something special to offer which no other organisation can.

Paul then rebukes them for following and favouring particular preachers. It is natural for us to have a favourite preacher, but there is also a danger that we may become attached to one who is not a biblical teacher. Paul was concerned and had occasion to warn that some people, who did not want to hear sound doctrine, were turning to teachers who would say what they wanted to hear rather than what they should hear.

Paul reminds that Christ was not divided and neither should we be. We can still worship in different ways as some like much ceremony and others a simpler method, as long as the doctrine of the gospel is the same. But we must accept one another.
I would not attend services where all the local Churches gather at so called Christian unity week, because I don’t like hypocrisy and falsity. People did not mix but tended to stay with their own, which I accept was human, but I refuse to believe or accept one Church will not allow people of another denomination to share communion unless brought up within that Church.  If they were perfect themselves, it might have been more palatable.

Paul turns to baptism where some were boasting of who baptised them, when it is the belief which is important not who the baptiser is. 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. Nor does it matter which Minister baptises, you are baptised into God not man.

 Baptism is the most sacred sacrament of the Church. It denotes a person wishing to become a Christian in the biblical sense, rather than it being defined as someone who believes in there being a God, even the devil accepts there is a God; some who claim not to, but do. Such as a humanist speaker at one of their type of funeral service stated; he was saying what they could trust in and what not, and ended up saying, and if that doesn’t work then God help us.

A Christian is a man or woman who realises there is something in their life that is missing, yet present in other the lives of friends who attend Church. God knows when to touch that person’s heart and moves them to learn the message of Jesus; they have then to respond or reject.

Most people want to go to heaven when they die, but have unrepented sin in their lives, and God hates sin and will not have a sinner in heaven. Therefore, we need to be cleansed of sin, and no matter how wrong we have been, or how much sin committed, God has provided a way for us to be forgiven.  He sent Jesus to earth, and Jesus died an horrific death on a Cross, and in doing so took responsibility for all our sins and for all who will accept that death paid the price of their sin. Then we accept Jesus as Lord of our life and our personal Saviour, and commit ourselves to follow the kind of life he commanded, and to worship him with other Christians. When we do so, Jesus makes us acceptable in God’s sight and we are totally forgiven.

Imagine a woman has not enough food to feed her children, and mothers being caring women, decides to go to Tesco and steal some food. When she is seen doing so, is detained and taken to Court. There the Magistrate fines her, but realising she cannot pay the fine, he gives the clerk of the Court the money to pay the fine for her. Now substitute yourself for that mother, and God for the magistrate.

In its original form, baptism 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.

What is unacceptable now is, we ask them to say they believe in Christ, they renounce all sin, (whilst admitting they live unmarried with children); make vows to bring up the children in the fellowship of the Church, by their example, which they promise to do without any intention of doing so, and we perpetuate this falsehood. If the millions of baptismal promises had been honoured, we would be building Churches, not knocking them down.

In the final verse Paul emphasised the importance of preaching the gospel in simple words so all could understand and believe, contrary to some preachers who like to show their academic abilities. The Church of England had one eminent person who spoke in such convoluted terms few had any idea what he was talking about.

We must be committed to letting people know what the gospel is in simple, unabridged terms. There are so many people with cares and worries and the Bible offers encouragement and hope, but it must be preached without fear or reservation.

There is now a reluctance to be really faithful to the Bible for fear of being called a bigot, or accused of having some sort of phobia if one speaks out. If we face up to reality, we have modified Scripture to avoid offending other faiths or none. Secularists, humanists, and followers of Islam will not allow their beliefs to be suppressed, and neither should Christians; believers have a reasonable expectation that the Churches will stand up for them and not surrender to the humanist agenda.

In the United States as well as here, we have had leaders in recent times who have been more anti-Christian than any in my lifetime, ready to make it harder through legislation, for Christians to express their faith. We can be called infidels by other faiths, but a law is about to be proposed in the U.K which will make it an offence for Christians to quote certain verses, even in Church lest they offend another faith or minority faction.

Fortunately for the United States, it now has a President who strongly supports the Christian Church and Christians. What America does today we often follow shortly after, perhaps they would lend him to us.

As Christians we have to make sure our nation continues to hear about Jesus Christ and stop the attempts to push Him out of public life. We have to make sure an authentic Christian message is heard. At the moment people hear many different voices speaking in the name of Christianity, some of which are not faithful to the Bible’s teaching. The Church must awake from its slumbers, for people need to hear the Christian message.

Sunday 12 January 2020

 If a man strikes another with an iron object so that the man dies, he is a murderer, and he shall be put to death  (Numbers 35 v.16).

Regularly now, it seems as though instead of murder being an unusual crime as it once was, a time when a murder would be national news and Police would be supported by other Forces, it has become almost a daily crime which is glossed over in news bulletins.  It is not glossed over by parents when a young man, even boy, is stabbed to death, or a young woman found dead in some field or water. London has become a crime ridden place, exceeding what was usually pictured as happening in New York or Chicago. I can’t imagine the stress there will be on the senior Police Officers facing such a load of murders to be solved when each case requires much attention. The Mayor and civil authorities seem more concerned about environmental talk and gay pride marches than crime.

This has inevitably caused much comment as to whether police officers generally should all be armed, and whether capital punishment be introduced for the murder of a police officer.

I think most people, including those in the Police service, would not particularly favour arming police as a matter of course, but the issue of capital punishment is a different matter.  If a poll was conducted throughout the country it would show that the vast majority of the population would vote for such legislation, not only for police officers, but for murder.

When such a suggestion is made there is an immediate outcry from those who are never likely to venture out alone in any unruly area of the country, especially at night, and would do all they could to stay far away from any display of violence.  The Members of Parliament, who are always calling for independent enquiries into every subject imaginable, reject any discussion on bringing back capital punishment.

There was a time when a murder was considered to be of such seriousness that it was headline news for days.  Now murder is such a common crime that it is often just another item on middle pages of the press.  I state quite rationally that I doubt if a week goes past without it being reported (briefly) that a body has been found of a young man/woman, followed later by news of an arrest.  Despite this being so, we are told the number of murders has decreased.  If anyone seriously believes this, they are not facing reality.

It is all very well for such liberal minded people sitting comfortably in safe surroundings to be telling us how awful it is to suggest capital punishment, but if they had witnessed the tragedy of parents finding a policemen suddenly knocking on their door to tell them their daughter had been found strangled lying on a grass cliff; or returning home to find their teenage daughter lying with her head cut open having been struck with a steel bar; or young son stabbed to death  for no reason; and then to experience the frustration of seeing the perpetrator told they must serve at least ten years in prison, they would enter the real world.

I once took part in a debate with a Methodist Minister at a Church hall when he said, amongst other things, that it was un-Christian to support capital punishment. I stated, and still do, that it is because I am a Christian that I am in favour of such punishment. A little reading (and acceptance) of the Bible would support such a view, which is clear and unequivocal.

I am quite well aware the verse quoted is in the Old Testament, but Jesus said, 'do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them' ( Matthew 5 v.7)         

If the thugs who go out committing crime armed with guns knew that they faced the death penalty, there would be a different outcome.  I have heard all the arguments about wrongful convictions due to faulty evidence and police fixing.  The science into DNA research has proved most reliable into the establishment of fact, and I do not accept that police would deliberately give false evidence in such a serious case, especially knowing what a guilty sentence would mean.  Added to this is the Home Secretary has the authority to make a final decision.

When capital punishment was abandoned, the day afterwards policemen were shot dead in London.  The then Home Secretary, although probably the worst the country has had, just shrugged it off when questioned.  However, part of the agreement was that the alternative would be life imprisonment.  Now there is very little chance of a person being sentenced to life.  Regularly we read a person so convicted is told they ‘are sentenced to life imprisonment and must serve at least  ?? years, (small numbers) before release.’  The person who died had no reprieve, and their relations were left with a real life sentence.

When ever a suggestion is made that the public should be consulted as to whether to implement capital punishment, the politicians close ranks and express horror at the thought.  They obviously recognise the result.

It is time they faced facts and exercised some responsibility.

Thursday 9 January 2020

 Thessalonians 1
This Letter of Paul which we are looking at this morning is thought to be the first of his thirteen New Testament Letters, and one which is very relevant to us to-day.  We can learn from this small passage what the Bible teaches us is a successful Church, and what it means to be a Christian in the purest sense.
Paul had been on a mission with Silas and Timothy and chose to visit Thessalonica.  This was a proud capital    city of Macedonia with a large population, a fine harbour, and was a busy trade centre, strategically situated on the main highway between East and West across Europe.  What happened there tended to happen along the way.

1 Thessalonians is one of the oldest books in the New Testament. Scholars date it at approximately 50-51 A.D., meaning that it was written only 18 years after Jesus’ life and death. This is the first of Paul’s thirteen Letters in the New Testament, and tells us why Christianity spread so far and fast, without all the modern means of communication we have, and why the Church was so successful.
Paul begins this Letter in a different manner from others in that he writes, ‘to the Church of the Thessalonians, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.  This is to show he recognises they are truly Christians, who have fully accepted God and Jesus Christ.  It is a Church IN God, not a Church of God.  They had listened to Paul, their minds were engaged. They were the church in God. They knew the Lord Jesus Christ. They had experienced the grace and peace of God. Paul prayed for them. He thanked God for them always.
Most people would think of a successful Church as one which had a large congregation, well financed, perhaps in a big building, but that could be a complete misconception.  Here was a Church which started off with people new into the faith, but such was their commitment and enthusiasm, it made others want to join them.
Such was the vibrancy of their faith that it had spread widely and people were speaking of their devotion, their past practises were behind them.  The result here was that the believers shared the good news widely through the area, telling what God had done for them.   The friends of those believers began to ask questions about what had happened to make such a change in those believers’ lives.
Research has shown that the most successful form of evangelism is that of ordinary men and women Christians telling others of how Christianity has changed their lives.

Paul commended them for the main element of a Christian life, faith love and hope. For a faith that works, a love which labours and a hope which endures. Faith is not merely belief, it is something that changes you, making you turn from what is wrong to that which is right; love which causes you to work for the gospel; and hope which makes you steadfast in the faith and enable to endure. This is the whole Christian life, which begins in faith, continues in love, and culminates in the hope of eternal life.
There is a story of a farming village which was desperate for rain to fall. They decided to have a prayer meeting to pray for rain and one young woman went to the meeting carrying an umbrella.  That is faith. 
We may think of a successful Church as one where there is commitment, enthusiasm, and the teaching is that of that given by the Apostles, passed down to us in the New Testament. 
Remember in Acts we are told how the Church grew as the people listened to the teaching of the Apostles. This is Christianity in its purest and rawest form, stripped of centuries of man influenced additions and ritual, which transformed the ancient world.  This is how it was in the beginning. This is what makes a successful Church.  It is not a religious club united by common interest; it is a people chosen by God, receiving power through Jesus Christ, who demonstrate this in faith. We all have to consider how deep our commitment is to Jesus Christ
 God does not choose large Cathedrals to perform His plans, nor pick rich influential people.  He chose a humble Jewish village girl to bear the Saviour of the world.  None of the Apostles had a degree between them, they were ordinary working men.  God acts when people respond to His Son.  It can be in the smallest of Churches; God acts when people turn to Him.  
 Now let us consider what we mean when we say a person is a Christian, in the Biblical sense.
The name “Christian” was one given to them by others and apparently had a negative meaning in the beginning: “those belonging to the Christ party;’.  It was a term of contempt or derision, and there was a sense of suffering and reproach attached to the word in the New Testament.

For most people a Christian is someone who is not of another faith, or is an atheist; that is not the Bible’s definition. A Christian is someone who is a fully devoted follower of Jesus. You are not born a Christian nor are you a Christian simply because you were born into a Christian family, or in a Christian country.  There must be a desire to become accepted by the Lord.
Paul tells the believers they had been chosen by God.  The Bible tells us that God knows the secret working of our hearts, and when He knows we are ready to acknowledge Him through Christ, by whom alone we can come to God, He by His amazing grace chooses and calls us into His family.  
God finds us before we find Him.  He moves a person’s heart, but like anyone offering a gift, it has to be taken, and God is gifting us with his grace.  There does however need to be a personal response.
In order for a person to be converted two things must happen first—something from God’s side and then something from the human side; but God’s side must always come first.
Two people can come to a service, one with an open heart, the other a closed one. One hears a message which touches their heart and causes them to respond; the other hears just words which mean nothing to them.
This is why two people can listen to the same message and respond in utterly different ways?  One will follow Jesus, while the other completely rejects him.  Why does one person believe and the other say, “I want nothing to do with Jesus"? The answer must be that one person had an open heart while another person had a hard heart in terms of the gospel. The reason for people to respond differently is one man hears words, while the other man hears the message. It is the Holy Spirit who takes human words in preaching and makes them alive inside the human heart.
Without the “full conviction” that the message must be believed, no one will ever become a Christian; there must be a personal response.
After Peter had given his famous sermon at Pentecost, 3,000 we are told people were cut to the heart, and turned to Christ and devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles. We are told because of that, God added to their number. I never know in advance who my sermons will touch.  Sometimes I am told right away, but in other cases I have been told quite some time later of how I helped.  
I had a lady who attended my Church infrequently and one day she said to me I always feel you are getting at me when I come.  I told her that as I could never foretell when she would come, and as I prepared my sermons in advance, it may be someone higher than me was getting to her.  God does use men to speak on his behalf.
In the Creed we say we believe in one Apostolic Church, which in many cases nowadays is incorrect, for to be an Apostolic Church, the teaching should be as given by the Apostles which God has preserved for us in the New Testament, and we know the teaching is far removed from that left by the Apostles.
Paul wrote, ‘our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction’. The Word was preached with the power of the Holy Spirit.
People come to know Jesus by various means when the Holy Spirit touches them.  The most effective way is through preaching, although there are other ways such as someone close telling them of their own faith, or by a message on a poster, the London City Mission touched many by their message posters on the London underground, but the majority come to know the Lord by preaching.
This why preachers should always endeavour to preach a gospel message, for more people are converted through listening to preachers than any other way. The Billy Graham meetings were evidence of this, as so many millions over his forty years of preaching became committed Christians.  He spelled out plainly the consequences of rejecting Christ.  Sadly now, too many preachers are afraid of upsetting congregations, but if people are upset, perhaps they should search their conscience lest the Lord is telling them something they don’t want to hear.
Preaching should not be on human opinion, or be a re-interpretation of the gospel to suit the time. That’s why we ought to pray for the preaching of the Word, that it might be accompanied with the power of the Spirit. 
When the Word is based on Bible preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit, it produces deep conviction in the hearts of the hearers and people become convicted of their sin and their need for a Saviour, and accept Jesus as that Saviour who died on the Cross that they be forgiven of all sin.
It is quite interesting to watch the Billy Graham Crusades where you see the different reactions.  Most people are listening intently whilst others look as if they wished it was all over.  At the end of the meeting, thousands respond to the call to make a commitment, whilst similar numbers do not.  The reason is that some are willing to have an open heart and let God speak to them, which He does through the preacher.  This explains why some members of a family are Christians and others are not.
A Christian is someone who is prepared to accept suffering of some kind, whether it be just mockery and ridicule, to that experienced so bravely by our brothers and sisters living in some non Christian countries, where facing real hardship of beatings, imprisonment and even death are regular occurrences. It is in such places that being a Christian really demands commitment and devotion beyond our comprehension in this country. Here we have been inclined to be unaware of hardship in being identified as Christian and felt able to express our faith if we so inclined, but since the premiership of David Cameron this is becoming more hazardous, with numerous prosecutions for merely quoting Scripture, which a judge recently stated might hurt the feelings of sensitive men.
True Christianity means you stand up for Jesus even when things become hard. A Christian is someone who follows Christ no matter the cost. Christians in Africa have had to demonstrate that far too often.

These Thessalonian believers faced suffering, for like us they lived in a culture which did not appreciate Christianity, but such was their faith and devotion that they triumphed and the Christian faith spread far and wide around them.
Paul who had suffered much in the gospel cause called on them to follow his example and be imitators of him, which they did.  Many of us are inspired by people who leave a great impression upon us, and whilst we may not match up to their brilliance, we can benefit by following a similar path, and it is good to do so. A lot of young people imitate footballers or pop stars with dreams of becoming the X factor, neither of which materialise or do them any good.
We all owe it as a duty and a privilege to be able to do something in the cause of evangelism in however small a way.  This can be done by simply letting friends know you attend Church, ordering your life in a way which clearly demonstrates you are a Christian, and you don’t have to go to the other end of the earth to do so. 
Remember Jesus told one man to go to his own town and tell what the Lord had done for him.  We just start living for Christ in our daily lives to show others what a difference he makes.  Having responded to Gods’ Word you live it on a daily basis and others will notice.  Robert Louis Stevenson once said he lived opposite two Salvation Army people and it changed his life. A Christian is a person whose changed life changes others, because of a commitment to be like Jesus and to follow him wherever he heads. 
It is possible for people to come for Church for years, listening to the Bible being read, listening to preaching, singing devotional hymns, yet never opening hearts to God. You have to come with ears and mind open so God can enter your heart, and strive for the fruits of the Spirit, namely love, joy kindness peace and gentleness, faithfulness and self control.  I have seen too many who have the opposite characters and do not reflect any credit on the Church.

When we look to the Lord, this is what we find. Two thousand years ago Jesus died on the cross, shedding his blood for our sins. He died in our place, bearing our sins, taking our punishment, that we might be saved, cleansed, forgiven, declared righteous, be born again and become the true children of God. When God looked down from heaven and saw Jesus dying there, he said, “I am satisfied with what my Son has done.” We know he was satisfied because on the third day, he raised Jesus from the dead.
So let us pray that we will always hear sound doctrine preached, and pray for the Holy Spirit to be upon us, and then we must depend on the Lord to give people the grace to respond with saving faith, and so that we may be true Christians worshipping in a successful Church.