Tuesday 31 March 2020

                                                       Mark 11 v 1/11

Sunday is Palm Sunday the beginning of the most holy week in the Church’s calendar. Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the last time when this was a journey to the Cross. It was a journey He could have avoided, but He went voluntarily to fulfil God’s plan, that by His brutal and cruel death, the sins of all people could be forgiven. He could have left mankind to perish, but He did not cling to that right.

The Chapter opens where Jesus plans it with great detail, sending two of His Apostles to arrange for the donkey on which He will ride into Jerusalem. In the course of the next few days He would celebrate the Last Supper with His Apostles, see one of them betray Him, face a mock trial and be sentenced to death, led to the Cross and crucified.

During His earthly ministry Jesus sought to withdraw from public attention and did what He had to do quietly, often asking people He helped, not to tell; now He is deliberately seeking attention as He rides into the city at the greatest public festival of the Jewish year to proclaim Himself to be the Messiah. This was the feast of the Passover, so revered as a memory of when God led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, and when most people would be in the city. Jesus will fulfil the purpose for which He came when He will surrender His life in order that we may have eternal life.

His works had become well known and the crowds greeted Him with shouts of Hosanna, which means ‘save us’, seeing Him as the one who would lead them to glory in world conquest. When they realised this was not His mission, the same crowds would later in the week shout’ ‘crucify Him’.

As with every Bible passage there is a meaning and a message for us to-day. Just as the Jews then rejected Jesus, so do so many people now. But God allows us free will to make a decision to be with Jesus or not. Even those who claim to be Christians can be lukewarm and allow their commitment to grow cold. It is not enough to pay the odd visit to nod to the Almighty at Christmas, Easter or to a baptism service. There is a little ditty,
‘each time I pass may parish Church
 I pay a little visit,
so when at last I’m carried in,
the Lord won’t say who is it’.
Everyone has to take responsibility for the way they respond to the Lord.

There is an American story about a young man who painted a portrait of his friend shortly before the friend died. The young man took the portrait to his friend’s father, a rich man, who offered him a huge sum of money, which the young man refused. Some time later, the father died and all his priceless possessions were auctioned. The first item up for auction was the portrait, which no one showed any interest in except the father’s old black servant. He offered a few dollars, all he had, and got the painting. The auctioneer to everyone's surprise closed the auction. The father’s will said ‘he who accepts the son has everything’. We can reject the Son as they did at Jerusalem all those years ago

The action of our Lord demands a response, and we all need to ask ourselves if we stood before the Lord today and we were asked why we should be allowed into heaven, what would we say.

We are reminded of the superficiality of commitment in our own time. Less than 10% of people think God worthy of one hour per week to visit a Church. Yet if you were to ask people their religion, the vast majority would reply C of E and seriously consider themselves to be Christians. They would be mortally offended if you suggested otherwise. Yet very few people seem bothered by Jesus’

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

95% of the population believe as long as you are honest, kind and helpful to others you have a passport to heaven. It can be very hard to be a Christian when so many organisations, government and public busybodies try to suppress your faith under pain of some sanction. How Jesus would weep over society today as He wept over Jerusalem. Jesus Christ lovingly and finally kept God’s law and voluntarily paid sin’s price at Calvary, and He did it for you and for me.

For so many people the Cross has little relevance beyond being a fashion accessory. They may make an odd mistake, but at heart are good and to suggest they are sinful and need forgiving is a step too far. The message of the cross is that we must humble ourselves and surrender to God which is an affront to many people.

Nearly 80 years ago brave young men took to the skies to fight the Battle of Britain against a ruthless foe. Today, as Christians, we need to fight the battle for Britain, against equally ruthless foes who want to drive Christianity out of public life and turn it into a private cult. We are like fighters in enemy occupied territory.

It can be hard to be a Christian in this country at the present time. Any open expression of our faith is likely to lead to suspension or dismissal from work. The Bible is seen as old fashioned and its stories foolish. Children are denied the glory of being told of the stories of Jesus as no one is prepared to tell them.

The government has sold out to the liberal lobby and has taken legal powers to prevent Christians from exercising their beliefs and rights of free speech.  Even the Church wants to cut out those parts of the Bible which offend shallow Christians and others. How Jesus would weep over Britain today as He did over Jerusalem, as He sees the obstacles put in our way.

The American people are fortunate in having a President to support his people by creating provision for them to defend their Christian faith, then leading by example.  Such is more than we could hope for from any of our leaders.

The Bible states, "For Christ died for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God". And He wants us to respond, and declare boldly that we believe.

What is your response as you ponder the Road to Jerusalem?
We may reject God’s Son as many did in Jerusalem.
We may have allowed our love to have gone lukewarm, even cold.
As we study this story of our Lord’s journey to the Cross, we see our forgiveness cost Jesus public mockery, agony, sweating of blood, the cruellest of deaths, and spiritual torment.
We have to learn from this account of history that we have to do more than just pay a passing visit. When we appear before Christ on the last day He will not ask if we had occasional thoughts about Him. The question will be, did we accept Him as our Lord and Saviour.

Friday 27 March 2020

                             John 11 v 1/44
The gospel this week is the story of Jesus restoring Lazarus from death to life. The first miracle of Jesus was at a wedding, this his final one is at a funeral. In this story we see the human and divine sides of Jesus. The rising is the final proof of Jesus as the Messiah and this spectacular miracle is the anticipation of Jesus’ own death and resurrection.  It also reveals those who are sincere followers of Jesus will one day be with him.

This act however was the final event which motivated the Jewish leaders to have Jesus arrested, for they saw the crowds were responding to him.

Jesus never had a home of his own, and the nearest he came to having one was with three people he loved, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus at Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem on the slopes of the mount of Olives, where there now stands a chapel over the tomb of Lazarus.

When Lazarus became ill their first thought was to send for Jesus. Jesus on hearing their message said Lazarus was not dying, he was just sleeping. The word sleeping was used by Jesus as sleep is something you can awake from.

He allowed his friends to be sad and grieve so that they could witness his power over death, leading people to a deeper faith, and bring glory to God.

This shows Christians can be ill just as others, and what affects the body can also affect the soul. The sisters saw Jesus as a friend in time of need and saw him as the first to call upon, for he would know how best to act.

Jesus told his Apostles he was going to see Lazarus and they were much against him going, and warned him he could be arranging his own death for on a previous occasion he was attacked when visiting there. They were frightened of dying also, and only Thomas volunteered to go and took the line of, if Jesus is going to die, we may as well all go and die.

Jesus spoke of there being twelve hours in a day.  The Jews saw a day being in two periods of twelve hours, between sunrise and sunset, and there is often a hidden meaning in a statement. Jesus was saying if a person acted in daylight they would not stumble, but if left to darkness, might well do so. He was also meaning every minute counts and we should not waste time.

Jesus would when making statements have one of two effects, he either saved or chased people away.

John used this to show life without Christ was darkness for he was The light, and we all have a limited time to receive Jesus, and so to God, and we can affect eternal judgement.

When the people at Lazarus’ house heard Jesus was on his way, Martha went out to meet him, whilst Mary stayed home. Martha told Jesus she believed if he had come earlier he could have saved Lazarus from dying. Jesus told her that he would rise again, and whilst Martha believed the traditional Jewish belief that spoke of a time would come, she understood Jesus was also referring to that. But Jesus was speaking of eternal life in fellowship with God for those who believed in him. Personal trust in Jesus was demanded for those who would triumph over death.

When Jesus saw Mary weeping, he was deeply moved and wept also, indicating he felt strongly and had profound sorrow at the death of his friend, but he felt anger too at the evil of death, the final enemy. Underlying this was the knowledge of what was to follow for himself, and in this incident was displaying both his humanity and divinity

God will one day in response create a new world in which there will be no death and no pain.

Funerals at that time could be very expensive for there were spices to be purchased at some expense, and the body clothed, which sometimes caused competition as to which was most judged to be the grandest. Eventually a Rabbi named Gamaliel. brought such practice to and end, and still today tribute is paid to his name when wine is drunk for ending such extravagance.

The funerals were mostly well attended with people processing from the home to the grave. Women led the walk as a woman was first to sin and offend God. When the body left the house. all the furniture was reversed and guests would sit on the floor. A meal of hard boiled eggs and lentils would be prepared for the mourners.
Jesus at the graveside called for the stone to be pulled away from the tomb and spoke to God, thanking God for giving him such power, and God was glorified.  Lazarus rose from the tomb and was told to go home.

There were still some people who would not accept the power of Jesus, and there are still some who will not. But, the power of Jesus is often seen when bad people become good people as they call for Jesus into their lives.

God wants us to be living proof of the joy and power of Christ, but we are letting him down and betraying God when Christians, and especially Christian Ministers act in a way which contradict the teachings of Christ, as set out in the Bible.  Such is called hypocrisy and Jesus hated hypocrites.

There are people who may read this story and not treat seriously. In fact, it does not matter that much how little or how serious you accept. You may find problems in believing events of so long ago. What does matter is that you believe Jesus Christ died on a Cross, by that death can bring new life to those whose lives are troubled. I imagine there will be many such cases at this perilous time.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

We now are able to witness the most devastating attack on every nation in the world, more dangerous to human health than anything previously known.  All the most talented medical people, scientists, politicians in any country have a credible suggestion as to how it may be defeated.

For some years now, people have been turning away from God in confidence they are self-sufficient, how God must be now smiling.  Over two thousand years ago, God’s Son was put to a cruel death on a Cross, but God showed response by raising him again.  One can imagine him now saying they didn’t want me, so let us see how they get on, and we are seeing.

God has warned us of how dependent we are on him, for he still rules the world; the world turned their backs on him in large numbers, the Church in the Western world has to a large degree cast out the Bible, the only means we have of knowing God, in order to curry favour with the activists with a personal agenda.

God directed and inspired 40 men of different occupations and characters to write, without any corroboration, and they produced a united manual for people to follow and obey, so that they would live peaceful and Godly lives under his guidance.

God created a man and a woman and placed them in a garden, and gave them instruction on how he expected them to behave.  They disobeyed God, and paradise was destroyed when man and woman sinned; God was not pleased for his intention went wrong when such purity was changed, opposition to his command was soon found, and never more so than today has God’s plan been challenged.  We have a world which has no absolutes and little shame, and his Church is plagued by false teaching.

The Bible teaches that because Adam and Eve sinned, that has been a thread running through human nature down the ages.  God laid down a right and a wrong, and from the beginning he has been disobeyed.

If there was ever a time for calling people back to God, it is now for everyone’s sake.  The only way we can do this is to preach honestly as all Ministers of the gospel are called and vowed to do.  Time to honour those vows and stop all false teaching. A dedication to the teaching of the Bible is the only sure way. It is God speaking to us, and we must learn to obey.

For some years now, people have been turning away from God and his church in confidence they are self-sufficient, how God must be now smiling.  The main denominations in many places have cast away the Bible in a fruitless effort to lure people back to Church offering what has turned out to be little more than gimmicks; and the devil will be delighted with herself.

When the people of Israel were taken into captivity their leader Nehemiah realised the nation had to be rebuilt and needed a spiritual and moral foundation in addition to material possessions.

The people gathered without coercion, devoting themselves to standing for something like five/six hours whilst Ezra the priest spoke from the Scriptures.  

This indicates the tremendous desire of these people for truth. No complaining there if the service went over the hour!

What a marvellous clear statement of how a church service ought to be conducted! The primary business of Christians is to understand the Word of God so as to think God's thoughts after him -- to learn to think like God. It is not only important to know what the Scripture says, it is even more important to know what it means!

This teaching had such a profound effect upon the people that we are told they wept as they listened. They did so because they realised how their lives had gone astray and they had wrong thoughts and ways.  When God’s people get away from loving and reading and obeying the Word of God they lose the blessing of God upon their lives. The cause of their problems lay in their own thoughts and attitudes. These people saw the holiness of God contrasted against the evil of man. How careful it was made clear what the meaning of Scripture was.

We so desperately need to tell in simple terms how he loves us, wants us to be saved, and for that purpose he sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to show us by word and example how that becomes possible when we obey all that he tells us in that holy book we call the Bible.

There are Church members who live knowingly and deliberately against God’s teaching, yet hypocritically carry on doing so. How God must weep when sees people singing hymns of praise in Church, listening to the Bible, (sometimes even preaching it) and then behaving totally in contradiction to what he has laid down.

When the Bible is faithfully preached as it is written, it points out the way are going astray, how far we have wandered from the pureness of Christ in thought word and deeds. How we all sin most often by mistake or carelessness, and God provided a way of forgiveness in letting Jesus die a cruel death on the Cross so that all who accept Jesus death was for their sins, would be forgiven.

The whole Bible is about God’s offer of salvation through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. In the Old Testament Jesus is predicted.  In the Gospel Jesus is revealed.  In Acts Jesus is preached. In the Epistles Jesus is explained. In Revelation Jesus is anticipated.  

We need the Bible to have a relationship with God and it brings us into the presence of God.  All true Christian ministry should be based on the Bible, it is our only authority for the Church to exist.
The great tragedy of our day is how few churches seem to understand this power of Scripture. Across the country there are churches in which there is little life. The services are dull and dreary because the Word of God is not central. Whenever there has been a revival in the Church at the forefront were men like Charles and John Wesley or Evan Roberts in the 1904 Welsh revival, men who were boldly preaching the Bible.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the greatest preachers of modern times once stated, ‘the primary task of the Church and Christian Ministers is the preaching of the Word of God.  The decadent times in the history of the Church have always been when such preaching has declined.’

The Church was founded on the teaching of the Apostles and such was authoritative because it came from our Lord Himself, who claimed he was the only way to God. We should not be afraid to state this, for the Bible states ‘we do not have a spirit of timidity, we have the power of God’

It is fair to say Britain is in moral decline. It is like a car parked on a hill when someone releases the brake and it careers downward.  There is so much evil in society, even listening to news broadcasts creates fear. Murder was for so long a rare and major crime, now it is a daily occurrence hardly worthy of more than a passing paragraph in a newspaper. Fraud, theft, corruption stems from top of society to the bottom. 

Of all that is happening today, the most frightening thing is the lack of a sense of sin in society, a total lack of moral values -- but they do not feel they are doing anything wrong. That is what the Word of God is given to correct. It awakens afresh an awareness of what is causing the wrong. 

All the time honoured beliefs of morality and ethics have been abandoned so that nothing is considered immoral or improper by society. What is most alarming is that no one in authority seems to be concerned.

The Church, which is meant to be the conscience of the nation, has in the mainline denominations, conversely accepted, adopted and embraced behaviour specifically condemned by Scripture, to such an extent that there are calls to abandon biblical teaching to meet society’s culture, and created liturgy to accommodate the same. Even the Church appears to have lost it definition of sin.

Most of the men who wrote the Bible were simple fishermen, shepherds and the like, without a degree amongst them, and were moved by the Spirit of God. If they went before a selection committee for Church ministry, I doubt they would have been chosen.  That may seem hard or even cynical, but it is not meant to be, I say it seriously and being realistic. The teaching of the Apostles would be too fundamental for selectors to accept, for Christian orthodoxy has now been replaced by equality and diversity consideration. 

I can say with confidence, preferment in the Church of England is dependent upon accepting not the Bible’s moral and ethical teaching, more on the calls of society’s activists.

Men and women have given their lives to take the Bible to the utmost parts of the earth and to live in primitive conditions.  Most could have earned an enormous amount more money with comfortable lives, but chose to serve the Lord. They were mostly well educated and learned people with brilliant minds, who God will richly reward.

It was once custom to have bible in pews and members could follow the readings for themselves as they were being read out, and follow as the sermon was preached. Most Churches had a Bible study class meeting , which has now a rare meeting.

If the churches of this land were faithful to the Bible preaching what it was saying, without amendments, do you think the nation would be in the condition that it is today?  Never has the Bible been more needed than now.

Those people of Israel showed us a great example despite not have the blessing we have of knowing Jesus and his teaching. We should take note.

God’s purpose for the Church is to preach salvation; to proclaim the gospel story to an unbelieving world, and if the Church does not unitedly fulfil that purpose, there will be no Church. Aggressive activists have already infiltrated and are influencing the high places with their agenda, which is in no way that which God has laid down.

The gospel is the power that gives salvation; we receive by faith and all you have to do is to reach out with empty hands and Jesus will welcome you with open arms.

You accept Jesus has paid the price for your sins and is now your Lord and Saviour. God is now ready to receive you.  You must have faith and believe.

I close with the words of John Wesley
I want to know one thing, the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God!”

Wednesday 18 March 2020

   Mothering Sunday
 On Sunday next, we will be celebrating Mothering Sunday which falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent, this having been decreed in the 17th century when most people went to Church.  People would walk to Church, often to the one where they had been baptised, and some would carry flags and banners. Girls in domestic service would be given time off by their employers to visit their mothers, and some would bake simnel cakes as presents. 
In the United States President Woodrow Wilson passed an Act of Congress in May 1914, that the 2nd Sunday in May would be known as Mothers Day for the public expression of love and reverence for mothers.  This term has been claimed in the United Kingdom rather than our understanding which emphasises the religious significance.

So let us turn to the Bible
God having created the earth with all its elements and animals then created man.  He then saw that man was lonely and needed a companion.  God gave woman as man’s helper, someone who can be at man’s side who will give life more meaning, pleasure and support, physically and mentally, in a way another man could not, and men throughout the ages have appreciated and recognised this; someone to love and cherish.    God has now made two people, man and woman, and there is no deeper, natural and loving relationship than between a man and woman.
We must accept that God knows best, and when he wanted man to have a companion, He made a woman as the perfect answer, someone who could complement man in every way God wanted to supply what was lacking in man’s life, and together they could have children and create the ideal family. God planned the human heart to love, marry and have children, and the family is the bedrock of any nation.

When God made the world, He intended man/woman to have different characters to fulfil different functions in life, equal in every respect but not the same.   It took the 20th century in the so called name of progress and equality, to pull women down to make them like men, and some to be as the coarsest of men. 
Female politicians, especially in modern government have tried to turn life upside down, and in the false name of equality have made some women to adopt the worst practices of men. 

For 2000 years women had in many respects been superior to men, but in the cause of equality and feminism, have adopted not only the worst vices of men, but have excelled more so. 

An article in a newspaper once said that women were leaving Christianity for Islam because of the greater moral code.  Without denigrating the strict Islamic moral code, it is also a fact that no religion has greater respect for women than Christianity, and the Christian code is as moral as any; it is just Christians do not adopt it.  Jesus gave women a new place in human relations with a dignity that wherever Christianity has gone, women have been respected.

The emancipation of women began when a young Jewish girl was told she would be the mother of the Saviour of the world.  She would ever be the only woman to wear the red rose of maternity with the white rose of virginity.  Her son, our Lord, would later bestow on women a respect and dignity no man could challenge.  Ever since wherever Christianity has existed women have been respected and adored.

God intended women to be mothers and motherhood to be of the highest calling and endowed them with special gifts.     Motherhood is a special privilege and a sacred duty. Abraham Lincoln once remarked that no nation is greater than its mothers for they are the makers of men.  The Rabbis have a saying, ‘God can’t be everywhere so He made mothers.’   
A mother's love is special and unique, and God gave woman a special and caring nature for His purpose.  Today we have the ridiculous and offensive suggestion that children can be raised by two men after some woman, known or unknown, has provided the child by some means.  An American psychologist stated a child will never come to full development psychologically without a mother in the home.

Well those of us who fond memories of our mothers, however many years have passed since we were in their arms; will not forget as we acknowledge the love for our mothers and all they meant to us. To bear a child is a costly and sometimes very painful act, calling for endurance sometimes beyond the mother herself.  Mothering Sunday calls on us to remember it is the giving of oneself. 

The traditional family now is under sustained attack from politicians, socialites, and secularists. We face the ridiculous situation where it is decreed two men can raise children after some unknown woman provides the child by some sordid way. No longer is a wife a woman exclusively, nor a man exclusively a husband, due to the warped philosophies of the equality and diversity zealots.  Now it is supposed to be parents 1 and 2.
A mother’s presence in the home is essential, and there has never been a more urgent time when good mothers are needed.  I have worked in every social classes of society, but have never known a Jewish child get involved in anti-social behaviour or criminal activities.  I once asked a Rabbi why he thought this was so, and he told me it was due to the control the Jewish mama has over her family.  
When my two sons were growing up my then occupation required me to be away from the home for many long hours, and so much care fell upon my wife.  She had a photograph of me to show the boys the strange man who kept popping in and out, and told them that was their father.  It is to her credit that they both entered the Christian ministry after being youth leaders, succeeding each other at their local Church.  Today, they are successful Vicars at Churches of their own. where they have been a powerful influence in the Churches they have served, and having a prominent place in local government.
Mothers continue to care and worry for their children even when they reach adulthood, and stand by them no matter what they do and even when that is not deserved.  Salome the mother of James and John sought favour for them from Jesus, to whom she prayed that Jesus would show favour on her sons; I wonder how many mothers today pray for their sons to Jesus.

Spiritual matters should be of concern to mothers.  Promises are made at baptism services that children will be brought up in the fellowship of the Church, although few have ever any intention of honouring the promises made.  We need women who will lead their families back to more old style morality, decency, and purity.  Children are being brought up without any religious knowledge, knowing nothing about Jesus or Biblical characters, even in the homes of whatever class of home.   

 I would encourage every mother to teach their children the stories of Jesus, and other stories from the Bible; it will give them a sure foundation for life.  An idealism prevails as to how children should behave, but it is often in modern phraseology, ‘cool’ for a child to be sexually aware.  Explicit sex education is readily given, but there is a distinct aversion to giving Christian teaching.  Schools play little part in educating children in religion or conduct unless the school is a private one.

This day gives us the opportunity to remember Mary the mother of Jesus and think of how our Lord honoured motherhood when He showed concern for His mother when dying on the Cross. 
The Bible is full of stories of prominent mothers,
Eve who was the first mother and has been followed by great women who have decorated the pages of Scripture with honour.
Jochebed the mother of Moses who let an Egyptian princess bring up Moses rather than have him killed; and this morning I just want to look at the two who featured in our readings.
Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth, all who waited for a miracle.

Hagar, driven away and disowned.
Rebecca had to raise her children in another country
Rachel wept for her children,
Naomi and Ruth who rose above all the trials of life, and turned hard situations into good.
Lois and Eunice, ready to share the love of Christ with their children.
Hannah trusted God, and taught Samuel to worship God, rejoicing in the Lord and His salvation.  We dearly need mothers to day to teach their children to worship God, preferably by bringing them to Church.  But whether in Church or home, children need to be taught right from wrong, and how to stay right to know and learn from the great men and women of Scripture a way of life which will give them a strong foundation in life. I went with my mother well into my teenage years to Liverpool Cathedral each Sunday afternoon for Evensong, and it has lived with me all my life.

The Bible calls on older women who have an honoured place in society, to play a major part in guiding younger women in the bringing up of children from their years of experience.  We must have concern for women bringing up children in a world where all moral values are being eroded.  Theirs is a big responsibility, especially when the nation’s broadcasting system gives out such foul talk and explicit scenes that cause weaker minds to think that is the natural way of life.

In the United States, where they unashamedly do God, and most people have faith, young people are showing a real desire for Christianity. We import much from America; if only we could include Christianity.
If the mothers of this nation do not resist the onslaught of the perverse and aggressive secularist agenda, which is to destroy the family ideal, we face a bleak future    

Sometimes women are asked on television or radio what their occupation is, and often the reply comes, ‘only a housewife and mother’.  There is nothing only; such is a most honourable occupation.

At this point we ought to remember all those women who do not have children and may be feeling distress today when presents of chocolates and etc are being passed.  Some have chosen not to be mothers rather preferring to follow a career and contribute much to society.  Other women through physical or medical reasons cannot be mothers and our prayers must be for them. 

In our Old Testament reading we had the story of Hannah who hurt deeply because she desperately wanted to be a mother, suffered much because it was it was seen as something wrong for a woman not to have a child, and in her agony, she cried out to God.  He answered Hannah’s prayer.

To all those women who so dearly long to be mothers, and would undoubtedly be good mothers, remember Hannah and make you pleas to God.  The Bible states ‘(Jesus said)if you abide in  me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is for my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit’

We also grieve for mothers who have lost a child. Whilst we may cherish memories of our mothers some will not have such pleasant thoughts.
So to close my words to you this morning by asking you join in mind with me in this prayer.
Loving God, we thank you for our mothers, for all they meant, for the love they showed and care given; for their patience understanding and kindness  We thank you for the part they played in our lives and we ask that the Biblical mothers who we have thought of may be an encouragement for women everywhere  We pray for those for whom this is a difficult time, one of heartache other than celebration; for those who long to be a mothers yet have no children of their own’; for those whose children have failed or abandoned them.
May God bless all mothers and those longing to be.

Wednesday 11 March 2020

Romans 5 1/11

Romans 5 v 1/11

In the previous chapters of Romans Paul has been explaining the need for justification (right with God, to be declared righteous in his sight) and the way of justification: justification by faith alone. Now Paul goes on to spell out what that means. Believers in Christ who are righteous in God’s sight have a certain hope of future glory and eternal life.

In v.1, Therefore, having been justified through faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have also gained access by faith in this grace in which we stand and exult in the hope of the glory of God.

Peace is something which all normal people long for, in the home, in our nation, and in the wider world.
Yet in each of those spheres there are those who revel in creating trouble, disturbance, and conflict. Daily we face the world being blown apart by maniacs acting irresponsibly to fulfil some (allegedly) religious purpose.  This is most potent in the hatred of Israel which some see as an affront to the map of that region, which would set the world aflame.

For every Christian a more personal and fundamental concern is to have peace with God, to be in a proper relationship with him, which we can only have if we have been cleansed of all sin, for God hates sin. He has provided a way for us to be made righteous in his sight through the death of Jesus on the Cross.

Peace means reconciliation with God. It was the blood of Christ which brought that reconciliation. The glory of God indicates the salvation God has in mind for those who trust him, we do not claim any part ourselves, we place all our confidence in God.

Paul states we rejoice in our suffering. It seems in the ordinary way of thinking to ask why should we be happy in suffering, because it brings out endurance, and shows strength of and character strengthens the confident hope of salvation.

Hope in the biblical means we place our trust; it is more than saying I hope it doesn’t rain, not knowing if it will or will not. Bible hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Those who have been reconciled with God cherish the hope which is tied firmly to the throne of grace.

Paul says for a while we were powerless but Christ came at the right time to save us, whilst we were still in a sinful state. What Paul is saying is that God’s love as revealed by Jesus is unprecedented and unparalleled. And no merit from our side could have moved Christ to die for us, he died for us when we were still sinners at the appointed time decided by God.

Since we have been made right with God, the blood shed by Jesus will save us from God’s condemnation for God loves so much.

Paul argues from the greater to the lesser, and here he speaks in terms of reconciliation, the language of friendship rather than justification which suggests a legal term.  We are assured we will be saved on the day of reckoning, based on the resurrection of Christ where will be with Jesus

In the final verse he is saying Christians go beyond avoiding God’s wrath, we actually rejoice that the same God would have poured wrath on us were it not for Christ.

Thursday 5 March 2020

       John 3 v.1`-16
As we come to a most important passage of Scripture, let us seek God’s blessing.
Lord we ask you to search the hearts of your children gathered here in your house, and help them to find as you speak to us our way to Jesus.
If I were to go and ask people I met passing in the street, ‘are you a Christian, and if so, why do you think so? I would in most cases get a reply such as, ‘of course I live in this country’ or ‘I am because I believe in God.’  Perhaps a variation on those two.
Billy Graham relates how at one of his meetings a member of his team asked a man, ‘sir are you a Christian, and the man replied I have been a member of the Church of England all my life, and I am not changing now.
But not all people who attend Church are in fact Christians in the biblical understanding, either by belief or living.  The gospel this morning is one of the outstanding passages in the whole Bible, and helps define the difference between a true Christian and a make-believe one.  I hope our study of it will help you whichever you are, and bring you to a close relationship with Jesus, which is what God wants from all of us. 
In verse 1, we read of Nicodemus.  Here was a deeply religious man He was an important man in the community.  He was a Pharisee, one of an elite company never more than 6,000, who took a pledge to spend all their lives observing every details of the Jewish Law.  To a Jew, that Law was the most sacred thing in the world.  He was also on the ruling council called the Sanhedrin, a Court of 70 members, the Supreme Court of the Jews.  All the people looked up to Nicodemus, for he was a teacher and answered questions.  He tithed a tenth of all his income, fasted and prayed for two hours each day.  He was a man many Churches would welcome.  He had religion, but not Christ. 
Nicodemus recognized that he needed a change in his life and wanted to go deeper, he wanted what Jesus offered.  Sometimes it may be difficult to admit this, but Nicodemus was ready to face up to it.  How many of you might feel you are nice and friendly, honest and do your best to help others, you may have attended Church most of your life, and truly believe you are a Christian. But apart from not attending Church, there are many people who have all those qualities who belong to other faiths, or are in fact atheists, more sincere than may Church members.
One night, Nicodemus went to see Jesus, which meant he was taking a great risk, for if found doing so it would have meant losing his position, so he had to avoid being seen. No one need to be afraid of seeking Jesus, He will take you however you come.  There are people now who don’t like to acknowledge that they are identified with the Church of Jesus for fear of embarrassment through being mocked.  There are many who are too proud to seek Jesus. 
So, beneath an Oriental sky, on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, Nicodemus spoke to Jesus and said no one could help but be impressed by what Jesus had achieved.  Jesus replied that it was not the acts that were important, it was the effects on a life that mattered. 
The religion of Nicodemus was that of doing good works.  The problem with a religion of good deeds is that we can never know when we have done enough, but that is the basic religion of the world. 95% of the population today, believes that as long as you are honest, kind and helpful to others and do no harm, you are a fully fledged Christian with a passport to heaven.  Of the hundreds of funeral services I have taken over the years, there has never been any doubt that the deceased had gone to heaven. The sad and cruel factor is the Church has encouraged people to believe so; if you doubt me, look at the liturgy in the funeral services.
Think for a moment, if you stood before Jesus to day and He asked you why should you be allowed into heaven, what would you say. Is there enough evidence in your life, to justify your admission?
Jesus sensed in Nicodemus a deep hunger and emptiness.  He sincerely believed he was doing what he thought God wanted from him, yet he had an unsatisfied heart that led him to Jesus and risk incurring the wrath of his people. 
There are many lovely people now, I personally know some of them, who if only the Church would stop pandering to noisy activists and got down to spell out in simple terms what Jesus and the Bible is calling for, would turn to Christ and be a valuable asset to the Church and Christian faith.
Jesus answered Nicodemus   with that phrase, which has been immortalized by evangelical preachers, ‘you must be born again’.  Jesus didn’t say ‘you must think about it’ or ‘you must consider it’.  He said ‘you MUST be born again.’ 
Nicodemus took Jesus’ words literally and asked ‘how can a man be born when he is old?’  Surely, he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb.  In his heart there was a great longing.  He could see the effect Jesus was having on crowds and longed to have that ability.  He knew it was beyond him.
Billy Graham tells the story of a lady on a bus in America sitting next to a Bishop.  She asked him, ‘have you been born again.’  The man answered, ‘I am a Bishop’.  The lady said, ‘I didn’t ask you that.  I asked if you were born again’.  The bishop later said he went home read this chapter and realized his life had been missing something real and he realized what the lady meant.
I get so much pleasure and inspiration from watching the services from American Churches, where the people seem to be so much more God centered than in this country, and when you see how the people are dressed, as if they were going to meet the Lord, and it is a joy to see them with Bibles in their hands and the joy in their faces. Christianity is a joyful faith and we should enjoy praising the Lord and following in our Bibles.
Like many people today, Nicodemus felt he was too old to change, to set in his ways, but we can begin anew at any age.  So many people are desperately unhappy and unsatisfied because they are missing out in their lives.  They seek refuge in alcohol or drugs or gambling or whatever.  The thought of seeking spiritual help is beyond their minds.
If you think of a birth, the body exists before birth and can move and feel, but knows nothing of this world.  It cannot see nor communicate yet the world is all around it.  At the moment of birth, the embryo comes in to the world and can see, breathe and make contact.  The baby is born of the flesh. Women go through agony to give birth and enabling us to live, and continue to give care to their children after birth.
Jesus went through agony being beaten 39 times with a leather studded belt, collapsed after being made to carry his own Cross to die on it after nails had been driven through his hands and feet; and still cares for his children of all ages still.
Jesus told Nicodemus he needed an experience analogous to his physical birth.  To be born again is to be changed in such a way that can only be described as a re-creation. To be born of the Spirit means to have the Spirit of Jesus Christ living inside of you. It means that God’s gracious love comes and lives inside of your heart when you are ready to believe that Jesus Christ was Lord and is the Saviour of the World.

Jesus then said, ‘no one can enter the kingdom of God unless born of water and the spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.’
The Kingdom of God is a society in which the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven.  To lead a life in which we submit all willingly to the will of God. What Jesus calls for is a complete transformation in our lives.  This means in our thoughts, words and actions. Something which goes beyond irregular attendance at Church, and a casual attitude to faith during the rest of the week.
People come to a point in life when they feel that they are going through the motion of religion, of having the ritual without there being any sense of the real thing.  If you come to that point in your relationship with God, and it happens to people all the time, you need to come before Jesus and ask Him to come into your life and give you that new life.
At this time John had been baptizing and it was a sensational event.  Many people now superstitiously think that if they have their babies baptized that will ensure their entrance into heaven, a sort of once and for life matter irrespective of a life in between, which is pure superstition.  Water may cleanse and may make you smell nicer, but that is not enough in God’s eyes.  What it stands for is important, but you have to grasp the full symbolism, which is repentance for sin, and the start of a new way of living. 
Most people don’t want to admit there is anything to repent of, they are perfectly good and God should recognize that. A Vicar put a notice outside his Church which read, ‘this church is here for sinners.’  The next week two thirds of his congregation were absent.
Jesus referred to the wind blowing and being heard without it being seen or knowing where it came from or where it was going.  When we are born again, we feel the Spirit of God inside us.  You don’t see God or control Him, but you see the effects when Jesus takes hold of your life.  You get that missing motivation; worship becomes more meaningful and necessary to you.  You don’t find so many excuses for not coming to Church.
Fifty years ago, the gas system in this country was changed from coal gas to natural gas; no pipes of fittings were changed it was just the gas had more power, through conversion.  People receive conversion when they realize what Jesus did for them on the Cross. When we are born of the Spirit, we have a new power within us which enables us to be what by ourselves we could not be.
It may be asked how do I get it?  Sometimes a man and a woman meet and immediately know they have met the person of their dreams, instantly they fall in love.  The relationship may last for ever, or indeed may fall apart after a while when they reconsider with the regularity of normal living.  Another man and woman meet and meet again and again and suddenly realize how deeply they have come to love each other and they live on happily.  If you asked them at what point they actually fell in love, they could not tell you it just developed.
So it is with religion.  Many thousands of people went to the Billy Graham Crusades in the latter half of the last century.  Touched by rousing hymns, massed choirs, sermon by the world’s greatest preacher, they immediately had a Damascus road conversion.  Quite a lot of men became clergy and even bishops, other went back to their parishes and in the more mundane atmosphere of 1662 Matins, poorly put together services and indifferent preaching, fell away; whilst others with regular worship and a desire to know the Lord just grew in grace over time.
Jesus referred to an event in the Old Testament when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and complained about God who in His wrath sent snakes which killed people.  When Moses prayed the Lord told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole and when anyone was attracted, they would be healed if they looked up at the pole.
God said, ‘my son will be lifted up on a cross and those who look to Him will be saved from their sins’.
We have the whole message of the gospel in verse 16, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.’
If you have ever lost a son (or daughter) you will know the sense of loss and pain which goes with it. This is what was sacrificed for you and me.
A make-believe Christian may go through all the motions, but reject the commitments. Do not be led astray by those false teachers in the Church who will tell you to live as you like God will forgive you. Always remember if the Bible does not approve, neither should you.  
May the Lord bless you this morning when you in faith turn and accept his Son Jesus into your life.