Wednesday 29 July 2020

The 7th chapter of Matthew, verses 13/14.
This passage verse was part of Christ's Sermon on the Mount. A huge crowd had gathered around Jesus and preaching to them. In order that they would live lives worthy of being his followers, he is telling them what is expected of them, which will lead to eternal salvation.

Christ has been describing up to this point the character of Christians, and the rules by which they are to walk. Now He explains the way of salvation. Jesus always taught there were two destinies in life, and dependent on how we respond lies the future life when this is over.

Jesus was always eager to point out that there just two options to choose from, what is known as the narrow way or the broad way. Two roads to follow in life, one leading to Kingdom of God and heaven and the other to hell. Jesus only allows one choice, people may prefer selection, but within the Church this means following the Way and Word of God or that of man. No sitting on verbal fences.

You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate, the road is difficult, and only a few find it. The Psalmist stated, those who accept the Word of God bear much fruit, and those same believers accept the death of Jesus on the Cross was what saved them, and made them righteous to God.  The boundaries on this road are clearly defined, and limited to true believers who have tried to live moral lives worthy of the Lord’s support. 

The road will not be overcrowded for fewer people have chosen to enter. You enter one by one to Jesus who said I am the door, no one enters except through me

The broad road is overcrowded, many people crushed on to it. No boundaries, all accepted the immoral, hypocrites, selfish who only believe in themselves, those who bear malice, led permissive life, rejected Christ as Saviour.  The door is very wide and  the road is the highway to hell .
There are others who say, just follow your conscience, which is deluding yourself, for your conscience has become hardened and adjustable. Your conscience is no longer a safe guide.

The moment you reached the age of accountability you must choose which road to follow. You can still choose the narrow road. It is not too late for anybody  to turn around and leave the broad road and start the narrow road.
These are very important and profound verses which are not always taken with the seriousness they merit. The widely held belief is that as long as you are since, honest, don’t harm anyone, have a tenuous belief in Jesus and God, you are worthy of getting to heaven.

The most asked for Bible passage to be read at funerals I have found is one found in John’s gospel, and whilst people know little of the Bible, they seize on this verse, which states, ‘in my Father’s house are many mansions, I go to prepare a place for you.’ These are the words of Jesus to his Apostles on his last hours with them, and indeed can be applied to-day, but only to those who have committed their lives in following Jesus, but not to all and sundry.

The Church has perpetuated a misguided belief, and is guilty of what could reasonably be called deceit and false teaching. In the service, and at burial people are assured that the deceased is destined for eternal life in heaven, irrespective of what kind of life had been led.  Whilst we all want to exercise compassion and consolation, this can be given without misinterpreting the Scriptures. It is time we showed personal integrity and reverence for God in our teaching, and in these two verses, Jesus has laid down for us what options there are for us, and we have to  decide now in his life.

This is what Jesus taught so many years ago, but it is still a moral and spiritual lesson for us to-day. We are living in very unsettled times.   Many businesses, organisations, societies and groups have suffered greatly because of this deadly virus which has plagued the earth, and no one more so than the Church. People have been denied the right to attend worship, but have now got into the habit of listening to and watching services through the internet and many in the older age range have lost the urge to return to Churches, which will mean the Churches will not survive,

We are now told we can meet provide no more than 30 are present, although some of the Churches I visit would consider it great to have 30 at any time.  The casual way in which the Church has treated the Word of God will prove in a lot of cases to be their downfall.  When people who have faithfully attended Church to find poorly put together services, have now seen inspiring services, especially if you have seen the televised United States Churches, it will not be an encouragement to return.

It is time to think of God’s feelings. The Church is a family with a (heavenly) Father who wants his children to meet together in fellowship, worshipping as one. There may be, as with human families differences, but we have a duty to put God at the heart of our lives.

From its first days the Church has had to face powerful forces giving much opposition to the gospel message, and now the attack is stronger than ever. The Bible states, for we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places .

We have a government, which whilst posing as Conservative, but without displaying many of the traditional conservative policies, introducing legislation in direct conflict with the Bible, and encouraging abortion on a large scale. Many people will feel disappointed.

Even more concerning, from within the Church itself. Incredulously, from the highest Offices there are calls to abandon Bible teaching on moral matters, and a link up with an activist organisation which opposes all forms of Christian teaching.

The Church in this and other Western nations has reached crossroads, and must make a decision which road it is going to follow along. The present situation in which the Bible has in so many places been either discarded or vandalised to accommodate popular opinion cannot continue,  If necessary, there can be a parting of ways in which the liberal wing with its secular activists partners, can take the broad road, and let the evangelical biblical people make their way with Jesus on the narrow road.  Jesus set guidelines which have been removed, so a decision has to be made whether we are following God made religion or man-made, one or the other.

We need to look back to the Reformation and learn from it, that the Bible guides the Church and the voice of God is not being listened to. Biblical doctrine only must be used; Jesus said, ‘ the Scriptures cannot be broken’, which means that all the Bible contains cannot be annulled.  If the doctrines within are not accepted, it must be asked is it being suggested the Bible is untrustworthy; is the Church no longer to take its authority, for at present  Church leaders are tearing up the doctrines and introducing man made ones.

For centuries the Church toiled to preserve the teaching of the Apostles, a message firmly believed to be God given, and God watched over his Church. We must trust in God to continue and deal with those who seek to abandon him.

The great men who God chose to write his words were those he chose because of their occupations and characters, their commitment and devotion, and Paul and Peter the two great Apostles, divinely chosen by God, stressed that those men spoke as God directly inspired them, being filled with the Holy Spirit.

God meant his Word to be respected, not become a subject for intellectuals to amuse themselves debating in College Common rooms, as to what should and should not be taught.

The clearest message comes from Paul,
ALL Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true, and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives,  It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

Pray the Church will take the right road and not be diverted, and will bring forward men who will call the Church back to him, and once again make it the God given right to be the moral, ethical and spiritual voice of this nation.

Pray also that you will be found on the narrow road

Friday 24 July 2020

Matthew 13 v 31/47
In the Lectionary journey through Matthew’s gospel we have come to Chapter 13 with its 7 parables, and in today’s passage we have five. Jesus in His teaching took scenes from everyday life to which people could relate to make them think in a way which they had not considered.

Jesus began to speak to the people by the Sea of Galilee but the crowd became so big He went on a boat on the water. He took the image of a mustard seed which a farmer had sowed in his field.  This was the smallest of the seeds, but it grew into a substantial sixed tree in which birds could nest.  Jesus was foretelling that the gospel and His Kingdom may have small beginning, but could spread and many nations would be reached from that little land of Israel.

Today the scientific brilliance of Israel has been a gift which continues to spread its discoveries right across the world so that even its enemies benefit from the genius, in agriculture, medicine, wireless technology, many ot the everyday things we find so useful and dependent upon, from mobile phones to computers to aspirin. They have created a dialysis machine you can carry around in a case, which the NHS won’t look at that, probably because it is made and discovered in Israel..

Jesus then turned to leaven, which is used to transform the making of bread which would otherwise be dry and unappetising. Jesus was teaching that Christianity could transform people’s lives making them more attractive and acceptable.  This would be taken across the world, and whilst Christianity now is weakening in the Western nations, it is growing massively in the East, Africa and South America, where it is not being polluted by liberal cultural ideas, but fed with the pure water of the Word of God.

We are to be encouraged to understand that God works and appeals to men and women, just as the leaven works in the dough, not seen yet it is taking place.  Sometimes a preacher will touch someone’s mind, yet never know the seed he sowed bore fruit.

The lesson from these two parables is that Christians should live with expectancy, knowing God will bring great things from small beginnings, and so our duty as Christians is to live worthily of Him and do all we can to spread the gospel.

In verses 44/46 we have two parables telling of the value of the Kingdom of Heaven. There were no banks or safety deposit boxes in bible days, so people would bury their precious items in the ground. But Palestine was a land where there was always fighting, often people would flee their homes leaving the treasure buried and did not always return to collect.

A man in the course of his work came across such treasure and believed what he had found was worth more than his own possessions, so he sold his own goods in order to buy the field where the treasure lay.

The second man was a dealer in pearls looking for the very best ones.  He eventually found one and sold the others he owned, in order to buy the best.

Both men realising the value of their findings had no hesitation in risking everything.  They are like the Apostles who sacrificed all to follow Jesus.  We as Christians have to decide if we are willing to make a commitment.

In this passage it explains how we recognise a true Christian; it is one who is truly persuaded to give up aspects of life which society accepts and observes God’s teaching before what the State or false teachers want you to believe, in order to achieve eternal salvation. This is why so many people cannot be brought to follow Jesus; they are not prepared to give up society and take up the Cross.

The last parable in verse 47 is about letting down a net into the sea. The net would be a big one with cords at each corner, and weighed so that it could be stood upright in the water.  When the boat moved the net would be drawn along in a form of a cone into which fish would be swept.  On landing, the catch was put into containers and the unworthy ones cast aside.

The lesson here is applied to the Church.  The preaching of the gospel was like letting down a large net into the world which results in a mixed catch,   In all Churches there are good and bad, converted and unconverted, children of God and children of the world. To imagine all Church members are filled with the Holy Spirit and are true followers of Christ is a false dream.

In order to be filled with the Holy Spirit one has to believe and accept that Jesus gave his life to pay for our sins when he died on the Cross, and we accept him into our lives by living as he intended us to do when he told his Apostles to teach all he commanded.

We see more now than ever that some people live lives which do not accord with the Lord’s teaching, and the Church establishment accepts and even embraces it.  People may be inside the net, but outside of Christ.  The bread and wine may be taken at the Lord’s Table by people who do not feed on Christ.  One day when the net is drawn to the heavenly shore, the true character of all will be revealed.

The passage closes with Jesus asking the disciples, ‘do you understand what I have old you’?  A sermon without application is like posting a letter without an address written on.  Many sermons are heard by congregations of people whose principal Christian action is to just attend Church, without paying attention to what they are being told. 

I was once told by a lady, who thought it very amusing and boastful, to say she thought of what she would be doing in the week ahead during the sermon.  We need to take our minds as well as our bodies to Church. It is the business of Christians to understand how to live realistically in accordance with our faith.

When non Christians look at us they ought to see we live differently, and better.  If they see in us nothing but some bickering quarrelling and in-fighting, see marriages breaking up, see sexual immorality prevailing in our lives; if they see heartaches as in all their lives, they are entitled to ask, what is so special about our religion and message?  Why is it not working for you? What have you got to offer us?

This is why the Churches need to get back to the Bible.  We have to show we live according to the teaching which God laid down therein. The world is watching and getting a distorted picture of life. Christians are expected to be the salt and light of society, the moral disinfectant of the nation, but salt can go bad and the light can fail, which it seems to have done in places.

When the Lord spoke to His Apostles after telling them about the Kingdom of God, He asked them if they understood what He had been saying.  Jesus went on to point out each day we have new experiences, and life is made up of things new, but there are things old which are abiding, eternal unalterable principles which remain the same for ever, and the Church today is trying to overlook this. God is the same yesterday, today for ever. 

The Word of God is where you learn what is real and trustworthy. That is what Christianity is all about and what the world needs to hear.

Tuesday 21 July 2020

2 Timothy 1. v 1-11
I like this Letter, it is my favourite book of the Bible, and have preached on it more than any other book of the Bible.  It is a very tender and moving letter from the great Apostle Paul, now an old man confined to  Roman prison dungeon, a tired and weary missionary who has served the Lord with great devotion and faithfulness, taking the gospel around the ancient world and planting Churches wherever he went. Suffered a lot, physically and mentally, yet never wavered in his commitment; now he is nearing his life’s end in a Roman prison, where he had been detained after anti-Christian Jews had laid false charges against him, and he was held awaiting trial. 

He knows his days are over and is anxious that the all his labours would have been in vain if he is not succeeded by a true and honest man, and the gospel will not be passed down to future generations.

He has chosen Timothy, a young man who served him on the missionary field and whom he had mentored, but Timothy is young, timid, and a  little in awe of what he is going to be called on to do. Hence Paul writes two Letters of guidance, advice and much encouragement  It contains much teaching which is still so relevant to us today.

Paul begins by asserting his right to be called an Apostle, an office specially created by our Lord to a special group of men whom He wanted to represent Him and teach in His name.  This was a select group which was never to be added to.  There are no Apostles today.    

Paul was specially and uniquely called by God to take the gospel to the Gentiles, whilst also catering for the Jews whom he never forgot. It has been accepted that when Paul spoke, he was speaking for God.  

He is writing to Timothy, who he calls ‘my beloved child,’ a young and timid man who Paul had converted and for whom he has a special affection. 
Paul felt Timothy had the right credentials to lead the Church, having come from a godly family where his mother and grandmother had brought him up teaching the Scriptures. 

It is a sad fact that now the vast majority of children do not attend a Church meeting, and schools do not have assemblies where children can learn the Christian faith, unless of course a private school. A worrying number of State schools, encouraged by the body appointed to examine schools, have a deeper concern to teach the agenda of the homosexual lobby there.  Children for some years now have been deprived of being taught the slightest knowledge of the Bible.

Children are growing up in moral confusion, taking up pieces of bizarre lifestyle which they pick up from programmes produced by depraved minds. When they are faced as teenagers with going away from home to Colleges, they are vulnerable to temptations.

Then Paul turns to shape Timothy’s Christian character.  After parents, it is our closest friends who influence us most.  Paul had converted Timothy and maintained contact with him. 

We all owe a debt to those who led us to Christ.  My own mother always encouraged me to go to Church from an early age, and by example attended as we went together to Liverpool Cathedral ever Sunday until I was called to military service. 

Like most fathers, mine was not interested in religion. But for deeper conviction, I owed much to a most devoted Christian who worked tirelessly for Christ, far away in East Africa. 

We all may have been influenced  by someone who has stirred us and helped to make our faith stronger.  Those are the relationships which God establishes, and you remember things from sermons and written notes which have become precious to you.    

Paul tells Timothy he was set apart through ordination. To some Timothy might have been a surprise choice to lead the Church being young and frail, but we see God often chooses a man who the Church committee would reject.  God delights to say to someone, ‘you are the one for the task I want doing’.  Remember who God chose to bear His Son.      The office of pastor, or minister, or priest, whatever term is used, is meant to be a gift of God’s grace, and those called upon owe a debt to God.  Paul calls on Timothy to personal discipline and many in ministry today could learn from Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus. 

There is the call not to be fearful of speaking the truth, of keeping to the teaching of the gospel as it is written.  Cowardliness has no place in Christian ministry.  The Bible states, ‘for God did not give us a spirit of timidity’.  We can be taught the Scriptures and be led to Jesus Christ, but it is up to us to use the gift God gave us, and apply ourselves in active discipline to inspire others, and so fulfil the ministry God has given us.  This has to be taken seriously, no toying with the gospel, or seeing the ministry as a soft option.

Paul begs Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel, and calls on him to guard it. It hurts when leaders in the Church attack the gospel, breaks trust with God and demoralises the faithful Christian. Altering is done to make the gospel more acceptable to modern man/woman, which means giving up guardianship.

I often hear that bishops are the direct descendants of the Apostles, that is offending the Apostles. Which Apostles of Christ would call for the bible to be abandoned just because it didn’t please one section of the community; or cast an ordained Minister out for trying to teach biblical morality; or order fellow Christians not to attend a meeting of a world famous evangelist because he was a solid bible teacher. Which Apostle would call for sections of our Lord’s teaching to be removed or replaced with a modern version.?  

Those who are appointed to preach this gospel have a duty to devote themselves to faithful teaching. This is a call still to be heeded.  From the very start of the faith, essential truths have been under attack. 

Truth does not change.  Presentation may be adjusted, but to change and replace is not acceptable.

Some of us were greatly encouraged by the visit some years ago by Pope Benedict, who used brave and bold words to tell the politicians to stop interfering with Christian beliefs, and called on all Christians to oppose the aggressive secularism which is trying to dominate our society.  This is a great challenge for we have no political party leader on our side. 

However let us face up to the challenge and never ever be ashamed.  Paul says he was not ashamed, in fact he glorified in the gospel and that is what all Christians should do. But sadly I fear we all do not. How many Church members are embarrassed when asked if they believe? Indeed how many are ready to acknowledge they attend Church? How reluctant to answer if asked to give our opinion on moral questions? If you are not ashamed, you are ready to speak out about your faith.

How many Christians I wonder would be able to answer if asked what the gospel is?

The gospel is the story of Jesus Christ, who gave Himself to be crucified for our sins in order to reconcile us to God. Why should anyone be ashamed to tell that story? We all no doubt are ashamed of things we have done in our lives, and the things we have said but wished we hadn’t, and that is understandable. But we allow ourselves to become ashamed of something for which there is no need to be ashamed of The reason Paul is not ashamed is because the gospel is the power of God leading to salvation for all who believe. This means more than just believing there is a God, the devil accepts that. It is not enough to just hear and say you believe, it demands a response. God wants all people to turn to Him.

Jesus sent His Apostle to the lost sheep of Israel, for as God’s people He wanted them to have salvation first. When they refused to listen to Him God directed the Gentiles should be brought into the Kingdom. Let us remember, all but one writer of the Bible was a Jew; our Lord was Himself a Jew; and we worship the God of Israel, and we should pray for the mission to the Jews.

For in it the Righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. We cannot make ourselves righteous before God, but we can be through Jesus’ atoning death. Jesus acts as a bridge between God and us, putting us in good standing in God’s eyes, making it thus possible for us to be acceptable to God. This is God’s powerful way of bringing all who believe to heaven. We are saved by grace (Great Riches At Christ’s Expense) through faith, and when we believe fully in Christ we are in a right relationship with God.

Faith. You must have faith and believe. We are prepared to place our faith in many people, but reluctant to trust in God. We travel by plane and put our faith that the pilot knows what he is doing although we know nothing about him. If you go to the doctor for some illness and he gives you a prescription, you then get dispensed and take, trusting the doctor and the chemist, but you don’t just leave it in a cupboard if you want to get better. So with the gospel; there is no point in just seeking a spiritual prescription; you have to take that by faith, which means reaching out to God and accepting the gospel.

Paul refers to his suffering, which is because of his imprisonment and impending death. So the plea goes out to Timothy to guard what had been entrusted to Paul. But it also goes out to all Christians, and especially to all Church Ministers.

Remember the final words of our Lord to his Apostles, which they so faithfully carried out. ‘Go into all the world and make disciples; TEACHING THEM ALL I HAVE COMMANDED.

Wednesday 15 July 2020

MATTHEW 13 V24/30 AND 36/43

When looking at a Bible passage it is helpful to consider three questions. What does it say; what does it mean; how does it relate to me?

To-day’s gospel reading is really a continuation of the parable of the sower, which you heard last week.  I imagine it will cause some preachers more than a little difficulty in facing its teaching.

The farmer has sown wheat seeds, but an enemy came and sowed weeds amongst the wheat seed.The weed was called darnel, a bitter poisonous weed which could cause serious consequences.  When sown it so closely resembled wheat that it could not be recognised and it was only when it began to grow that it became identified and by that time the roots were intertwined so that to pull them up would disturb the good seed. Therefore it was not practicable to separate one without damaging the other, so the separation had to wait until harvest when the reapers would gather and pick the bad seed out and use it as fuel to burn on the fire.  That is the story.

The meaning is that the farmer is our Lord; the good seed are those who gladly acknowledge Him as their Lord and Saviour.  The weeds are followers of the evil one, (Satan, the devil, call him/her what you will).  There is no in between, you are inevitably either on the Lord’s side or if not, on the side of the evil one.

The field is the world; the harvest is at the end of the age; and the reapers are the angels, who will gather Christ’s people and make the separation.

What then is the explanation that affects us?
We are reminded there is always the presence of hostile powers in the world seeking to destroy goodness.

This parable is not a discourse on farming, but rather the theme is that of separation and judgement.  Jesus used imagery to deal with the reality of emphasising what can be for ever lost.  Some people think that Jesus was just trying to frighten us which raises the question is there something to be frightened of?

If you travel from Bedford to Northampton there are signs warning of speed cameras, which infer a penalty if you drive over the limit.  There are also signs telling of the number of accidents and fatalities due to careless driving. Yes they are trying to frighten us, but they are also reminding us how close death can be and any sensible person will heed the warnings. 

Jesus is here warning of the consequences of what faces us if we reject Him, and showing His love and care for us through the death He suffered at the Cross that we may be forgiven for all our wrongdoings..

Jesus always made it clear that this life is a preparation for eternity and we face a choice now.  He taught there were two masters, Jesus and the devil; two destinies, heaven and hell.

To suggest hell is for many people, including clergy an anathema. There will be preachers this morning putting a completely different interpretation on this parable.  But if we are keeping to the Bible’s word there is no room for personal opinion or sensitivity.

I was told of a mural in a Church not far from my home which was a particular feature of the Church, and the Chuuch became known for its possession. 

Shortly after hearing of this I had occasion to attend a clergy meeting at that Church.  The mural was pointed out to me and I said that I found it hard to distinguish what it meant, when a fellow clergyman said it had not received attention so had faded as we don’t tell people about going to hell now.  I replied, ‘I do’, and he looked at me completely astonished.  However I feel it should be me being astonished.
This passage gives many preachers problems, as they are unable to face the reality taught in the Bible.  One Vicar said it brought out the worst in some preachers and irreverently referred to those of us who accept our Lord’s strict teaching as ‘tub thumpers’.  This only goes to show there is no one as illiberal as a liberal.

A preacher has no mandate to express his  own opinions, he is there to state truthfully what the Bible says, and if that is not possible, he is in the wrong occupation. Just writing people off with childish banter is demeaning. If more preachers were honest, the Church would not be in the dilapidated state it is

I am a fond follower of Charles and John Wesley the founders of Methodism.  I had the joy of studying Charles life in order to lead a service in his honour, and I have no doubt whatsoever what his interpretation of this passage would be.

People have various views of what happens when we leave this earth, such as, there is no such thing as a soul or spirit so that when we die, we simply cease to exist.

In all the world there is only one source of authoritative information about the afterlife, and that is the Bible. Outside of the Bible, everything else is only speculation and wishful thinking.  If we want to know what God has to say on this important topic, it is to the Bible we must go.

People don’t believe in it like we used to.  They are all too busy making a living to worry about what happens after we die. To the unbeliever such words seem either sentimental or simply incredible. But to the one who accepts God’s Word at face value, they are nothing less than the sober truth

So let us turn to consider what the Bible says about hell. Jesus believed in a literal hell. In fact, he spoke of hell more often than he spoke of heaven. For instance, Jesus told a story in Luke 16 about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. When Lazarus died he went to heaven but the rich man went to hell.

Some people have grave difficulty with this story because they reject the notion that Jesus believed in a literal hell.     

Hell is referred to 48 times in the Bible to my knowledge, and was frequently taught by our Lord Himself

We don’t talk about it nowadays because it isn’t popular to suggest that unbelievers are tormented for all eternity for their sins.  Yet the Bible teaches the eternal punishment of the wicked in many passages.

Jesus is here warning us of the consequences of what we face if we reject Him, at the same time showing His love and concern for us. 

Jesus always made it plain that this life is a preparation for eternity, and we face a choice now. Those who fail to repent now and turn to Jesus will find it will be too late for remorse, too late to give your heart to Jesus. The day will be long past.

Since some people scoff at the notion of an afterlife, let’s pause for a moment and ask why the Bible reveals heaven and hell to us. What do we gain by knowing about these things and why are they important to the Christian faith?

1. To right the wrongs of this life.
So many crimes go unpunished while the perpetrators are set free to hurt others. Hell must exist, if for no other reason than to balance the scales of justice.

2. To Reward those who serve the Lord.
Heaven must exist so that those who served Jesus faithfully may enter their eternal reward.

3. To fulfill the promises God made to his people.

4. Redeem the suffering of this life.

The Bible states that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
We constantly hear of people whose suffering seems to be overwhelming. It may be cancer or some other disease, it may be a broken marriage or a child in trouble, it may be financial disaster or trouble at work or at school. God’s people endure many hardships in this life. Most of the time, we can’t fully understand why God allows certain things to happen to us.

But we have this promise. When the books are opened and the scales are balanced, we will discover that the things we went through in this life are nothing compared with the glories of heaven.

It has been said, for the unbeliever, this life is the only heaven they will ever know. For the believer, this life is the only hell we will ever know.

Each person must make an intelligent and informed decision about heaven and hell. If what I have said is true, then you must do whatever it takes to make sure you go to heaven and you must make sure at all costs that you do not go to hell.

It is often thought that the fact a person attended a Church and was accepted as a Christian would automatically be at the Messianic banquet, but the Bible makes it clear that is not necessary so. Many Church people these days live lives which do not measure up to what the Bible expects. Indeed, there are preachers who are living and supporting ways which are so totally against the teaching of Scripture. Judgement however is in the hands, and at the mercy of God, who alone knows the secrets of all our hearts.

Let’s go back one more time to the words of Jesus Christ. When Thomas asked him the way to heaven, Jesus gave this answer: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.  Those words are clear; it is not enough to have a casual approach to Christ, there has to be a firm commitment to believe and act according to His teaching.

The way to heaven is as narrow as the Cross. Only those who trust Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord will enter the gates of heaven.

Thursday 9 July 2020

MATTHEW 13. V 1/9 and 18/23
Jesus once again has a large crowd of people who have come to hear him, and takes a place on a boat where he sits.  It was common practice for a Jewish pastor to sit when teaching. When Jesus wanted to get a message across to people, a favorite means of communicating truth in order to teach a spiritual or moral message, was in the form of a parable in which he took familiar scenes which the people would understand. On this occasion, he took that of a farmer sowing seeds on his land.

The theme on the mind of Jesus was one which should be on every Christian’s mind, the importance of  the Word of God; almost everything rests upon the proper hearing. He is speaking to all who have had the opportunity of hearing, and he listed four different approaches which result in different ways of responding. In the story the farmer sowing represent Jesus teaching the Word, which is portrayed as the seed.   In Palestine the fields were laid out in long strips with paths made to walk along.

When the farmer sowed the seed, casting it by hand, some would land on the field and some on the paths.  The paths were hard and the seed would not penetrate, and some of the ground was stony and part would have a covering of earth on top. The seed which landed on those parts would grow on the earth, but as that was a very thin base, the seed would start to grow but not last. Seed also fell on ground which had thorns and weeds on, but had been turned over without clearing  the debris, this meant the seed would grow, but the weeds being stronger would choke the seed. But other seed fell on fertile soil and grew.

Jesus then relates the effects of the sowing the seed, which represents the Word of God, to apply to how the Bible is received by people. The seed which fell on hard ground is like the reaction of so many people nowadays, a complete rejection dismissed out of hand. That which fell on stony ground is like a person who hears what is being said, but soon forgets having little interest.  The third kind are those who do take notice of what they hear, but let the earthly world with its attractions and pleasures push God’s Word aside.

But the seed which takes root in the ground resembles the people who come to Church and listen to what is said and respond faithfully. It is like two people coming to Church together, one listening to the Words being said, the other listening to the message, which makes an impact.

There is a message of encouragement here, especially for preachers. The Apostles were probably feeling discouraged, they and their Master were faithfully preaching yet not getting the response expected.  Jesus is implying only one person in four can be relied on to respond.

When a farmer sows seed he does not know what the outcome of his efforts is going to be, in a like manner a preacher can never know the effect his preaching has had. Years after I have preached at a Church and moved on, and more so now when I move to a different Church week by week, I have met people who remind me of a visit and tell what they heard and how it had led them to attend Church worship. God takes a person’s heart, in his own time, and fulfils his promise to love them. He can take the hardest heart, and make it soft enough to listen and respond.

Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like this.  The term ‘Kingdom of God’, is where God’s will is perfectly done.  Each parable does of course have a spiritual meaning.  Just as the farmer cannot make the seed grow, we cannot make the Kingdom of God grow on our own.  God has given us His Word, the Bible, and as we study and meditate on it we will then be able to play our part in making it grow.

We need to follow the farmer analogy as we consider Church growth.  We should first let the Word of God be preached and then allow time for it to root and grow. There is no point in trying to rush things.  Just as nature’s growth is so powerful, so is Gods’ Word to change lives.  This is why coming to Church is so important.   Most people have not recognised the treasure which is the Christian gospel. The vast majority of people have not got their priorities right.

Just as there is a wrong way of hearing, there is a wrong way of preaching. In the last hours before he left this earth Jesus told his Apostles to take the gospel to all nations and make disciples.  This could only be truly done by telling all he had taught and commanded.  It is therefore beyond all shame and disgrace, that in these days we have men and now women in Ministry, who have taken solemn vows on the Bible before God that they would faithfully preach that Word, twisting and turning the sacred words to justify to their guilty minds all that the Bible demands, in order to ease whatever they have left of a conscience as they act and teach contrary. Too many in high Ministerial Office are even calling for the teaching of the Bible to be abandoned if it offends those who wish to act to their own desires

 This is why it is of the utmost importance that all preaching must be based on the Word of God which he handed down to us in the Bible. It is only through the reading and knowledge of the Bible that we learn God wants to love all people, but he can only accept them if they are cleansed of all sin. We can’t cleanse ourselves to make God accept us, but we can become acceptable to him only one way.  Jesus said, I am that way; no one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus came to this earth with the specific purpose of bringing people to know God, and he has made that possible by giving his life in the most cruel manner devised by man; he was beaten 39 times with a leather belt studded with pieces of steel, the made to carry his own Cross, on which he was placed with nails driven through his hands and feet, then left to hang there until he died many hours later.

One day we will all be held accountable for the way we have served and reacted to God, and we will answer to Jesus when nothing shall be hid and all secrets opened. This is what Jesus is warning about, and one day every man and woman will either rejoice or fear for their future. This should make everyone  consider their position, which the Bible will guide them on. He will look for those who attended his Church and gave just a few moments each week to worship him, as opposed to those who wanted his blessing and help, without giving in return.

People have great excuses not to come to church. They tell me that you do not have to go to church to be a Christian, but they are not at home on a Sunday morning doing bible study by themselves. They are not involved in serving God. They have chosen that other things are more important. Usually they have made a choice that other things, not spiritual things, are more important to them. They make a choice for themselves, sadly they also make a choice for their families too. The choice has an effect which rebounds down the generations.

When people stop attending church and stop taking  children to church, they have effectively stopped their grandchildren and great grandchildren going to church as well. So that today we have several decades of people who have not had any contact with Christians teaching whatsoever, and that means no spiritual grounding in their lives at all. And that is where we are as a country, with people largely adrift in terms of a spiritual anchor to inform their ethical, moral and life decisions.

Now is the time for anyone who does not know or subscribe to what the Bible states should meditate on. Regrettably state schools do not generally teach the Bible, more seem to be concerned with teaching all manner of explicit sex and gender change. They know nothing of the Bible or the great stories of the Bible. Consequently our children are denied the Christian knowledge which was once standard.

 Unfortunately most parents have little, if any, bible knowledge but this can easily be remedied. Bibles are widely available in different style, some in older type of language, but there are numerous versions in everyday form of speaking. In addition, there are CDs for smartphones, tapes for learning all at reasonable costs.

The Bible contains the very presence of Christ Himself There is something inside the Bible that when it is planted into a person’s heart, the interest in Christ begins to grow.   The Bible has a mysterious power.  That is why it is so essential that preachers should faithfully prepare and preach that Word. 

For the newcomer to the Bible, and indeed for the most experienced, the Living Bible is a lovely edition told in such manner to make it easy reading without losing any meaning of the original wording, and portraying in an enjoyable read. This is also accompanied by the New Living Testament, Good News, and for the more experienced there are The New International and English Standard Versions which are written in easy words compiled by some of the world’s most evangelical scholars.

The Apostle Paul, the great Bible missionary stated the Bible gives you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes from Christ, and went on to say,
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realis what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  

Each church has to play their part to encourage and welcome to church those who feel that it is not for them. Some of them might have a good reason to think we don’t want them. They might have had an unfortunate contact with a vicar or a churchgoer, who put them off and they thought, well if that is what being a Christians is like, I don’t want to know. 

What you can do as a church might seem small. It may seem insignificant but of course the message of the parables which we have Church which began so small.  As Christianity spread across the world, without any radio, television, newspapers, or any of the aids we have, so it can do so again.

What you heard this morning is that it might seem small, you might not even notice the effect, but this is how the kingdom is grown. The Bible is telling us God is at much work today as He ever was sowing by His Word into our hearts and lives and we must be ready to serve Him when the opportunity arises.

Saturday 4 July 2020

Luke 15 v 1/32

The parable of the lost son is the most famous of all our Lord's illustrations.

There are two sons, one is rebellious, does not want to work and help his father. Feels he does not want to be told what he can and can’t do, and is fully able to look after himself. He is fully aware that one day his father will have money to pass down to him and his brother, but his father is showing no indication he is ready to leave this world, which means he is losing days on which to enjoy himself with the proceeds.   He doesn’t appreciate what he has, and has visions of exciting young women who he can have fun with, visit the clubs and drinking places, all so much more fulfilling than what he is doing.

Under Jewish law a father was bound to leave his property with two thirds going to the elder son and one third to the younger, and it was acceptable for a father to give the inheritance before he retired if he wished. In this case, the younger son decided quite callously to approach his father

He went, and knowing him to be a good father who will listen and be sympathetic, and asks for his inheritance to be paid in advance. He said, ‘I want my share of your estate now; before you die.’; so the father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
His father probably pleaded with him and outlined all the benefits he had, the freedom to do what he wants, the care offered to him and the home comforts all prepared at no expense, with the hope of a bright future. but all to no avail. The father probably knew the son would never be satisfied until he got his way, so let him go and learn the hard way.   A few days later he took all his possessions to move to a distant land. In the eyes of Jewish tradition, this would be shameful to both father and son; it was as if the son had said ‘ I wish you were dead.’

He was leaving once and for all, nothing was left behind; he was not returning. Everything was taken. He had no pleasure in the company of his father and his brother; he proceeded to put as many miles between himself and his family as possible
In to-day’s world in Western culture many young people leave home to move into a flat in town with their friends, but in Jesus’ time would be seen as shameful. Here was this selfish boy abandon­ing all allegiance to his father in his old age, caring more for his own pleasure than his father

At first all of course was going well, he had money which soon brought him friends who were ready to help him spend it, and he had a great time with the girls ready to do his bidding, other lads helping to drink, and his own place far away from those who would put him right.

He enjoyed all the raw life thinking that this was the abundant life. He never lacked companionship until the time came, far quicker than he had imagined ; then his money goes, and his friends go just as quickly, no longer do the girls want his company, and he is all completely alone and desolate. How many young people are like that today, left sleeping rough wherever they can find a place, and then blame everyone else for their condition.  The only work he can find is feeding pigs.  Then reality set in; he remembered the luxuries of home with food and lodging lovingly provided.
For a Jew to have anything to do with pigs was bad enough; for him to be feeding them as his new companions each day was more despicable. He was hungry enough to devour their food, he had now reached a new low. He not only herded the swine, he herded with them. He ate from the pig’s own feeding trough

He reflected at what he once when he could be and do what he wanted to when he was cared for and kept fit and well, and never needed to beg for anything or feed pigs, and he knew there was only one man he could turn to was his father, who he had treated with such disdain and sadness when he left. He knew he had to do a lot of grovelling to put things right.

Jesus tells us the young man came to his senses, and said, ‘at home even the hired hands have food enough to spare and here am I dying of hunger. I will go home and say to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.'" He imagined in his mind even the hired servants in his father's house would have had a better life than he had, with food to eat and time in which to enjoy themselves. in a much more reasoned way. So, with little else, he summoned the will to go back and plead.

We are told the father saw the boy coming when he was afar off, which suggests that the father must have been looking for this to happen and had waited many days.  The father disregarded all traditions and ran to meet him and embraced him, but this was considered not to be dignified for a man to so act to a younger one, especially in such a case as this.

The son begins to repeat his prepared speech, but the father cuts him off to show he has forgiven him.

The father said to his servants, ‘quick, Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet, and kill the calf we have been fattening.  We must celebrate with a feast for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost but now is found.’ And so they had a big celebration.
Here is the joy of the father.  All is rejoicing, everyone happy and the boy tells his father what a bad boy he has been and doesn’t really deserve all this welcome for he has not been a good son, but the father will have none of it, the boy is totally forgiven and all forgotten.  

The other son is not going to be at all pleased.  Later, he will tell his father exactly how wrong he thinks his father has acted. Many will feel for this elder brother who was faithful and loyal, yet has never been treated so extravagantly as his young tearaway brother has been.

Probably no parable our Lord ever uttered is more pertinent to the times in which we live than this, the story of young people shouting and rebelling for the fun of it, not truly having opinions of their own, and unable to justify their actions, being led by activists talented in the art of influencing the gullible.

There have been repeated demonstrations in this country, most often for causes in which we have no involvement, and participated by mostly young people who have no real feeling other than having fun shouting and hassling the police.  It appears that once one demonstration is worked through another cause is found, and virtually the same crowds are back.

The media of course love it, the air waves and paper presses have something exciting to report. The hypocrisy is blinding as you see young men and women pulling and wanting to pull more statues down, when they know nothing about the men they attack. For instance, Cecil Rhodes is being attacked by students from our top universities, and some of them are actually being funded by scholarships provided by the legacy of Rhodes, who lived in a different kind of world, which we all agree had much wrong with it. Anyone with the smallest brain would agree with a prominent black leader in Scotland who state it far better to leave as a reminder of how things were.

The privilege and pleasure of being able to speak freely and respectfully is now being denied, and we are all expected to surrender all the past courtesies and responsible behaviour, especially that which was inspired by Bible teaching.  Anyone who disagrees with the activists is considered by them to be intolerant!

Christianity, which embraced all people irrespective of colour, gender age, nationality, is designated as old fashioned, for the old and weak minded, and should be ignored, but this parable of Jesus reflects much of what is happening in today’s world.
. Jesus is trying to point out that rebellious people often come to realise the only person affected by their rebellion is themselves. They have been living like Alice in a wonderland, and when they sit down and calmly analyse things, realise what fools they are and have been.  Youth has always to most people, been a restless time, especially to the weak minded. Others will study and not be too proud or arrogant to listen to wiser and more experienced people. It may be wonderful to be able to fulfil the dreams of living a life free from all worry, to be able to spend time with the person you dreamed about, but it is also fantasy.
The young people to day face enormous temptations. They watch television programmes, and unable to separate fiction and fact, think like the young man of the parable how nice to be with a glamorous young woman and enjoy an exciting life, quick engagements and marriage; or the young woman captivated by the handsome man who tells her how beautiful she is and then finds when she is pregnant he is nowehere to be found; either follow a tedious life ended only by the easy divorce process whereby this (fake) Conservative government require no cause for divorce.

The fantasises are over and reality has hit hard, and there is absolutely nothing appealing now in the life led, and freedom is not it is all cracked up to be; all the dreams are seen for the uselessness and stupidity they were.

Some people feel they themselves could never have done what this boy did.  Jesus wants us to show how this boy is set completely free, without any justification whatsoever. Everything depends on the father’s reaction. Now we have to put ourselves in the father’s place and think how would we have reacted.

There are many reactions taken to this parable. How could a son have the nerve to return and expect total overlooking of his actions?

How could a father be so joyful for a son who had abused and deserted him?  Imagine the fears and thoughts of the father who would know how his useless son would be suffering all alone in a strange world all those years. His father would have imagined the worst, as we all do when we know nothing of what is happening to our children.  
He probably had given up all hope. Suddenly, the agony and dread has gone and the boy is fine.

The father then appeals with the elder brother to join in the celebration, and by implication Jesus is asking the Pharisees to repent and receive the gospel.
If we can see the father's agony as Jesus intended us to see it, then we will have the answer to the question many ask about this parable.

The message of this parable that the conversion of any soul is a cause for rejoicing, and Jesus shows us by the words of the father ‘it was right we should be glad and rejoice, for this your brother was lost and now is found. Such is a message for us when we see someone has fallen away from our Church, to seek them and find out why.  I am often told the Ministers are too busy, to which I reply cut out all those unnecessary meetings which produce mothing of value. However, not only Ministers can bring people back.
If angels rejoice in heaven, then Christians should rejoice on earth when we recover a lost member.

Jesus also wanted to show the Pharisees and Scribes if their hearts were right,  they would never have criticised him for receiving sinners

Jesus wanted to show God as a merciful Father who cares for his children. Most of us know what it feels like when one of the family leave us to go and live far away even on good terms for good reason. Just as an earthly father cares for his children even when they reach adulthood so God endlessly cares for his children, which are his when we accept Christ into our lives.

The final lesson we learn from this story is that no one is eternally lost. God always leaves open the door for us to return. When we, like the errant son decide to come before God and say, "Father, I am   not worthy to be your son (daughter). I don't deserve your love and your mercy,; God  never lets us finish the sentence. Instead, he calls for the restoration of all that was ours, all that he wanted us to have -- the ring, the robe, and the merry feast.

All the fulness of God’s grace given to us because Jesus made us righteous when he died on the Cross for us, taking our sins upon himself to ensure we became acceptable to a Holy God.