Friday 21 August 2020

Matthew 16.v.13/20

In our Gospel passage Jesus is with His Apostles at Caesara Phillippi, a place where worship was regularly carried out on the North of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asked them who did people think He was, and they told him the names of John the Baptist, and the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Jeremiah, which were the most popular expectations of who would be the Messiah.

Jesus then asked them who they said He was, and Peter gave the answer which pleased Jesus when he said, ‘you are the Christ, the Son of the living God’. Jesus blessed Peter and said, ‘you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church’. The Roman Catholic Church claims this mean that Peter became the first Pope, whilst Protestants claim Jesus meant the Church would be built on the confession that Jesus was the Messiah. I think it futile to engage in prolonged theological debate on the matter, suffice it to say Peter played an important role in the early Church, seeming to have taken the lead after Jesus ascension, but we find in the Acts of Apostles, James later became the head of the Church.

Jesus stated that the gates of hell would not destroy the Church, an encouragement to His followers in all ages. He was teaching the permanency of the Church; all other institutions and empires have come and gone, only the Church has prevailed down the years. Whilst the Church in the Western nations has not lived up to the teachings of Jesus and the Bible, and is suffering in consequence, in Africa, especially the Far East, the Church is growing massively as they are faithful to Scripture.

When Jesus used the word ‘Church’, He was referring to an assembly of believers meeting together in worship. The Church has a special place in the plan of God, and we have to know how we are to live and function within that plan. There is a need for a firm spiritual and moral foundation in every person’s life. There is more to life than material works and wealth, it needs a spiritual dimension.

The Bible uses several terms to describe the Church, the most powerful being a family, consisting of people of different backgrounds, experiences, class, ages and gender. This family extends right across the world, so that wherever you go you can have fellowship with other believers.

There is uniqueness about the Church, as we are separated from the world’s standards and from the others of society. At one time the Church stood above society, it was seen as some place special which set standards and values, and gave firm moral guidance and principles. The clergy were particularly respected, and generally were men who commanded respect by the way they conducted themselves.

In today’s Church we have joined society’s values, even to the extent of contravening Scripture. We have seen Christians at all levels adopting the morals of society as opposed to those of the Bible, and by therefore of God. In attempts to influence people we have lowered our standing, when we have Vicars leading dancing to wild pop music at weddings and dressing up in fancy costumes, and even if within one denomination, all Churches are tarred with the one brush. The term ‘solemnization of marriage’ is apparently forgotten.

Jesus went on to say Peter would have authority to admit people into the Kingdom of God through the preaching of the gospel, and to exercise discipline within the Church, an authority extended to all who are ordained to govern the Lord’s Church on earth.

Our final gospel verse is an instruction to the Apostles not to tell people who He was because of their inability to accept Him as the Messiah.

Having delegated first to Peter and the Apostles to continue the work He had begun, Jesus now passes the responsibility down to us in our age to continue to preach the gospel, and every Christian has the duty to play their part in the spread of the gospel and build up His Church.

Each year about this time we come to the start of a new year in the Church’s calendar. Each year we begin with fewer members than the year before as our people move to another place or to be with their Lord.

I know of several Ministers/Vicars who are very concerned for the future of their Churches. I can understand their concerns for I have over the past five years taken services at 31 Churches in/around Bedford, and apart from 5, the congregations have not been above 25, and in 2 not even reached double figures. I am sure such a situation is not confined to this area.

I read an article recently in which the writer suggested we should not get too concerned over numbers, and whilst I agree we should not become obsessed by them, we do have to accept that they are a fact to be considered, for without sufficient people Churches will close. There is a responsibility for us to pass on to future generations what we have, and bear in mind the fact that the gospel is widely rejected and the Church is to most people an irrelevance. We become reduced to survival thinking.

Paul writing to Timothy, who was to take on the leadership of the church after the death of Paul, stressed the need to guard the gospel and not display timidity.. Like Timothy, we see ourselves as a tiny minority amidst an overwhelming, mounting majority, committed to evil and unbelief. We face hostility on every side. The government creates legislation which is contrary to Christian teaching and tradition, and force people under threat of penalties if they voice disagreement. The judiciary act against Christians in legal challenges.

Since early times there have been men inside the Church who see the Bible condemning some ways of life this irritates them and is viewed as something they can change.
There had been an explosion of false teaching inside the church and there was concern that there were those within the Church, preachers who deviated from the gospel, threatening the purity and the life of the church;  teachers who no longer put up with sound doctrine, and that is very much what we find in the church today.

If you have been a Christian for some time you will know that wasn't only a problem in the early church. You will know that's exactly what we find in the church today. Amazing as it may sound, we have bishops and clergy inside the church who challenge the Bible. They say we live in the 21st century; we live in a modern, scientific age, as if God only intended to give His Word for the early age.

They say, we need no longer accept Paul's teaching on morals, and rather than God's word standing in judgement of us as it should, we stand in judgement of the Bible. Our final source of truth is no longer the Word of God.

Builders of a house will often place a covenant on what they have built, laying down what can, and how be used. God placed a covenant on the Bible directing that nothing should be taken away or added.

Having accepted that numbers are not the be all and end all of Church worship, or a verdict on any particular Church, there must always be a need for every Church to consider whether the worship offered is as worthy as it ought to be. Is it truly doing what God intended and which Jesus commissioned it to do, bringing people to know the saving grace of Christ’s death on the Cross.

The primary reason we gather at church on Sunday is to learn about God and to grow closer to Him. Everything else is secondary. Knowing Christ, becoming like Christ, is what we are here for. This is achieved through the Word Of God

The bible should be the supreme court of the church, the final authority in deciding all controversies. Alas in the modern church that is not so. A church which rejects the teaching of the bible loses its authority.

People have a right to expect men speaking as Ministers of the Church to do so, based on the word of God and not expressing personal opinions or preferences. When Ministers substitute personal views for political rhetoric they are exceeding their remit. If we expect God to bless and build the Church, we must follow His guidelines.

Whilst Paul’s Letters are an excellent guide for pastors, he was including advice for all Christians. He realised it takes courage to be a Christian in the world. You may be the only Christian in your family, amongst your friends or where you work, and things can become difficult for you. Some people find it difficult to be faithful to their faith, but Jesus always warned there was a cost in being a Christian.

Paul used three examples as to how a Christian is to compare him/herself. They are a soldier, an athlete and a farmer. Each of those occupations requires sacrifice in terms of what one gets engaged in. Some actions in life will harm their fitness to carry out their tasks and a firm discipline is needed to devote oneself to the task set before them, with a determination to get things done well.

Similarly a Christian may have to give up some pursuits which compromise his/her faith, and have determination to see things through to the end.

Come to church then, prepared to feast on sound doctrine. This combined with the work of God's Spirit, will not only transform you, but it will transform others as you seek to become one who faithfully accepts and practices the Word of God. Amen

Saturday 15 August 2020

Jesus has completed a very hectic ministry in the region of Galilee in the area of Capernaum. For Jesus He was nearing His end and to rest and teach His Apostles for future work.  In verse 21 we find that Jesus has left the area of Galilee completely and withdrawn into the area of Tyre and Sidon, two places on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in what is now Lebanon. Tyre is about fifty miles south of modern Beirut, and Sidon was halfway between the two. He had gone there for peace and quiet whilst He taught His Apostles, who would carry His message when He had departed.
The cities were outside the boundaries of Israel, and the people were Gentiles. This was the only occasion when Jesus left Jewish territory, and had on His present journey crossed geographical, ethnic, gender and theological boundaries. Later it would mean removing barriers and enable the gospel to be taken to the whole world.

Today many people are anti-Israel and wish to separate from the Jews, but forget the specialness of Israel in the purposes of God. Jesus never implied anything different, but Paul was specially commissioned to bring Gentile and Jews on equal terms.  Many of the wonders of technology which we all enjoy so much, were first discovered and developed in Israel, and given to the wider world in medicine, wireless communication, agriculture and much more.

In verse 22 we find a "Canaanite" woman turning from her idols to seek the Lord and crying out, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." . This is a woman of Canaanite heritage. The Canaanites were ancestral enemies of Jesus.  She has no heritage in understanding or even knowing God’s revelation in the Old Testament. She is not even in a place where she would be in regular contact with those who did. It is likely that she had heard of Jesus from those who were now passing through her land as miracle worker in the land of Israel, and now she finds that Jesus is in her area. She will go to Him and plead for His mercy which is further evidence that she does understand something of who Jesus is, for by definition, a person who asks for mercy, asks for something that they know that they do not deserve. She turns her back on the idols of her own culture and turned to Jesus.

She pleaded with Jesus to help her as her daughter had demon possession.   Jesus turned His back on her, refusing to answer and His Apostles urged Jesus to chase her away.  He then said to her, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’. Whilst this was in contrast to Jesus’ last commission to His Apostles to go into the world and make disciples, at the time of this incident it was in the plan of God to focus on the Jews and their spiritual needs.
She then knelt before Jesus and begged Him to help her. His reply was that it would not be right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs. She seems to accept the insult and Jesus’ judgement on her, but still pleaded and said even dogs eat the crumbs from the table  In Palestine dogs were wild scavengers and Canaanites were referred to as such by the Jews who were ancestral enemies of each other. Jesus was testing her faith for it was His way to help all people and had in mind the domestic animals. 
The woman was displaying greater faith in Jesus than many of His own people, and Jesus responded by telling her faith  was so great and granted her request with the result her daughter was healed.
She was persistent and such perseverance should be the mark of every Christian, but sadly it is not. Too often we give up when we do not receive a quick reply to our requests. We may even get discouraged thinking the Lord is no longer listening to us or is ignoring us as He was this woman.

What a beautiful example of the humility and faith, and what a contrast she was to the pride and unbelief of those Jesus had been with in Galilee. She responded in complete humility which is the way each of us should respond.

What can we learn from this story? This passage encourages us to keep praying even when the temptation is to give up. Be specific in your prayers and when praying for others name them before the Lord

An important element in prayer is faith, which unlocks the door to heaven.  New life begins with faith and then we must build on that foundation.  Often when we cry to God it is more in hope than faith.  It is like a child who cries for something to eat but then goes on playing and you know it is not hungry.  If he puts his play thing away and pulls at his mother’s clothes you know he is in earnest.  God knows when we are in earnest.

The Bible states, if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask God and it shall be given him, but let him ask in faith, not wavering. Faith is the key that unlocks the treasures of heaven The Bible states, whatever things you desire, believe you receive them and you shall have them,

Dwight Moody, an American evangelist second only to Billy Graham in the history of great preachers, asked at one of his meetings for all who wished to pray to become Christians to step forward.  Amongst those who went forward was a woman, and Dwight felt by her demeanour she was already a Christian.  He challenged her and asked why she went forward and she said it was for her son who had gone far away, so she thought she would take his place and see if God would bless him.

We have to thank God for mothers like that.  The tragedy of our time is that there are few mothers, and certainly fathers, who are interested enough in the spiritual welfare of their children.  A Jewish father will devote much time teaching his sons the Commandments, just as a Muslim will teach his children the Koran, but too many men  in this country feel it beneath their masculinity to be religious.

When my two sons were growing up I had to spend many hours away from home in my previous occupation, and my wife was forced to care, largely on her own; to her eternal credit both became youth leaders at our local Church and subsequently have become very successful Vicars, in addition to holding prominent positions within their own communities.

The mother in this story showed how deep her faith was in Jesus, and her story will be told as long as this world exists. Such golden chains of faith link us to the throne of God.  When we are in earnest God will respond, and we will be answered just as this woman was.

Thursday 13 August 2020

                             Mark 7

The Gospel reading for Sunday depicts how we can become capable of ill treating worship.  The religious leaders were more concerned over proper traditional rituals being carried out and external practices observed.  It was so in Jesus day and it still is in some places today
     This gospel passage is about what Jesus thought about such practices. The religious leaders  were often teaching and practising tradition rather than Scripture and so leading people astray.
They had the practice of teaching the Jewish law, which was accompanied by the ceremony of washing to display ceremonial cleanliness, which had to be performed in a strict order and if you did not follow that way you were deemed to be unclean. Jesus said, they were’’ laying aside the commands of God for the tradition of men’.
     God had laid down a procedure for the priests to do a washing ceremony before they worked in the temple. The Pharisees then made up their own rule, which said all people had to do all sorts of ceremonial washing all the time so creating tradition before Scripture.
     People can attend Church without the right intention and expect a certain routine and order when they get there, and woe betide any Minister who makes any alteration.  There is nothing amiss with order, but something can become so ingrained they become almost sacred to people.
     When I was ordained I was posted to a High Church and found that some members there were more concerned as to how the ceremonial procedure was performed than anything else.  The sermon was viewed as a necessary extra.  Such was the experience Jesus was having with the religious leaders.
     People are creatures of habit accustomed to doing things in the same way without giving any thought as to why they are doing so.
     I began ministry 44 years ago in the Methodist Church before being persuaded to move into the Church of England.  Over the last 10 years I have spent most of that time back in Methodist ministry, but still retain a concern for the Anglican Church even though it has cast aside the Bible for its own obsession to please society. I also think there is too fixed a programme of worship in having the same liturgy week after week, whereby members are saying and hearing words which have lost their impact through routine use. 
     There should be the freedom to move from fixed Lectionaries to enable crucial moral and social issues to be considered in the light of Biblical teaching.
     There is much in today’s reading for us to take note of. We all have our own little preferences.  As a little exercise, complete the following sentence, ‘it wouldn’t be church for me without….’
     Jesus was prepared to ignore their tradition and follow that given by God. It is essential for every
Church to agree on the supreme authority of the Bible, otherwise you will have the chaotic and confused situation of the present in which the Church finds itself on the subject of morality.
     We have to contend for the whole faith and see beyond the visible. Think of the two principal sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, for example.  For most people, in the baptism service it is the physical acts of the priest and the sentimental display of the baby which commands the most attention, but baptism points to the reality of a commitment to Jesus Christ, a symbol of what God has done in the life of a believer.  In the Communion service, we need to think of the love of God in sending Jesus to shed His blood on the Cross to redeem us rather than the way the physical actions are performed
     The Bible shows that Jesus had a liberty of spirit and did not stick to an established routine, and He condemned practices which were man made and became more important than what was really meant to be.  When we start introducing unnecessary practices into services we invariably introduce false doctrine.  Scripture is rarely preached in some Churches, and sound doctrine is not given in many others as it contravenes the moral belief of many Ministers and members.
     The focal point of one’s faith is the heart.  We have to contend for the whole faith and not just pay lip service.  The heart is what God is concerned about and what He notices.  All the posturing and exaggerated motions and actions avail nothing; we take our hearts to Church as well as our bodies.  So many people can talk the faith without ever practising it.  Heart and lips must go together.
     When the Pharisees asked Jesus why His disciples did not observe the strict cleaning practice Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy.  Correct words can produce wrong attitudes, to appear to be doing something, but have no attitude inwardly.  Worship must be genuine, something you do which is deep and real, it must be given with heart and mind.
     Jesus says, that's how these Pharisees and teachers were treating God. God says, "These people honour me with their lips" - they sound keen to please me – "but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men." That is, they don't actually do what God asks them. They have their own idea of what'll please God, and they do that instead.
     Jesus taught that the whole Bible is from God. He also taught the supreme authority of the whole Bible; this indicates that the Bible should be the supreme authority in the church and in our lives. Jesus criticised these people for making their teaching-traditions supreme instead
     Jesus taught the divine origin of the Bible with its supreme authority above all practices, observances and institutions.  This is why unity between the Churches can be difficult to achieve as some Churches are not prepared to put Scripture above practice and preference.  We see today how religious leaders here are eager and wanting to override the Bible and endorse sexual practices to accommodate modern morality

     In verse 13 Jesus said, you cancel the Word of God in order to hand down your own tradition.
This has an application for us now. Consider the matter of preaching.
     Earlier I drew your attention to some practical failings in Anglican worship, but whilst I like the Free Church ability to be inspirational, it can also be very confusing.
     Preachers cannot be trusted in the way that the words of the Bible can be. For example, on the subjects of relationships, marriage and divorce, there are wide differences in what is preached. 
     I and others like me who hold a strong traditional and conservative belief, and however much may fail to do so, try to be faithful to the Bible.  The following week there could be someone with a totally different and liberal attitude who is prepared to teach the release of the commands of God to hold onto the traditions of men and society.
     What kind of impression does that give to anyone seeking spiritual guidance or hope?  This should emphatically enforce the point that Jesus is giving throughout this passage that the Bible is from God and therefore supreme authority and there should be no deviation from its teaching.
     Martin Luther stood almost alone against the false teaching and traditions of the church of his day, and by doing so sparked off a world spiritual revolution in which the Bible triumphed over man made rules. Luther said, ‘my conscience is captive to the word of God; here I stand’ Are we standing for the word of God?
     This passage has an important message, that Jesus is the supreme interpreter of the Bible and we must never let human interpreters overrule Him  Our salvation depends on our belief in Jesus Christ not by observing man made rules and practices.  Never let us hear being said to us the words that Jesus used to the Pharisees, that we held on to the traditions of men rather than the commands of God. We must accept that nothing needs to be added or taken away from the words of Scripture. 

Friday 7 August 2020

ROMANS 1 v 16/25
Why do so few people attend Church? Where going to Church was once as normal as going to work or any other activity, this is no longer the case. Consequently life has become more course, evil and unsettled.

It is generally recognised that this is largely a godless nation. Most people believe that there is a God, but just don’t want Him to interfere in their lives. We forget or ignore the fact we owe life and breath to Him, yet  still want Him to be available when we have a problem in our lives. We were created with a soul, with a spirit. All of us were made to have a relationship with God.

Most people are seriously worried about the future, the economy and pandemic which the government must deal.The Church must awake from its slumbers, and deal with the spiritual state of the nation. Once the Church guided the country in moral and spiritual matters, not lately however.

Paul’s greatest desire was to make people Christians, a noble cause and one we could wish all preachers to-day to adopt.  He was concerned the Jews were being misled to follow the wrong way to salvation, which can only be achieved by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord.

It has to be accepted that the Church exists primarily for one purpose, to proclaim the Christian gospel. The true treasure of the Church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God. Those were the words of Martin Luther which 503 years ago turned the world around, and created the Protestant Reformation.

 All other activities are subsidiary. It is good and helpful to have involvement in social activities, but the primary means of bringing people to Christ is through the preaching of the gospel. If we restrict that then we have no claim to be here; people can get social amenities from many sources, they can only get the gospel from the Church.

It is the belief of most people that when they leave this earthly life, there is a place reserved for them in heaven. I readily concede the Church has encouraged that belief, but in doing so it has mislead, and offended Jesus and the Bible.

Jesus made it very clear that He is the door to heaven, and the only way. Jesus was sent to this earth by God to tell that God loves all people and is willing to receive them into His heavenly Kingdom.  Entrance into heaven is limited to those who trust Jesus Christ, and him alone for their salvation.
But first, they must be cleansed of all sin and this can only be done by accepting that when Christ died on the Cross to obtain forgiveness of sin, He was including you in His death for the sins you have committed, and He must be accepted as your Lord and Saviour.

 Confession that Jesus is Lord, and singing the hymn, is not an intellectual title or a casual statement, it means much more.  You have to believe fully in your heart this is so, and have no doubt that God raised Him physically from the dead; that is the heart of the Christian message.  So when you do believe and are prepared to confess with your mouth, God accepts you as righteous.

The Bible states, ‘by grace you have been saved through faith, it is not your own doing, it is the gift of God and not by your own works.’  God in His infinite goodness has graciously forgiven you of all the wrongdoing in your life, past and present.  

Something in us always wants to add to God’s free grace. It’s humbling to admit that we can do nothing to earn our deliverance from sin. Imagine what heaven would be like if we had to earn our way there. People would be trying to outbid each other and probably boasting how important they had been in the world. Grace saves us through faith, there is nothing we can give or add, it is a free gift of God, but like all gifts has to be taken in order to appreciate.
When I was being inducted to a parish the Rural Dean who was a real traditional English gentleman (and there’s not many of us left), introduced me to a man who wanted  me to know how important he was. Heaven would be just like that if you had to earn your way there. But it won’t be like that, when Jesus died on the cross, he paid the full price for your salvation. God alone gets the glory in your salvation. Jesus did all the work when he died on the cross.

The word ‘saved’ does cause an emotional response with a lot of people, as it conjures up an image of being approached by a Charismatic Christian asking are you saved brother (sister).

I read of a man sitting in a theatre when someone came up and asked if the vacant seat next to him was saved, and he wittingly answered, ‘no, but I am’, at which the person moved away quickly.
 I have been told countless times all one has to do is to be good, be kind and honest, and you will go to heaven; no need to go to Church, sing hymns and read the Bible.  They will learn to regret this belief. I am reminded of a saying that the two saddest words in the English language are…..if only.
Jesus himself warned that on the Day of Judgment many will claim to have been His followers, but He will say to them, ‘depart from me. I never knew you.’

People have been attending church for years, listening to the Bible being read, singing praise to the Lord, and have been very religious, yet have never come to the time when they have acknowledged Jesus as Lord, yet the Bible calls on us to do so.

The Jews believed as many people now do, that all that was necessary for salvation was to keep the Ten Commandments, but no one can keep the Commandments for it is like a chain, if you break one link it all falls apart, and the Bible states if you break one you break the lot, and we have all, without exception broken at least one.  Therefore, one cannot be saved by the Commandments.

The Bible states , ‘if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved’.

You have to accept in your heart that Jesus has done for you, something no one else possibly could, made you righteous in God’s sight. You accept this by faith, and live that faith.

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.

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.

The key word is righteousness, which means to have a right standing in God’s eyes. It’s a legal term which means to declare “not guilty” and to declare “innocent of all charges.” When we believe, repent and have faith, we are justified, just as if we had not sinned.

When we use the word justified in normal language, we mean we try to prove we were right in our actions. But we cannot prove ourselves to God; He is the One who puts us in the right when He forgives by His grace through our faith.

The glory of Christianity is that it has a message that is grounded in history. It is objective truth, not just something that someone has made up.  It is not some feeling that you are following that you hope will work out; it is the story of historic events. One of these events is the coming of Jesus as a baby in the manger of Bethlehem, the coming of the wise men from the east and the uproar and unrest that it caused in the kingdom of Judea, beginning with Herod the king himself. That is all part of history. Then there was the resurrection and the events that followed in the church. These are all historic events -- objective truth. That is our message.

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.

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.

Paul is emphasising there is nothing to be ashamed of. The reason he is not ashamed is because the gospel is the power of God leading to salvation for all who believe.  This power is for everyone who believes. 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.

We may offer what is hard for sceptics to believe, but that should not stop us telling it. When we tell how God took a young Jewish girl and caused her to conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit; that when this child became man He performed miraculous deeds and eventually gave His life by a cruel death on a Cross, in order that God would forgive people of their sins: that three days late would rise from the dead as a sign that one day all who believe in Him and accept Him as Saviour, would live eventually with Him in heaven.

Some people are fearful of their friends finding out they attend Church in case they get mocked, or because it might restrict the way they want to behave. Remember the words of Jesus, ‘for whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this sinful and adulterous generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of the Father’.

Jesus in His preaching had two effects; He either saved people or upset them. If we study the preaching of Jesus the people did not always go away smiling, even His own disciples walked away from Him at one time. We like to read and hear the stories of Jesus as long as they do not place too much of an obligation on us. But many did believe in Him and went away with a different reaction.  Whilst preaching has now become out of favour, it is nevertheless the primary way of bringing people to know Jesus Christ.

Never give up studying God’s Word and meeting other Christians, there is always someone who can help you. During the years of my ministry I have had the joy of knowing I have led people to know Jesus, and it has made all the effort worth while, but I have been on the other side and led by the most devoted man I personally  knew in East Africa. I have also coincidentally, since been inspired by a lady from East Africa. I owe them both much.

If you want those you love to be with you in heaven, take note of the Bible when it states, Now is the time for salvation. There is no such thing as leaving it until you face death and make a deathbed confession, you may well leave it too late.

In conclusion, never be ashamed of the gospel. When Paul wrote to Timothy he told him not to have a spirit of timidity, but be ready to preach the word that God saved us by His grace which He has given us through Christ Jesus.

Let us Christians be as proud of our faith as other faiths are of theirs, remembering there is salvation in no one else than Jesus, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we can be saved. 

Tuesday 4 August 2020

   The story of the Transfiguration.

This week’s gospel reading is about one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible.  It comes just after Jesus had been asking His Apostles who they thought He was and received Peter’s great confession, and after He had told them He was on the way to the Cross to die and then be raised.

Jesus wanted to be alone on the mountain top and took with Him on the journey three Apostles with whom He appeared to have a special relationship, namely Peter, James and John. these three Apostles were also with Jesus when He raised Jairus’ daughter and in His agony in the garden. The mountain was thought to be Mount Hermon, one so high it could be seen from many miles away.  The climb must have been strenuous for Luke tells us they were feeling sleepy and tired.

Jesus was going up the mountain that He might receive God’s confirmation that it was the intention for Him to go to the Cross.  Jesus we find always was anxious to consult with God at His every step.  Here is a lesson and good advice for us.

For many years I went to Scotland, and up in the Highlands you can go up the Cairngorms on the mountain railway, and whilst there is the obligatory shop and cafĂ©, there is also a balcony.  You can there gaze down on scenery unsurpassed in any other country and see one of God’s most glorious creations.  You can feel close to God on a mountain top, away from the ordinary things of life.

Mountains figure conspicuously in the Bible.  It was on Mount Sinai that Moses received the Commandments; Mount Horeb that God spoke to Elijah.   Jesus we are told was transfigured on His Mountain, meaning His appearance changed.  There He met two of Israel’s great names, Moses who brought the law from God and Elijah the supreme prophet through whom God spoke, and they discussed the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem.  They advised Jesus to go forward being the One foretold of in the Old Testament.

Many people are puzzled as to how God speaks to men and they scoff at such talk.  I believe a lot of what is claimed to be from God is self manipulated.  I once visited a Theological College where ordinands were completing their training and I was surprised to hear how God had told so many to go to the South of England; I am sure God really does care for the North as well.

God speaks to us in several ways.  Sometimes it is through a preacher.  I had a lady who came to Church very infrequently and one time she said I always seemed to be getting at her.  I told her that as I prepared beforehand and never knew when she was coming, it may be that someone higher than me was getting at her.

Many people were converted by one of the posters containing Scriptural messages placed by the London City Mission in the Tube Stations.  Sometime God speaks through our conscience, or when we pray about something and an answer comes into our mind, not always perhaps the answer we want although probably for your ultimate good.

When Peter realised what was happening he offered to build three tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  He was struck with awe and wanted to prolong the experience, and offered to build three tabernacles. Jesus rebuked him for he was in error in that he was equating Jesus with Moses and Elijah. 

We all like to feel we are on top of the world both figuratively and actually, but most of us live their lives more realistically on the level or down in a valley.

This can happen at worship. When Billy Graham came to England thousands went to hear him and came away on a spiritual mountain.  They had heard the world’s greatest and most successful preacher, massed choirs singing glorious hymns; then the following Sunday went to Church and realised they had come down to earth with a shattering bump.  Instances were quoted of Vicars mocking Billy and wanting their old staid services, some Bishops even wanted to stop him coming.  Even now Church leaders are anxious to change Scripture to meet modern cultural desires.

The lesson of the Transfiguration is that we must always let God speak to us and follow His Word; He has a plan for all our lives.  When we turn to Him we too can reach a mountain top, but also we can close our minds to Him and lie in the valley.

The suffering of Jesus should never be forgotten, and one day we shall see the glory of the resurrection and the hope we shall share with the |Lord.  This passage tells of Moses who had died many years before, as did Elijah, yet there they are alive but in glory.  This should indicate to us that when our last breath is breathed in this life there is another to come, another world beyond the grave.

There is much mysterious about the future, things we cannot understand, but let us be sure God has all planned and Jesus is taking care of those who have gone to be with Him, as He will with us.   

Sunday 2 August 2020

                   Mark 8 v31/38

Jesus is with his Apostles making his way to Jerusalem and the Cross. He shocks them by saying he must suffer, be killed and rise again.  He meant this was necessary to fulfil the purpose for which God sent him into the world; it was necessary for him to make atonement for man’s sin, for without his blood being shed there could not be any remission.  Without the Cross God’s holy law could not be satisfied.  Jesus must die that we might live

This is at the heart of Christian faith and we must always be aware of the truth. This was the message Jesus taught his Apostles and they took it to the world as the foundation of our faith.

Peter had shortly before made the famous confession of Jesus as Lord, for which Jesus blessed him, but now he faces the wrath of Jesus.  Peter did not mean to offend Jesus, he was just shocked that Jesus had to suffer so much and die, but Jesus suggested Peter had been influenced by the devil in one of the greatest recorded rebukes.

Jesus then spelled out what being one of his followers would mean. He always made clear that there would be a cost involved, and never offered cheap grace.  Salvation is all of grace, offered to sinners who repent freely; by grace we are saved through faith, but all who want salvation must demonstrate the sincerity of their faith by carrying a cross.

There will inevitably be suffering when you decide to follow Jesus.  You will lose friends, be mocked, frozen from groups, treated as going through some strange illness. You could indulge the world’s pleasures and be thought a grand person, get involved in any form of morality, but if you are seen as religious or read the bible, you become a person no one wants to be with.  Yet bizarrely such perverse attitude does not apply to followers of the ethnic faiths.

All Christians need to realise the challenge we face.  We must see we are engaged on a battlefield not a playground as we meet an evil world which wants to force us into a private sect.

Jesus called the crowd to him and told them whoever loved his life would lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus’ and the gospel’s sake would save it.  He meant that the one who lives a self centred life focused on this world will not find eternal life with God, but if you give up worldly pleasures and a life of self rebellion against God for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, will find everlasting communion with God.

Our bodies have a soul or spirit within, and the soul is the image of God, which in turn means eternal life, for when we  the body becomes detached from the soul, which lives on in either heaven or hell.  So many people go to great length to protect their body, take all sorts of measures to make sure it is cared for, but ignore the soul.  They never look at the bible for guidance, and ignore God, who has no place in their hearts or minds.

We all have souls for which we will have to give account to God; it is an awful thought when we consider how little attention is given to anything except this world.

We can all lose it in many ways, by loving sin and cleaving to the world; poison it be choosing a religion of lies; believing man made superstitions; neglecting all means of grace and refusing to believe the gospel.  Whichever way is chosen, the responsibility falls to each person. Of all foolish and unprofitable bargains one can make, is to give up the soul for the present world.

People are claiming to be Christians, attending Church, even preaching within them, but living unworthy lives in complete defiance of what God has laid down in His Word.

Jesus taught there were two roads in life and each of us must travel on one; one is broad and most people are inclined to follow that road with all worldly goods and thrills, whilst the other road is narrow and fewer take that one, for it means living a godly way of life with restrictions on how you journey.

There is now much reluctance to accepting belief in a hell, although most everyone accepts there is a heaven, to which all believe they are heading irrespective of how they lived their lives. There is going to be such disappointment one day.  Jesus in his parables made clear two roads, two destinies, sheep and goats, tares and wheat.  All Christians should make sure those nearest and dearest to them are aware of this.  Whenever Jesus spoke of heaven, he also referred to the alternative as hell.

I have stated so many times I think it shameful as well as cruel, for the Churches to let people live under such a delusion and create liturgy which virtually assures people that a person can separate themselves from God, have no association with him, and yet still receive salvation. To say such is to flagrantly teach false doctrine, for the bible is quite unequivocal and patently clear, it means accepting Jesus death on the Cross was the price he paid for their sins.  The Bible states, salvation is found under no other name under heaven than Jesus.

Jesus pictured a field with the good seed representing his gospel, and the tares were the seeds of the devil, and a lot of people are prepared to sell their souls to follow a hedonistic lifestyle.  But God is long suffering and wants all people to be saved, which is why He calls on all to repent and turn to Jesus.  Everyone has to make a decisive decision, remembering hell is total separation from God.  The alternative is to spend eternity with Jesus, who makes the final judgement on death when we will be called to account for our life before him.

Let these words of our Lord sink deep into our hearts, yet words are inadequate to express their importance;  remember them when temptation present itself and the matter of the soul seems of no importance.

The final call of Paul in our passage is for people never to be ashamed of the gospel.

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. 
Remember the words of Jesus, ‘for whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this sinful and adulterous generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of the Father’.

We may offer what is hard for sceptics to believe, but that should not stop us telling it.  When we tell how God took a young Jewish girl and caused her to conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit; that when this child became man He performed miraculous deeds and eventually gave His life by a cruel death on a Cross, in order that God would forgive people of their sins: that three days late would rise from the dead as a sign that one day all who believe in Him and accept Him as Saviour, would live eventually with Him in heaven.

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 he is not ashamed is,-- because the gospel is the power of God leading to salvation for all who believe.

Always bear in mind that only Christianity has a Cross at the centre of its faith. Only Jesus suffered an horrific death on the Cross as a Saviour.

Let us all pray for faith and courage to confess Christ before the world and never be ashamed of him who died for us on the Cross.