Sunday 26 May 2024

 

. 1 Thessalonians Chapter 2

 

I want to turn to Paul’s Letter to the Church in Thessalonica.

 This Letter of Paul which we are looking at this morning is thought to be the first of his thirteen New Testament Letters, and one which is very relevant to us to-day.  We can learn from this small passage what the Bible teaches us is a successful Church, and what it means to be a Christian in the purest sense.

 Most of the believers at Thessalonica had come to Christ from idol-worshiping.   Paul’s brief ministry resulted in a congregation made up mostly of converted Greeks, along with a few believing Jews.   Such was the vibrancy of their faith, that it had spread widely and people were speaking of their devotion, their past practices were behind them.  The result here was that the believers shared the good news widely through the area, telling what God had done for them.   The friends of those believers began to ask questions about what had happened to make such a change in those believers.

 The enemies of the Gospel were trying to undermine Paul and his ministry, saying he was deluded and was just in it for himself.   Paul defends his ministry, saying far from taking anything, he and his team brought something.  Prior to arriving in Thessalonica he had suffered much being beaten and imprisoned, and had travelled 100 miles just to preach he gospel and encourage them.

 He told them his message had the authority of God, who had appointed and trusted him pleading that it was God who tested people’s hearts not men.  He came with the purest possible motive, and rather than seek support for their visit, he provided all himself, preaching the gospel by day and working as a tent maker by night.       They did not seek praise or fame and he had treated them as a nursing mother looks after the child she has born.  He also treated them as a father educates and admonishes his children to show his care. 

 Although they were obstructed by opponents they were enduring suffering and called for all to be true to Jesus Christ. 

 n verses 13/16 we come to the main thrust of the passage.  Paul thanks God that the Thessalonian Christians had not only welcomed God’s Word, but had taken it into their lives; they realised the power of that Word.  This is the hearing of the heart.

 There is a difference because it’s very possible to come to Church and listen to a sermon and dismiss what you hear.  How God must weep when he sees men and women singing His praise and hearing His Word on Sunday, and living in direct contrast the rest of the week.        There is really only one issue at stake. We should all ponder quietly and sincerely, does my faith measure up to what God calls for in His Holy Word? 

 The Church was facing strong opposition, as those of us today are when trying to be to be faithful to the Word of God.  The Jews hated the gospel, and tried to hinder the preaching of it to the Gentiles. It is one thing to oppose oneself, but to try and dissuade others is wicked. This is one of the most serious sins man can commit against God, and it is happening now; the secularist agenda is to wipe Christianity out of the public arena.  They seek every means to obstruct and find grounds to complain of offences committed by Christians

 The Bible states, ‘all Scripture is inspired by God’. Paul told Timothy to go and ‘preach the Word, by which he means the whole Christian message in simple terms, that Jesus is Lord and that salvation is only obtained through Him.  Paul warns Timothy not to give in to the prevailing fashions of the day, but to keep steadfast in the faith and speak boldly without anger or fear of causing offence. 

 A preacher has to teach what people need to hear rather than what they want to hear, and do so without fear or favour, and as long as we do strictly according to the Bible, if we do offend anyone it must be asked why they are so offended.  We are not to act like a spiritual dispensary offering soothing words, but to tell what God has said.

 When the Word is based on Bible preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit, it produces deep conviction in the hearts of the hearers and people become convicted of their sin and their need for a Saviour, and accept Jesus as that Saviour who died on the Cross that they be forgiven of all sin.  It is noticeable when a Church is fully committed to accepting and living according to Scripture, it grows.  This is because God chooses to bless it.

 Some people will not want to hear that we are called to live our lives worthily according to the Bible’s teaching; they take the attitude that ideas have now been changed by society, and all the old morals and social ethics can be laid aside as long as you just accept the theory; this is not God’s idea however. 

 The Bible was not just written for yesteryear.    It is impossible to read the teaching of Jesus without hearing moral commands, standards and warning of Christians how to live in order to please God.    From its earliest days the Church gave priority to the reading of scripture and every bible believing Church must give pre-eminence to the Bible in its services of worship, for it is the way to hear God speaking.  

 Recent cultural changes have destroyed the moral landscape to such an extent that anyone who holds views based on bible teaching on sexual ethics, one man/woman marriage, abortion, biological gender, will find them isolated. We have to accept that if you state you believe in the full authority of the Bible, you will find many will oppose you, and even those close to you will challenge you, perhaps within your own family. You will be called narrow minded, bigoted or of having some kind of phobia.

 When the Church abandons the truth, in an effort to accommodate society, it ceases to be the Church of Jesus Christ and will be little more than a social club. It has been stated, ‘Whereas Christ turned water into wine, the visible church has succeeded in doing something more difficult; it has turned wine into water."

 The purpose of coming to Church should be to join with other Christians in singing praise to God, listening to His Word, having it fearless and boldly preached so there is spiritual nourishment for the week ahead, and to join in  prayer for the needs of the world and ourselves.  

 Ideally, the Methodist form of service allows for these necessities, with its freedom to present a coherent and meaningful form of worship, rather than being bound by a fixed liturgy.   I have to admit having a different preacher each week is not always helpful, as each could take a different approach to Scripture and so cause confusion.  A lot of people are put off by disunity, for if we in the Church cannot agree what we believe in, what is right and what is wrong, we are not a credible body to lecture to others.

 In saying all of this, I point out that our heritage lies with those who believe the Bible; much has changed. I’m sure that John and Charles Wesley would hardly recognize the church today. They knew nothing about computers, or any modern technology, but one thing would please them; there are still some of us who believe the Bible as faithfully as they did.

 This is why the debate over the nature of the Bible is so crucial. If  the Bible is the word of God, then it is utterly and completely authoritative, and if it is faithfully preached, what the preacher states is what God has said; he is speaking for God.  If the Bible is the word of God, it is utterly exclusive in its claims. It does not ask or seek for our approval, and it does not need or allow any subtraction, addition or amendment.  God never asks us to correct the New Testament.  The Bible stands approved as read.

 I want to close this morning with the words of John Wesley. ‘I want to know one thing; the way to heaven, how to land on that happy shore.  God Himself has condescended to teach the way; He hath written it down in a book.  Give me that book; at any price give me that book.

May the words of God inspre our hearts and may His Holy Name be for ever glorifed

Saturday 25 May 2024

 



THE TRINITY



The Epistle for today comes from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthian Church. This is one of two of Paul’s Letters to that Church which was situated in the heart of Corinth, a major trade centre and seaport where several cultures and religions met.

On Sunday the Church celebrates Trinity Sunday. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13 v 14)

Paul has been writing to the Church in Corinth and ends the Letter with the Trinitarian benediction. This verse has ever since has been read at Churches in every country in most services each Sunday at some point.

The doctrine of the Trinity is an important doctrine, although is hard to understand and even harder to explain, which is why a lot of preachers try to avoid doing so. All our services begin with the words, ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and we often end with the same and baptise with those words.

We speak of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, but the Bible states,’ hear O Israel the Lord our God is one God’, who is present in all three. God was fully God when He made the world. God was/is fully God living in the saving grace of Jesus. God is fully God when He lives in the power of the Holy Spirit. These are not three different Gods but one, with three different qualities. Let us look at each.

The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul wants us to know when he speaks of the grace of Jesus, you and I achieve salvation because of the sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross, that gracious act of undeserved kindness ,who gave His life willingly so that we are made right with God. Great Riches At Christ’s Expense. We are spared any punishment for our sins. This is why Jesus was sent by God for that purpose; this is the heart of the gospel message.

The love of God the Father.
When people speak of love generally, it is either an emotional feeling, or even more so something sensual. We are plagued with many songs all about love, but the deepest and truest love stories are those which are mysterious and profound.

Paul wanted us to fully appreciate the love of God, which is beyond all understanding, and which cared for the world so much He sent His only Son to suffer such a cruel death on the Cross so we should not perish. God’s love is extended to all His children, just as an earthly father loves his own. But such love is for His own, just as an earthly father loves his own. We are God’s children only, when we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Remember the words of the Bible, Jesus said.’ no one comes to the Father except through me’. This is why it is vitally important for us to have those we love come to know the love of God by turning to Jesus; there is no other way.
God is a righteous and just God and as such, demands payment for sin, which has been met by Jesus on the Cross.

Imagine a Judge in a Court of law who has before him a woman who has stolen food to feed her child, because she has no money to afford it. He imposes a fine, which the woman pleads she cannot pay, so the judge has to impose a penalty, but in pity writes a cheque and pays himself. Such is God’s action to us.

But Jesus stated clearly, when he prayed to the Father that not all people were children of God, only those who turned to follow Jesus. (John 17)

Paul then turns to the third person of the Trinity the Holy Spirit.
Paul is saying there is a fellowship all Christians enjoy and experience through the Holy Spirit, and that that experience is what unites them. We are no longer out of relationship with God, we think of Him as a Father.

You and I as Christians, achieve salvation because of the sacrifice made on the Cross, that gracious act of Jesus enable us to know the love of God through the gift of God the Holy Spirit. This must flow out over the whole Church, and there should never be any difficulty or hindrance in Christians being able to relate to each other, even if we have not previously met.

But the Church is not a social club, where we meet for an hour or so once a week. There has to be the truth of the Bible present in our heart and mind. We can meet as strangers, and part as brothers and sisters.

At one time I lived in Mombasa Kenya, a major port on the East coast of Africa. Regularly ships would bring missionaries from other lands, principally from the United States, and whilst Americans are generally friendly people, we were able to engage with them in a way which we would not with other people, simply because we have the same God, same Father and the same Saviour, same Spirit within us. No difference because of nationality, race or colour of skin.

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit is just one of the blessings of being in Christ, that we can know a bond which stretches across time and space, to unite us with many we have never met and barriers are broken down in the fellowship of believers

We become Christians through the grace of Jesus; the love of God allows us to walk in that grace and the Holy Spirit brings us to be at one with each other, which can stop all in fighting and the rivalry which sometimes invades and infects a Church.

May we experience that amazing grace in our lives and be true disciples of Jesus. And may God bless His words to the learning of His love for us. And may His Holy Name be ever glorified

Monday 20 May 2024

 CALDERSGATE SUNDAY

 

On Sunday it is Aldersgate day. Each year at this time, I have at this date, or he Sunday closest to24May. preached to remember the two brothers John and Charles Wesley.

On 21 May, 1738, Charles was being spiritually encouraged by his sister when he read Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians, when he had a profound spiritual awakening. He wrote the first of his 6,000 hymns, ‘where  shall my wandering soul begin’.

Three days later on 24 May 1738 that John attended a service in a Chapel at Aldersgate, London, and heard a discourse of Martin Luther on Romans, when his spirit was strangely moved. He then learned that forgive ness of sin and acceptance by God, was a free gift from God, and there is nothing we can contribute on our own, as God accomplished through the death of Jesus on the Cross.

From this point onward, John at the age of 35 viewed his mission in life, as one of proclaiming the good news of salvation by faith.

The congregations of the Church of England however, closed its doors to him because of his enthusiasm.

Charles wrote a hymn, which has been treasured through the ages after John’s experience, which has been the favorite of so many peop;e, including Billy Graham, ‘And Can it be’. This described the feelings of Charles with the words, ‘my chains fell of, my heart was free, I rose got up and followed thee’.  Exactly a year, later he wrote the hymn which for many years until 1938, was always the first hymn in the Methodist Hymn book, ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’

Charles life was transformed. and he became a Curate in the Church of England at St. Mary’s Church in London, but his style of preaching upset the wardens who persuaded the Vicar to make him leave.

The two brothers, together wuth George Whitfield, who had been a priest in the Church of England but was expelled, began open air preaching, which attracted large crowds.  This offended clergy, who wouldn’t let them preach in their churches.

In 1745, when he was at the age of 40, Charles went to Wales to preach, and there he met the daughter of the local Squire, Sally Gwynne, with whom he had a happy marriage.

In 1756, he gave up itinerant ministry and settled in Bristol, with the Methodist Societies. And fifteen years later resumed preaching in London.

John was persuaded by an oxford friend John Burton and Janes Oglethorpe, the governor of Georgia, in North America, to go to America.  There he met Moravian emigrants, who he thought had spiritual peace, and he served them faithfully. He was not the sort of man who appealed to the natives.

He took to and attached to the niece of the chief magistrate, Sophia Hopkey, but she married another man, which upset John, so he barred her from Holy Communion. He fled from Georgia as persecution faced him, and returned to England.

In London, John met a Moravian named Peter Bohler, who told him he simply needed faith, and he also after reading Galatians  discovered the scriptural doctrine of justification by grace, through faith,  He followed this by visiting Aldersgate.

Whilst they were close to each other, differences occurred, and Charles was the stronger character. When John stated he was going to marry Grace Murray, Charles thought that too bad an idea and rode out to York from London, to prevent the marriage taking place.

He displayed his mind an showed dislike, when he wrote. ‘such a preacher I have never heard, and hope I shall never again. It was  beyond description, I cannot say he preached false doctrine, or any doctrine at all. (What would Charles say now?}

On another occasion, he said John has made a preacher out of a tailor, but I shall make him a tailor again.

Charles and John were still Anglican priests, and wanted to remain so. But there was too much opposition, and few sided with them for fear of consequences from the Church.  More lay preachers were made, and Charles felt they offered little depth.

Charles did not like the Methodist movement proposing to have an ordained ministry outside of the Anglican structure. Which was opposite to John’s views. They differed over fees, Charles felt he should be paid for preaching, but John disagreed.

Soon after his death, something  he always feared happened, when Methodists separated from the Church of England.

Charles died on 29 March 1788 but before his death, he sent for the Rector of the Church of Marylebone John Harley, and said, ’sir, whatever the world nay say of me, I have lived and I die a members of the Church of England.  I pray you bury me in your Churchyard. He was buried there against his brothers wishes, with eight clergymen of the Church of England as pallbearers.  A memorial stone stands close by in Marylebone High Street.

John died on 2 March 1791

Whenever people talk about Methodism. They invariably refer to John as leader, but facts show Charles was the leader of a group at Oxford, who used to go into the community to minister to people there, and such was their methodical ways, were called Methodists.  John joined and led the group later as it grew.

John has been seen as the natural leader by virtue of his sound biblical preaching, Charles has been viewed more as a hymn writer.

People need to research to find John’s sermons, but the hymns of Charles still inspire and delight all who hear them. I have seen Ministers insist on choosing only Chares hymns. They shared the spread of Christianity together, and led the only revival in England. Indeed, Methodism has spread across the world, especially in the United States of America. 

No one can deny that the Wesley’s, and the Methodist Movement, had an effect on Britain at this time. Historians generally agree that the evangelical revival had a profound effect on stemming a revolutionary tide in the country. Conditions were improved by changing the hearts of the people; many of the wealthy became more caring towards the workers, and the artisan working classes acted more respectfully and civilised. On one occasion in Wales a group of theatrical people protested that Methodist preaching was proving too much of an attraction and was threatening their business.

As we look at Methodism to-day, we see a marked decline in attendances. This applies to all Churches in the Western Hemisphere, but the decision to allow same sex marriage in Churches has  added unnecessary depletion. This is distinctly contrary to the Word of God, it is false doctrine. What two or one people do is a personal issue, and should not be interfered with, but the Church is disobeying God, Jesus and the Apostles by giving it approval. I can only think John and Charles would be heart-broken if they knew how modern Methodism has been the subject of unworthy action.

A survey was carried out to all members of the Church seeking opinion as to whether such marriages be approved, and there was a clear answer—NO.  It had to be accepted, but it was stated by the leadership to hold a second vote after two years. This time the members were not asked, it was passed at Conference

 

In May 1738 John preached a sermons on Romans Chapter 1. Here are some words from that sermon They are all the words of John Wesley, not mine.

 Verse 23to Adam in a vision, when he was asleep, that this lovely creature, is now bone of my bones - Probably it was revealed to him, was a piece of himself and was to be his companion, and the wife of his covenant - In token of his acceptance of her, he gave her a name, not peculiar to her, but common to her sex; she shall be called woman, Isha, a She- man, differing from man in sex only, not in nature; made of man, and joined to man. Verse 24. The sabbath and marriage were two ordinances instituted in innocence, the former for the preservation of the church, the latter for the preservation of mankind. It appears by Matt. xix, 4, 5, that it was God himself who said here, a man must leave all his relations to cleave to his wife; It should seem they are the words of Adam in God's name, laying down this law to all his posterity.    All John Wesley’s words
In the Methodist Worship Book, the introduction to the Marriage service, it is stated;
A marriage ceremony is a formal occasion when a solemn, legal contract is made between a man and a woman. In a Christian context, it is also an act of worship in which marriage is celebrated as a gift from God and the joy of the couple is shared and their commitment to ach other I witnessed by family and friends. The Marriage Service’s themes of love, hope, faithfulness, sacrifice and trust are the heart of the Christian gospel

  When people join an organisation, they are agreeing to observe all the ruling and policies of that body, and if they feel unable to do so they should leave.

I cannot understand how any man or woman, who has the  privilege of preaching in a Church, can so flagrantly disobey the teaching of the Bible.  It is gross hypocrisy.

It had been my original intention to be a Methodist Minister, when my first start in ministry was at a small Methodist Church in Chehire but  circumstances directed otherwise, and I was invited to join the Church of England.

For eleven years, being in an a Anglican/Methodist partnership, I took services in all Methodist Churches. I found the people most friendly, and indeed made friends, and the loss when the partnership broke up was a sad one. It was obvious then, that the older people were totally against the leadership giving priority to society, rather than to God.

Methodism was a great evangelical Church, now it is sadly looked upon as a Church which has lot its way and its people. 

 

I close with words of John Wesley

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

May the Name of God be praised and glorified. 

Tuesday 14 May 2024

 Acts 2 v 42

On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached a message to the crowds who had gathered at the festival.  Those who accepted the message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day; such was the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the passage from Acts 2, the Bible gives a model of how a Church should act. I accept that this was in a distant age, but it is still a model which could serve us well in the present day.


The essential ingredient is that it was a bible believing one.  This may seem to be obvious, but it is far from being so now; in too many churches the bible has been cast aside

The Bible states, ‘they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching’.  It must be remembered the teaching of the Apostles was special for they were taught by the Lord, and God richly blessed their ministry. To authenticate that they were able to perform miraculous acts, and obviously made a deep impression, for the people we are told devoted themselves to attend.  There was no coercion or inducements; they were filled with awe and inspiration.  Accompanying the bible teaching, they were singing and praising God. How many services do you attend where you come away inspired and filled with awe?

Here is there recipe for successful worship; joyful praise and faithful bible teaching. People like to sing, and must have tunes that are pleasing to sing. When we have faithful preaching of the Bible coupled with such praise, we can wait for God to bless us.


A significant sentence ends this passage; and the Lord added to their numbers. It is God who adds to a Church.  He may use a preacher, and work through him, but it is God who turns a heart towards Jesus and gives that person the choice of responding or rejecting the offer to follow Jesus.

 People also turn to follow him through the witness of friends or family members, and by the way they see church members acting. However, alternatively when people see church members breaking the moral and ethical standards of the Bible they are equally turned off, possibly for good, and understandably think of hypocrisy.


There we have the vision and a pattern of the church God wants us to be.

The most pressing problem the Church faces at the present time is falling attendances. We have reached a position where the Church plays little if any part in the lives of people.  It is reported that less than 2% of the population attend Church on any regular basis.  In the majority of Churches the congregations are in the older age range, and predominantly female.  (just look around).A large contributory factor in that is the Church is not fulfilling the purpose for which the Lord created it.

Think as I speak to you this morning, ‘do YOU think the Church is fit for purpose; the purpose for which our Lord created it.

Is it making disciples?  Is it leading people to worship?

Is it teaching Jesus as the ONLY Saviour of mankind?

Does it abide by the teaching of how the life of Christians should be lived as God set out in the Bible?

Does it accept the Bible as the complete authority for teaching?

The Church is expected to be the conscience of the nation and offer guidance on moral, social and ethical matters as well as spiritual guidance. This it is unable to do because there is no clear belief; there are those who believe in a liberal code opposing a biblical standard.

Liberalism is tearing the Church apart by trying to supplant biblical authority for cultural expression and denying the infallibility of the Bible, with trendy social issues replacing the Cross of Christ.    

It is not too strong to say immorality is permeating into Churches.  People are not being taught the thoughts of God, but following blindly after the culture of society.     

Secular humanists and aggressive activists have set out an agenda which is well organised and aggressively pursued, with the aim of changing our culture by an attack on the family, the moral climate, and to faze Christianity right out of the public arena. Inroads have been made into ethical and moral values whereby there are no absolutes and all is relative, everyone just sets up their own standards.

A most important verse in the Bible is found in the small Letter of Jude; ‘Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’, and every word matters. The faith that is being referred to is the teaching of the Apostles.

To ‘contend’ means literally to fight and defend the gospel; we are in a battle, I see little defending, rather capitulation. 

Every day in this country Christians are suffering because of iniquitous legislation introduced  for cheap political ends, which is in direct contravention of bible teaching, and added to that are prohibitions on anyone passing adverse comments on it.  We too often lack conviction.  When laws are introduced which are contrary to Biblical teaching the Church should not meekly acquiesce, but instead protest loudly.    

The Bible calls on us not to be ashamed of the gospel. 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 would we answer is asked to give our opinion on moral questions?  

If you are not ashamed you are ready to speak out about your faith.  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. Some will worry will they be called narrow minded or old fashioned.  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’.

The reason we do not hear senior figures in the Church speaking clearly on moral issues is because they too are ashamed of the gospel.  Why call for the Bible’s teaching on marriage to be abandoned? Why should there be those within the Church who consider we should re-interpret the Bible to meet modern ideas of morality.  This suggests that God has got it wrong and He should adjust to the age.  Why not challenge all the attacks and penalties on those Christians who take a stand for their faith; some even losing their employment for holding to traditional morality?       

 Faith is the gospel story of Jesus Christ who gave Himself to be crucified for our sins in order to reconcile us to God. For in the gospel righteousness from God is revealed; for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. God’s purpose for the Church is to lead people to salvation.  We have to tell people God loves them and wants all to be saved, but there has to be an acceptance of Jesus as Saviour and a commitment to live according to his commands

 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.

 This faith has been ‘entrusted’ to the saints, the biblical name for Christians, and we are called to guard and protect the truth, for  Christianity is in danger of being fazed out by secularists here and in other Western Countries

 It was given ‘one and for all’.  It was not a temporary statement of faith, and it was not meant to be added to, amended or re-interpreted.  It was based on the teaching of the Apostles, who were commissioned by Jesus to proclaim.

What troubled Jude was; he found preachers within the Church who were preaching false doctrine and advocating a gospel which fitted within their personal desires, and we face the same problem now.  They taught that the grace of God would forgive any sin; just act as you wish God will forgive you. Jude saw this as rejection of God’s word.  We have to face an identical situation.  There are godless men, (and women) who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny the clear teaching of Jesus Christ. 

The time has come for Christians to be as devoted to the teaching of the Apostles as those first Christians were; to be as committed to contending for Christianity as other faiths are for proclaiming their faith. To be as vociferous in protesting when our holy book is mocked as Islam is when their holy book or faith is treated discourteously.

  My friends, it is the duty of the Church to teach the gospel and not to budge from it.  We are not to be blown by every new spiritual wind so that we drift from our moorings.  We are not to be superficial believers. Hold fast to the gospel once given by the Apostles who were taught by the Master Himself.      

You and I are called to contend for the truth.  Do not let anyone tell you that you do not count.  You count tremendously, so glory in what God has called you to do and be faithful to His command.   Our Lord’s last great commission was to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations; let us not fail Him.

To paraphrase a famous saying, ‘do not ask what can God do for me, ask what can I do for God?’

 

 

May God bless His Word to us and may His Holy Name be Praised


Tuesday 7 May 2024

 

JOHN 17 V 6-19

    It is the night before the Crucifixion.  Jesus is with His Apostles at the Last Supper and is spending His last hours before going to the Cross.

     In a few hours He will be dead so He is telling them He is going to leave them and they will be plunged into the storms of life, and concludes with a prayer, which makes this one of the outstanding passages in the New Testament, telling His followers then, and by extension to those who follow Him through the ages, what they will have to face as Christians.

     For Jesus, life was life with a climax and that was the Cross.  When He spoke of the Cross as His glorification it had a deep significance.  It is one of the facts of history again and again, that it was in death the great ones were glorified.  It was where and how they did things which showed people who they really were. 

     We see this in the life of religious figures and in the world of music and art. Some people never knew the greatness they achieved.  The Cross was the glory of Jesus because He was never more majestic than in death and drew people to Him in a way that even He never had done. 

     Jesus said, ‘Father I have completed the work which you gave me to do’, and for Him not to have gone to the Cross would have meant His work was not completed.  To stop short would have suggested there was a limit to that love.  Jesus showed there was nothing the love of God was not prepared to do and suffer for us. 

     The Bible makes it clear that Jesus could have escaped the Cross by never going near Jerusalem.    The Cross was proof that men could do their worst yet He could triumph, for the Cross would not be the end, for the resurrection was to follow.   

     God looked at the Cross and said, ‘this is what men think of my son,’ then pointed to the resurrection, and said, ‘but this is what I think of Him.’ 

     Yet while Jesus was specifically praying for His Apostles there are lessons which we can apply to ourselves from this passage which is packed with truths.  It tells us the disciple is given to Jesus by God. It means the spirit of God moves our heart to respond to God by the appeal of Jesus.  Through a disciple, glory comes to Jesus.   A bad person can become good, and strengthened to live the Christian life bringing honour to Jesus

 In verse 6, the opening verse, Jesus says ‘I have revealed you to those whom you have given me’.  Jesus is thinking of all who would one day follow Him, but here particularly to the Apostles with Him in the Upper Room; those who turned and followed Him in His ministry.  They ‘kept the Word’, meaning they were obedient to the faith. 

Then Jesus goes on to say, in verse 9, ‘I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me’. Jesus is teaching us that we are rescued from the world.  The world means all that is opposed to God’s standards and way of life.  Those who live without reference to God

This means there are two types of people in the world, which the gospel makes clear over and over again, those who are loyal and obedient to God and those who are not   Jesus was always quite unequivocal, that we are either for Him or against Him, there is no neutrality or sitting on the fence. Jesus is firmly black or white in how you respond to Him   

There is a mountain in the Lake District called Helve llyn, and near the top there is a very narrow path with steep sides with warning posts, so that if you wander from the pathway you fall to disaster.  Then there are two paths to follow one is to the top and safety, the other, which again will lead you to an unfortunate end.  This is how Jesus divides the world.  So it behoves us to look at our position. 

Film producers are fond of sea stories with terrific storms, showing ships and men fighting for survival and it being asked will we survive.  When we come to Christianity and our Christian faith and lives, we ask will I be strong enough to do the work God wants me to do. 

Sometimes we feel buffeted by the storms of life, the stresses and strains, the problems of work and family, and personal relationships.  Jesus is praying here for all who believe in Him, and particularly for the difficulties to be faced.  He wants His followers to be filled with joy and not mourn as He leaves them.

In the Bible names reveal peoples character.  When God revealed His name to Moses He said, ‘I am’, showing that God was the eternal unchanging one.  When Jesus says that God will protect us by the power of \his Name, He means the power associated with God’s character that has been finally and fully revealed in Himself.  God has promised that He will keep us and watch over us and guard us spiritually from falling from Him.  The Bible makes it clear we need to keep ourselves rooted in the Word of God

In verse 11, Jesus prays that God will leave His disciples in the world, and will protect them from the evil one, because like Him, they do not act to the world’s standards.  He wants His disciples to be active in the world.  God will rescue us from people who in rebellion are opposed to Him, but that does not mean we should gather in holy huddles out of contact from others, who need to hear about Jesus from us. 

There are of course, religious orders who lock themselves away from the outside world.  They are truly dedicated men and women, who sincerely believe they are serving God.  The kind of Christianity however, which shuts itself off in a monastery or convent, would not have seemed to Jesus to be Christianity at all.  The kind of Christianity which finds the essence of the Christian life in prayer and meditation in a life secluded from the world, would have seemed to Jesus to be a sad version of the faith the He died to bring to people. 

It was Jesus insistence to be in the hurly burly of life that we must live out our faith. Christianity was never meant to withdraw men and women from ordinary people.  It does not release us from problems, but equips us to deal with them.  It offers not always peace, but triumph. 

Jesus is saying He wants His people to be in the midst of the world, mixing with non believers. 

As Christians, we are people who have dual citizenship, citizens of this earthly kingdom, in which we live, and citizens of our Father’s heavenly kingdom. 

Just as a lifeboat is of no use, set permanently polished in a station, but is needed to go out and rescue people trapped in stormy seas, so we need to be rescuing those dear to us, trapped in the perils of life in this world.  Jesus was saying His people are not meant to be little ships which stay in harbour, although it is much safer, that is not what ships are for, they are meant to be on the high seas.

Jesus prayed for the unity of His disciples, and that they would be one as He and His Father were one.  Where there are divisions, there is competition between Christians.  Where there is disunity, the cause of Christianity is harmed and hindered, and the prayer of Jesus is frustrated.  Jesus never considered different denominations, which would be criticising one another. The world cannot be evangelised by competing Christians. The gospel certainly cannot be preached to any congregation which is not united.  

Jesus prayed we would be one, and there is no prayer of Jesus which has been so hindered from being answered by Christians.

Jesus warned us of the hostility we face from a hostile world which hates Christians.  If you find that hard to accept, just consider the violence, even murder, of Christians in Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia. 

On a more subtle scale, in Scotland, Australia and Canada, where Bible preaching is under threat.The world hates biblical truth, and if you take a stand publicly for the truth of the gospel, you will not be popular and are likely to be called narrow minded at best, and a bigot at worst. 

We have people showing quite manic attitude to Christianity.  . It is an uplifting thought to know that God stands over our lives, to protect and guards us from the assaults of the evil ones.  If we fall, it is because we try to do things in our own strength and forget to seek the help of God

Finally, Jesus prayed that His people would be made holy by the truth, set apart for a purpose, and have the character necessary for he task. If we are Christians set apart through the death of Christ, we must go into the world with the Word of God. 

Remember Jesus’ words and be encouraged, for He has told us that we are protected by the Word of God who gives us the strength to be the kind of people He longs for us to be.

 

May God’s name be for ever glorified

    

    


 [ER1]

Monday 6 May 2024

 

This morning I want to turn to Paul’s Letter to the Romans, in Chapter 10.

The Bible states,   Salvation is for everyone  who believes in Christ. Salvation is the subject of this chapter.

Paul, was specially and uniquely called by God to be an Apostle to the Gentiles, but he never forgot his own Jewish people.  This Letter was directed to the Jews who were carrying a mistaken belief, but its teaching is equally applicable to us, as all Paul’s Letters are. When Paul speaks, God is speaking through him, and the wonderful thing is we have those very words spoken all those many years ago in our Bibles these days.

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.

Paul desperately wanted his fellow Jews to turn  from zealous obedience to the Jewish law, and follow

Jesus Christ. But for showing such zeal to the law, meant a personal commitment.  He knew the Jews were zealous for God, but the zeal was misguided, He wanted the Jews to be saved, therefore he needed to lead them to Jesus.

The Jewish law, might to non-Jews appear to be cruel. The Sabbath law was a prime example. A man was only allowed to walk a limited distance; no lifting a package over a stated weight; no cooking; help could be given to an ill person only to prevent getting worse, but not to make better; no poking a house fire; or have a light. These would only be fully carried out y strict orthodox Jews, and some such people still do.  Whilst these restrictions may be beyond us, and some people may treat with mockery, which would indeed be offensive, and rather such devotion coupled with sincere  religious belief, should be admired.

The Jew believed such obedience placed him in a right relationship with God. To answer this, Pail stated Christ had  ended the law, meaning the end of legislation. The relationship between God and man, has no longer a credit or debtor side, Christ lived and brought His message, man was no longer faced with the task of satisfying God’s justice he can only fund God’s love

Verses 6/8 show the contrast between the righteousness based on faith and that which comes from the law, now fulfilled in Christ. At one time there was just a written set of Law,  but God caused his Son to go through a cruel death, before bringing Him from the realm of the dead.

The Jews believed 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 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).

 God sent Jesus to supplant the Law, and make it possible for all people to be saved if they accepted Christ as having died on the Cross to obtain forgiveness for the sins they committed.

Coming to the heart of this passage, verse 9 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’. The whole Christian message is on the lips, and in the heart

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.

Think what heaven would be like if you had to earn your way there. People would be trying to outbid each other, and probably boasting how important they had been in the world.

There is so much reluctance to believe and accept, that a man who died on a Cross 2,000 years ago in a land on the other side of the world was raised from the dead.  More so, that people actually believe he lives on by His Spirit in their lives today and influences their way of life. Even some clergy fail to accept the facts of both His birth and physical resurrection

Belief demands commitment and faith, and trust, which is not given by the majority, and it is that lack of faith that Paul writes about in his Letter.

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.’  We are in fact at the doctrine of justification by faith; ‘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 great mercy is ready to pardon all who accept that Jesus died on the Cross as a penalty payment for all our individual sins, and God raised Him from the dead.  If we confess that we believe this God grants us His righteousness.

Why do we need God’s grace?; because all men and all women are by nature spiritually dead and separated from God.  Grace is the unmerited favour of God.    Grace saves us through faith; nothing more, nothing less. than salvation is by grace.” 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. Grace must be free or else it is not grace at all. Three words; grace, saved, and faith.

Grace is the source, Faith is the means, and Salvation freely given and received by faith alone is the result. We are saved by grace through faith:

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.

When I was being inducted into a new parish by the Rural Dean, who was a real traditional English gentleman (and there’s not many of us about), he introduced me to a man, and mentioned some of the position he had held in his Church, and the man was really indignant because some obscure committee was omitted.  There really are people who join the Church for egotistic reasons.     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.

Some people think they are too good to be saved. That is, they may have such a high opinion of themselves that they think they don’t need God’s grace. They may admit they are sinners but they don’t admit they are spiritually dead. They may think they’re sick because of sin, but not truly dead. God’s grace cannot help you until you are desperate to receive it.

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.

Salvation is never gained by earning it, or by trying to be good, or by the good outweighing the bad, but simply by acknowledging that Jesus Christ has done it all on your behalf.

There was a series on television in which a young police constable is partnered on duty by an attractive young police woman who is fond of him, but he does not respond. His Sergeant tells him he should make a decision and respond, as one day he will regret not doing so; and then says, ‘the two saddest words in the English language are, if only..’  There are so many people who will one day appear before the Lord and say, ‘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.’ Millions have not the slightest idea of what it really meant to be a Christian.

    

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.

    We have to admit, the fundamental fact that we live in an evil world, and we all become tainted and lost, but by the grace of God He gives us an opportunity to come to Christ and be saved. The majority of people do not consider they need saving as they think their lives are already safe.  The thought they are sinners is mortally wounding, as one Vicar discovered when he put a notice outside his church saying this Church is here for sinners; half his congregation were absent the next week.  Sin is not just murder, theft and immorality; it includes pride, jealousy, envy, anger and hatred.

Look at God’s promise in verse 11. “As the Scripture says, anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame You may be disappointed in your friends and loved ones. Husbands and wives are disappointed with each other from time to time. Children are disappointed in parents, and parents are sometimes disappointed with their children. Friends leave us, family members forget us, and business partners double cross us. But no one who trusts in Jesus will ever be disappointed.

Paul draws out a further implication in verse 12: “For there is no difference between Jew nor gentile.” The Bible states, ‘God has no favourites’. No group or race or culture has a special claim on God’s grace.

A question often asked is what about those who have never heard of Jesus. If someone is in such a remote place where the Bible has not been taught, they will be judged by how they responded to their conscience, for everyone has a sense of what is right and what is wrong.  However, if it is a case of just not bothering to listen or find out, then the responsibility will be on them.

 No Christian can possibly believe Jesus would allow some poor soul deprived of teaching, to be rejected.

  Paul  asks, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?" So there has to be belief. That means the mind has to be engaged -- Behind the belief, Paul says, is a message, something heard. "How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?"  This is why it is so vitally necessary for preachers to stop prevaricating and dodging the only reason for their presence, which is to preaching the message God gave us.

Behind the message, of course, is the messenger.   The message has to be communicated and the way that God chooses is through the preaching of the Word and the praying of Christians, the yearning of their hearts over those who are not yet saved.

People are touched by God by various means, perhaps through a poster, a friend, an occurrence in one’s life, but the principal way is through the preaching of the Bible. This I believe is where we are failing badly, right across the Church. 

The Bible calls on us to preach the Word; in other words, the Scriptures, with sound doctrine, not adding, subtracting or amending what God caused His writers to state in the Bible. Yet at this very pulpit I have twice heard it said by ordained Ministers that you shouldn’t take the bible literally. This in complete negation of ordination vows.

We in the Churches must make a greater effort to concentrate on the fundamentals of the faith.  There is too much a willingness to amend Bible teaching to be popular, or ally with society’s standards and beliefs; avoid being called narrow minded or bigoted, and take every opportunity of doing so.

On Easter Sunday one year, a service was held in one of our great Cathedrals, and  was televised, offering a wonderful opportunity of getting the message out across the whole country, but instead there was a sermon which completely wasted the chance by an address on climate change, an which seems to obsess a lot of people.

Regularly Church leaders are eager to write to the press on a variety of matters social and political.  A Bishop wrote asking for everybody to fast one day of the week in prayer for climate change; this at a time when the Church attendances are falling.

As people have a cause to believe in with an eternal future at issue, one might have thought that would have been a prime issue for him to concentrate his mind on.

There is however a marked reluctance to speak out on moral and ethical matters, when the Church should be giving a lead to the country.   

The Bible states that it is God who adds to the number of people attending a Church.  In the book of Acts, He did so because the people were devoted to the teaching of the Apostles.  Therefore, we should be sure that all preaching and teaching will be that given by the Apostles and left for our learning in the New Testament

There are plenty of people who do not fully understand the

Essential teaching of the Apostles, the full necessity of knowing the finer points of the gospel, for one reason; they

Have never been told.

As a very young man, I had never heard salvation fully explained.  It was across the world to East Africa, before I heard salvation preached.

Over the years since the birth of the Church, men and women have travelled the world to tell others of this very special message.

There is an urgent need for such message to be preached without fear or favour.  I have been at Churches where the men and women, with brilliant minds, were ready to risk their lives for the faith, by going on missions to unknown places, at the same time making great financial sacrifices to do so.  Likewise, there are those of us who gave up careers and position to serve Christ in His Church, and have never  regretted having done so.             

We have to be as forthright and determined to preach our faith as we see the preachers of Islam doing so in respect of their faith.  You will never hear a Muslim cleric challenging anything in their Holy book.

In the absence of any person at national level with the charisma to inspire, each local Church has to be its own evangelist and I pray that the teaching you hear here will be that passed down from the Apostles.

. Never be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Preach it, believe it, tell it to someone else this week. Amen.