Archive for the 'Christian living' Category

What’s in it for me?

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

W.I.I.F.M. ?

Yahoo search gives 268,000 sites using that acronym, that group of initials!

W.I.I.F.M.

Do a search for the phrase it represents and you find more than two and a half MILLION web pages with that exact phrase! It is a phrase which is so popular because it is at the heart of modern sales and marketing techniques. WIIFM.

What’s in if for me? What is the benefit to me for taking the action you suggest? In marketing, “This is a fundamental element of persuasion and influence. When you can communicate a “benefit” to the target that is of more interest than his/her current situation then action/movement in the desired direction will result.”

“What’s in it for me?” Marketing is a strategy that is user centered. It is all about YOU, the most important element of the marketing plan. Satisfy the end user. Give the end-user and experience that they enjoy and they will tell others about that unique experience, therefore leveraging the most elusive form of marketing, “word of mouth”.
Get people to start a conversation about you…you want them to be asking you, “What’s in it for me?”
“One thing I think a lot of us think when we stumble upon something in life is: what’s in it for me? Not because we are extremely selfish. But we spend all day, every day in our bodies and our lives. So I think it’s pretty natural that you think about your own life, problems and challenges a bit more than you think about other people or things. … So what’s in it for me?”

Erwin W. Lutzer wrote this.
Whenever we are faced with a crucial decision, our generation has been taught to ask, What’s in it for me? Will it give me pleasure? Profit? Security? Fulfillment? We are not necessarily opposed to God; we just fit him in wherever he is able to help us. The idea that our wills should be subjected to his control, even when our personal ambitions are at stake, is not easy to accept. We can assent mentally to God’s control, but in practice, we might still spend our lives pleasing ourselves.
The truth is that there are many questions as Christians we should continually ask in life – but “what’s in it for me?” is not one of them!

I started thinking about this topic a few years ago while we were enjoying a very special holiday in America. Two experiences really struck me. The first was visiting a pretty typical American Christian book shop. The second was watching bits of the different channels of “God TV”.

The Christian Book Shop was big. Getting on for the size of Marks and Spencers in Brentwood. Of course it wasn’t all books! Maybe two thirds of the shop was what I am told in the trade is called “holy hardware”. Everything from artwork to clothing – some very interesting ties which I decided I would never dare to wear, and even some very holy socks. All kinds of decorations and trinkets, including most inspiringly a pleasingly large section dedicated to gifts you might want to give your pastor. There was a huge section of Christian music and also another of Christian teaching DVDs to buy and a vast choice of different Bibles – well hopefully the same Bible but in a bewildering variety of translations and bindings. And then there were the books.

What depressed me among the books were the limited range of authors and titles given the size of the shop. But more than that. There were small sections for Bible Study and Theology and serious thinking. But there were much larger sections on Self Improvement. 101 ways to make my life better. In the American consumer culture I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was disappointed at just how many books they were selling to Christians to answer the basic questions, “How can I be a successful Christian?” “How can I be a more happy Christian?” “What can I get out of being a Christian?” “What’s in it for me?”

It is depressing to see that it is exactly those authors whose books clog up the tiny religion sections of bookshops like Smiths and Waterstones in this country. Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen among others. Not the excellent British Christian authors like Tom Wright or John Stott or even Nicky Gumbel, but American celebrity authors whose books are bestsellers because they pander to that desire to find out “what’s in it for me?”

Then in America I was much less surprised but equally disappointed to see that the same question was at the heart of all the “God TV” programmes I watched bits of. Some of these were national broadcasts, some just local to the county we were in from the Baptist Church just down the road. But time and again the theme was the same. “How can I get God to answer my prayers?” “What can I do to get God to bless me?” What’s in it for me?
Most disappointing. I was not surprised that finding the answers very often involved sending a totally freewill gift to the evangelist or pastor or church.

I know we live in a consumer culture with its twin pillars of personal choice and satisfaction guaranteed. I know we are moving into a postmodern culture where the unholy trinity of “Me, myself and I” reign supreme. But I had hoped for better in the United States where one third of the population are evangelical Christians. I had hoped for better in the deep south Bible belt. But in the end the “public face” of American Christianity in its television and its books seemed to me just as obsessed as the world around is with the fundamental question, “What’s in it for me?”

All this self-obsession seems totally opposite to the life Jesus calls his disciples to live. It seems totally opposite to the attitude the apostle Paul had as he explained it in his farewell address to the Elders of the Church at Ephesus in Acts 20.

19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. 20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.
22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

What’s in it for me? For Paul it was the plots of the Jews severely testing him. An exhausting programme of teaching in public and in private. Prison and hardships waiting in Jerusalem which would certainly end in death. Paul goes on,

Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears….. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

It is more blessed to give than to receive. The ninth beatitude – the words of Jesus Himself! Throughout Scripture Jesus puts the primary focus on the joy of giving, not on the return. He offers us the supreme example of what it means to give: He gave His life for us–knowing there was nothing we could give Him in return. God wants us to express His heart. That means we won’t be asking all the time, “What’s in it for me?” We won’t be asking, “What can I get?” but “What can I give?”

It is more blessed to give than to receive. Mt 10:8 Freely you have received, freely give.

We live in a world that is shaped by getting. A world enslaved to consumerism and ruled by greed. If we want to break free from the chains of materialism, we need prayer and generous, sacrificial giving. We need to learn how to give freely as we have freely received.
Richard J. Foster, Money, Sex & Power: “Giving with glad and generous hearts has a way of routing out the tough old miser within us. Even the poor need to know that they can give. Just the very act of letting go of money, or some other treasure, does something within us. It destroys the demon greed.”

Lu 14:12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta
“God loves a cheerful giver. He who gives cheerfully, gives better. … We impatiently await God’s paradise, but we have in our hands the power to be in paradise right here and now. Being happy with God means this: to love as He loves, to help as He helps, to give as He gives, to serve as He serves.”

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Sadly there is a way in which this truth is distorted by some Christian teachers. They teach that we should give to God so that God will give to us in return. “What’s in it for me?” They teach that the more you give to God the more God will bless you. This wrong idea is at the heart of what may prove to be the greatest danger to the Christian faith in the world today. Because the fastest growing religion in the continent of Africa is not Islam. But nor is it Christianity. The fastest growing religion in Africa is a variation of Pentecostalism which is as dangerous as it is unbiblical. It is what is known as the “prosperity gospel.” It is the mistaken and wrong teaching that if you are a Christian God will always give you health, wealth and success, just as long as you have enough faith. The prosperity gospel. Visiting Tanzania this summer we saw again so many cars in Africa, just like in America, displaying bumper stickers like “Unstoppable Achiever,” “With Jesus I Will Always Win,” and “Your Success Is Determined by Your Faith,” Distressing! There were an impressive number of Christian books in the bookshop at Nairobi airport – but they were all by these health wealth and prosperity authors. Health, wealth and success – the prosperity gospel. Spreading like wildfire all over Africa and now gaining in popularity even in England. You will have heard some of their slogans. “Say it; do it; receive it; tell it.” “Name it and claim it” “Healing in the atonement”. “You believe you receive”. “What I confess, I possess” . Pat Roberston’s “Law of reciprocity” – you give to God and he’ll give back to you”, and Benny Hinn. It worries me that if you don’t know what I am talking about you will hear this kind of teaching on Premier Christian Radio, “Name it and claim it!”

This is not the true gospel! The blessings being promised are NOT the blessings God promises to Christian believers? Very often the prosperity gospel takes Old Testament promises about the material blessings which the nation of Israel was going to enjoy in the promised land, and applies those promises out of context to the lives of individual Christians. But worse than that, promises of health wealth and success encourage people to come to God for what they get from him – to seek the gifts instead of the Giver. When the blessings don’t come as the evangelist has promised, many folk then fall away from faith, or just as bad, are overwhelmed by guilt that they have “failed” to have enough faith.

Christians are meant follow Jesus Christ. Our Lord’s life was not filled with happiness and success but rather with suffering
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Here is our pattern for Christian living. The sacrifice of the cross. There is no space here for asking, “what’s in it for me?”

And remember the experience of the Apostle Paul, and indeed of the apostles who were martyred for testifying about Jesus and preaching the Good News of the Resurrection.
2 Corinthians 11 23 I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

That is what it cost the Apostle Paul to follow Jesus. Not a life obsessed with the question, “What’s in it for me?” That’s not a question Esther asked when she went as a missionary to rural Zambia more than 40 years ago. That is not a question missionaries ask when they answer God’s call to serve overseas. It is not a question you ask when a person answers the call to train to become a minister, or throws themselves into Christian service as full-time youth workers or evangelists. When any of us gives our lives over to God, we give up any right to ask, “What’s in it for me?” We can only trust God and say, “Your will be done”.

What’s in it for me?” That’s irrelevant. It is more blessed to give than to receive.

This is why harvest time is so important. It teaches us to be grateful for all the good things God gives us so richly to enjoy. And this is why Communion is important. Every time we break the bread and share the cup, it reminds us of everything that Christ gave up for us. Jesus never asked, “what’s in it for me?” Instead He taught us all, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

PRAYER:- Prayer of Richard of Chichester:

Lord give us the grace to serve you as you deserve
To give and not to count the cost
To toil and not to seek for rest
To fight and not to heed the wounds
To labour and not to ask for any reward
Except that of knowing that we are doing your will.

God loves a cheerful giver 2 Corinthians 9:7

Monday, June 26th, 2017

2 Corinthians 9:7 says this. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
So how can we become cheerful givers? To begin with we need to recognise one important truth.
EVERYTHING WE HAVE BELONGS TO GOD
Psalm 24 1 The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; 2 for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.
“The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” Everything that exists belongs to God. Because He made it! He made everything and He made human beings. We belong to God. And absolutely everything which we say belongs to us actually belongs to God.
Everything we have belongs to God because He created it. And that is true for every human being on the earth. But as Christians God has another claim on our lives. Not only did He create us but He has also redeemed us through Jesus Christ. Out of the generosity of His amazing grace, God has forgiven our sins and given us a brand new life. Eternal life which not even death can take away from us. God has saved Christians and made us to be his children. So God has this double claim on our lives and on all our possessions – not only as Creator but also as Saviour!
Everything we have comes from God. God has an absolute right to decide what we should do with anything and everything which we say belongs to us but in fact belongs to God. And this transforms our giving. There is a prayer I often use to dedicate our offerings.
Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
Everything we have comes from you,
And of your own do we give you.
In other words, whenever we give anything to God we are only giving back to Him things he gave us in the first place. We are only giving back to God things which belong to Him anyway.
We may think we own a house. But in reality God owns the house and lets us live in it. We may think we own a car. But the truth is that God owns the car and He just lets us drive it. All our money, all our possessions, belong to God. He entrusts them into our care to look after and to use and to enjoy. But if God wants us to give any of these possessions back to Him, that is His right. And if God wants us to give any of these possessions away to somebody else, then it is God’s right to tell us to do so.
Jesus told a number of parables to remind people that there is more to life than money and possessions and that ultimately everything that we have comes from God.
Luke 12 …. “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Everything we have comes from God. God gives. And God takes away. That is a lesson we all need to learn. Hopefully we do not have to go through dreadful experiences of losing everything to recognise that truth. Hopefully we can learn from the experiences of others. Job was very successful and very rich. But God allowed the devil to take absolutely everything he had away from Job. As an example for us all, Job did not blame God. Instead he responded with these words.
Job 1:21 ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.’
Sometimes we only give grudgingly or reluctantly. The first step in becoming a joyful giver is to recognise that everything we have belongs to God anyway. So we aren’t giving away anything which is ours to keep. We are just giving back to God what we have been borrowing from Him all along. All things come from you and of your own do we give you. Then there is another truth which will help us to become joyful givers.
ALL OUR GIVING IS GIVING TO GOD
To show you what I mean, let’s think about our giving to the church. Running the church costs money. The building needs maintaining. The gas and electricity and water bills need paying. You kindly and generously choose to spend money supporting your minister. The activities we run cost money. And some of the money we give is just passed on directly to other very worthwhile causes like Baptist Home Mission and Baptist World Mission.
But it is important to recognise that when we give money to support the church, that is actually giving money to God. God gave us the money in the first place and we are simply handing it on where He directs us, so that God’s work can be done and His Kingdom come. So the question to ask should not be, how much does the church need? Rather we should be asking, how much does God want us to give? Can you see the difference? Not – how much does the church need? But – how much does God want me to give? Because we are not so much giving to the church as we are giving to God.
That is why for our Thankoffering today we are not talking about how much extra giving the church will need to balance our books this year. We are not talking about building projects, although we continue to prayerfully consider ways to improve the toilet facilities and the kitchen here. The focus of our giving is on God Himself. We are giving to God. All our giving is giving to God!
The same principle applies to other good causes we support. They might be Christian works like CHESS or Food Bank or some specific missionaries we are linked with. They might be other worthy causes like charity appeals following all kinds of disasters or wars, or towards research to cure illnesses, or long-term development projects. In everything we give, we should not just be responding to the needs of the good cause we are giving to support. We should be focusing on God and giving to God. There is a danger that how much we give or which good causes we give to is swayed by emotional appeals for particular needs. But instead of that, for Christians, what we really need to think and pray about is which good causes God wants us to give to. Because ultimately all our giving is giving to God.
And the reason we give to God is out of gratitude for all He has given us. The Old Testament gives us some guidelines about giving to God. How much should we give? The simple principle is that we should give in proportion to what we have received.
Deut 16:10, 16-17 10 Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you. ….
16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.
Giving in proportion to the blessings God has given us is a very important and helpful principle. It encourages us to consider just how much God actually has given us. “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” The more grateful we are, the more we will express that gratitude in giving to God. And God has blessed each one of us in SO MANY ways. We can start by listing the material blessings we enjoy but so easily take for granted. Our food. Our clothing. Our warm and comfortable homes. All the luxuries of life we enjoy while millions are dying without the necessities. We sometimes forget that these things only come to us as gifts of God’s grace. God is Creator AND Sustainer of the world Without the continuing activity of Almighty God, upholding His creation in love, we would all instantly cease to exist.
1 Timothy 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. NIV
God gives us so many material blessings, so many good things so richly to enjoy, but on top of all that, so many spiritual blessings as well. God is our Saviour. He has bought us back to Himself at the cost of His only Son Jesus Christ. The first chapter of Ephesians gives us a catalogue of so many blessings we should be grateful for.
We have received EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING EPH 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
We have been ADOPTED AS GOD’S CHILDREN In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
God has REDEEMED us – He has BOUGHT US BACK 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. RICHES of GOD’s GRACE LAVISHED on us!
All these blessings are guaranteed by the HOLY SPIRIT Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
What a wonderful inheritance! So many blessings now, and the certainty that this is only a foretaste, the appetiser of all the blessings waiting for us in heaven!
God has done so much for us! And God continues to do so much for us! But if we don’t make an effort to show God how grateful we are, we can end up taking His love and grace for granted. How can we show our love and appreciation and gratitude for all God’s blessings? If we really understand how much God loves us, we will want to show our love for him! And one way of showing how grateful we are to God is by what we give back to Him. As Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give.” We give to the church and to Christian work because that helps us to remember just how much God has done for us!
So how much we give is not a response to the needs of the church or the good causes. How much we give is a response to how much God has blessed us. How much we are grateful to God!
The prophet Malachi gives a solemn warning to those who are stingy in their giving. To people who are not grateful to God and hold back what God wants them to give,
MALACHI 3 6 “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.

So Malachi is saying that people who do not give what they should to God are actually robbing God of what He is worthy of and what He is entitled too and what is rightfully his. God will withdraw his blessing from those who do not give as generously as they should. But then comes a wonderful promise for those who do honour God in their offerings.

10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.
So if we hold back in our offerings we can lose God’s blessing. But if we do honour God in our offerings his blessings will be overflowing!
And this brings us to the heart of the matter.
GOD LOVES A CHEERFUL GIVER
When we stop to think about all that God has done for us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, we will want to give cheerfully and generously. When we really appreciate all the good things God has given us so richly to enjoy we will be truly thankful and that will make us into cheerful givers.
2 Corinthians 9 talks about a collection which Paul is taking up to relieve the poverty of the church in Jerusalem. He is urging the Corinthian Christians to have their offering ready when he arrives. But will you notice, he doesn’t say anything at all about the sufferings of the Jerusalem Christians, although they were starving. The focus is not on the good cause. The focus is entirely on God. And all of their giving is an expression of thanksgiving to God Himself. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
There is another important principle which Paul wants the Corinthians to remember.
6 Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
This is not some health wealth and prosperity gospel. Paul is not suggesting that the way to be successful is to give generously. But he is reminding us that we should not expect God to bless us if we are too selfish to bless other people. And on the other hand, God will always give us what we need to do His will. Not necessarily everything we might want, but certainly what we will need! God will bless us – but nor for our own benefit but he will bless us to enable us to be generous to others.

8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
‘They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures for ever.’

It is good to be generous. Especially to give generously to meet the needs of the poor. Everything we have comes from God. It is God who gives us what we need to enable us not to be selfish but to be generous.
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
Everything we have comes from God. Everything we have belongs to God. And all our giving is giving to God. So for our ThankOffering Gift Day today.
7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

How should we decide how to vote for in 2017

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

The General Election two years ago produced a result which surprised everybody. When the pollsters were predicting a very tight election and quite possibly a minority or coalition government, the clear victory for the Conservative Party was unexpected. Then last year the outcome of the vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union came as a great surprise, particularly to the people who had argued in favour of Brexit. For many months the new Prime Minister Theresa May promised that there would be no General Election until 2020. But now, here we are. In ten days the country will once again be choosing our next government. Here in Chelmsford things are particularly exciting because we are certain to have our first new Member of Parliament for 30 years as Sir Simon Burns will not be contesting the seat.
This time the pollsters and most commentators agree on what they predict the national outcome is likely to be. Most people are expecting the Conservative Party to increase its majority. But then over the last few years in Britain, and in America and across Europe, the polls and the pundits have been more wrong than right. So who knows?
Should Christians vote Labour, conservative, Liberal democrat, UKIP, Green, Monster Raving Loony party? It’s no surprise that the Bible gives us no specific answer to that question. Modern-style democracy had not been invented in the time of Moses or of Jesus. I believe there are at least two things we should have in mind as we consider who we should vote for – the people and the policies. Let’s begin by thinking about the PEOPLE. The Bible does not talk at all about political parties but it does have a lot to say about RULERS.
Specifically it tells us that there are marks of character which rulers need.
In the history of Israel their first King Saul had been a disaster and God had rejected him So God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint a new King. And we know the story of how the visit unfolded as Samuel was introduced one by one to the sons of Jesse.
1 Samuel 16 6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
God looks at the heart. We may choose our politicians by all sorts of criteria. Appearance. Accent. Background. Education. Experience. But God does not look at the things man looks at. God looks at the heart, at personality and at character. So what should we be looking for in our politicians – those elected to represent us?

A SERVANT HEART
The mother of James and John asked Jesus to promise that they would sit in the top positions at his right and left hand in glory. Jesus said to all the disciples,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Our leaders are called “Public servants”. They are elected to serve us, the people, not their own interests. God looks at the heart! Who are these people actually serving?

WISDOM
God appeared to King Solomon in a dream, and Solomon asked God.
1 Kings 3: 9 … give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
Our leaders need wisdom. Not necessarily great intelligence, although that would be an asset. But the wisdom to choose the right priorities, see the bigger pictures, and make the right decisions.
The Book of Proverbs says this,
Proverbs 8:12 “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. … 14 Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have understanding and power
15 By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just;
16 by me princes govern, and all nobles who rule on earth.
God looks at the heart – who amongst our politicians is truly wise? More than in any election I can remember, this time lots of attention is being given to the Leaders of the main parties. As we consider those individuals we need to think about their character. Are they honest? Can we trust them? Are they wise? Do they have a servant heart?
We think about the PEOPLE. But then we will also want to consider the POLICIES advocated by the different political parties and the individual candidates. How will the stated policies of the different parties influence who we vote for? All the major parties have some candidates who are openly Christian believers. So we should recognise that it is possible for Christians to vote with integrity for any of the major parties. There are some very helpful online articles posted by Christians who are supporting each of the main parties. I’ve put the web address of the blog on our Notice Sheet and I’ve printed a few copies of those articles in case you don’t use the internet. None of the parties or the candidates takes an explicitly Christian stand. Each party takes what we might possibly agree is “the Christian line” on some of the issues and directly opposes the Christian line on other issues. So at best we could end up trying to balance which issues are the most important for our vote.
A quote from an article on the BBC News website sums up how many people actually feel about politics and elections. A voter in Australia said she feels “powerless” and frustrated at having to choose “usually between a number of highly incompetent morons. You’re forced to weigh up who is the lesser evil in the grand scheme of things,” she says. “Bearing in mind that election promises are often broken and you can totally be wrong with what you thought was that lesser evil.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-39784404)
Some good points there. It was the possibly the most popular politician ever, Jim Hacker M.P. in “Yes Minister”, who said that manifesto promises don’t count anyway – everybody knows that nobody actually intends to keep them. But we should still pay close attention to these policies and manifesto promises.
I believe the Bible gives us important Christian principles which we can apply to discover God’s will about any specific issues, and we will want to see for ourselves how the politicians match up to God’s standards in these and other areas. Here are two principles which the Bible makes clear that God very much cares about.

The principle of JUSTICE - FAIRNESS
God is a God of Justice. The God of the Bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the holy and righteous God. He cares passionately about justice. God cares that people treat each other fairly.
(The LORD) is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deuteronomy 32:3-4)
The LORD reigns for ever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:7-9)
God is a God of justice. And God expects his people to care about justice too. Christians have always been at the forefront of the battles for social justice. Abolishing slavery. Racial justice. Gender equality. Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. God says in Amos 5:24 let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
God demands fairness. And God demands that leaders of nations work for true justice.
Proverbs 282 When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order.
3 A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.
4 Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them.
5 Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.
God looks at the heart – do our politicians truly work for justice?

The principle of COMPASSION – CARE FOR THE POOR AND NEEDY -
Let us remember just how much God cares about the poor and marginalized. I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. (Psalm 140:12)

As well as caring for justice for all men and women and children, God has a particular interest in specific groups of people. There is a triad which we find mentioned no less than 18 times in the Old Testament, “the alien, the fatherless and the widow”

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
Aliens. Outsiders. People who don’t belong. People who don’t quite fit in. These are the kinds of people God really cares about. It was Bishop of Liverpool David Sheppard who in his book in 1983 drew the attention of the churches to God’s “Bias to the poor”. We find this principle throughout the Old Testament and especially also in Luke’s Gospel. God has a special care for the poor and the marginalised and the oppressed. Remember the words of the Magnificat, which may Christians use in their worship every week.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:52-53)
Remember God’s blessings promised to the poor and the woes on those who are rich and well fed in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke chapter 6. God still calls his people to show the same care He does for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, the outsiders, the refugees, anybody marginalised by society.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter. (Isaiah 53:6-7)
God cares for the poor and needy and he expects the leaders of nations to show that same compassion for the weak and defenceless in the community. Too many politicians are only concerned with what they can achieve for their supporters, for their kinds of people. In recent years it is true that the rich have been getting richer and the poor have been getting poorer. God looks at the heart – how much do our politicians really care about ALL sectors of society – the aliens, the fatherless, the widows? God looks for compassion!
Isaiah 10 Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees,
2 to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.

Two general principles – justice and compassion. Then there are specific issues to think about. Here is my list of ten areas of policy which Christians ought to be concerned about, although of course there are others as well. Which of these are the most important when we are considering who to vote for in June? Which should be our priority? Are any of them “deal-breakers”? So important that we would not vote for a party which took a position in opposition to our understanding of that issue? Here are my ten topics, in no particular order.
1. The economy – Pensions, taxation, council tax, tackling poverty and especially child poverty, Universal Credit and the Impact on those on benefits and particularly the Personal Independence Payments.
2. Education – the squeeze on school budgets, the false god of choice and the issue of selective schools. And this time, the issue of Student Grants.
3. Europe – how we structure trade and border arrangements with the European Union and the rest of the world in the light of Brexit.
4. Also in the light of Brexit, issues of Migration, Immigration and asylum,
5. Ethical issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia.
6. Health issues, The future of the National Health Service with its continuing underfunding.
7. Housing and affordable housing, development in South-East, Transport, The Environment.
8. International development, International security and threat of terrorism,
9. Criminal justice. Racial justice, equality.
10. Secularisation and the marginalisation of Christians and other Faith Communities.
So many issues. So many questions – so many different answers from the different political parties and candidates. Which matter most to us and to our families? Which matter most to God?
I want to finish on one more issue of voting which is particularly relevant to our situation in Chelmsford where one party has historically had a massive majority and last time gained more votes than all the other parties put together. In order to keep out a party they don’t want, some people choose to vote for the party which polls tell them stands the best chance of defeating that party which they really, really don’t want. This is called “tactical voting.” Is it morally right to cast your precious vote for a candidate or party you don’t actually support, in the hope that by electing them you will keep out a party you like even less? Tactical voting is also called strategic voting, or, interestingly, “insincere voting”, because the voter is “supporting another candidate more strongly than his or her sincere preference, in order to prevent an undesirable outcome.”
What’s wrong with that, you may ask, as long as the party I really don’t want doesn’t get elected? Well, firstly, obviously, to cast a tactical vote you may end up needing to support a party which has policies you don’t actually believe in, or even think are wrong. Two consequences of that are that afterwards that party you voted for may claim that they have significantly more support nationally than they actually do. And they may equally claim that the policies they promoted are more popular than actually they are. Tactical voting may well not succeed in keeping out the party you don’t want out anyway. But looking beyond the election, tactical voting may also give the analysts wrong impressions about support for parties or policies. That may not be such a good thing. So, should Christians consider voting tactically? I don’t know the answer to that – but I think it’s a good question which not many people are asking.
God looks at the heart. He looks for a servant heart. He looks for wisdom. And when it comes to specific policies, God looks for justice and He looks for compassion. So who do we vote for? That your responsibility to decide. We all need to find out for ourselves what the candidates and the different parties think and believe from what they have written or said about themselves. When we vote let us bear in mind – God looks at the heart!

WYSIWYG Christians Exodus 20:15-16

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

We come this morning to the Eighth and Ninth of the ten commandments: Exodus 20:15-16 “You shall not steal.” “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.”
These two belong together under the one heading of honesty – no lying, no stealing.
Stealing is dishonesty in our dealings with property. Lying is dishonesty in our use of words. God expects Christians to be scrupulously honest both in the things that we do and in the things that we say. It’s all about integrity. No stealing. No lying.

One day in London a vicar noticed a group of boys standing around a small stray dog. “What are you doing, boys?” He asked.
“Telling lies,” said one of the boys. “The one who tells the biggest lie gets to keep the dog.”
The vicar was shocked. “Why, when I was your age,” he said, “I never ever thought of telling a lie.”
The boys looked at one another, and their faces fell. Finally one of them shrugged and said,
“I guess he wins the dog.”

There was a time when vicars and ministers were known for their honesty and integrity. Indeed there have been periods in history when Christians, more than any other groups of people, have enjoyed a reputation for honesty, for always telling the truth and never lying or stealing. And so it should be. Because our God cares about honesty and dishonesty and truth and falsehood and God does not like lying or stealing. No lying. No stealing. The words TRUTH and TRUE appear more than 500 times in the Bible!!! And the Bible speaks more than 150 time about honesty & dishonesty and being honest.

There is a relatively new word which I can remember from when it entered our language in 1982 back when I was teaching people about computers. The word is WYSIWYG and it stands for “what you see is what you get.” In computing it means that what you see on your computer screen is exactly what will appear on your printer. But you can apply that word to people as well. WYSIWYG people are those rare individuals who are exactly what they appear to be, no more and no less. They are completely open and honest without a trace of deception. What you see is what you get. GOD wants us to be WYSIWYG Christians.

Or, to use a different word, God calls us to be TRANSPARENT CHRISTIANS, transparent people, transparently honest, with nothing hidden, nothing concealed, no trace of deceit or dishonesty. No stealing. No lying. Transparent Christians.

We start by reminding ourselves that Our lives are TRANSPARENT TO GOD

God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint the next king of Israel from among the sons of Jesse. Samuel thought he knew how to recognise God’s chosen one, but God had other ideas.
1 Samuel 16:6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, `Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

God knows us inside out. God looks into our innermost thoughts. God looks at the heart!
Psalm 139:1 ¶ Lord, you have examined me and you know me. 2 You know everything I do; from far away you understand all my thoughts. 3 You see me, whether I am working or resting; you know all my actions. 4 Even before I speak, you already know what I will say. GNB

So there is no point in deceit – we can’t deceive God. You can fool some of the people all of the time and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool God any of the time, not ever. What a man is on his knees before God is exactly what he is – no more, no less.

Ps 51:6 Sincerity and truth are what you require; fill my mind with your wisdom. (GNB)

God demands truth and sincerity. The word sincere comes from two Latin words - sine and cera, meaning “without wax.” Years ago, a potter would often put his stamp on a pot or vase with the words sine cera. This meant that to his knowledge there was no flaw in that work. If a potter had cracked the vessel, he would carefully patch the flawed vase or bowl or statuette by filling in the crack with wax. Then he would glaze it over and sell it at a much lower price. But only flawless pieces of pottery would be given the stamp, sine cera, “without wax,” and they would be worth much more because of that.

God is transforming Christians to be sincere, without hidden flaws, no imperfections, no pretending to be what we are not, no putting on a show. We can’t hide anything from God! And God demands that we present the same face to the whole world that we present to Him. God wants us to be, in front of our friends and family, God wants us to be in front of our neighbours and work colleagues, the same people that we are on our knees before Him. WYSIWYG people. Transparent people.

JESUS TAKE ME AS I AM, I can come no other way.
Take me deeper into You, Make my flesh life melt away.
Make me like a precious stone, Crystal clear and finely honed,
Life of Jesus shining through, Giving glory back to You.

The life of Jesus can only shine through us when we are entirely honest and open and sincere. If there is any pretence, any concealment, above all any dishonesty, then the people around us won’t be able to see Jesus in his glory – only us and all our imperfections.

So our lives must be TRANSPARENT TO THE WORLD

Back in May in our evening services we had a series of discussions on everyday Christian living and the first of those was entitled “Integrity: white lies and speed limits.” We thought about whether it is every acceptable for Christians to tell a lie. Ephesians 4:15 commands us to speak the truth in love. There may be occasions when it may seem that love constrains us to tell a “white lie”, to bend the truth, or conceal the truth, because speaking the truth might lead to great harm. The classic question in the Second World War, from the book The Hiding Place where a Nazi soldier asked Corrie Ten Boom, went something like this. “Do you have a secret room where you are hiding the Jews we want to arrest?” We considered that in such extreme circumstances it could be justified to tell a lie in order to save an innocent person’s life. But in our lives, that would be a very rare exception. If a Christian ever finds himself or herself speaking words which are not true, we will always do so with deep regret, recognising that the lesser evil of a lie to prevent a greater evil or hurt is nevertheless a lie! In every normal situation, Christians will always want to tell the truth. No lying.

In everyday life there are many embarrassing questions. The child who asks, “do you like this picture I have drawn?” or the wife who wants to know, “do you like my new dress / new hairdo?” Or what about the classic Christmas question – “how did you like the present I gave you?” “Oh yes, that orange tie with pink spots, most … tasteful”. In such situations it is so tempting to and so easy to give a little white lie. But there is a slippery slope there. We should remember that VERY few occasions are really a matter of life and death. In every normal situation Christians will want to tell the truth. No lying.

I came across a revealing phrase. “A certain politician didn’t lie, he just stretched the truth until the elastic snapped!” We should remember that every time we bend the truth or are economical with the truth, even if we are doing so out of love or with the best of motives, we are going against the letter and the spirit of Scripture. Do not bear false witness. No lying!

Matthew 5:33 “You have also heard that people were told in the past, `Do not break your promise, but do what you have vowed to the Lord to do.’ 34 But now I tell you: do not use any vow when you make a promise. Do not swear by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by earth, for it is the resting place for his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Do not even swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white or black. 37 Simply let your `Yes’ be `Yes’, and your `No’, `No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Jesus challenges us to be known as people who can be trusted in everything we say, and equally in everything we do. To be known and to stand out in society as “truth-tellers.” Too often people will tell lies to get out of trouble, or to impress other people, without giving their lies a second thought. And Christians can so easily and so often fall into this trap as well. But we should NOT slip into telling lies (not even little ones, not even so-called little white lies) just to get ourselves of difficult situations.

“What harm will just one little white lie do?” we think to ourselves. Somebody once asked the great ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle what could a man gain by telling a lie? Aristotle replied, “Never to be trusted when he speaks the truth.”

If people can’t trust what we say is true in day-to-day life, why should they trust us when we claim to know the truth which can sets them free? Why should they believe the gospel we proclaim if they can’t believe other things we tell them because they know we have lied to them? Christians really need to be known as trustworthy and honest people.

We live in a world which considers honesty and integrity less important than popularity and success. Truth has become a very elastic thing. There is a famous quote ascribed both to Groucho Marx and to Sam Goldwyn, although in the interests of accuracy I have to reveal that nobody actually knows who it was who first said it. The quote goes,
“The most important thing is honesty. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” That is the way the world thinks, certainly salesmen and politicians. But God thinks differently. The eighth and ninth commandments are very clear. No stealing No lying. Sadly, very many people only care about the unwritten 11th commandment, “Thou shalt not get caught!”
For Christians, our honesty should be transparent in our everyday lives. This should show in our attitudes to work and our attitudes to money. No stealing. Our honesty will be evident when we don’t use the office phone for personal calls if there isn’t a procedure for paying for personal calls, even if everybody else is doing that! Our honesty will show itself in our Tax returns. I heard about a letter one man sent to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

“Dear Inland Revenue
Enclosed you will find a check for £150. I cheated on my income tax return last year. But now I have become a Christian I have not been able to sleep ever since. If I still have trouble sleeping I will send you the rest.
Sincerely, A Tax Payer”

No stealing. No lying. As Christians, our lives should be shining examples of honesty and integrity and trustworthiness. Transparent Christians. WYSIWYG Christians.

Chuck Swindoll wrote, “Honesty has a beautiful and refreshing simplicity about it. No ulterior motives. No hidden meanings. An absence of hypocrisy, duplicity, political games, and verbal superficiality. As honesty and real integrity characterize our lives, there will be no need to manipulate others.”

Part of this integrity is doing what you said you would do. It means keeping your promises. It means faithfulness to marriage promises. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. The seventh commandment is just the application of the eighth and ninth commandments to marriage. In the same way, integrity means keeping the promises we make to children and friends and church.

And another important part of being honest and trustworthy is keeping confidences. When somebody tells us some piece of information, then unless they specifically tell us we can pass it on to others we have a solemn obligation to keep that piece of information to ourselves. The safe thing to do is to assume that everything anybody tells us is shared in confidence, unless they give us permission to tell others. Christians are not always as good as we should be at keeping confidences. Some people use a deceptive phrase like, “I’m just sharing this for prayer.” That is just an excuse for gossip. That should not happen. WYSIWYG Christians and Transparent Christians are people who can always be trusted not to gossip to others what we have been told in confidence.

Of course there is nothing surprising in what I am saying. We all agree that integrity is important, that keeping promises and keeping confidences and sincerity and honesty are all important. In our everyday lives, we need to remember that God doesn’t care so much about what we SAY is right or wrong in theory. What God cares about is what we actually DO in practice. So how can we grow in honesty and develop our integrity?

We need to become TRANSPARENT TO OTHER CHRISTIANS
- transparently honest, nothing hidden, no deceit, nothing concealed, no trace of deceit and dishonesty.

Mark Twain once said that the church is a place where a nice respectable person stands in front of other nice, respectable people and urges them to be nicer and more respectable. If that is all church is for us, we are completely missing the point.

Church should be the place, or rather, the people who are the church should be the family where we learn to be completely honest with each other. Where we learn to open our lives and be vulnerable with each other. Where we learn to trust each other. God has given us each other so that we can practice being sincere and honest with each other –so we can learn integrity, openness, honesty, and vulnerability. Church is the community where we learn to be WYSIWYG Christians by watching WYSIWYG Christians. We become transparent Christians ourselves by sharing our lives with other transparent Christians. Like so many things – honesty and integrity are “better caught than taught”

We need to learn how to be genuine with each other. To learn how to be honest about our weaknesses and our failings with each other. We need to come to the point where we can be completely open without being scared that other Christians will kick us when we are down, and without being scared that other Christians will exploit our weaknesses and judge us or reject us. And in all of this, confidentiality is key. We need to be able to trust that the things we say will not be blabbed to other people we would never tell.

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

In some other churches the priest has the role of defining for the people what is right or wrong, and how serious a sin is, by the ritual of receiving Confession. We Baptists don’t necessarily have a forum for discussing everyday ethical and moral issues. Perhaps there would be a valuable place in our church life for Confession and Absolution and for services of Reconciliation.

Eph 4:25 No more lying, then! Everyone must tell the truth to his fellow-believer, because we are all members together in the body of Christ. GNB

No lying. No stealing. Our lives are transparent before God. We need lives which are transparent to the world. And we must begin by letting our lives become transparent to other Christians. WYSIWYG Christians!

But are any of us brave enough to do it??????

JESUS TAKE ME AS I AM, I can come no other way.
Take me deeper into You, Make my flesh life melt away.
Make me like a precious stone, Crystal clear and finely honed,
Life of Jesus shining through, Giving glory back to You.

Working for eternity - Building with silver and gold 1 Corinthians 3

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

There is a legend you may have heard which says that when we get to heaven people will be rewarded according to how they have lived in this life with differing forms of transport. When a certain vicar arrived at the pearly gates he was given a bicycle identical to the bicycle he had ridden around his parish all his life. But as soon as he got inside the he saw a man driving around heaven in the poshest Rolls Royce you can imagine. The vicar cycled over to the nearest angel and complained.
“How is it that I am still riding this bicycle when that man is driving a Rolls Royce?
“That’s easy,” the angel explained. “When you were doing your job and preaching your sermons, people fell asleep. That man was a taxi driver. When he was doing his job, people didn’t just stay awake. They prayed!”

A month ago we were thinking about what it means to work for eternity – to do things in this life which will last forever. The apostle Paul spells out more of what this might mean when he writes to the Corinthians.
8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour.

There will be rewards God will give in heaven to those who have served Him here on earth. We do not know what form those rewards will take – but they are waiting for those who have served God faithfully in the strength he supplies. The rewards are for every believer who has helped build up the body of Christ, the spiritual Temple where the Holy Spirit dwells.
9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Each and every one of us have a part to play in God’s field and God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.

Building with gold and silver. Many of the things we do only last a few seconds or a few minutes. Most of what we do will only last this lifetime. But Paul is saying here that there are things we can do in this life which will endure into eternity. Words and actions which will have eternal value and significance. Building with silver and gold.

Last month we thought about three kinds of things we can be doing which will last forever – faith, hope and love. Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:13. Most of the things we do in this life will not last into eternity. But one day we will see God face to face and we will know God as God knows us. And on that day when imperfection has disappeared in the perfection of heaven, three things will endure. Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love.

So we thought about what it means to live by faith. Trusting in God to guide us and lead us.
Proverbs 3 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

We also thought about our Christian hope. Whatever suffering or trials or even persecution Christians may experience in this life, we have God’s wonderful promise of the happy certainty of heaven! An inheritance which can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for us.

We live by faith, we live in hope, and also we love God and we love other Christians and we love our neighbours because God has first loved us with a love which has no limits and a love which will never let us go. Faith, hope and love are three things which will last forever. Because we are not working for time – we are working for eternity.

This morning I want to suggest four other things which we need to be doing if we are serious about working for eternity. But before that I want to say a bit more about love. In particular,
BROTHERLY LOVE and GOOD SAMARITAN LOVE

We last month about what it means in practice to love other people as God loves us. And as well as showing God’s kind of love to other believers, we need to be showing that love to our neighbours and even strangers as well. The Early Church preached the Good News of Jesus. They healed the sick and drove out demons in Jesus’s name. But at the same time those first Christians were also meeting people’s needs and loving their neighbours! They brought people to Jesus by announcing the good news and also by being Good Samaritans – by showing God’s kind of sacrificial love to complete strangers. Preach the gospel. Love your neighbour. By THIS will all men know you are my disciples – by the love you show! The same kind of sacrificial love as Jesus expressed for us dying for us on the cross. Loving each other in ways like that. Loving your neighbour as you love yourself. Loving strangers. Being good Samaritans!

God doesn’t call us to like our neighbours but to LOVE our neighbours. Love isn’t a feeling – it’s a command to practical action! To put our neighbours’ needs at the same level as your needs. If their family are hungry and your family are hungry you share the food you have. That is Good Samaritan love. If they or their family are sick and your family are sick you share the medicine you have. If they have nowhere to sleep you find them somewhere to sleep. That is Good Samaritan love. If they need to travel and you are able to help them travel, you help them travel. That is Good Samaritan love. If their child is lost and your child is lost – you search for both children and not just your own. That is Good Samaritan love. If they are in debt and you have money you help them with money. If they face a problem you help them sort out their problem – however long that takes, however much it may cost you in time and energy and heartache and money. Because that is Good Samaritan love. That is loving your neighbour as you love yourself! And not just our friends but even our enemies because Jesus teaches us to love our enemies just as much as we love our own families.

The parable of the good Samaritan is so memorable it has given us not one but two phrases which have entered into our language. The first is the example to follow, the “Good Samaritan”, the person who goes out of his way to help out. But the second phrase is the opposite, an example to avoid, “Passing by on the other side”. The priest and the Levite who both go out of their way to AVOID helping out. Are we Good Samaritans? Are we known to be the kind of people who help out? Or are we the kind of people who close our eyes to the needs of others and just pass by on the other side?
EVANGELISM – planting the seed like Paul did

Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

1 Corinthians 9:16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is not an offer. It’s not an invitation. It’s not a debate. The true gospel is simply an announcement that Jesu Christ has come, that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. And that announcement is so earth-shattering that it demands a response from every one of us who hears it. Repent and believe!

This was the apostle Paul’s announcement in Athens:
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)

The world is full of problems. The credit crunch and the crisis in the world economy, as well as the growing threat of terrorism, are causing many people to rethink their lives and their priorities. The false gods of Money and Entertainment and Shopping are empty. People are realising that their treasures on earth are being eaten away by the moths and the rust and the thieves are breaking in and stealing the wealth and possessions so many have relied on and even worshipped. Very many people are more ready to hear about spiritual things – true treasures in heaven. We must be busy taking every opportunity to proclaim the gospel with boldness!

BUILDING UP DISCIPLES – watering the seed like Apollos did

Colossians 1:28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

1 Thess 2:6 As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 9 Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

When we build up other Christians we are laying up treasures in heaven. Especially when we care for new Christians and young Christians and build them up in the faith. Brotherly love and Good Samaritan love. Preaching the gospel. Building up disciples. In all these things, if we want to be building with gold and silver, we must be

RELYING ON GOD’s STRENGTH

9 For we are God’s fellow-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

So what does it mean to be God’s fellow workers?
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. ONLY GOD GIVES THE GROWTH

I am the true vine, says Jesus. Without me you can do nothing!

Zechariah 4:6 `Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.
NOT BY MIGHT collective strength, to armies or forces or warriors or fighting men. In anything God calls us to do for him if we put our trust in MIGHT, we will be wasting our time. Not by might of NUMBERS Not by might of MONEY. Not by might of GOOD PREMISES. Not by might of NEW TECHNOLOGY. Not by might of LOTS of ACTIVITIES. NOT BY MIGHT – says the Lord Almighty. He is the ALL MIGHTY God. In comparison to His great might, all our human resources count for nothing at all!

NOT BY POWER the strength of individual men and women. We must not put our trust in our own power or our own efforts. All our skills and abilities count for absolutely nothing! NOT by power of training or experience or human wisdom or hard work.

Not by might nor by power, BUT BY MY SPIRIT says the Lord Almighty

If people are going to be saved, God is going to do it. Not us, in our strength, by our efforts, but God must do it. By the power of His Holy Spirit. Our part is to make sure we are available to God and ready to obey Him when He wants to use us, and that we don’t get in God’s way by trying to do His work for Him! God gives us Power from on High. Power to be witnesses for Jesus. The power of the Holy Spirit. The dynamo and the dynamite of God the Holy Spirit at work in OUR lives, which can accomplish so much more than we can ever ask for or even imagine. Serving in God’s strength for God’s glory – so God gets the credit – not us! Relying on God.

Working for eternity – building with gold and silver. No surprises in those four ways and none in the fifth,

PRAYER

Paul’s own example of prayer for the churches he has planted and the people he cared about so much! We get to know God through prayer. Prayer isn’t just a useful tool to help us in our Christian service. In Richard Foster’s words, “Prayer is nothing more than an ongoing and growing love relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Prayer is the heart of our relationship with God. But then our evangelism and our disciple-building and our loving should also be the topics of our urgent praying.

Eph 6:18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

We must pray to draw near to God, to listen to God and to ask God to move mountains.
“We must write prayer again into the lifestyle of our churches; meaningful prayer, urgent prayer, repentant prayer, constant prayer, Spirit-led prayer, even sacrificial prayer!” Eric Westwood Baptist Union President

I make no apologies for repeating that quote to you. I will keep on repeating it – until we do it! Write prayer again into the lifestyle of our churches!

BROTHERLY LOVE and GOOD SAMARITAN LOVE
EVANGELISM
BUILDING UP DISCIPLES
RELYING ON GOD’S STRENGTH
PRAYER

12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.

We aren’t working for time. We’re working for eternity!

Becoming a Church Member

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

Becoming a Church Member

“The church” is not a building, nor an organisation, but people! The Bible calls the church “The Body of Christ,” made up of all Christians in every age. Anybody who has eternal life is a member of this universal church. The church is the Family of all who have God as their Father.
But the Bible also uses the word “church” to refer to a local group of Christians meeting in a particular place. A true Christian will want to show he or she is a part of the universal church by belonging to a local church. Being a Christian but not belonging to any church would be like trying to be a football player without being part of a team!

We misunderstand what “church membership” means if we think of it in the much weaker and more remote meaning of membership used in organisations and clubs. Being a “member” of the church is like being a “family member” or “member of an orchestra” or “member of a football team”. Membership is not about status but participation.

Christians express their faith in several ways. As part of their discipleship, believers should plan to worship every week. Meaningful worship and regular Bible teaching are vital to the spiritual health of every believer. Communion especially is an expression of belonging as well as the greatest opportunity to receive the blessing of God, and it is good to plan to receive Communion at least once a month. Housebound members may take Communion at home at their request.

The principal occasions for fellowship and pastoral care are the midweek Home Groups and prayer meetings. Christians should expect to play an active part in such groups unless this is totally impractical. Corporate prayer is at the heart of the life of any church, and the church is more of a family in these smaller gatherings than it can be in larger meetings.

Christians are ambassadors for Christ and also for the church. Each of us should be active and enthusiastic in sharing our faith with neighbours and friends. Most Christians would also expect to find a practical or pastoral task which is their sphere of service within their local church, and would want to give as generously as they are able to support Christian work.

The Church Membership List

Every Christian who is taking an active part in the life of North Springfield Baptist Church in the kinds of ways listed above, as far as they are able, already belongs to the church. In Bible terms all are valued members of the church. But as well as a spiritual body, North Springfield Baptist Church is also a human organisation and a legal entity. And for these purposes the church, like all other Baptist churches, is obliged to have a formal list of members. In church business when we refer to “Church Membership” we actually have to be concerned with that group of people whose names are on the church Membership List.

Some denominations organise themselves so the church is an institution with an identity of its own. Someone can still “belong” to such an organisation, perhaps after infant baptism or confirmation, even if they never participate in worship or other activities. But the Bible leads Baptist Churches to believe that any local church should be a “gathered” community of individuals who themselves must be active Christians, joined together by their commitment to each other. Each local church is only the sum of its members, with no hierarchy of Bishops or Moderators above it. So each Baptist congregation operates entirely independently to manage its activities as God may direct.

In Baptist churches important decisions are not made by the minister or elders or deacons alone, but by the whole church. So the Church Meeting decides everything, from the kinds of services the church has, to how to maintain the premises, to choosing a new minister. In order to ensure that it is only active Christians who are committed to the church who share in this decision making, all Baptist churches operate a Membership List.

Leaders of church activities can only be appointed from among the people who are on the Membership List because only they have the legal authority to act on behalf of the church. Equally, only people on the Membership List of the Church can make decisions about how the church money is spent.
Ideally the Church Membership List will include all the Christians who are actively involved in the life of the church, so they all can share in the decisions and play a full part in all activities. Most Baptist churches do have a number of committed Christians who have not yet “joined the church” in the formal sense of being added to the Membership List. Some may have come from churches which organise themselves differently and may not understand how “Church Membership” in Baptist churches works. Others may have been with us for many years and (we hope) feel entirely at home and feel that they already belong to the church.

Applying to join the Church Membership List is a very simple process. People wishing to become “a church member” initially approach the Minister (or in his absence the Church Secretary). If the person is a new Christian or has not belonged to a Baptist church before, they may have further discussions to make sure they understand the meaning of belonging to the church. Two existing members are then appointed as `Visitors’. Their task is to get to know the person applying for membership, both to welcome them and to confirm that they are genuine believers. At the next Church Members Meeting the Minister and the Visitors jointly recommend the prospective Member to the church. The existing members then make a decision to allow the person to join the Membership List and the new Member is welcomed into the Church at the next convenient Communion Service.

The Meaning of Church Membership

Being a Christian is not just a private and personal thing. Our Christian lives should not normally be lived out in isolation but in the fellowship of the church. The church is the community of disciples. If we want to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ we will express our discipleship by belonging to a church.
“The church” is not a building. The church is not an organisation. The church is a group of people! The Bible says the church is “The Body of Christ”, made up of all Christians in every age. Even if they never meet up with any other Christians, anybody who has eternal life IS a member of this invisible universal church. The church is the Family made up of everybody who has a personal relationship with God as their Father.

But the Bible also uses the word “church” to refer to a local group of Christians meeting in a particular place, a local congregation. All true Christians will want to show they belong to the universal church by playing their part in a local church. Being a Christian but not belonging to any local church really would be like trying to be a football player without being part of a team!

We can easily misunderstand the ideas of “belonging to a church” or “church membership” if we think of it in the weak remote sense of membership you find used in some secular organisations and clubs. Some people treat being a member of a church just like being a member of the RAC or the AA – pay your subscriptions once a year and you can call the church out to help as often as you like. But belonging to a church is much more like being a member of a family or a member of an orchestra or a member of a football team. Belonging to a church is not a matter of privileges but of participation. It’s not about what we can receive but what we can give and what we can accomplish together.

We are all different in the time and energy we are able to devote to church life. But every Christian who is taking an active part as far as they are able in the worship and fellowship and witness of north Springfield Baptist Church belongs to this church. Even if your name is not yet on the membership list, even if you are not formally a member of that human legal organisation called north Springfield Baptist Church, we hope you feel at home here. If you are playing your part in the life of the church then you belong to the church. In Bible terms all Christians are members of that part of Christ’s body which meets here, all are valued members of the church. That’s the way it should be in God’s perfect plan. That’s the way it needs to be!

Billy Graham said, “Christians are like coals in a fire. When they cling together, they keep the flame burning brightly; when they separate, they die out.” We need each other as Christians – we need the church!

Belonging to any church brings us many blessings. There are the blessings of sharing in the church’s worship and fellowship and witness. There are the blessings of receiving teaching and pastoral care.
But belonging to a church also implies commitment to the church and its activities by loyal attendance (not only on Sundays!) and by giving time, talents and financial support to that church. True belonging brings both blessings and obligations. The list below helps us think through what our obligations are if we belong to a church.

Responsibilities of Belonging to the Church

1. To follow Jesus Christ wholeheartedly, open to His encouragement, leading and discipline through His church.
(Matthew 18:15-18)
We all need other Christians to help us in our discipleship, to encourage us but also to challenge us and steer us in the right direction sometimes.

2. To seek to grow in Christian discipleship day by day in your relationship with God, in personal holiness and in understanding of the faith. (Micah 6:8.)
The Bible and the Holy Spirit can teach us individually about Jesus, but God’s plan is that we should learn from other Christians. We all need the church to teach us through sermons, Bible Studies, Home Groups and other meetings. A Christian who wants to grow will look for Bible teaching mid-week, not just once a week on Sundays. We have much to learn too about faith from the experiences of other Christians.

3. To seek to witness by words and lifestyle to all that Jesus Christ has done and is doing in your life.
(Matthew 28:18-20 , Acts 1:8.)
Christians are ambassadors for Christ and also for the church. Each of us should be active and enthusiastic in sharing our faith with neighbours and friends in any ways we possibly can.

4. To be as regular as possible at worship (especially communion), church meetings and other church events.
(Hebrews 10:24-25)
There are a number of ways in which Christians should express their faith. Meaningful worship and regular Bible teaching are vital to the spiritual health of every believer. Sharing regularly in praise and prayer with other believers can be one of the most uplifting experiences in the Christian life. Communion especially is an expression of belonging as well as the greatest opportunity to receive the blessing of God. It’s good to plan to receive Communion at least once a month, but Christians should also surely plan to be at worship every week. The issue here is not taste or convenience but discipleship.

5. To pray faithfully for the life and work of the church and for World Mission. (Matthew 18:19-20)
Prayer is at the heart of the Christian life. Some members of the fellowship may find it difficult or impossible to attend meetings, or even to get to services. For a variety of very good reasons, at different stages of life, some Christians are not be available to play an active part in the church in any areas of service or witness. But EVERY Christian can support the church in prayer, and almost all could arrange to meet with one or two others, say in a prayer triplet, on a regular basis to pray for the life and work of the church. Praying together is at the heart of the life of any church.

6. To play a loving and loyal part in the fellowship, caring for others, sharing freely and bearing each other’s burdens. (Acts 2:42-47, Galatians 6:1-2)
The principal occasions for fellowship and pastoral care are the midweek Home Groups and Prayer Meetings. The church is more of a family in these smaller gatherings than it can be in larger meetings.
As members of God’s family we can share our Christian lives with brothers and sisters. We can share our joys and sorrows, questions and doubts, needs and problems, with others and we can all be used by God to help each other grow as Christians. As we share our lives together, care for others and bear one another’s burdens, so we obey Christ’s New Commandment to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35). So we should make time to get to know other Christians and talk, study and pray in small informal groups so that we can grow together. For most Christians belonging to a HOME GROUP will be very important.

7. To serve God in practical ways in the church and in the world using the skills, abilities and spiritual gifts He has given. (Romans 12:4-8)
Most Christians would also expect to find a practical or pastoral task which is their sphere of service within their local church and we discover our ways of serving God through the church. It is here that our spiritual gifts can be recognised and developed. We can learn to serve God and the church best in a loving atmosphere with the help and guidance of older Christians.

8. To give sacrificially to God to support the church and Christian work. (2 Corinthians 8:2-4, 7)

“The New Testament does not envisage solitary religion; some kind of regular assembly for worship and instruction is everywhere taken for granted. So we must be regular practicing members of the church. Of course we differ in temperament. Some (like you—and me) find it more natural to approach God in solitude; but we must go to church as well. For the church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities, but the body of Christ, in which all members, however different (and he rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.” (C. S. Lewis)

If you would be interested in joining the Membership List of North Springfield Baptist Church do please speak to Rev Peter Thomas

Freely, freely give 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

“Let’s play church,” the Vicar’s son said to his father one day. “Let’s sing a few hymns and then I’ll take your money off you.”

I learned an interesting fact about table manners the other day. There is only one topic of conversation at the dinner table which is regarded as taboo nowadays. Apparently the surprising subject which is considered too rude to talk about in polite English society is money. Any other topic – but not money. Although it is true that many churches also avoid talking about money. Perhaps that is our over-reaction to the appalling tendency of tele-evangelists and prosperity gospel preachers who spend all their time making appeals for more giving. But probably some of us should talk about money and giving more often. Across Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels one verse in six talks about money and 16 out of the 29 of the parables Jesus told were concerned with money or wealth or possessions. So for our Gift Day this morning, a sermon on Giving.

When Jesus sent out his 12 apostles he gave them these instructions.
Matthew 10: 7 As you go, preach this message: `The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

“Freely you have received, freely give.”

And indeed, freely, freely we have received. God has blessed each one of us in SO MANY ways. We can start by listing the material blessings we enjoy but so easily take for granted. Our food. Our clothing. Our warm and comfortable homes. All the luxuries of life we enjoy while millions are dying without the necessities. We forget that these things only come to us as gifts of God’s grace. We praise the Lord as Creator of the world, but often forget that He is also its Sustainer. Without the continuing activity of Almighty God, upholding His creation in love, we would all instantly cease to exist.

1 Timothy 6:17 reminds us of how generous God is to us all.

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. NIV

17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. NRSV

17 Command those who are rich with things of this world not to be proud. Tell them to hope in God, not in their uncertain riches. God richly gives us everything to enjoy. (New Century)

17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. NLT

Freely, freely you have received. Freely, freely give! So many material blessings, so many good things so richly to enjoy, but beyond that so many spiritual blessings. God is our Saviour, and He has bought us back to Himself at the cost of His only Son Jesus Christ. The first chapter of Ephesians gives us catalogue of blessings we should be grateful for.

EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING EPH 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

HOLY AND BLAMELESS 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

ADOPTED AS GOD’S CHILDREN In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

REDEEMED – BOUGHT BACK 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

All guaranteed by the HOLY SPIRIT Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

And what a wonderful inheritance. So many blessings now, and the certainty that this is only a foretaste, the appetiser of all the blessings waiting for us in heaven!

“15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”

God has done so much for us! How can we show our love and appreciation and gratitude for all God’s blessings? If we don’t make an effort to show God how grateful we are, we can end up taking His love and grace for granted. If we really understand how much God loves us, we will want to show our love for him! NOTHING would be too much for us to do for him. And one way of showing how grateful we are to God is by what we give back to Him. “Freely you have received, freely give.”

So how much should we give? The Old Testament had a simple principle. We should give in proportion to what we have received.

Deut 16:10, 16-17 10 Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you.
16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.

Giving in proportion to the blessings God has given us is a very important and helpful principle. It encourages us to consider just how much God actually has given us. “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” And as well it reminds us that EVERYTHING we have comes from God and EVERYTHING we have belongs to God. We are not giving to God OUR money or OUR possessions. We are honouring God by giving back to Him money and possessions which are always HIS anyway!

It was the great Missionary Hudson Taylor who once said, “When God’s work is done in God’s way for God’s glory, it will never lack God’s supply.” God doesn’t need OUR money. Christian work doesn’t need OUR money. We give to the church and to Christian work because God wants us to remember it is HIS money anyway.

God does not bless us with everything we need so that we can just sit back and enjoy life. God meets all our needs so that we will be able to dedicate ourselves to good works, serving God and each other.
8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

As long as we have enough for what we need, then we can abound in every good work. We may not feel that we are “abounding” materially or financially. When we compare ourselves to some of our neighbours and many people in this country, we may not feel we are rich. But actually we are. I read some challenging statistics the other day.

• Do you have £1,500? Possessions worth more than £1,500 put a person in the top half of the world’s wealthy.
• If you earned or received a pension of £1,000 or more last year you are in the top 20% of the world’s earners.
• If you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment, and have a reasonably reliable means of transport, you are among the top 15% of the world’s wealthy.
• If you own more than £40,000 in assets, including the value of your home and all your possessions and cash in the bank you are among the richest 10% of the adults in the world.
• If your income is more than £16,000 each year you are in the top 10% of the world’s earners.
• If your family live in your own home, have any money saved, a variety of clothes in your wardrobes two cars in any condition then you are in the top 5% of the world’s wealthy.
• If you earn more than £32,000 a year you are in the top 1% of the world’s earners.
• If all your assets added up, including your home and the value of your possessions and any money you might have in the bank, if all of these add up to more than £330,000 then you are part of the richest 1% of the world.

We may not consider ourselves to be rich. We may not feel we are rich. But in fact, compared with the rest of the world, compared with the vast majority of people in Africa and India and South America and China, we are all vastly wealthy.

God is enormously generous to us, so it is right that we are generous in return. If God in His grace chooses to bless us and makes us wealthy it us NOT so that we will be blessed with a comfortable easy life and more possessions than we know what to do with. If God in His grace has given us money and possessions the appropriate response is that we should be generous to other people who do not have the riches we do!
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

God gives us enough so that we are able to be generous on every occasion. So how much should we give? Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “If you give what you do not need, it isn’t giving.” C.S.Lewis said, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”

If that sounds extreme, then listen to these words of Jesus.

Luke 6:30-35 L30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners’, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

God expects us to be GENEROUS givers and God also expects us to be CHEERFUL givers!
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

We shouldn’t give in a grumbling way, or because we feel we ought to, or because somebody is pressuring us to give. God loves a CHEERFUL giver! Unfortunately some people misunderstand this verse. There was a mother who gave her daughter a pound coin for herself and a five pound note to put in the offering at church. But she told the girl, “Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself.” When they were coming out of church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. “Well,” said the little girl, “I was going to give the five pound note to the church, but just before the collection the minister said that “God loves a cheerful giver” and that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I’d be a lot more cheerful if I just gave the pound, so I did.”

So we should reflect on just how very much and in how many ways God has blessed us, materially and spiritually. Our proper response is to give in proportion to what we have received. God expects us to be generous givers and He also wants us to be cheerful givers. Freely freely you have received. Freely, freely give!

Completing the sufferings of Christ - a study of Colossians 1:24

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

Colossians 1 24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. (NIV)

“What was suffered for you” = “for your benefit”, NOT “in your place”
Fill up = complete / participate in
Christ’s afflictions = a word for trials / sufferings which is not used anywhere to refer to the cross
For the sake of his body, relates to Paul’s suffering for the church, NOT to Christ’s suffering.
24 I am happy in my sufferings for you. There are things that Christ must still suffer through his body, the church. I am accepting, in my body, my part of these things that must be suffered. (New Century Bible)
24 I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church. (New Living Translation)

Christ’s death is central to our salvation
God’s holiness and justice demand punishment for human sin. Christ died as a sacrifice to pay that penalty for sin which we could never pay. The whole of the Old Testament system of sacrifices foreshadowed Christ’s death. Christ died in our place – penal substitution.
Christ’s death is vicarious – for our benefit Mark 10:45
Christ’s death is representative – He repents and obeys on our behalf 2 Corinthians 5:19-21
Christ’s death is sacrifical – voluntarily offering Himself for our benefit Isaiah 53:10-12
Christ’s death is atonement – the sacrifice offered to take sin away 1 Peter 2:21-25
1 Peter 1:18-25; Romans 3:22-25
Christ’s death is “expiation” – dealing with the consequences of sin in our lives Hebrews 2:14-17
Christ’s death is “propitiation” – dealing with God’s wrath against sinners 1 John 2:1-2
Christ’s death is substitutionary – in MY place Isaiah 53:6-7 1 Peter 3:18
It is a Roman Catholic error to suggest that Christ’s sacrifice needs to be completed by the suffering of the saints. Christ’s sacrifice is entirely sufficient ! 1 Corinthians 1:13; Colossians 2:11-15

In comparison to all these aspects of Christ’s suffering, Paul’s suffering can only be vicarious.
As Christians we are united with Christ. Christ’s sufferings with His people continue. Acts 9:4-5
So how can our sufferings bring blessing to others?
Ephesians 3:13 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

How do we decide who to vote for?

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

The General Election on 7th May is shaping up to be the most unpredictable in modern history. The dramatic rise on the one hand of the United Kingdom Independence Party and on the other of the Scottish National Party means that many traditionally “safe” Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat seats will be up for grabs this time round. Will any party gain an overall majority? Will the most successful party attempt to form a minority government or will some kind of coalition be formed again? Who will hold the balance of power? Which new faces might get a seat at the table?

Should Christians vote Labour, conservative, Liberal democrat, UKIP, Green, Monster Raving Loony party? It’s no surprise that the Bible gives us no specific answer to that question. Modern-style democracy had not been invented in the time of Moses or even in the time of Jesus.

I believe there are two things we should have in mind as we consider who we should vote for – the people and the policies. Let’s begin by thinking about the PEOPLE. The Bible does not talk at all about political parties but it does have a lot to say about RULERS. Specifically it tells us that there are marks of character which rulers need.

In the history of Israel their first King Saul had been a disaster and God had rejected him So God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint a new King. And we know the story of how the visit unfolded as Samuel was introduced one by one to the sons of Jesse.

Samuel Anoints David
1 Samuel 16 6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

God looks at the heart. We may choose our politicians by all sorts of criteria. Appearance. Accent. Background. Education. Experience. But God does not look at the things man looks at. God looks at the heart. So what should we be looking for in our politicians – those elected to represent us?

A SERVANT HEART

The mother of James and John asked Jesus to promise that they would sit in the top positions at his right and left hand in glory. Jesus said to all the disciples,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Our leaders are called “Public servants”. They are elected to serve us, the people, not their own interests. God looks at the heart! Who are these people actually serving?

WISDOM

God appeared to King Solomon in a dream, and Solomon asked God.
1 Kings 3: 9 … give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.

Our leaders need wisdom. Not necessarily great intelligence, although that would be an asset. But the wisdom to choose the right priorities, see the bigger pictures, and make the right decisions.

The Book of Proverbs says this,
Proverbs 8:12 “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. …
14 Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have understanding and power.
15 By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just;
16 by me princes govern, and all nobles who rule on earth.

God looks at the heart – who amongst our politicians is truly wise?
So as we think about the people we consider their character. Are they honest? Can we trust them? Are they wise? Do they have a servant heart?

We think about the PEOPLE. But then we will also want to consider the POLICIES of the different political parties and also of the individual candidates. How will the stated policies of the different parties influence who we vote for? None of the parties lor the candidates takes an explicitly Christian stand. Each party takes what we might possibly agree is “the Christian line” on some of the issues and directly opposes the Christian line on other issues. So at best we could end up trying to balance which issues are the most important for our vote.

A cautionary word. It was the possibly the most popular politician Jim Hacker M.P. in “Yes Minister” who said that manifesto promises don’t count anyway – everybody knows that nobody actually intends to keep them? When it comes to choosing our government, the general election is about much more than policies and manifesto promises. But we should still give thought to these things.

In one of our evening services before Easter we had a discussion about which issues we might be most concerned about as Christians. I put together a list of ten possible areas although of course there are others as well. Which of these are the most important when we are considering who to vote for in May? Which should be our priority? Are any of them “deal-breakers”? So important that we would not vote for a party which took a position in opposition to our understanding of that issue? Here are my ten topics, in no particular order.

1. The economy – Pensions, taxation, council tax, tackling poverty and especially child poverty, Universal Credit and the Impact on those on benefits.

2. Education – the false god of choice

3. Europe – European constitution and growing pressures from Brussels for “political correctness”

4. Family issues – “homosexual marriage”, abortion and euthanasia.

5. Health issues, The future of the National Health Service.

6. Housing and affordable housing, development in South-East, Transport, The Environment.

7. International development, International security and threat of terrorism,

8. Migration, Immigration and asylum,

9. Criminal justice. Racial justice, equality.

10. Secularisation and the marginalisation of Christians and other Faith Communities.

So many questions – so many different answers from the different political parties and candidates. What matters to us? What matters to God?

The Bible gives us Christian principles which we can apply to discover God’s will about any of these big issues, and we will want to see for ourselves how the politicians match up to God’s standards in these and other areas. Here are a two issues which the Bible makes clear that God very much cares about.

JUSTICE - FAIRNESS

God is a God of Justice. The God of the Bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the holy and righteous God. He cares passionately about justice. God cares that people treat each other fairly.
I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deuteronomy 32:3-4)
The LORD reigns for ever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psa 9:7-9)

God is a God of justice. And God expects his people to care about justice too. Christians have always been at the forefront of the battles for social justice. Abolishing slavery. Racial justice. Gender equality. Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. God says in Amos 5:24 let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

God demands fairness. And God demands that leaders of nations work for true justice.

Proverbs 282 When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order.
3 A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.
4 Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them.
5 Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.

God looks at the heart – do our politicians truly work for justice?

CARE FOR THE POOR AND NEEDY - COMPASSION

Let us remember just how much God cares about the poor and marginalized. I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. (Psalm 140:12)

As well as caring for justice for all men and women and children, God has a particular interest in specific groups of people. There is a triad which we find mentioned no less than 18 times in the Old Testament, “the alien, the fatherless and the widow”

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

Aliens. Outsiders. People who don’t belong. People who don’t quite fit in. These are the kinds of people God really cares about. It was Bishop of Liverpool David Sheppard who in his book in 1983 drew the attention of the churches to God’s “Bias to the poor”. We find this principle throughout the Old Testament and especially also in Luke’s Gospel. God has a special care for the poor and the marginalised and the oppressed. Remember the words of the Magnificat, which may Christians use in their worship every week.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
(Luke 1:52-53)

Remember God’s blessings promised to the poor and the woes on those who are rich and well fed in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. God still calls his people to show the same care He does for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, the outsiders, the refugees, anybody marginalised by society.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter. (Isaiah 53:6-7)

God cares for the poor and needy and he expects the leaders of nations to show that same compassion for the weak and defenceless in the community. Too many politicians are only concerned with what they can achieve for their supporters, for their kinds of people. God looks at the heart – how much do our politicians really care about ALL sectors of society – the aliens, the fatherless, the widows? God looks for compassion!

Isaiah 10 Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees,
2 to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.
3 What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?

God looks at the heart. He looks for a servant heart. He looks for wisdom. And when it comes to specific policies, God looks for justice and He looks for compassion.

So who do we vote for? That your responsibility to decide. I have had the privilege of meeting a number of MPs over the years and consider one from my university days to be a friend, but I have never met any of our local candidates in Chelmsford. We all need to find out for ourselves what the candidates think and believe from what they have written or said about themselves. But when we vote let us bear in mind – God looks at the heart!

The prophet Isaiah gives us a picture of God’s chosen Ruler – the Messiah. One day God will send him from heaven to bring God’s Kingly Rule on the earth. None of our politicians are the Messiah, even though some may have such delusions. But this gives us a picture of those who aspire to lead our nation should be like.

11 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD— 3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist. ….
9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

That is what the world will be like when God’s chosen King brings justice and peace to the earth. Which of our politicians match up to God’s standards? Man looks at the outward appearance – but God looks at the heart.

Election Issues in 2015

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

The General Election on 7th May is shaping up to be the most unpredictable in modern history. The dramatic rise on the one hand of the United Kingdom Independence Party and on the other of the Scottish National Party means that many traditionally “safe” Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat seats will be up for grabs this time round. Will any party gain an overall majority? Will the most successful party attempt to form a minority government or will some kind of coalition be formed again? Who will hold the balance of power? Which new faces might get a seat at the table?

Should Christians vote Labour, conservative, Liberal democrat, UKIP, Green, Monster Raving Loony party? It’s no surprise that the Bible gives us no specific answer to that question. Modern-style democracy had not been invented in the time of Moses or even in the time of Jesus.

The Bible does not talk at all about political parties but it does have a lot to say about RULERS. Specifically it tells us that there are marks of character which rulers need. I am going to preach one Sunday morning towards the end of April about how we might decide who to vote for, based on the character of the candidates. Key questions of character and integrity and trust. Can we trust that candidate, and that party, and particularly the leaders of that party? Can we trust them to rule over us?

For tonight I want us to discuss together a different important question. How will the stated policies of the different parties influence who we vote for? None of the parties takes an explicitly Christian stand. Each party takes what we might possibly agree is “the Christian line” on some of the issues and directly opposes the Christian line on other issues. So at best we could end up trying to balance which issues are the most important for our vote.

We remember of course that recent history shows us that any party could go back on any election manifesto promises they make – and once elected they probably will! It was the noted politician the Honorable Jim Hacker MP who commented in one episode of “Yes Minister” that promises in a political party’s manifesto are not like ordinary promises, they don’t count, because nobody ever expects anybody actually to keep their manifesto promises!

But as part of voting responsibly as Christians we will want to know what position the different political parties, and our local candidates, take on particular issues. The Bible gives us Christian principles which we can apply to discover God’s will about any of the big issues, and we will want to see for ourselves how the politicians match up to God’s standards in these and other areas.

I have put together a list of 10 issues as Christians we might be concerned about. You may think of others. The question for us to talk about tonight is simply this. Which of these are the most important when we are considering who to vote for in May? Which should be our priority? Are any of them “deal-breakers”? So important that we would not vote for a party which took a position in opposition to our understanding of that issue? Here are my ten topics, in no particular order.

1. The economy – Pensions, taxation, council tax, tackling poverty and especially child poverty, Universal Credit and the Impact on those on benefits.

2. Education – the false god of choice

3. Europe – European constitution and growing pressures from Brussels for “political correctness”

4. Family issues – “homosexual marriage”, abortion and euthanasia.

5. Health issues, The future of the National Health Service.

6. Housing and affordable housing, development in South-East, Transport, The Environment.

7. International development, International security and threat of terrorism,

8. Migration, Immigration and asylum,

9. Criminal justice. Racial justice, equality.

10. Secularisation and the marginalisation of Christians and other Faith Communities.

So many questions – so many different answers from the different political parties and candidates. What matters to us? What matters to God?