In one of his last letters, the apostle Paul wrote to his apprentice, Timothy, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim 2:2). In my final series of sermons, I have been sharing with you ten “things you have heard me say” over the last 12 years which I hope you might remember and wish to pass on. Over the weeks I have generally been applying them to our individual lives as disciples of Jesus. But today as a final encouragement I want to apply them to North Springfield Baptist Church as a church and as a fellowship of believers. Building up in order of importance here are the ten themes once again.
The church still needs ministers
North Springfield Baptist Church have always allowed me to do what a minister is called to do: to equip and support all the members of the church to play the different parts God has for each and every one of us to play in the life and work of the church. You have set me free to provide you with preaching and teaching and pastoral care and vision. Nobody has ever tried to tell me how to be your minister or tried to micromanage me. You really cared for me and Ruth and our children and patiently supported me through periods of illness. It has been a joy and a privilege to serve you as your minister and I am sure you will treat my successor the same way.
Hebrews 13 7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
Science and Christian faith – not either/or but both/and
This theme has always been important to me from my background studying and teaching science. But North Springfield Baptist Church clearly agree. You have affirmed my understanding of the relationship between science and faith and between creation and evolution. Recently you have bravely embraced the challenges of digital church and adjusted to Zoom services and streaming to Facebook and even hybrid services. I will always be interested in science and continue to dabble with computers. Let us all keep our eyes open to the world God has created to reveal its Designer to us.
Psalm 19 1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
Church is not an optional extra for Christians
You also believe this. I have never found another church where the members and congregation are so faithful in attending Sunday services and midweek meetings and activities. But we must never lose the vision that the church is not a human organisation or a business or a club. The church is the body of Christ, the household of God and the new temple made out of living stones where God lives by His Holy Spirit. Going into a pastoral vacancy, with different preachers each week, and with keeping the church on the road taking up lots of energy, there is always a danger that folk can lose some of their enthusiasm for the fellowship. So let me remind you of these words from Hebrews chapter 10.
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Being a disciple is very important
You also all recognize this vital truth. Jesus calls every Christian to follow him and to be his disciple. Let us all keep on praying the disciple’s prayer. Lord Jesus Christ – day by day, may I see you more clearly, love you more dearly and follow you more nearly, day by day.
You are committed in prayer and Bible reading and worship and practical Christian service. For a small church, North Springfield Baptist Church achieves an enormous amount through our services and midweek activities and special events and this is down to the dedication and hard work of so many people. Galatians 6:9 encourages us:
9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Effective outreach to today’s world is vital
This church was planted to share the Good News of Jesus in a new community and we have never lost that vision. The church exists to preach the gospel and with all the new developments in Beaulieu and Channels our missionfield is larger than ever. We have explored new ways of reaching out, from events like the Family Fun Day, Christingle and Christmas Crafternoon and visiting speakers like Janey Lee Grace and Susie Flashman-Jarvis, to delivering Christmas and Easter Cards and paid adverts on Facebook. For me perhaps the most exciting of our projects has been Haven Café, and we are thrilled that a number of people came to faith in Jesus starting from breakfasts at the Café. I think it will be great if Haven Café can start again at some point, but in the meantime I encourage you to also pursue the exciting opportunities out there to use videos and social media for outreach. I hope to keep on doing that kind of digital mission in some form in years to come. We must all keep on stepping out in faith to share Jesus with this needy world. Remember what Jesus promised all his disciples in Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
The Bible remains central to Christian life and faith
Perhaps the greatest sadness in all my years of ministry has been to see so many churches and preachers departing from the faith which has been handed down to us. So many have lost confidence in the Bible as the supreme authority for Christian faith and practice and given in to pressures from the world around of postmodern relativism and post-truth. But definitely not this church! North Springfield Baptist Church has never compromised and always remained faithful to the Bible. This is demonstrated in your appetite for Bible preaching and teaching in services and Bible Studies. I have particularly enjoyed the discussions we sometimes have in our Sunday evenings. For myself, with more time on my hands I may well dig deeper into academic New Testament studies trying to unravel the mystery the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete in John’s Gospel. Meanwhile, I encourage all of us to continue to stand up for the truth. “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Tim 1:13-14).
Jude verse 3 in THE MESSAGE tells us all to “fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish”.
The work of the Holy Spirit is essential
You believe this. It is God the Holy Spirit who gives us new life as individual believers and who makes us into the church. Eleven dead men don’t make a football team. North Springfield Baptist Church has always been eager to experience the Holy Spirit manifested in spiritual gifts, to hear God speaking in prophecy and dreams and visions, and for God to work among us in supernatural ways, in signs and wonders and miracles of healing and deliverance. The person and work of the Holy Spirit is not a doctrine to be understood but a reality to be experienced. Jesus promised in Luke 11:13 how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ Keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking! I will.
Eternal life is our relationship with God
Being a Christian is not about coming to church services, or reading the Bible, or even telling other people about Jesus. Being a Christian is about God’s free gift of eternal life which brings us into a living relationship with God as our loving heavenly Father. It is easy to be distracted by other things but never lose this focus. It’s all about knowing Jesus. Being a Christian is not intellectual knowledge about God but instead about knowing God personally. 2 Peter 1:3 makes the point this way: “Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God” (THE MESSAGE). Paul prayed this for the Christians at Ephesus. “I ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing Him personally” (Ephesians 1:17 THE MESSAGE). Although they shouldn’t, sometimes the tasks of ministry can get in the way of a minister’s own personal relationship with God. I won’t have that excuse any more. I encourage every one of us to press on to know God better and better.
Prayer is at the heart of our relationship with God
One of the most wonderful things about North Springfield Baptist Church is your appetite for prayer. The Early Church devoted themselves to prayer, and so do we. Talking with other ministers, it appears that NSBC are relatively rare in sustaining a weekly mid-week prayer meeting like Draw Near To God. Our Saturday Mornings of Prayer and Weeks of Prayer and Fasting have been very special times. And the times of open prayer in our services are very important. Spurgeon said, “Whether we like it or not, asking is the rule of the Kingdom. I don’t feel I need to encourage you to keep on praying – I know you will. I will just remind you of Ephesians 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 Lord’s people.
And so we come to the most important truth of all. I hope that through the years, my ministry has made it easier rather than harder for everyone who has seen and heard me to follow Jesus. But more than that I hope that everybody will have heard this message.
God loves you!
God loves us more than we can possibly imagine with a love which will never let us go. I have a beautifully calligraphed plaque on my desk which has been placed where I can look at it all the time in every study for the last 30 years. It reminds me of the calling before me to be a minister. It is not a Bible verse, but instead the first verse of a song I learned when I first became a Christian.
“Tell my people I love them. Tell my people I care.
When they feel far away from me, tell my people I’m there.”
This is the simple message at the heart of the Good News about Jesus Christ. God loves you. God cares about you. However tough life may be, whatever may be dragging you down or dragging you away from God, God is always there for you. This is God’s message for every one of us today, and every day. God wants us all to be certain of just how much He loves us.
At a very challenging and painful time in my life, when I was at university and leading the College Christian Union, God used one particular passage in Isaiah to assure me of His love for me. It was as if those words which were originally addressed to God’s chosen people had been written just for me. Hear these verses as God’s words to you today.
Isaiah 43 But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;
I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.
4 Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
God loves you! God loves us with unconditional love which will never let us go. The Bible assures us in so many places just how much God loves us. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the supreme demonstration of God’s love for us. I know you know God’s love because of the love you have all shown for me as your minister over the last 12 years.
1 John 3 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other.
I am certain you have received God’s love in your hearts because of the love you all show towards each other in so many practical ways. We love because God first loved us! That is our witness to the world as we obey Jesus’s New Commandment
John 13 34 … As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
God loved us all so much that He gave his only Son to die on the cross in our place.
1 John 4 9 This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Here is my final encouragement to us all. Keep on loving each other. Keep on caring and sharing and bearing one another’s burdens. As we each experience for ourselves the amazing love of God, we must keep on loving each other and welcoming new people into the church and reaching out into the community with God’s kind of love.
So there you are. Paul urged Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Tim 3:14 in the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition 2021). In this final sermon I have laid out ten things I am passionate about which I have learned and which I confidently believe. I have discussed them all in my book, “Continue in what you have learned and believed,” and I hope you will all be happy to take a copy. In all these areas I will seek to remain tentatively definite, holding faithfully to the truth as I have grasped it so far whilst always open to continuing to learn new things. May you do the same. May we all receive God’s abundant grace to “Stick with what you learned and believed” (as the Message puts it.)