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Critical Mass

This was a subject I didn’t really like when I was in college. To me it was obvious that change would occur when enough of the current minority elements grew to a size that would tip the balance, and gain the weight to make a difference to the outcome.

So, how does that apply to us, the Christian community? Well, firstly, we are in the minority in the UK, and a very low minority at that. In fact, our opinions are usually dismissed out of hand by those in authority. A good example is the same sex marriage debate, and the redefinition of marriage which will result.

Does this mean that we are sunk, and not in any position to make a difference? I would say not, because we are called to be ‘the salt of the world’. It doesn’t take a lot of salt on a meal to make a difference to the overall taste. Also, have a think about the original disciples and apostles, a minority who became a worldwide influence of change in a very short time. Somehow, they reached that point where there were enough of them in God’s hands to change nations. They made a difference long before they reached a critical mass, and used it to change the world for good. God plus His child are a majority! The laws of physics are great, but they God’s laws, and in God’s hands, so let me leave you with these thoughts from God’s Word:

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. 1 John 4:4

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

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BST

It’s that time of the year again, where the clocks go back an hour, and you get that extra time in bed, to give you the long lie in you deserve. No excuses for being late for church then, or even missing it! It feels good to go round the house putting the clocks back that hour on Saturday night, after all who is going to stay up to 2am to do it? It’s one of the few good signs of winter approaching. (For our UK readers you should turn your clocks back at 2am on Sunday 28 Oct, and our US and Canadian readers a week later.)

Wouldn’t it be good to be able to turn time back for longer than an hour though? How about turning the clock back so that we can reclaim our youth, or maybe lost health and strength? How about going back to a time when we found our life’s love and reliving the moment you tied the knot and got married? We could go back to the birth of our children, and their first steps, their first birthday or Christmas! If only, if only... there are so many good times we could return to, if only we could turn the clocks back.

However many good times we could go back to, there are those times we would want to change. Those decisions we need to put right. The angry word to our best friend. A great personal wrong we need to rectify. To go back to be in a place we have regretted we missed, at a time we were needed. Unfortunately, we cannot go back to put great sins right, and the consequences of our past sins will always be with us, but I have great news! We might be able to remember them with regret, but if we have asked God to forgive our past sins, He has forgotten them already. As quick as that!

I was reminded of the following by a dear friend recently: The past is the past, and we can’t change it. The future is unknown, but we have the gift of ‘now’. That is why it is called ‘the present’, so let us all make good use of the time we have right now, and make it count for our tomorrows, and let our gracious God deal with forgetting about our past. After we have repented and asked for forgiveness, that’s His job, and He does it well. So let’s take our responsibility seriously for our ‘present’ as a gift from God, and not abuse His love, grace or forgiveness.

Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Cor 6:2 NKJV

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Heaven

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. Romans 8:15-18 The Message

‘Heaven’ is one of those words that conjures up differing images to different people. It is a vague word most of the time, probably because we have only a small idea of what the place will be like. In fact, most people accept that heaven is real, and will cling to the idea that their loved ones who have passed away, all of them, are now there! Most religions have a heaven for their members to be gained after death, and that is good, because it is true and based on Scripture.

Having been to a number of funerals in my time, I have heard that everyone who dies, goes to heaven. I have never heard any minister or pastor say that the person being laid to rest is bound for hell. Now simple logic says to me that ‘if there is a heaven to be gained, then there must be a hell to shun’. Otherwise, what’s the use of having a heaven if we will all end up there anyway, no matter how we live our lives? I accept that we cannot be the final judge, because only God can do that, but we do get ourselves lulled into a false sense of security if we only ever link death to heaven without consequence. Truth demands that we treat both heaven and hell seriously.

You may ask what evidence we have for their being a heaven anyway. I attended a funeral yesterday, of a dear lady who lived a long and Godly life. We heard not just about the people who were touched by her witness, but of her faith during uncertain times, and in almost impossible situations, when she trusted while she did not understand. Her favourite verse was, “Be still and know that I am God”. This lady was stilled, and she did know her God in a personal way. Ask her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Ask her friends and neighbours. Ask those who knew her in any way, but most of all find out about those whom she led to a saving knowledge of her Saviour Jesus Christ. As I thought about the troubles we all carry, I am encouraged once again to be still and KNOW that He is God, and He is the only one who knows the end from the beginning. Maybe I don’t stop worrying and wondering, but I am learning, slowly, to be still in His presence.   

I saw the clearest evidence of belief in heaven while talking to a family member who had just laid his Mum to rest. Among other comments I made the statement that she was ‘home now’ and a big knowing smile lit his face. There was no doubt, and the word heaven was not mentioned. For me, that makes all the difference, because for the child of God at the end of this life, Heaven IS Home. What better words to hear than: “Well done good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your Lord” Matthew 25:21

Finally, should the words recorded by the exiled Apostle John not make us want to invest in our future home now, while we have the time and opportunity? Why take a chance with our eternal future, when we have this promise:  ..and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4 NKJV

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Be Sure

...you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out. Numbers 32:23 NKJV

The simplest words are the easiest to remember and apply to our lives. This verse is a favourite in Sunday School, and can be understood by the youngest. Why is it then that we more advanced and intelligent adults seem to forget the simple truth of the verse? We seem to be surprised that our actions, not only have consequences, but those sins we commit, even those way back in our lives will find us out.... someday!

One of the best known UK TV presenters died a year ago, and he was venerated as a great man with monuments to his fame erected in his home town, and in those other places where he gave his time freely to help charities in prisons, hospitals and children’s homes. But wait a minute, this same man now has a list of hundreds of incidences of child abuses of the worst kinds coming to light. His young victims were afraid to come forward, or were even discouraged from damaging his career or charity work. So in his life they kept quiet. After all, who would believe them over such a famous celebrity?

There are two words which are not heard today, for the sake of offending someone’s feelings. One of the words is ‘sin’ and the other is ‘hell’. Why do we avoid them? I think it is because we don’t really accept them as severe any more. We have believed the lie of the devil, that neither are real, or at least not as bad as we have been told by our Sunday School teachers. I don’t know about you, but there are few words which adequately describe the sordid actions of this famous and previously trusted presenter, but for me the word is ‘sin’. Plain and simple. As for his eventual eternal destination, that is not for me to judge, because only God is qualified to do that. Having said that, let us not discount the reality of a place of punishment, and if sin is not addressed by us, and remains unforgiven by God, His Holy Justice is clear as described in His Word. We ignore sin and hell at our eternal peril. For my part, I prefer the gift of God, rather than the wages I may deserve.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 NKJV

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Fear or Faith?

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:18 NKJV

Perfect love is faith at its most supreme, and most sublime. Perfect love is the goal every Christian should aspire to, and never lose the drive for its excellence. There are clever men and women who will debate whether we can achieve it in this life, or if we have to wait until our life in Heaven, but from this short verse, one thing is certain, even to the less educated among us. Faith or fear, but you can’t have both. They are mutually exclusive.

Imagine a balance scale, with Faith on one side, and Fear on the other. As you add to the Faith side, the Fear side gets lighter, and vice versa. It is extremely difficult to get a 50:50 balance on the Christian life between these two feelings, so we are encouraged by the apostle John to make sure we use Perfect Love to eliminate Fear. Is this possible? If it is in the Word of God, it is not only possible, it is to be our goal, and yes it can be achieved.

The battlefield of Fear and Faith is best demonstrated when a crisis happens. It can be in a hospital room, or a school classroom, or even in a church among friends. It is best explained as that feeling of being cared for more by your loving God, than the fear which the devil puts in our heart. Easy? No way. Possible? Yes, and is our best refuge in a time of crisis. Ask any Christian who has been there, and don’t take the word of someone who may mean well, but has not shared the experience of having to act with fear, but in spite of it, use their faith.

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Church Reality

We all know that the church is not the building, but the people, as the old chorus tells us, but hold that thought. I would ask you to consider that we belong to two churches, and neither of them is the brickwork. Both are people centred.

The first church is the establishment formed by their statements of faith, and the standards to which it adheres. So, you might belong to a mainstream national church, or be labelled as an Evangelical, Baptist, Salvationist, Catholic, Holiness, Calvinist, Arminian etc etc. Belonging to one of these groups will broadly determine your church’s belief system, but not necessarily yours, or indeed the majority of the congregation. I have found that most folks go to a church because they feel comfortable there. It may be the music, or the minister, or the friends you make. Only very occasionally will it be the denomination.

The second church, and in my opinion, the more important church, doesn’t filter down from the statements of faith of a denomination, but from the congregation, or roots, upwards. In other words, it doesn’t really matter what it says on the tin (the manual), the content will likely be different. It may even bear no resemblance to the church’s core beliefs. Too strong? Think I am wrong?

I believe I am right in thinking that members of my own church who are over 55, will know and understand fully what their church’s core belief is, and claim the experience. There is usually one main difference between the protestant denominations, and in mine it’s Holiness. Sanctification. Second Blessing. This teaching sets the bar high, but it is no more than is required by God’s Word: ...as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy”. 1 Peter 14-16 NKJV

My particular church denomination is over 100 years old, and does not resemble the faith group it once did. Maybe we have become middle aged, or elderly (in church years), or maybe we have ‘moved with the times’, or maybe just maybe ‘the Glory has departed’. How bad and sad does that sound? So do you recognise my concern that we become the church we deserve? Maybe I am wrong, and things are really much better now, than they ever were before, and I would like to understand if this is the case. I understand that we all then have a responsibility to become the ‘Church’ in its true form, and I also recognise that I am an individual part of that body of believers by denomination, but more importantly by personal conviction, decision and witness. I pray I will be found worthy by the Head of the only Church that matters.

I know this piece will be read by people of various church groups and denominations, and so I would appreciate your own thoughts and experiences (if you feel you can comment freely).

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How Come?

With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? James 3:9-11 NKJV

We would say, “How come”? The Bible says “These things ought not to be so”, but the meaning is clear and the same. How come we hear good and bad from the same person? How come there is so much positive and negative from the same lips? How come we hear prayers and gossip from the same mouth? But wait a minute. Hold on there, James is speaking to fellow Christians who share the name of Jesus. It was like that then, and it is no different today. When it comes to the tongue, we have not learned very much have we?

By way of some explanation, I am very aware that there are young Christians who will learn the teachings of the gospel, and may have come from a very different and difficult background. They have a path to walk which is not the same as someone who has borne the name of Jesus for many years, and is known as a ‘christian’. Can I suggest that such a person does much harm to their witness, and the witness of the church by not guarding their mouth? Before you respond, I recognise there is a difference between the slip of the tongue, and the almost ‘expected and normal’ use of their coarse language, or even when it is written down in a public social media forum for all to see.

Yes I am guilty of saying things I shouldn’t, but I pray I will never be seen as a poor mirror to the sunshine of God’s love by my talk, language or life. And yes, I also have to work on my impatience with the mature believer who still cannot bridle their tongue. Guilty as charged!

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The Altar

In my earlier, and much younger life, our church and many others had an altar rail at the front of the church. It usually had a flat top surface to lay an open Bible, and was a good height to rest your head when in a kneeling position. Now that I am older, and still a member of the same church, it is still there as a piece of church furniture, but unused. Why on earth was it put there? Was it ever used? Did it do any good?

The altar had one prime purpose, and that was a focal point in the sanctuary where a person could publicly show that they wanted to meet with Jesus. You can pray anywhere, but the key word is ‘public’. It’s a bit like adult baptism. It’s not done in secret, but in public, just the way John the Baptist and Jesus did it in Bible times. When Nicodemus came to Jesus in secret, it didn’t go well. But all the other open and public meetings with Jesus had a good outcome. You can answer the question ‘why’ for yourself. And in a similar way, the church altar was a way of publicly showing that you were serious in doing business with God, and yes it was used oftentimes and instrumental in helping to change lives. Not the altar itself, but the public nature and openness of the seeker. As for it doing good? Ask Billy Graham who also used a public altar appeal at all of his crusades. I know many people who used an altar of prayer at a crusade or church, and not only were their own lives changed for the better, their friends and family were in no doubt about their intentions.

Now, the altar is largely unused and silent. It is the piece of wood that separates the congregation from the communion table and pulpit. We have become afraid of our own faith and have taken a step back from the public confession, to being a more progressive people who can pray anywhere, and our church witness is different as a result.

So, is it a good thing that our altars are unused? If we say yes, are we then saying that there was no need for them in the past, or that the people who used them were misguided? Careful how we go there, because my parents used the altar and found God there, and so did I. Could I have prayed the sinner’s prayer at home? Certainly, but would I have done that, and found the same release? On a personal basis, I don’t think so. Let me leave you with a thought: The open church altar focuses the mind in a way that your bedroom doesn’t, or am I totally out of order and just plain wrong? Your call!

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