The Vicar's Monthly Magazine Articles

Rev'd Charles - June 2018

posted 12 Jul 2018, 01:33 by Richard Jones

View From the Vicarage 

Empowered to Serve 

 Sunday June 10th at 11am at St Leonard the Less, Samlesbury will undoubtedly be a very special day for everyone who is present. That’s because  this is the day when we will be welcoming the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Rev Philip North who will be presiding at a Service of Confirmation, and we hope as many as possible from our three churches will be there to support the candidates and to welcome him. But what is confirmation and how did it begin? 

 Well, like many things it has a long and complex history! In the Bible children and adults were welcomed into the faith either through circumcision in the Old Testament (Genesis 17) or baptism in the New (Acts 8:26 – 40, 16: 11 – 34). Then, around 200 AD the practice arose of always following baptism with either the laying on of hands or anointing with oil, called ‘confirming’. 

 However, in the early Middle Ages, dioceses began to grow so that the bishop could not baptise and ‘confirm’ everybody, with the result that in time most of the baptising was done by his priests, who anointed the baptised with oil he had annually consecrated, as “confirmation”. 

 Then during the 8th and 9th centuries, the Bishops of the Western Church began to travel round their diocese, laying hands on children of “years of discretion” (that is of about 11 years or upwards) and praying that they might be strengthened ( Con – firmed) with the Holy Spirit. 

 At the Reformation in the 16th century however, the reformers abolished the ceremony of “confirming” by anointing with oil, but retained the baptism of infants and the Medieval rite of “confirmation” as a strengthening with prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12 : 1 -11, Romans 12 : 4 -8). Now, the intention was to encourage those being confirmed to take on them selves the vows which had previously been made for them in baptism by their parents and godparents when they were infants. So what is its relevance for us today? 

 Well, for some it gives the opportunity perhaps for the very first time to publicly profess their personal faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10: 9 – 13) which then enables them to share in the Communion Service which is the privilege of all who belong to Christ (1 Corinthians 11 : 23 – 28). For others, it provides an opportunity for learning more about their faith strengthened by the prayers of the Bishop. Whoever we are it is an important reminder of Jesus final words to his disciples when he said “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go then to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always even until the end of the world” (Matthew 27:16 – 20). 

 That is why the Confirmation Prayer can be our prayer that we can also say:

“O Lord and heavenly Father, you are calling us to give you a lifetime of service and to receive your strength through confirmation. Open our hearts to receive all that you want to give, so that in lives made strong by your Holy Spirit we may serve you gladly and bravely all our days; in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen” 

Charles

Rev'd Charles - May 2018

posted 29 May 2018, 23:48 by Richard Jones

View From the Vicarage 

Aim for nothing – and you’ll be sure to hit it! 

 So runs an old adage.  And if that’s true then it may explain why so many businesses and organisations have a strategy for growth because they know that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And spring provides an opportunity to take a fresh look at all that we are doing before planning for the future. 

 Now back in the 1990’s the Church of England and, in particular, the Diocese of London began to realize that something also had to be done if church congregations were to develop and survive. This was the inspiration and motivation for MAP – Mission Action Planning – a way of helping churches discover a vision for their church and then discern how that vision could be translated into reality. 

 In 2016 the Archdeacon of Blackburn’s book ‘How to do Mission Action Planning’ was reissued, having been revised and expanded from the original version of 2009. In support of this the Blackburn Diocese produced a ‘Healthy Church Self-Assessment Tool’ which encourages churches to assess their health against 6 qualities that research has shown are fundamental to church health and growth. The first category is one of the most challenging: 

“Inspiring worship and dynamic prayer that connects and engages” 

 ‘A healthy church offers worship that inspires, encourages and builds people up in the Christian faith. The worship has depth, richness and connects with people helping them encounter God. A healthy church has a deep- rooted active commitment to prayer that is demonstrated in every area of its life.’ 

 The book then encourages every church to consider the following questions: 

 Does our regular worship draw people of all ages into the presence of God?

Do we review the pattern and delivery of our worship on a regular basis to keep it fresh and transformational?

Is our liturgy accessible and easy to follow? Does it draw in and engage those who may have never worshipped in a church before?

Does our music style and choice engage with people of all ages?

Is our worship child-friendly with appropriate safeguarding in place?

Is there a clear teaching programme based on Scripture?

Does prayer play a central part in the life of the church?

Is the vision of the church and its mission priorities a focus for the prayer life of our church?

Do we challenge and equip people to make regular time for personal prayer and Bible reading?

Do our sermons teach about and explore the questions that people in our church are commonly asking? 

 ‘The health assessment will indicate areas of church life that are strong and healthy and should be celebrated and also identify areas that need development’. 

 But why is this so important? Well the Diocesan Vision Statement 2026 has as its aim ‘Healthy Churches Transforming Communities’. Therefore, worship that is inspiring and prayer that connects and engages will better enable us to Make Disciples of Jesus Christ, be Witnesses to Jesus Christ and Grow Leaders for Jesus Christ. So as we look ahead in to the future can we pray the words of the Diocesan Prayer: 

 ‘Heavenly father, we embrace Your call for us to make disciples, to be witnesses and to grow leaders.

Give us the eyes to see Your vision, ears to hear the prompting of Your Spirit and courage to follow in the footsteps of your Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.’ 

 Charles

Rev'd Charles - April 2018

posted 8 May 2018, 07:36 by Richard Jones

‘Fools for Christ?’ 

 April 1st is here again and with it All Fools Day but what lies behind this unusual event? Well its origins may lie in several pagan festivals. For instance there was the Roman end of winter orgy ‘Hilaria’, and the Celtic celebration when the god Lud cured the curse of demons by spraying them with a brew of crushed insects in water! There is also the story of Persephone. In this Greek myth she was snatched away by Pluto, the god of the underworld, from her mother the corn spirit Ceres who followed the trail of Persephone’s indignant shrieks across the land to no avail – the original ‘fool’s errand’! 

 Or there again, All Fools may simply be the day commemorating Christ being mocked and tormented before his crucifixion (Luke 23:32 – 43, Matthew 27: 32 -43). Whatever the background, at noon the foolery must cease! 

 But in the New Testament we meet two other sorts of ‘fool’. There is the fool whose foolishness is seen not simply in the rejection of wisdom but particularly in the rejection of the source of all wisdom, God Himself (Psalm 14:1, Romans 1:18 -32). In fact, it was the failure of Jesus’ disciples to understand that the death and resurrection of Christ had been foretold by the prophets which led the risen Jesus to say, ’How foolish you are’ (Luke 24:25), because as he had said to the religious leaders, “You are wrong because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22). 

 However, there is yet another sort of ‘fool’ in the Bible and this is the ‘fool’ whose life has been transformed by Jesus.  Saint Paul, one of the ancient world’s greatest thinkers, could later speak of himself as a Fool for Christ (1 Corinthians 4:10) once he had encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). For it was this life changing experience which then impelled him (2 Corinthians 5:14) to preach Christ crucified and to live for Christ (1Corinthians 1). 

 So who might be a fool today? Well we are all conscious of times when we have acted foolishly. We have said or done things we later regret, we have allowed ourselves to be fooled by others, or we know we have acted unwisely. None of us are perfect! 

 But if it’s true that Jesus Christ is ‘the power and wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24) then surely the wisest thing would be to listen to what he has to say. And what God requires and desires is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.” Or as another translation puts it, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. Love others as well as you love yourself” (Matthew 22 - The Message). 

 For after all, said Jesus, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and yet don’t do what I tell you? Anyone who hears my words and does not obey them is like a man who built his house without laying a foundation; when the flood hit that house it fell at once – and what a terrible crash that was!” (Luke 6) So, if you want to build your life on sure foundations listen to Christ even if others may think you are a Fool for Christ! 

 Charles


Rev'd Charles - March 2018

posted 13 Apr 2018, 04:49 by Richard Jones

View From the Vicarage 

Back from the Dead! 

 A few years ago, BBC2’s ‘Horizon’ programme reported on what has been called the archaeological discovery of the century. In the early 1990’s high in the Alps, two climbers stumbled across a mummified body inside a glacier. At first it was assumed that the death must have been recent. Only later did it emerge that this body had been entombed for more than 5,000 years. 

 As the body was examined, it became clear that he was aged between 35 and 40 years. He was roughly 5’ 2” tall and weighed around 7 stone. It appeared that he had first been wounded by an arrow, and then overcome by the extreme weather, and in a state of total exhaustion, he had sought shelter in a gully. Putting down his axe and backpack, he had laid his head on the rock. Soon his clothes froze to the rough ground and he was no longer aware that he was freezing to death. 

 Not surprisingly, that discovery aroused an astonishing level of interest…but what would arouse even more interest is if the body of Jesus Christ could be found. You see the eye witness testimony of those who saw Jesus crucified and then placed in a tomb (Mathew 27:57-66, Luke 23:50-54) was that three days later the tomb was empty, and the body was gone (Luke 24:1-3, John 20:1-10). But then hundreds of people reported seeing him alive again (John 20:11-21:25, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8) The fact is that Jesus’ body has never been found and that is why there is no special place to visit where he is buried.  So unlike the prophet Muhammad (571- 632) whose body rests within the walls of the mosque in Medina, or Lenin (1870-1924) whose embalmed corpse lies in a crystal casket in a mausoleum in Red Square Moscow, or Winston Churchill (1874 -1965) who is buried at St. Martin’s Church Bladon or Elvis Presley (1935 -1977) who lies at Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee, Jesus is not so much dead and buried, but alive and living in the hearts and lives of all who acknowledge him to be Saviour and Lord (1 John 4:13-15). That is why although Christianity is rooted in real historical events it is not stuck in the past. It is a living faith because Jesus is alive (Luke 24:5). 

 But what difference should this make to Christians today? Well, in place of fear in the face of death there can be confidence because of the victory of Christ (1 Corinthians15:57). And in place of concern for self there should be compassion for others that they too might come to know the love of Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). For Christ “died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but only for him who died and was raised to life for their sake” (2 Corinthians 5:15).  So although the ice man is indeed a unique archaeological discovery, the greatest discovery we can make is that “Christ has Died, Christ is Risen Christ will Come Again!” Therefore let us live as those who have been redeemed by the cross, restored by the resurrection and renewed by the Holy Spirit for Jesus said “I AM the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11).

Charles

Rev'd Charles - February 2018

posted 1 Mar 2018, 06:05 by Richard Jones

View From the Vicarage 

 “All you need is love!” 

 Ah, those were the days when we were young and the Beatles were all the rage! For then love (or what we thought was love) was very much in the air. And yet of course as February 14th approaches something of that still survives,  for on St Valentine’s Day the discerning romantic will be able to offer his beloved heart shaped cushions, hot house freesias, jokey boxer shorts or gift wrapped champagne, together of course with the obligatory Valentine card! But.. 

Who was St Valentine? 

 Well, it appears that he was a Christian beheaded at a pagan festival of love in the 3rd century but it wasn’t in fact until the 5th century that he became officially the patron saint of lovers. Gradually, as he grew in popularity so love tokens began to be exchanged so that by the 17th century according to Samuel Pepys  (1633-1703) women received generous gifts of jewellery, perfume and gloves. However, towards the end of the 18th century such presents were gradually replaced by cards which the arrival of the Penny Post in 1840 ensured would grow in popularity, as they have done right up to the present day. But.. 

What is his relevance for us today? 

 Well, we live in a world, as Delia Smith once said, “where the word ‘love’ can be about as meaningful as coca cola. We throw the words to the winds like a bunch of confetti which glitters for a moment then falls to the ground without significance. Love is in pop songs, TV commercials, written on ‘T’ shirts – love promotes, sells, packages. But you don’t need to be a psychologist to detect that when a person keeps going on about something it’s usually because they have a problem, and maybe the modern obsession with the word love is a cry for help. And if the world is crying out for love, what it’s really crying out for is God, because God is love”.  And nowhere is God’s love more clearly seen than in the person of Christ. 

“For this is what love is,” writes St John, “it is not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven (1 John 4:10). For in contrast to our own selective use of the word, Jesus loved the moral outcast (John 8:1-11), the medical outcast (Mark 1:40-45), the social outcast (Mark5:1-20), the physical outcast (John 9:1-41), the legal outcast (Luke 23:39-43) – and he loves you and me. For his love was not confined to his family, friends or compatriots, but extended even to those who hated him, and plotted against him, and who eventually had him scourged and nailed to a tree (Luke 23:33-34). 

No wonder, then, that no less a person than the Emperor Napoleon 1 (1769- 1821) could say that whereas “Alexander, Charlemagne, Caesar and I have founded great empires and rested them upon force, Jesus Christ has founded his on love, and at this hour millions will die for him.” And when Jesus was asked which is the great commandment in the law he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22 : 34-40).

Charles


Rev'd Charles - January 2018

posted 2 Feb 2018, 01:20 by Richard Jones   [ updated 2 Feb 2018, 01:20 ]

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‘Respect’ 

 For some that’s a greeting, for others a political organisation but for many of us respect is something which seems to be sadly lacking in today’s society. In years gone by we would certainly have respected the elderly, the police, doctors, teachers and even politicians! But now in the world of twitter and emails many appear to think they can voice any opinion without considering the effect this may have on others and sometimes that opinion shows a distinct lack of respect. 

 Unfortunately, this attitude is not new. Back in the first century Paul reminded the Christians in Rome that they should obey the governing authorities and give respect and honour to those in authority (Romans 13:1 – 7). This applied not only to secular leaders but also to spiritual leaders in the church. The Letter to the Hebrews encourages Christians to “follow the example of the faith of your spiritual leaders who watch over your souls and who speak God’s message” (Hebrews 13:7, 17). 

 Paul himself later wrote to the Christians in Greece “pay proper respect, and honour those who work among you, who guide and instruct you in the Christian life. Show them great respect and whole hearted love because of the work they do. Live peaceably with one another.”

 (1 Thessalonians 5:12 -13) Indeed the two greatest commandments are these said Jesus “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Matthew 22: 37 - 39). So writes James “do not complain or grumble about each other” for if “you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue you are fooling yourself and your religion is worthless” (James 5:9, 1:26). 

 Of course it is right that we should expect the highest standards from those with authority and responsibility and that includes Christian ministers (1Timothy 3:1 -13, 2 Timothy 2:24 -26, 4:1 -5). But even if our leaders occasionally fail we should still respect the office they represent. And even more than this we should respect them as people because we have all been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26 -27). 

 So as this new year begins perhaps our New Year’s Resolution could be one word ‘Respect’ - respect for creation and the environment, respect for organisations and institutions, respect for property and buildings but most of all respect for one another because we have all been created in God’s image.

And God cares so much for his creation that he came in Jesus to save us and redeem us (Matthew 1:18 -25). 

 Therefore writes Paul “get rid of your old self which made you live as you used to and put on the new self which is created in God’s likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy” (Ephesians 4: 17 -32) So may we be of real help and encouragement to each other in the year ahead as we treat one another in a way that we ourselves would like to be treated – and what a difference that could make to our country and our community in 2018. 

 Charles

Rev'd Charles - December 2017

posted 2 Jan 2018, 06:56 by Richard Jones   [ updated 2 Jan 2018, 06:56 ]

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Describe Christmas in Three Words! 

Now that’s a challenge, so what might we say? Last minute shopping, eating too much, filling a stocking, holly and ivy or simply friends and family. But what about the words ‘Christ is born’? Where do these three words fit in? For many, the answer is they don’t, and yet for Christians there are three other words about Christmas that we would like to share with our families, friends and neighbours, and these are: Historical, Joyful and Essential! 

 1 Christmas is Historical: it really happened. 

Jesus is not some mythical make believe character. St Luke, who based his account on information from eyewitnesses, carefully investigated everything (Luke 1:1-4) and came to the conclusion that there had never been anyone else like Jesus. St Peter said the same (2 Peter 1:16)

Jesus lived a life of astonishing power and humility, authority and kindness, self sacrifice and compassion. He performed extraordinary miracles which even his enemies couldn’t deny (John 9) and having died for us, God raised him from the dead (1 Peter 1:21) In fact, he appeared to over 500 people in the days following his resurrection (Luke 24, 1 Corinthians 15) 

 2 Christmas is Joyful: God really cares. 

As the angelic messenger said, ‘I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today a Saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 1:8-20). Christmas tells us that God, the creator of this incredible universe, loves us (Colossians 1). Why else would he have come in Christ, leaving all the glory of heaven, to be born as a man in the midst of a sinful and suffering world. This is surely a great reason to be joyful: God really cares and demonstrates that care in action. And the knowledge of this can be of enormous strength and encouragement when difficulties arise. 

 3 Christmas is Essential: it really matters. 

Jesus didn’t just come to earth to demonstrate God’s love; he came to achieve an urgent rescue. The apostle Paul, one of the greatest early Christian leaders tells us: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’, and he did that by taking the punishment we deserve for not letting God be God in our lives, by dying in our place (Romans 3:23, 5:8). That is why he is called ‘Jesus’ because Jesus means Saviour (Matthew 1:21). But his death for us on the cross will mean nothing unless we respond in repentance, faith and trust. Indeed our eternal future, said Jesus, depends on the decision we make about him, now while we are still alive (John 5:24, 39-40, 14:6). That is why Christmas is so important. It really matters.     

For ‘Jesus is the Reason for the Season’ so this year why not put CHRIST back into CHRISTmas. Make time for your creator and saviour. Come and learn more about him. For at the heart of Christmas is God’s heart of love. That is why there are three other words with which we could close. Three other words which tell us what Christmas is all about and they are God Loves You. Now that is something to celebrate and enjoy– and not just now but throughout the coming New Year.

 Charles


Rev'd Charles - November 2017

posted 4 Dec 2017, 08:13 by Richard Jones   [ updated 4 Dec 2017, 08:13 ]

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LIGHT UP THE FIRE!

 Winter is certainly here with the approach of November 5th for no matter how dark and cold it may be outside the sky will soon be ablaze with the whiz and bang of fireworks because that’s the day we remember the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot.

 For it was around midnight on November 4th 1605, just a few hours before the official opening of Parliament, that Guido (or Guy) Fawkes (born 1570) was caught red handed in a cellar under the House of Lord’s, surrounded by 32 hundred weight of gunpowder. He had hoped to ‘light up a fire’ which would change the face of England. But the whole plan went disastrously wrong and on January 31st 1606 he was publicly hung drawn and quartered.

  We still remember Guy Fawkes and the fire that failed, and yet hundreds of years before he was born, a ‘fire’ was started which continues to spread all over the world today – a ’fire’ fuelled not by gunpowder but by love, the love of God for a world he had come to save (John 3:16).

  For Guy Fawkes, of course, death was the end. For Jesus Christ, however, it was just the beginning – for because of his resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit he became an eternally living person who can enter and transform our lives so setting us ‘on fire’ for him. For the ‘fire’ that Jesus brings has done more than overthrow governments – it has overthrown in those who have welcomed him in, the most stubborn tyrant of all – selfishness in the human heart.

  And down through the centuries countless millions have been inspired to share that light with others, even at the expense of giving up their lives. Like Hugh Latimer, the Bishop of Worcester (1485-1555), burnt at the stake in Oxford who, as the fire was kindled around them, said to Nicholas Ridley, the Bishop of London (1500 – 1555), ‘Be of good comfort Master Ridley and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace in England, as I trust shall never be put out.’

 They were convinced that God in Christ longs for nothing more than to enter our lives and to set them ablaze with his love. In the words of that popular song ‘Colours of Day’ (1974) so they too longed that God’s people in turn would ‘light up the fire and let the flame burn, open the door, let Jesus return. Take seeds of His Spirit, let the fruit grow, tell the people of Jesus, let His love show.’                                                                    

  But we will only be able to show Christ’s light and love to others if we have first welcomed him into our own lives as Lord and Saviour (Romans 10:9-13). After all, Jesus himself has said, ‘Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in’ (Revelation 3:20).For those who follow Jesus are ‘the chosen race, the  king’s priests, the holy nation, God’s own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his own marvellous light’ (1Peter 2:9). So let us then LIGHT UP THE FIRE for God, as we seek in his strength to live for him.

 Charles

Rev'd Charles - October 2017

posted 3 Nov 2017, 04:46 by Richard Jones   [ updated 3 Nov 2017, 04:46 ]

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“Sticks and stones . . . 

 May break my bones but words will never hurt me”. Well whoever wrote that had never come across the web or twitter because although sticks and stones can leave bruises, words which are particularly unkind can sometimes leave far more lasting and permanent damage. 

 And words feature prominently in the Bible because God knows the power they have –  to heal or to hurt.  So why should Christians be especially careful about the words they use? Well the message of scripture is very clear. 

 Paul for instance writes, “You must get rid of all these things: anger, passion, and hateful feelings. No insults or obscene talk must ever come from your lips. Do not lie to one another, for you have taken off the old self with its habits and have put on the new self” (Colossians 3:8-10). “Do not  use harmful  words, but only helpful words. Get rid of all bitterness, passion and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort” ( Ephesians 4). Do not be ”slanderers, gossips and busy bodies, talking of things you should not”( 1 Timothy 5:11-13, Titus 2:3). 

 James speaks of the tongue as “a fire spreading evil through our whole being. It is evil and uncontrollable, full of deadly poison” (3:6-12) and advises “be quick to listen but slow to speak” (1:19).  Indeed he adds “do not criticize one another and do not complain against one another” (4:11). 

 While Peter writes, “ No more lying or hypocrisy or jealousy or insulting language”(1Peter 2:1). And if we needed any more encouragement to watch what we say, Jesus himself warns, “Do not judge others” for “you can be sure that on Judgement Day everyone will have to give an account of every useless word he has ever spoken. Your words will be used to judge you – to declare you either innocent or guilty” (Matthew 7:1-5, 12:36-37). 

 Now of course it’s often only when we are tired or upset that we may say things we later regret (although English speakers swear on average at least one obscenity once in every 140 words, so that over the course of a day 0.7% of our language consists of swear words), but what we often forget is the damage hateful words do to us as well as to others. The Jewish rabbis call malicious slander the third tongue because it slays 3 persons – the speaker, the spoken to and the spoken of. 

So what should our approach be? Well someone once said that ‘great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events but small minds discuss people’ for ‘the tongue is where the mind comes out into the open.’ 

But a Christian is called to follow Christ, of whom Peter wrote, “No one ever heard a lie come from his lips. When he was insulted, he did not answer back with an insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but placed his hopes in God the righteous Judge” (1Peter 2:22). 

 So when we consider that latest email, Facebook or twitter, or meet over coffee or chat together at an event what will our words say about us?  Will they point others to Christ, because God’s Holy Spirit is at work in us (Galatians 5:16-24) or will they instead reveal what is in our hearts (Luke 6:45)? 

 We all know how easy it is to be ‘hung by your tongue’ and that is why the prayer of the Psalmist is so important when he prays, “May my words and my thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my refuge and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). 

Charles

Rev'd Charles - September 2017

posted 1 Oct 2017, 07:25 by Richard Jones   [ updated 1 Oct 2017, 07:25 ]

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‘Do something religious!’ 

 Perhaps you know the story told by Bob Hope, the American comedian. He’s on a plane when it’s struck by lightning. The passengers begin to panic and one turns to him and says, ‘Do something religious!’  ‘So I did’, he said, ‘I took a collection!’ Why? Because our churches often appear to be only concerned with money even though Jesus himself said, “Our Father in heaven will give good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11) and Paul was confident that “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). 

 So while recognising that the ordained ministry has to be paid for, and places of worship provided for, it could be that many churches have lost sight of what they are called to be and to do (Mark 11:15-18). After all, Jesus’ final command to those who believed in him was simply to “Go to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:16-20). 

 But what are the distinctive characteristics of a disciple of Christ? The answer to that can be found in Acts Chapter 2 verses 37-47 where we read that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  In other words, they believed the Good News about Jesus. They turned away from their sins (repented), committed themselves to Christ (were baptised) and received God’s gift, the Holy Spirit. So there was Bible teaching and Bible reading (John 8:31), sacrificial Christ-like concern for one another, worship (Hebrews 10:23-25) and prayer (Acts 1:14). These are what distinguished those first Christians and “every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved”. 

 So was Bob Hope right? For a Christian the answer is surely ‘no’, because all Christian giving is first and foremost a response to God’s incredible gift of himself to us (2 Corinthians 8:5 John 3:16) for at it’s heart Christianity is neither a ritual nor a religion. Rather it is a relationship in which by grace (Ephesians 2:8) we become God’s children (Romans 8:14-17) and God becomes our Father (Matthew 6:9). Therefore, when our priorities are right, God’s provision will follow. 

  So – do something religious? No. Instead, says Jesus, we are to “believe in the one whom God has sent” (John 6:28-29). 

 Charles


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