Christian Pilgrim


Blog 2016


My Soul is Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death

Who Controls Your Church?

Church Membership

Why the Church Isn't Growing

Prepare to be Shocked

Freedom in Christ

UK Votes to Leave the European Union

Bring Forth Fruits Meet for Repentance

The Living Buddhas of the Christian Church

Worshipping the Money God

Prayer Changes Things

Only Evil Continually

Walk Worthy

Renouncing Self Confidence

My Soul is Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death

The longer I live the Christian life, the more I am utterly convinced that not one of us is anywhere near truly understanding what it’s really all about.

We Christians love Christ, and we truly want in our hearts to follow Him. And we try our best to do His will in everything He gives us to do. And that’s good. But actually, we’re still so far short of what we ought to be. And the main problem is that we don’t fully understand about the Christian life being one of complete sacrifice:

Romans 12:1
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

The life of Christ is at least our example in this. He spent His entire life as one of complete sacrifice. At the age of twelve, he’s not playing with all the other children of His age. He’s in the Temple hearing the doctors and asking them questions. And in His adult life, whilst He did go to parties - weddings and other feasts - He’s not the usual party animal. He wasn’t (God forbid) laughing, eating and drinking, like everybody else. He always had a far more serious message to give to the people.

And towards the end of His life, He had His most solemn, and difficult, time of all. In Gethsemane, He said:

Matthew 26:38
My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”

Luke tells us He even sweat great drops of blood at that point:

Luke 22:44
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

And we are told that, in His human nature at least, the Lord of Glory even needed an angel to strengthen Him:

Luke 22:43
And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.”

None of this was sin. He was sinless. But the fact that God manifest in the flesh suffered and therefore - dare I say it -  found these things difficult, proves to us how different the Christian life is to the natural desires and instincts we have to look after ourselves. The Christian life involves serving God and serving others, and no longer serving ourselves any more. Self-abasement is a very neglected doctrine in the church today, but it’s the Christian way.

The Bible tells us that Christ was made perfect through sufferings:

Hebrews 2:10
For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Of course, He was always perfect. What is meant here is that in His human nature He had to undergo a whole life of suffering simply in order to live the perfect life that He lived. He had to continually deny Himself. And that culminated in Him eventually going to the cross, and laying down His life for His friends.

And we’re called to live such a life ourselves. In fact, we’ve got it a lot easier. We’re not called to suffer anything like as much as He did. He took upon Himself the sins of all His people on the cross. We will never be able to enter into that. And thankfully we don’t have to. But we all do have our own little crosses to carry, whatever the Lord gives us. And they will never be more than we can bear:

1 Corinthians 10:13
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

So, once we begin to follow Christ, our life becomes a life of difficulty, and therefore suffering. We should no longer be living for ourselves, our own comforts, any more. Instead, we are called to follow Him, which by definition means suffering for His sake:

Philippians 1:29
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake

1 Peter 2:21-23
For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.”

And we’re not to think it strange that we are called to a life of suffering either. We’re called to it and must, with the Lord’s help of course, endure it:

1 Peter 4:12,13
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

And if even our sinless Saviour needed the help of an angel to strengthen Him. How much more do we sinful creatures need the Lord to strengthen us through this great tribulation:

John 16:33
In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

At the same time that we are called to present our bodies a living sacrifice, we’re also called to count the cost:

Luke 14:27,28,33
Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”

But I don’t think we can count the cost. If we really knew how much we have to suffer for Christ in the Christian life, none of us would ever begin to choose to follow Christ at all. I don’t think this parable is about counting the cost in order to make a decision whether to follow Christ or not. It’s about realising that it is too much for us, we really can’t do it, and so sending an ambassage and desiring conditions of peace (v.32). In other words, of coming to an end of loving our own lives, realising living for ourselves is vain and empty, and crying to God for mercy. Crying to Him to take over our lives so we can use them for His purposes, and not ours any more.

And then we find that, even when we’ve sacrificed everything, we are told we don’t even get a reward for it. We’ve only done our reasonable service:

Luke 17:10
When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”

So the Christian life is a life of absolute sacrifice, constantly crying to God for mercy because we can’t live it ourselves. And that inevitably means suffering. Why would anyone want that?

But once we see the emptiness of living for ourselves, our own pleasures, our own glory, who would want anything else?

December 2016

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Who Controls Your Church?

Who is the head of the church? Jesus Christ of course!

Ephesians 5:23
Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.”

1 Corinthians 3:11
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

Colossians 1:18
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”

And everyone who is a member of that invisible body shall be saved by Christ, not one will be lost.

John 6:39
And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”

That’s the comfort. But what about each visible organisation that calls itself the church – every group of people in every place who profess Christianity as the true religion (whether they’re truly born-again or not)? In theory, Jesus Christ should be the head of all of these visible churches too.

But invariably visible churches are instead led by controlling people. From the largest church controlled by the pope, to the smallest tinpot little church down your street, most of them have someone in charge who wants to control the whole show.

Now, someone is needed to lead the church. “Governments” is a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:28) . We can’t have anarchy, someone’s got to be there to lead and organise. But Peter teaches elders how they ought to behave:

1 Peter 5:2,3
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”

Today we have too few elders who perform their duty willingly, of a ready mind and as an ensample to the flock, and too many elders who perform their duty by constraint, for filthy lucre and as lords over God’s heritage.

Notice that here the church is called “God’s heritage.” That should make us tremble. We should all be taking our duties in the churches so very seriously. But too many people today want control, and take no care at all for the real needs of the flock.

There is nothing new in this. We find this situation throughout Scripture:

Jeremiah 10:21
For the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the LORD: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered.”

Jeremiah 23:2
Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD.”

Ezekiel 34:5,6
And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.”

Matthew 9:36
But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.”

I know so many true Christian people, who have been hurt by one or more churches because they have been dealt with very poorly by the church leaders. And many of them end up not going anywhere to church, or if they do, they either stay on the periphery of a church or wander around the churches never settling in one. It’s a fact that controlling leaders haven’t got a clue how to really deal with other people, although they flatter themselves to think they have.

There are many different types of controlling leader:

Many of them talk so much that they just expect people to shut up and listen to them. Maybe they’ve found out that most of the time that works. I must admit, whenever I come across someone who just won’t stop talking, I know that even if I did get a chance to say something, they wouldn’t listen anyway, so what’s the point saying anything?

And if anybody comes along who genuinely needed spiritual help, they would never go to that sort of person for help, but just bottle everything up and eventually leave the church. And these controlling people are totally oblivious to any problem, always thinking that whatever fault there may be, resides in the person who’s left, and never themselves.

There are many other controlling people who hide behind the organisation. An organisation always ends up larger than the sum of the individuals in it. If you ever find yourself in an organisation which claims to be the one true church, GET OUT! I don’t care how big it is or how “sound” in doctrine it claims to be. The fact is that one or two men are at the top controlling everything, and you’re not allowed to disagree with anything they say. Examples are the Roman Catholic church, Eastern Orthodox churches, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Exclusive Brethren.

Raymond Franz was a man who spent 40 years of his life being a zealous Jehovah’s Witness, the last 15 years in the Watchtower headquarters in New York. He grew in the ranks until one day, to his delight, he was invited to become one of the “twelve apostles,” the controlling rulers of the whole organisation. Once “inside,” he found out that the organisation he had been working for for all those years, made all their decisions by a simple majority vote of the ruling board, with virtually no recourse to prayer or the Bible. So he left, and was of course disfellowshipped.

Who is making the decisions in your church, and how? If you don’t know, then it’s time to find out. And if they don’t like you snooping, then it may be time to leave.

There are many more controlling people who know they have a silver tongue and the power of persuasion. They know they can attract a following for themselves, they know that they can get huge numbers of people to throw money at them and follow their every decree, so they go about this as a very successful business model, and as a result live very comfortable lives. The people who follow this sort of controlling person, are simple people, “yes-men” who can never think for themselves. And there are plenty of them. Real people with real problems who want real Christians to help them, can again see straight through all this, and realise there’s no help for them there either.

But there are even other controlling people who aren’t so talkative, they aren’t at the top of a large organisation, neither are they persuasive personalities who can attract a following, but they are still just as controlling. They are the sort who lead their little church, but everything down to the very last detail has to be the way they want it. They are totally closed to other people’s suggestions. They invariably end up emptying the church, rather than attracting a following. But they still carry on, thinking they’re doing God’s work, and believing that God will bring people into the church in His own good time. They never even think for a moment that the problem of an empty church might at least be partly to do with themselves. Again, real people with real problems who want real Christians to help them, would walk away.

It’s because of all of this control being exercised in the churches, by many different kinds of people in many different ways, that so many true Christians are desperately lonely, without any real fellowship at all.

Now let’s talk about William Carey. William Carey (1761-1834) was a Baptist pastor and is best known in church history as the father of the modern missionary movement. He went to Bengal in 1793 and stayed there for the rest of his life. Carey’s wife Dorothy had never travelled more than a few miles from her home in her life before, and never really wanted to go with him.

After arriving in India, and especially after their son died of dysentery, Dorothy went mad. She died in 1807. Within only one year William Carey had remarried.

What do you think of that? Was William Carey right to go to India at all? Just to ask that question sends shock waves down most Christians’ spines. “Of course he was right!” would be the usual reply, “God told him to go!” But really, I’m asking the question genuinely and seriously, was he right?

He deliberately carried on with the work he thought God had got him to do, whilst his wife went mad. Whatever happened to the injunction:

Ephesians 5:25
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”

It’s also recorded that his children weren’t very well disciplined either. The Bible teaches that one of the criteria for being an overseer in the church is that he should be:

1 Timothy 3:4,5
One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

William Carey, rather than showing all the traits of a godly man,  showed all the traits of being a very controlling person. Everything had to be done his way. “Oh! But he’s a hero of the faith!” you may say. Yes. That’s what all the Christian books tell us. But before he even thought about going as a missionary to India, the Lord had, in His providence, given him a wife.

Proverbs 18:22
Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD.”

And he had been blessed with a family.

Psalm 127:3
Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.”

Now, if he hadn’t been given these things, or at least had been given a wife that shared his desire to go to India, then that would have been a positive indication for him to go. But that wasn’t the case. When trying to understand the Lord’s will for his life, he should have taken his family into consideration. But instead, as far as he was concerned, his wife’s thoughts, wishes, and desires, all had to eventually be subsumed to his. That’s the mark of a controlling person.

The Lord in His providence had given William Carey a family to look after and to keep. To cast their thoughts aside for his desire to be a missionary is no different from Buddha dumping his wife and family to seek “enlightenment.” It’s not right.

William Carey had also been given the spiritual gift of tongues – he was very good at languages. That was the gift the Lord had given him, not the gift of being a missionary. After he got to India, he never really made many converts. He ended up spending most of his time translating the Bible. That was a good thing to do. That was his gift. But he could have done that in England.

We should make sure that we work with the situation the Lord has given us, not try to leave it, or worse still, drag the people involved where they really, really, truly don’t want to go.

But what about missionary work, and the spreading of the gospel? Esther had it right:

Esther 4:14
For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Esther, in the Lord’s providence, was in just the right place at just the right time, and she realised that she was exactly the one the Lord had put there to seek the king’s help when it was needed. In William Carey’s situation however,  the Lord, in his providence, had given him a family to be responsible for. Rather than Carey thinking to himself that God wanted him to go to India, he should have seen the situation the Lord had given to him, and realised that if the Lord wanted someone to convert the heathen in India, He would provide the right people, people who would be suitable equipped for the task. From home in England, as well as doing the work of Bible translation, he could have continued to pray for missionary work. He should never have gone himself.

Is this you?? Are you a controller? Ask your wife. Or maybe the wife is the controller? All of us are responsible before God for the actions we take in this life. And that includes controllers. Let’s make sure that we really, truly understand exactly what the Lord want us to do, based on the situation He has put us in and the people we’ve been given in His providence to deal with. Let’s stop pretending the Lord has got a great work for us to do. He’s got a small work, in keeping with our situation. Let’s get on with it.

James 3:1
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.”

November 2016

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Church Membership

I remember many years ago, going to my regular evangelical church. The minister read Ephesians chapter 4, then told us that the subject he was going to preach on today was “Church Membership.” I looked at Ephesians 4, and I wondered, where on earth is the subject of church membership in that passage? In fact, thinking about it, where is church membership in the Bible at all?

Many evangelical churches are congregational in the way they operate, that is, they believe that all true believers should join themselves to the “local church,” a local, autonomous congregation –  a congregation that has no dealings with any other organisation on earth – and which is run by the “members’ meetings” making all its decisions by majority vote.

Where is any of that in the Bible?

The only argument people seem to use to support the concept of “church membership” is the fact that the Bible teaches excommunication, which it does:

1 Corinthians 5:1-5
It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

But excommunication doesn’t necessarily presuppose church membership at all. The person in this passage was a regular attendee of the fellowship, but was involved with gross sin. Of course someone like that should not be allowed to continue freely to use the church's name, because that would cast a stain on the fellowship. So he should be stopped from church privileges until he has truly repented. But that doesn’t mean he had any kind of membership in it.

In every church, there are going to be people who have definite opinions on various different things, and who want to fight their corner to get what they want. The members’ meetings invariably end up becoming power struggles where factions assert themselves – the faction that can get the most votes winning the day. And there’s a type of person who loves that kind of thing, who loves the fight, loves to contend, thinking they’re God’s champion.

But where is God in all this, really?

Currently I attend a congregational church. I can fully participate in all it’s activities, including the preaching, without being a member. Now, many of these churches wouldn’t allow that. Of course that’s simply a ploy to try to get you to become a member. So I have to be thankful for somewhere I can go that allows full participation without pressurising anyone to join in any way.

But in any church, there will be well-meaning people, good Christian people, who really would try to encourage people like me to become a member, because I would be another vote on the “right” side. Their argument being that we need to keep a majority of evangelicals attending the members’ meetings, in order to make sure the liberals will be defeated every time a vote has to be made.

That sounds good. I would certainly back the evangelical faction in any dispute. We certainly don’t want liberals taking over the church. That’s ruined so many churches in the past, and we don’t want that to happen to another one. But is the only answer to fight, and to use democracy to try to get the right thing? Surely prayer is the answer, not democracy! We should trust in the Lord to keep the church, not the decisions of majorities. Christ said:

Matthew 16:18
I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Let’s suppose the liberals do manage to muster up enough votes in the “members’ meeting” to get the upper hand. Remember, in congregational churches, whoever has the majority then has the power to do anything they want in the church, even throw the minister out if they decide to. The minority becomes utterly powerless.

What would you do in that situation? Would you stay a member in a liberal church? Or leave and form a new one? Most evangelicals would leave and form a new one, and I can’t say I blame them. But then what kind of witness is a “church split” of that nature to the surrounding community? They’re not going to understand the reasons for it, they’re just going to dismiss Christians in general because all they see is that they can’t agree with one another.

What’s the point of membership in the first place, if there is never any permanence to any church organisation in this world? Church membership is not necessary unless you’re wanting to make some visible church somewhere in this world your home. Our home is in heaven:

Colossians 3:1-3
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”

Church politics is not for the Christian. Our home is not in tinpot organisations in this world. The organisations are only ever just the shell. The real church is spiritual. It is the true believers who have been born-again of the Spirit of God and had their hearts changed, not the external organisation, that is the true church.

Therefore we don’t need to hold membership in a church organisation down here on this earth. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t go anywhere to church, we should always go to the best place we can find in our area, the place where we can get the best spiritual food and do the most spiritual good. But we shouldn’t get so bogged down in an organisation that may or may not still be “sound” in ten, twenty years time. Be free. Don’t join.

Now if that means that the external organisation won’t let you do certain things, like preaching, unless you’re a member, so be it. Most churches with that attitude limit the preaching to a certain elite anyway. They’re answerable to the Lord alone for their actions. We’re answerable to the Lord for our actions too.

1 Timothy 6:11,12
But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.

October 2016

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Why the Church Isn't Growing

We go to church week by week, and we listen to the preaching. Hopefully, we will be going to the church in our area where the best preaching can be found, and by that I don’t mean the church with the most eloquent orator, but a place where the preacher sticks to the Scripture, and always tries to apply it by answering the question, “How then shall we live.”

Now, I’m sure we understand that, however good the preacher is, we shouldn’t worship him. He’s a fallen man like you or me. So, I’m not suggesting for one moment that we should exalt preachers in any way, I’m just saying we ought to be going to where the preaching is the most useful for our spiritual growth.

But, let’s suppose our regular preacher is away one Sunday and a visitor is in the pulpit instead. Well, we shouldn’t judge him or compare him to our regular preacher, because if we did that, we would more than likely be disappointed. Rather, we must at least try to get something out of what he said, even if he falls short of the high standard we are used to. After all, he’s only a visitor, and it was only for one week.

But then our regular preacher, God forbid, falls ill, and has to take an extended time away from the preaching. Or maybe he leaves altogether because he’s had a “call” somewhere else (usually somewhere bigger and better than our tinpot little church). And we begin to get visiting preachers every week on a regular basis instead. Some are good, others are poor. But some are really, really poor, so much so, that, even though we know we should never judge anyone, the only word we can legitimately use about them is “bad.” And we begin to wonder why on earth someone like that ever gets to preach in the first place.

As we investigate this, we soon discover that they are all on some kind of "list" of preachers held centrally. Every area and denomination has them. And the crazy thing is that, even though they’re so bad, they have no shortage of preaching engagements. And they get paid - tax free, in cash - for every one of them.

Churches without a pastor often complain that there are so few people they can call on to preach for them. So they invariably resort to people on one of these “lists.” It doesn’t matter how bad they are, just as long as they can fill the pulpit. Hence, once you are on the “list” the doors are open wide for you to use your “ministry” to its fullest extent. Even if you’re rubbish.

But how does anyone get onto one of these “lists” to start with? That’s a very good question, and I’m not sure any of us really know the answer to it. Maybe they’re people in the area known to have had some kind of formal theological education. Or maybe they’ve been born and brought up in the church and have managed to get themselves well-known in church circles. However, I would suggest that most of them are on the list simply because they fancy themselves in the pulpit, and have put their own name forward.

And that is absolutely the last thing any of us should ever do. That is the height of arrogance. Who are we to put ourselves forward for anything? We’re sinners. That’s all we are.

Now, onto another subject. What do we do when we decide as a church to hold an evangelistic campaign? Maybe the church always holds one once a year, or maybe it’s just a one-off special event. Either way, how do we go about organising it? Well, we never even dream of doing it ourselves. Rather, we usually bring in a well-known evangelist from outside to do it for us. Of course, he will charge. And we’ll have to book him well in advance, because these well-known evangelists are booked up, sometimes years in advance. And then the event comes and goes and, well, the evangelist was OK, but not quite as good as we thought he’d be. He’s taken the money, but the church hasn’t actually received any new members as a result.

But, I would like to question whether any of this is the way we should be operating at all. Should we really have to put up with “bad” preachers? And is the only way to evangelise our community really to get a well-known evangelist at great expense from far away to do it for us? I really don’t think this is the way the Lord wants us to go about things. “Bad” preachers, far from encouraging people to come to church, turn them off. And the results of bringing a well-known evangelist in, is usually negligible.

Wherever we are in the world, this is the place where God has put us in His providence. We might not particularly like being here. We might want to be somewhere else, but circumstances in the Lord’s providence have put us where we are. And until the Lord through circumstances moves us somewhere else, we must realise that this is exactly where we He wants us to be.

So, who are the people that God wants to evangelise our area? Someone from miles away? No! Who are the people that God has in mind to fill our pulpits every week, to build up the faith of the Christians in our area? People from a Bible college many miles away? No! Who are the people God has put in our area in His providence to perform both of these functions? US!

But, we may argue, “I’m not trained to evangelise, I’ve never been trained to preach, I’ve never been to Bible college.” Well, that’s probably a good thing.

Do we know the Lord? Do we love the Bible? Do we have the Holy Spirit within us to guide us and to lead us into the truth? If the answer to all these questions is YES, then we’ve got all the qualifications necessary for the job.

Now, not everybody is called to preaching. For a start, infants, imbiciles and those new to the faith are excepted. But preaching isn’t all that difficult if we follow a few simple rules:

(1) Stick to expository preaching, letting the text do the work.

(2) Use the Nehemiah 8:8 principle:

Nehemiah 8:8
So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”

(3) Don’t shout. Preach to people as if they’d just had a bereavement. That should keep our minds on eternal things.

(4) Acknowledge the absolute necessity of the Holy Spirit, and be led by Him in everything: the choice of text, the preparation, and the delivery. Whatever we do, we should never try to use human methods of oratory, because that will make the Spirit depart from us.

(5) NEVER accept payment for preaching. As soon as we decide to accept payment, we’ve sold out to mammon.

Matthew 10:8
Freely ye have received, freely give.”

1 Corinthians 9:18
What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.”

If we understand anything at all in the Bible, any of us can do this. Some people will always be better than others at preaching, but if we stick closely to these principles, nobody will be “bad.”

And what about evangelism? It’s the same thing. We know the gospel, don’t we? Then let’s communicate it to others. Easy.

The “bad” preacher and the outside evangelist should not be preaching in our area - the “bad” preacher because he obviously hasn’t got the Holy Spirit, and the outside evangelist because it’s not his patch. Tell him to go home, and stop exalting himself as some great thing.

We are all God’s chosen vessels to do His work, no matter how inadequate we feel. So let’s accept our responsibilities, and not take the easy way out and try to fob them off onto somebody else.  

We need to start doing things in the way God wants us to do them, with the people God has placed in our area, and in the power of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Then we will see real, spiritual church growth (which is not necessarily the same as numerical growth), because God will be with us.

September 2016

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Prepare to be Shocked

The Christian life is full of surprises. The biggest one of all is right at the beginning. On Christmas Day 1977, when I prayed, “God, if you exist, let me know,” I got the biggest surprise of my life when He actually answered, not by an audible voice, but by a quickening in my heart.

John Wesley talked about his heart being “strangely warmed,” and I have heard many other testimonies from people to whom this has happened, and who least expected it at the time.

What about the man who went into an empty church with his mates, and just fooling around, pretended to play church. He opened the Bible randomly, started pretending to be the preacher by reading from it, and suddenly in his heart, he realised that it was all true. All his other mates had no reaction, but he’d had his heart changed forever.

Or what about the lady from a rough council estate, who loved partying until she dropped. She was invited to a party on a yacht. At about midnight, she’d had too much to drink and she wanted to be sick. So she went on deck, leaned over the side to be sick, and, yes, you’ve guessed it, she fell into the water. She shouted for help but nobody could hear her because of the loud music in the party below deck. That moment sobered her up. She cried to God, “If you save me now, I’ll dedicate my life to you for ever.” The next minute, she was being hauled up in an huge net. A police patrol boat had found her. The only reason they had seen her was because she had borrowed a sequined top for the night, which shone in their spotlight. And also, for no reason, they had gone out on their patrol two hours before they usually did. This could only have been the hand of God. This lady has passed to glory now, but she did dedicate her life to God. After that, her life was one of loving God and keeping His commandments. No more partying for her!

Being transformed from darkness to light, is the biggest shock you’re ever going to get.

Acts 26:18
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”

2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But after our conversion too, the Christian life continues to be full of surprises.

Three weeks after I had had my heart changed, I had a desire in my heart to go to church. I wasn’t from a church-going family, so I had no idea what to expect. I was thoroughly convinced that everybody else in church would have had the same experience as myself. Wrong. This was the next shock. I couldn’t find anybody who had had the same experience at all. They just didn’t understand me.

Most people I met in church had been born and brought up in the church. It was just a social club to them. They had absolutely no idea about the new birth, and the new life that the Lord gives to all who repent and turn to Him.

I eventually sussed that the churches that call themselves “evangelical,” were the ones that believed in the Bible as the Word of God, whereas other churches didn’t even believe that. So I have migrated towards evangelical churches ever since.

The Bible warms my heart. Every time I read it I get the same experience as the two on the road to Emmaus:

Luke 24:32
And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?

But the surprises don’t stop here. I had spent seven years in evangelical churches before I came across some students who started talking about the difference between Arminianism and Calvinism. I’d never heard these expressions before, because I had been cocooned in Arminian churches, where they don’t tell you about these things.

These students were telling me that I didn’t have free will. I was shocked at this. “Of course I’ve got free will,” I thought. I am free to choose what I like. But the argument wouldn’t go away in my mind. After six months of thinking on these things, I woke up one morning and realised that they were right. I have no free will whatsoever to choose good. I was a slave to sin. We all are.

This was like having my legs kicked from under me. Everything I had been taught in the past, even in evangelical circles, was wrong. I had to go back to the beginning and relearn everything I had blindly taken in. Yes, even pastors in the pulpit can be wrong.

Everybody is wrong somewhere in their beliefs. Pastors too can be wrong. But in evangelical circles, they tend to be so dogmatic about what they preach from the pulpit, yet they can still be completely wrong. Another shock to the system. We should never follow men. They can be so certain in the pulpit that they are right, but we should still be like the Bereans, who didn’t even believe Paul the Apostle until they had themselves compared what he had taught with the Scriptures:

Acts 17:11
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

OK. So I’m now in a Calvinistic evangelical church, and I’m not following the pastor blindly. Good. Praise the Lord for this. But I was then led astray, would you believe it, by doctrine. In my hunger for correct doctrine, which is good, I sought out the church that had the most correct doctrine I could find. I knew all along that no church was perfect, but at least I could attend the best I could find.

So I did. I thoroughly agreed with Calvinism, exclusive psalm singing, not using for-profit public transport on the Sabbath, and standing for prayer. So I joined a church that had all of these things. I knew it wasn’t perfect. I disagreed with them on some issues such as postmillennialism, but that’s OK, no church is perfect.

But..... the shock comes when you realise that you can go to a church that has everything right doctrinally (well, most things anyway), but there will still be three main problems:

Firstly, you are separating yourselves from every other Christian who isn’t quite as enlightened as you are in their doctrine yet (and probably never will be until they die).

Secondly, the people in the pew tend to worship the ministers. They are the only ones who are allowed to preach, who have the correct doctrine and who you are supposed to follow implicitly.

And thirdly, to them, a good church is defined solely on how sound in doctrine it is. But you can have all the right theology and still be going to hell. And nobody’s going to have it all right anyway. Right theology is not what defines a Christian, although it’s good to have all your theology right. It’s whether you are born-again in your heart that defines a true Christian. That would not only manifest itself in a hunger for true doctrine, but a desire for practical Christian living as well. In many of these churches that is completely missing, other than, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, them only looking after themselves with no practical concern for anyone else.

And the next shock I wrote about in my last article. Meeting good, Bible-believing evangelical Christians, who put my Bible knowledge to shame, but who have no idea whatsoever about ongoing sin in the believer. They believe that they used to be sinners, but now, since they came to Christ, they just can’t see that they still sin. They think that knowing Christ gives you a victory life, and that we should never think that we have sin any more.

This is totally the opposite of my experience of Christ. The closer I get to Christ, the more I see my own sin. The Holy Spirit, which comes to live within the believer, is just that – holy. Our sinful lives are shown up within us, in stark contrast with His holiness. The nearer we get to Him, the more we should see our sin.

Luke 5:8
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

This experience of so-called Christians not having any concept of indwelling, ongoing sin, is so different from the true experience of Christ that we should have, that I have very great difficulty in believing that anyone who thinks that way are true believers at all.

At least we can still have Christian fellowship with someone who differs from us in a point of doctrine. We can put that down to the fact that either they, or we, haven’t come to a full knowledge of the truth on that issue yet. If we are both truly born-again of the Spirit of God, we can still have sweet fellowship with each other despite the differences.

But anyone who claims to be born-again, and has no experience at all of indwelling sin after becoming a believer, I have very great difficulty having Christian fellowship with them, because their experience is so different from mine.

And now, another shock. I have just come across the latest manifestation of humanistic philosophy infiltrating the church, and it must be the worst, because you couldn’t get any further away from Christianity if you try.

If I had my doubts about the faith of people who believe they’ve been saved from their sins in Christ but who have no sense of indwelling sin, I definitely, absolutely believe with all my heart that the following people I am about to describe are certainly not Christians in any way, shape or form.

I was speaking at a meeting recently, and mentioned in my message, as I try to do in all my messages, that we are all sinners in need of salvation. Nothing unusual, you may think. But after the talk, I got very little response. The group then had a testimony time, where anyone could get up and give a testimony to how the Lord has worked in their life over the past week. What a good idea! Would to God we would have more of these things.

But one woman got up and repeatedly said, “We shouldn’t condemn ourselves.” And it soon became evident that she hadn’t liked my message. Not only did she think she didn’t have any sin now, but it seems that she didn’t believe she ever had any sin in the past either.

This is one stage further than all the other false gospels I have ever come across. All the others at least acknowledged that we all, as individuals, were born sinners. Christ came to take away sin, so they would at least have had some experience of a change having taken place within themselves as individuals, even if it wasn’t genuine and they were so far from having experienced the real, true change of heart Christ gives His people if they repent and turn to Him.

But this new theology actually goes one stage further. It believes we were never born sinners at all. What’s the point of Christ then? Well, presumably, according to them, He did come into the world to take away “sin,” but that was a long time ago, and it was just “sin” in general that was taken away. Ever since that point in time, everybody is now born without any sin, because Christ has already taken it all away. So, Christ’s dying on the cross generally for “sin” has no real relevance to any of us as individuals at all now.

In this new system, we don’t need as individuals to be called to repent and change our lives in any way. No! We are all to be told, “Jesus loves you!” “God loves us all!” And we are all called now simply to recognise our condition, our “freedom in Christ” as some of them call it, which we didn’t realise before. It’s just a question of simply recognising something that already exists but which we are simply unaware of until we’re told about it. This new theology believes that not only should we not think of sin in ourselves now (that would be bad enough), but that we should not even think that we were ever sinners in the past.

This is the ultimate infiltration of humanism into the church. This is so absolutely against the true gospel, that it is clear that all those who embrace this have no concept whatsoever of their need of a Saviour at all, and absolutely cannot be Christian in any sense of the word. They are still in their sins.

But it’s also very dangerous, because these people call themselves Christians, they have infiltrated many evangelical churches, they (mis)use the Bible, and deceive people into thinking that Christianity is just about realising that we’re not sinners after all, and never were, and therefore rejoicing and living our lives with a good, positive feeling about ourselves as a result.

And, yes, it’s all about the humanistic doctrine of having a good feeling about yourself. The same lady who said, “We shouldn’t condemn ourselves,” then went on to tell everybody about how she used to be really shy, but since coming to realise her new-found condition in Christ, she has become very outgoing. She couldn’t stop chattering. This is the opposite of Christianity as well.

Many years ago, when I started a new job in a hospital, I used to live in temporary accommodation in a room right next to the kitchens. One lady in particular would arrive at 6.30am for work, and she was the loudest person you could imagine. I had my automatic 6.30am alarm call every day. But I met her a few years later, at a Christian meeting, and she had been completely transformed. No longer was she brash and loud, but she had been given a gentle and quiet spirit, and it was a joy to see her there. That’s what true Christianity gives people. It doesn’t make them extrovert, but exactly the opposite.

1 Peter 3:4
the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”

1 Timothy 2:1,2
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”

This think-positive, assert-yourself, self-confident humanism is NOT what Christ came to give the world. It’s exactly the opposite. It denies the doctrine of Original Sin. It’s so contrary to the truth, yet many in the church today are imbibing it’s evil influence.

Our “freedom in Christ” does not consist in our realisation that we’re not sinners and never were sinners. That’s ridiculous. Rather, it consists in our knowing that, even though as long as we live we will still sin, all our sins have been forgiven in Him.

John 8:36
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

2 Corinthians 7:1
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

I wonder how many more shocks there will be around the corner in the Christian life, before we go to be with Christ, which is far better?

August 2016

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Freedom in Christ

There are many causes of division amongst Christian people, and always have been. But most of them can eventually be put down simply to the fact that some people understand the principles of the Bible a bit better than others.

We are all continually growing...

2 Peter 3:18 grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

And so all of us are at different stages in the Christian life. The differences Christians have with one another can simply be attributed to this fact.

But I want to look in more detail now at a difference between professing evangelical Christians which goes a lot deeper.

I used to know an old lady, who knew her Bible very well and was a professing Christian. And I had no reason to doubt her profession, she seemed to exhibit many Christian graces such as kindness, patience and so on. She had been a Christian for a lot longer than I had, so I certainly respected her. But she had a problem with the church we were both members of at the time. She didn’t like the church harping on all the time about ongoing sin in the believer.

To back herself up, she came up with this Bible quotation:

Hebrews 10:1,2
For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.”

In these verses we are told that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament could never take away sin, but were only ever meant to be a picture of the true sacrifice that would come later in Christ. The argument then goes on to say that, if they could have taken away sin, then they would have ceased to have been offered and the worshippers “should have had no more conscience of sins.”

Now we know that the animal sacrifices could never take away sin, but Christ’s blood can. So this lady was quite adamant that if we continue to think about ongoing sin all the time, then we still have a conscience of it and therefore we can’t be true Christians, because we can’t have had our sins taken away by Christ yet. That’s what this verse, in her mind, was effectively saying.

But my Christian experience is very different. Now I have become a Christian, the Holy Spirit has come to reside in my heart, and it is as though a light has been switched on. I now see all the dark and dingy corners of my life I never saw before. In fact, the closer I get to Christ, the more sin I see in myself. Yes, of course, as a true believer, I know, praise God, it has all been forgiven. It has all been taken care of and put on Christ...

Galatians 2:20
...who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

But as a Christian, I still have a struggle with ongoing sin. I don’t like my sin, I don’t want to do it, I hate it. I don’t do it deliberately or wilfully, but I fall into it. I never had this problem before I became a Christian. Sin never bothered me then. But it does now. And until our dying day, as far as my experience has taught me – and I also believe it to be what the Bible teaches – we Christians now have a battle going on within us. The old man against the new man in Christ. The flesh against the Spirit. These are two of several ways the Bible has of describing it. The apostle Paul concluded about himself:

Romans 7:24,25
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”

I heard a terrible sermon on this passage not very long ago. The speaker, who would have agreed with the old lady I was telling you about, believed that this wasn’t Paul describing himself at all, but some hypothetical person instead. We Christians, he said, shouldn’t live “defeated” lives, and should certainly never call ourselves “wretched.” We shouldn’t dwell on our sins. We have the victory. That was the gist of the sermon. How awful! Not in line with the reality of things at all.

Of course this was Paul describing himself. And I’m a wretched man as well. But, thanks be to God, I have a Saviour who has saved me from this wretched condition, and has put a new heart within me so I can now to some extent begin to live the life He wants me to live. But I still have this indwelling sin within me that will not go away until I receive my new body when I go to be with Him, which is far better, a body that will finally no longer be able to sin.

2 Corinthians 9:15
Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.”

But this experience of a spiritual battle now going on in the Christian, which was never there before, seems to be totally foreign to the likes of this old lady and this preacher.

I tried to tell the old lady that after we become a Christian we still sin, and I quoted the Lord’s Prayer:

Luke 11:4
Forgive us our sins.”

We still have to ask forgiveness for our sins from God on a regular basis, even though we are truly born-again Christian people. But she simply told me, “Well, you’ve come out of Egypt, but you’ve not entered the Promised Land yet.”

And this idea of a Christian being someone who just doesn’t see indwelling, ongoing sin any more, is quite common in the modern church.

The nearer I get to Christ, the more I see my sin. This is true Christanity. This is how it should be. But most modern ministries believe that anyone who thinks the way I do, is still dwelling on their past sin. They insist that people like me must change our mindsets. Christ has taken all our sin away, so, they say, we should instead concentrate on “what we are in Christ” (that’s the phrase they use), and not on our sins any more. The thought of sin should now be gone from our lives forever. Not just past sins, but the whole concept of continuing, ongoing, indwelling sin as well. To dwell on our sin is negative. If we don’t look at things in this new light, they say, we’re not “living the victory life.”

“Are you a just a forgiven sinner or a saint?” they would ask. They think that we’re only “forgiven sinners” and not “saints,” because, to them, we’re still wallowing in our past sins. But it’s not my past sins that are the problem. Praise God I have been forgiven them in Christ. It’s in my continuing to fall into sin where I find a problem. These people don’t seem to see that they continue to sin at all. They seem to think that a truly born-again Christian should have no more conscience of sin whatsoever. Otherwise they don’t have real “freedom in Christ,” as they say.

But I know I continually let the Father down. And it bothers me, because I love the Father. Not that I think I won’t get to heaven because of my sins, past or ongoing. Praise God I will, despite my sin. But whenever I sin, I know I’m letting my Lord down yet again. That bothers me.

This whole division in the church between these two groups of people – those who believe in continuing sin and those who don’t – is a far more serious problem than any of the usual problems we come across, such as Calvinism versus Arminianism, or whether we believe the gifts are for today or not, or whether we believe in having women preachers, or infant baptism etc. etc. These are all just a matter of some people not understanding the Bible properly yet. In all these cases, people on both sides of the argument can be genuinely born-again Christians (albeit some of them are wrong in their thinking). So they can still share Christian experiences and have good Christian fellowship with one another. But this division I’m talking about here, is not to do with whether we understand a Biblical principle or not. It’s to do with that Christian experience itself.

I can’t understand people who call themselves evangelical, born-again Christians and who live their lives quite happily with absolutely no concept whatsoever of ongoing, indwelling sin. It’s just not real. I can’t relate to them. I have a battle going on in my members, they don’t. They drift through their Christian lives full of confidence. And because of this fundamental difference in our Christian experience, I have become very tempted to conclude that they’re not truly born-again at all. That’s what’s going through my mind, although I know I shouldn’t judge people like that. But the fact remains that I seem to have absolutely nothing in common with their experience of the Christian life whatsoever.

But they do profess to have had a true born-again experience in the heart. They profess to be new creatures in Christ. They profess to be evangelical Bible believers. There is such a lot that we seem to have in common, far more than with many other people who call themselves Christian but are obviously not born-again in their hearts. Yet even so, I still can’t relate to them in any way. And they can’t relate to me. I’m sure most of them don’t think I’m a Christian either.

So, are these people just deluded into thinking they are truly born-again? I don’t know. Only the Lord can judge that. All I can do is continue to live by what the Lord has revealed to me in my understanding and in my experience. If that means I can’t relate to these people, then that’s just the way it is, I must leave them to the Lord to deal with.

My “freedom in Christ” comes not from my being completely oblivious to my ongoing sins, but from my knowing that no matter what sins the Lord may uncover in my life (and there’ll be many), I won’t be condemned. This is a tremendous comfort to the Christian, especially the thousandth time he lets the Lord down yet again.

Psalm 51:17
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

July 2016

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UK Votes to Leave the European Union

I am not going to make a comment as to whether it is a good thing or not for the UK to leave the EU. I just want to mention two observations I have made from recent events.

(1) Younger people tended to vote “Remain,” whilst older people tended to vote “Leave.” Several times I have watched interviews on television where younger people have said that older people shouldn’t have a say at all, because they’re not going to be around for much longer, and it is the younger generations who are going to have to live with the outcome of the vote. In other words, “You’re going to be dead soon, so your opinion doesn’t matter.” This is terrible.

As far as I know, in every other society on earth, with the exception of this Western humanist society we live in, children are taught to respect their elders, and accept that they are wiser. The Bible clearly teaches this:

Exodus 20:12
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”

Leviticus 19:32
Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.”

Proverbs 1:8,9
My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: for they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.”

Proverbs 15:5
A fool despiseth his father’s instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent.”

It seems that young people today in the West are not taught this any more. They’re far too interested in their own little lives.

(2) The politicians were telling us that “every vote counts.” What they meant by that was that in a normal election, votes in “safe” constituencies don’t really count, only votes in the marginal seats would swing the outcome. But in this referendum that is not the case.

But they are wrong. Every vote doesn’t count. The votes of the 16,141,241 people who voted “Remain” don’t now count at all. This is a fundamental fallacy with democracy itself.

It is a good thing that in the midst of all this uncertainty, the Lord is still in control of all things.

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
 2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
 3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
 4 There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
 5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.
 6 The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.
 7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
 8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth.
 9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.
 10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
 11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

June 2016

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Bring Forth Fruits Meet for Repentance

I want to tell you a true story about two ministers in the same church denomination. To the best of my knowledge, what I am going to relate is true, but I am not going to mention names, and even if I have got some inaccuracies in the story (which I don’t believe I have), it doesn’t matter. Even if this story is total fiction, we can still learn something very important from it on the subject of repentance.

One of these ministers committed adultery, and the other got drunk. Both were quite rightly reprimanded by the denomination. Not many churches would bother to discipline at all in such cases, but this church did the right thing. Both ministers were suspended from office, and suspended from the church privileges of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The church had to do this, particularly because the perpetrators were ministers. They were the public face of the church, indeed the public face of Christianity in their local parishes. If ministers are allowed to get away with such behaviour, then the whole of the Christian religion falls into disrepute. Just look at what has happened with the child sex abuse cases in the Roman Catholic church. So the church in these cases did the right thing.

Both these ministers were rightly suspended from office and church privileges. After a few months, the first minister got a bit frustrated with this situation. He had stopped his adulterous practice (because it was now all out in the open and he couldn’t continue with it even if he’d wanted to), so he approached the elders of his church to ask if he could have his position back, telling them he had now repented of his sin.

The elders were not so sure though, and told him that they had actually seen nothing to indicate to them that he had repented at all, so they refused him permission to have his privileges back and told him to come back later when he had shown more evidence of true repentance.

After a few more months, especially after another minister was called to take his old job, he got so fed up with the situation that he left the church altogether, and started going to a church of another denomination. He subsequently asked this new denomination if he could become a minister in their church. However, this second denomination had heard about what had happened in the first denomination, and they too refused him permission. So he went to a third denomination, which it has to be said was far more liberal than the others, and, surprise, surprise, the last I heard is that he is back preaching again.

Now compare that situation with the other minister who had been suspended for drunkenness. His attitude was altogether different. He had been so horrified at what he had done, that after the church had suspended him from privileges, he immediately agreed with their decision. He never went back to ask for his old job back. He was truly ashamed of what he had done, and from that time on, he simply and quietly came to church every week, but sat at the back, truly humbled for his sin. He was a broken man.

After a couple of years, the elders had noticed his attitude, and that he had been truly humbled for his sin, so they approached him. They told him that he seemed to have given sufficient evidence that he had truly repented, and they asked him if he would like to have his privileges back.

He was so broken about the whole situation that he refused at first, and just could not bring himself to go back into the ministry of the church. So eventually a compromise was reached between the elders and himself. He agreed to be received back into the privileges of the church, but only on the understanding that he would simply be a retired minister, so he would never be in charge of a congregation again.

Now, what can we learn from this story? The gospel calls all men to repentance:

Acts 17:30
God.... now commandeth all men every where to repent

But it has to be true repentance. It was said of Esau:

Hebrews 12:17
When he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.”

Now, it is God who grants repentance:

Acts 11:18
Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”

So, does this mean that God was unfair to Esau? After all, he sought repentance with tears, so he must have meant it. No, he didn’t. He sought repentance, but “he found no place” for it. He wanted repentance, and he wanted it so bad that he cried and cried to God for it. But he wouldn’t leave his sin. God only grants repentance to all those who are truly sorry for their sins. We must truly want to give up our sins. We must truly want to hate our sins, and truly want to be free from them. Only then will God grant to any of us the repentance we may desire so much.

But Esau, yes, he sought repentance with tears, but he wouldn’t give up his sinful life, and that’s why he never received it.

Let this be a lesson for us all. To truly repent, we must become broken people. We must want to get rid of our sin. We must develop a true hatred of ourselves because of our sins.

When John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness, we see what happened:

Matthew 3:5-8
Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.”

Many people came to him confessing their sins. But when the religious leaders turned up, to see what was going on, John saw their hypocrisy, pretending to come for baptism when they had no intention of truly repenting, so he told them, “Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.”

And that is the gospel call to us today:

Acts 26:20
Repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance

This is the message we have for the world. Nobody can come to salvation in Jesus Christ in word only, with only an outward show or confession of repentance. We need to truly repent from the heart. And the only way to do that is to become broken people.

Works meet for repentance” are a broken and a contrite heart. That is the sort of person God will not despise.

Psalm 34:18
The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.

Psalm 51:17
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

Isaiah 57:15
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

Isaiah 66:2
For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”

June 2016

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The Living Buddhas of the Christian Church

I’ve just returned from a brief trip to visit my wife’s parents in a less well-known part of China. Whilst we were there we were told that a relative of theirs had just been diagnosed with bone cancer. So we thought we would go and visit her and tell her the gospel of free grace in the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we did. She was very thankful for our visit, accepted our praying for her, and we agreed to meet again before we returned home. However, when we phoned her to try to arrange the second meeting, she told us that she didn’t want us to visit. She told us that the day before, her “living buddha” had visited – her “master” as she called him – and that for the last ten years she had been under his influence. She said that it was too late for us to try to change her now.

So, what a sad story. But I can tell you something even sadder than that. She has a son. I met him once, and he’s a very pleasant young man. He wants to go to art college, but she has just told him that she isn’t able to pay for his tuition because she’s just spent all her money on treatment for her cancer.

She was well off. She was a consultant in the local hospital. She had everything this world had to offer, then she got bone cancer. Why would God do something like that to anyone? In a recent interview, the actor Stephen Fry was asked what he would say if he came face to face with God. He replied, “Bone cancer in children, what’s that all about?”

Well, I can tell you.

Romans 6:23
the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

It was probably because of her sin that she got the cancer. But we have to be careful when we say things like that. When the disciples asked Christ about the man born blind in John 9, whether his blindness was because of his sin or his parent’s sin, Christ replied:

John 9:3
Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”

By which we understand, not that they didn’t sin, but that the cause of the blindness wasn’t to do with whether he or his parents had sinned or not. His blindness was there “that the works of God should be made manifest in him,” not just in the healing, but in his dealing with both the blindness before the healing and with his life afterwards, because after he had been healed, he got thrown out of the temple for confessing Christ.

So we can never say for sure why a disability has come upon someone. Only God knows why.

But then I realised that I don’t think this lady told her son the whole story. Many people from the more rural communities in China, who don’t want to work because they’re lazy, become buddhist monks. They join the local temple, and it’s an easy life. They get food and clothing and a roof over their head. I’ve seen ordinary people in the street go up to monks and give them money, because they feel that they are getting some good for themselves in some way by giving their money away in this manner. The monks don’t even have to ask for the money, they just get given it.

Then it clicked. This “living buddha” who has been seeing the lady with bone cancer, must have been getting paid. That’s where all her money has gone, not just on treatment. So her poor son now can’t go to college because some charlatan has played on her weakness and her fears, and robbed her of all she has. And she’s still so hooked on him and will continue to give him everything she has.

Never trust in men. They’ll take advantage of you for all that you have if you let them.

Isaiah 2:22
Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?

There are people in the Bible just like this lady.

Mark 5:25-29
And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, and had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, when she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague.”

This poor lady spent all that she had on quacks and charlatans, and her problem just grew worse. But when she came to Christ, she was healed with just one touch, and set free from her bondage to these evil people.

John 8:36
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

We might not get physical healing from Christ, don’t expect that every time. Maybe the Lord wants to make manifest the works of God in us in our disability, just like the man born blind before he was healed. But spiritually we will be set free, and that is far more of a gift than any physical healing ever can be.

But “living buddhas” are not that far away from “Christian” circles. I once saw Benny Hinn on television. He was dealing with a poor lady who had been diagnosed with liver cancer. He told her that she had been healed of it. And she was so happy, she was crying. But he had absolutely no proof of a healing at all, other than that “the Holy Spirit” had told him that she had been healed, and she stupidly believed him.

My question is, What is the difference between Benny Hinn and the “living buddha” I have been describing? Benny Hinn is also a charlatan, taking money off people (they voluntarily throw it at him, he doesn’t have to ask for it) and preying on their weaknesses and fears. There’s no difference at all.

Add to that the so-called Christian TV channels always asking for your money, and the so-called “healing” ministries, also preying on weaknesses and fears and asking for your money all the time, and what do we have in the “Christian” scene today, but exactly the same thing that this “living buddha” is doing.

I have recently been speaking regularly at a midweek Christian fellowship meeting, and at the end of one meeting the other week, an old lady thrust the equivalent of £30 into my top pocket. Of course, I refused to take it, but she insisted that I did, and, you know what old ladies are like, I had to accept (she said it was for my taxi fare home!). But I couldn’t use it on myself. The first thing I did was put it back in the church collection the next Lord’s Day.

It is so important that the gospel is given free of charge. But that’s not what is happening in the world. There’s a whole Christian industry going on, taking money off people, and making them feel guilty that if they don’t give to this or that organisation, they’re not giving to God. Religion is used everywhere as a means by which men can get money out of you, can take advantage of you, can take control of you. People can trap you and have you under their thumb for years, all in the name of true evangelical Christianity.

And this is why, if we are genuine, we should never take a penny from anyone for preaching the gospel.

But what about the apostle Paul? Did not he say:

1 Corinthians 9:14
Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”

There we are, you see. If you believe that this verse is teaching paying a full-time minister a fat salary, then you have been taken in as well by the influences of men, trying to make a living out of what is supposed to be the free gift of eternal life.

This verse talks about giving someone reasonable expenses only. Read on:

1 Corinthians 9:15-18
But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.”

The apostle Paul did not take a fat salary. He made sure he preached the gospel without charge, so that he didn’t abuse his power in the gospel, like so many do today. He was a tentmaker by trade.

Acts 18:3
And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.

Notice it says he “wrought.” He was still making a living out of tentmaking, even though he had become an evangelist. He hadn’t given up his job to go into “full-time Christian work,” whatever that is. He had a job, which gave him a living, and he preached the gospel for free. And that is what each and every one of us should be doing.

There are so many people about today making a full-time living out of the gospel. That is not right. Anyone in a full-time job for a Christian ministry, whether it’s the church, or a missionary organisation or anything like that, ought to think twice about whether they are falling into the category of becoming a “living buddha,” preying on people’s faith to try to get money out of them to line their own pockets.

Matthew 6:24
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

May 2016

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Worshipping the Money God

Last week I went to a supposed Christian church which, it has to be said, worshipped money, not God. The Bible clearly states

Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

Not that it’s wrong to be rich in and of itself, if that’s what the Lord has given you. Abraham and Solomon were both very rich. It’s the love of money that’s the problem:

1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

Let me tell you about my trip. I was one of a group from the church I normally attend. We were persuaded to go to this church, about 100km from where we live, so we went. We left Saturday afternoon, and returned Sunday evening. Delegations from two other churches were there as well. We were treated very well. The food was excellent, and we were given a bed for the night, which was very comfortable.

On the Saturday evening we were shown around all the church facilities, which were extensive. Not only did they have a church of about 1,600 people, but they ran a nursery school, and planned to open a clinic as well at some point in the future. They had also just completed three blocks of flats, mainly for the hundred or so full-time workers they employed (including the school). Everything was very professionally run, which was good. We should always do the best for the Lord.

But.... Sunday morning came along. The main service of the day was at 8.30am, when 1,600 people from all over the area came into the main auditorium. The service itself was fairly familiar. There was half an hour with the “worship band” playing loud, foot-tapping music (not my scene, but that’s what you get these days), followed by the Scripture reading, followed by an hour-long sermon, which it has to be said, was very good. Then the shock of the day.

After the sermon, several stewards brought out large boxes at set them up at the front of the auditorium. After a rousing speech by the “senior pastor” (a woman), the soft piano music started, and everybody came out of their seats to put their offering into the boxes. That was the highlight of the service.

If it was everyone coming forward to take the Communion, I could understand it, but the highlight wasn’t Communion, it wasn’t even the sermon, it was the collection. Then a final hymn was sung and the benediction and that was it.

We visiting delegates were then whisked off for an hour’s seminar (on the Lord’s day, remember) given by the “senior pastor,” which was on nothing else but business manangement skills, and how to use them in the running of a “successful” church.

We found out that this pattern had been imported from a church in Hong Kong, which had in turn got it from, yes, you’ve guessed it, the USA.

It works, in that the church grows. The basic unit is the “cell group” of 6-16 people, meeting in someone’s home every Friday evening. The idea is that you invite your neighbours into the group. Once the group reaches 16 people it divides into two, and so on. All the people connected with the church get together for the one service on the Sunday morning, where the collection is centre-stage.

On a Tuesday evening all the “cell-group” leaders meet to get instruction on how to run their “cell-groups.” Everything is run on a professional business model. The guidance of the Holy Spirit is not even mentioned.

They use the “million leader mandate” technique for developing their leaders. Now, I’ve never heard of this before, so I looked it up on the internet. It’s American (of course), but it’s based on self-confidence, self-acceptance, “have pride in your achievements,” and so on. This is 100% humanistic psychology, and the exact opposite of the gospel. No humility.

And to cap it all, the “senior pastor” then told us, helpfully, that we can loan money to them at any time, and they will guarantee to beat the interest rates of the banks. This is no different from “Bank of Dave.” We lend our money to him, he guarantees us a better interest rate than the bank, and he in turn lends the money to a local business that needs it. Except that in the church’s case, they use it for their own business ends.

The point about this church is that everything is geared around worldly business management techniques and MONEY. No real, heartfelt prayer, no guidance by the Holy Spirit, just slick managers implementing techniques for getting people into the church and, more to the point, getting their money out of them.

And, we were told that to get the best preachers, you must pay them the best salaries. Now, that works in the banking industry. If we cap the bankers bonuses, they’ll all go abroad. But are true pastors motivated in any way by money? Really? No. The true pastors of the flock of God are motivated by the salvation of souls, not what they get in their pay packet at the end of the month.

And another thing, which I thought was actually quite funny. The collection data is published every week, and we found out that the church we go to regularly at home gets far more money in the collection than this church where the collection is the central part of the service! At home there is no collection whatsoever, just boxes at the back of the church by the door for people to put their gifts in if they want to. There is proof that the smooth presentation and soft music doesn’t work. We need to trust in the Lord instead.

Philippians 4;19
But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

And what about the good sermon? How do we explain that? Well, that’s easy. They used the golden rule of sermon preparation. Expository preaching through the text, letting the text do the work. That technique will work for anyone, no matter how bad, or how worldly they are. God speaks through the Bible, not through the preacher, so if you stick to what the Bible says, you are guaranteed a good sermon.

And that was my experience of the money-god church. And it grows, it’s outwardly successful. But is God in it? I leave that to you to work out for yourself.

April 2016

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Prayer Changes Things

We often hear the phrase, “Prayer changes things,” but do we really think about what that phrase actually means?

When we use this phrase, we usually mean that the ever-living, almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth, will actually change His mind about something if we pray about it hard enough and persuade Him differently. What a terrible thing to believe!

God ordains all things to His greatest glory, and has ordained exactly what will happen from the foundation of the world. We cannot possibly change His mind on anything, because He knows exactly what He is going to do in every situation. He doesn’t need us to tell Him what to do. In any case, we have absolutely no idea about what the best thing to do is, even though we might think we do.

If God did change His mind every time someone prayed, what a terrible life this would be! Everything would depend on who prays the hardest, I suppose. If even one thing in this world depended on us at all, we would be so proud and arrogant about ourselves and our own ability to influence God.

God cannot and does not repent:

Numbers 23:19
God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

There are places in Scripture where it is said that God repented. If you want a complete list of them, here they are:

Genesis 6:6
And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”

Exodus 32:14
And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.”

Judges 2:18
It repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.”

1 Samuel 15:35
The LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.”

2 Samuel 24:6
And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand.”

1 Chronicles 21:15
And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand.”

Psalm 106:45
And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies.”

Jeremiah 26:19
Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the LORD, and besought the LORD, and the LORD repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them?

Amos 7:3
The LORD repented for this: It shall not be, saith the LORD.”

Amos 7:6
The LORD repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord GOD.”

Jonah 3:10
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”

In all these cases, God is not changing His mind. Neither is He acknowledging a mistake and correcting Himself. He is always in control of what is going to happen. The word “repent” is used in these passages simply to try to accommodate us. For example, God may see certain people repent, so it is said that He “repents” from the punishment He would have given them if they had not repented. Or God sees the wickedness in men, and it is said that God “repented” that He made them, but His making them was never a mistake. In every case, He knows full well what’s going on, because He planned everything that was going to happen in the first place.

So, we must understand that God is not at our beck and call, every time we decide to pray for something. That’s not how prayer works at all.

We must realise that God always knows what is best, and we don’t. Let us start there. We can’t change His mind in any way, and it would be a terrible thing if we could. We haven’t a clue what the best thing to do is, in any given circumstance, but God always does. We need to completely change our way of thinking, God never needs to change His. And this is the key to what prayer actually is.

Prayer does change things. But it is never God’s mind that is changed as to what He intends to do. The sole purpose of prayer is to change us. It changes our minds, from what we think is right, into coming to an understanding of what God knows is right. It is we that always needs to change, and never God.

To better illustrate this, let’s take an example. Let us suppose that Aunt Bessie is sick and in a hospital bed. We pray for her recovery. That’s the right thing to do. It’s good to do that. It’s right to pray for the saving of life, that’s the essence of the sixth commandment.

But, after we have been praying for some time about Aunt Bessie, let us suppose that God sees fit to take her away, and she dies. What do we think then? Well, there are one of two attitudes we could take:

We could shake our fist in God’s face and say, “I hate you God, for taking her away. You can’t answer prayer.”

Or, we could say,

Luke 22:42
Not my will, but thine, be done.”

Job 1:21
Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

The Christian’s attitude should be the latter, in which case, we show that we are having our minds changed away from our own will, to fit in with the will of God.

And that is exactly what God wants us to learn to do. That is exactly why God ordained prayer in the first place. Prayer is a mechanism which God has given us to wean us off wanting our own wills all the time, and to get us into line with His will. The more we come to understand the Lord’s will and get to accept it in every circumstance, the more set apart for His work we can become. This is the Christian life.

1 Thessalonians 4:3
For this is the will of God, even your sanctification

April 2016

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Only Evil Continually

When we are young, we don’t see how wicked and evil these wretched creatures called human beings really are. Even if we have experienced their true nature in some way, for example, by being bullied at school, or sexually assaulted, or taken advantage of, or pushed in front of, or ripped off so many times by them, we still have this ridiculous idea that human nature is essentially good underneath everything.

And even when we become a Christian, we don’t really understand the truth about human nature straight away either. Nearly all newly converted Christians have a big problem with the Biblical doctrine of hell-fire, which, the Bible tells us, is the place where we all deserve to go.

There is a whole false theology in the churches today, which has been built up around what essentially is nothing more than modern secular humanistic psychology. They would say, “Jesus Christ has dealt with your sin, so don’t let it bother you any more. Just think good thoughts about yourself. You are somebody. You’re worth something.” So we are told to have a good view of ourselves, a view of self-worth, self-acceptance, self-esteem, and self-confidence.

But I have a big problem with that. The nearer I get to Christ and the more I grow in grace and the knowledge of Him, the more I see my sin. And, if you think about it, that’s just to be expected. Before the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts, we don’t see our sin at all. In fact, we can’t see it. But when the Holy Spirit comes to live within us, it’s like a light being switched on in our souls, and we get to see the dark and dirty corners of our lives for the first time, the dirt that we could not possibly have seen before, when we had no spiritual light to show it to us.

The closer we get to Christ and the more we grow in the faith, the more dirt we see. The Holy Spirit is holy, like a shining light, and we certainly are not.

So, an unbeliever can never believe the truth that he deserves eternal conscious torment in hell-fire for ever. He is too proud in himself to ever be able to acknowledge that at all. So shouting from the pulpit, “You’re all going to hell,” will just not work.

As I have already mentioned, new Christians particularly have a problem with the doctrine of hell, and would rather it not be mentioned in the church. They only ever want to talk about the love of God. Any suggestion that hell is real, they would find uncomfortable.

But the more we grow in the faith, the more we see that the doctrine of hell-fire is absolutely right, because we see that it is exactly the place where I, myself, personally deserve to go.

We can only really come to an understanding of the true nature of man, by coming to an understanding of the true nature of ourselves. Once we see ourselves for what we really are, we can only then conclude that, if everybody else is as bad as we are, we can’t trust anybody. We must therefore be extremely careful whenever we deal with people. Christ tells us:

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16.

We ourselves should be kind, harmless and genuine in everything we do, but we should always be aware that nobody else will ever treat us in the same way. Look at them all. These things called human beings, I mean. If you try to be genuinely kind to them, they will always try to take advantage of you. Every one of them. Oh yes, they will put on an outward show of kindness themselves, and we can so easily be fooled by that, but underneath everything, they are only ever after what they can get out of us for themselves. Remember this as a golden rule.

And another incredible thing is that we get so hooked on people. So many of these wretched creatures have the uncanny ability to attract worship from others – whether it is a leader like Adolf Hitler, or whether it is an abusive partner, where the one abused will never leave the partner performing the abuse, and keep on going back for more punishment time after time. Why ever do people do that?

How is it that other people can have such a hold on us? This is what we must tear ourselves away from. It is vital that we never get taken in by the deceit of others – by their persuasive abilities, by their dominating personalities, by their controlling methods. Many people become salesmen, because they know jolly well that they have this frightening ability to persuade others to buy something they don’t really need or want. And they will abuse you, trick you, deceive you, and pester you, until they have closed the sale. Then you will never see them again.

This is a really serious issue, because many, many lives have been utterly ruined by the persuasive abilities of others.

Look at Herod:

And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.” Acts 12:21,22.

We may ask, Who on earth would be taken in by a despot like Herod? And the answer is, just as many as were fooled by Adolf Hitler and so many other crazy people throughout history. We think we would never get taken in by that sort of person, but week after week, we hear about so many people, ordinary people like ourselves, who actually are.

But Herod got his come-uppance in the end:

And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.” Acts 12:23.

And that is exactly why we ought to understand and believe in the doctrine of hell-fire for ever. Because, except we repent and genuinely, really, truly and not feignedly, turn to the Lord, all of us will eventually get exactly what we deserve. Never ask God for what you deserve. We should be so thankful to our Lord God that He will judge all men justly at the end of time. As a result of this, we have no need to fear or worry about anything or anybody.

We need to see the depth of our sins. By nature we are children of wrath. By nature we can do no good thing:

Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Ephesians 2:2,3.

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” Romans 7:18.

And God knows how evil we are by nature:

And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:5.

That is why all of us so desperately need a Saviour. A Saviour to save us from ourselves. Not just from a list of sins (albeit a long list), but from our very sinful natures that we can never get away from by ourselves, even if we had the desire to do so, which naturally we don’t.

We must seek reality. We must stop pretending that we’re not so bad. All of us are:

wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Revelation 3:17.

The sooner we realise this, and flee to the Saviour that God has provided, the better. It’s our only hope.

March 2016

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Walk Worthy

Look at these passages of Scripture:

Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy: for thou renderest to every man according to his work.” Psalm 62:12.

If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?” Proverbs 24:12.

For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:14.

I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Jeremiah 17:10.

Great in counsel, and mighty in work: for thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men: to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” Jeremiah 32:19.

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” Matthew 16:27.

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” John 5:28,29.

Who will render to every man according to his deeds” Romans 2:6.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10.

And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” 1 Peter 1:17.

And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.” Revelation 2:3.

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” Revelation 20:12,13.

And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” Revelation 22:12.

The Bible is absolutely clear that we will be judged according to our works.

We Protestants are so keen on promoting the truth that justification is by grace through faith alone, that we don’t seem to realise that these passages are in the Bible. Protestants are right when they say that we cannot possibly keep God’s law, so if we are going to be saved at all, it must be by grace. But then many conclude from this, wrongly, that we therefore don’t need to bother doing good works at all. But that’s a terrible thing to conclude.

We are saved by grace, absolutely. Because we cannot save ourselves. But we are saved for a purpose, namely, in order to do good works:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10.

But how can we do any good works at all, when we have a fallen nature? Does not the Bible say that:

There is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Psalm 14:3.

The only way it is possible for us to do good works, is if the Lord gives us a new heart. There is no other way:

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3.

And this is what true religion is all about. Yes, we are saved by grace alone, because we cannot be saved otherwise. But God saving us to eternal life must at the same time involve our receiving a new heart from Him. These two things are inseparable.

But, even though we now have a new heart, we still have a battle going on within us. The old heart is still there, dragging us back all the time. The Christian is called to put this old heart to death, and live by the Spirit, i.e. by the new heart that has been put within us:

But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Romans 8:11-14.

To the extent that we no longer live according to the old nature but live according to the new heart put within us, we cannot sin:

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” 1 John 3:9.

But, of course, who of us actually lives like that? Nobody. Even the best of Christians is always failing. All of us always fall short. We daily have to cry to God:

Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Matthew 6:12.

And that is why we ought to readily forgive others:

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14,15.

And another thing: we are certainly not, as many people assume, getting better and better as we go on in the Christian life. Oh no. We need Christ just as much on our death bed as we did the moment we first became a Christian.

But something is happening to us though. We are growing in two areas:

in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” 2 Peter 3:18.

The more we read and understand Scripture, the more we learn of Christ and are led by the Holy Spirit into all truth. And the more we act on that truth, the more we are sanctified, separated, set apart from the world.

For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” 1 Thessalonians 4:3.

That is what is changing in the Christian, and not an increase in any supposed goodness we may think we have. We are not getting better and better at all.

The Bible calls us to walk worthy of our calling in Christ:

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” Ephesians 4:1.

That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” Colossians 1:10.

That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 2:12.

But how do we do this? The only way is to come to an end of ourselves. We must trust in the Lord to work through us. There is no other way.

We must stop trusting in anything in ourselves. We must bring ourselves down to the dust where we belong. We must allow the Lord to work in the new heart He has given us, and stop trying to help Him in any way ourselves. We cannot improve what He wants to do in us, so we should stop trying. Only then, when we have completely surrendered to God’s will, can we be said to walk worthy of our calling.

February 2016

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Renouncing Self-Confidence

One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Amos 1:1, which states:

The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.”  Amos 1:1.

Why do I love such an obscure verse? Well, it got me thinking about what we know about the prophets. Of the fifteen prophets who have books named after them in the Holy Scriptures, we quite often know their father’s name – in order to identify the exact person concerned – but in only three cases do we know what the prophet actually did for a living. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were priests:

The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin”  Jeremiah 1:1.

The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.”  Ezekiel 1:3.

And Amos was a herdsman. In fact we get more information about his occupation later on in his prophecy:

Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: nd the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.”  Amos 7:14,15.

In other words, none of the prophets, apart from Jeremiah and Ezekiel (who were born into the priesthood, and had no choice in the matter) had any kind of position in the state or church. They were just ordinary blokes, like you or me. I like that.

We also, of course, see that Christ Himself only chose similar ordinary people – mainly fishermen – to be His apostles, who were to be His chosen witnesses and instruments for spreading the good news of the kingdom throughout the world. He completely passed by all those who had any kind of status in society.

There was Paul, but he was an exception. He was very knowledgeable, a zealous Jewish scholar, who learned everything he knew at the feet of Gamaliel:

I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.”  Acts 22:3.

So we do not reject clever people at all from receiving salvation in Christ, in fact, God:

...will have all [kinds of] men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:4.

God will even accept clever people – even kings and those in authority – if they will bow the knee to Him. But we must be aware that:

For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are”  1 Corinthians 1:26-28.


that no flesh should glory in his presence.”  1 Corinthians 1:29.

Oh, we need to understand that the Lord desires that we should be brought to the dust. No more exalting ourselves above measure. No more pretending that we are somebody in the church. No. Boasting is excluded.

This is actually the one thing that makes me truly believe the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the one true faith, because every other religion involves something by which we can boast that we did in order to get the final reward.

Buddhists have to wander round and round the temple with their prayer wheels chanting their so-called prayers, in order to have the possibility of a better life next time around.

Muslims have to say with their mouth “Allah is the one true God and Muhammad is his messenger,” recite their “prayers” five times a day, give alms, fast during Ramadan (although they can stuff their faces after dark), and go on the Hajj once in their lifetime, in order to be acceptable to God (some also believe that they can take a short cut if they blow themselves up, as long as they murder as many unbelievers as they can at the same time).

Roman Catholics have to continually take the mass and do good works to earn their way to less time in purgatory.

Let’s suppose for one crazy moment that any one of them could get to heaven that way. In which case, they would have something to boast about in heaven. Heaven would be peopled by arrogant boasters: “I got to heaven by doing this,” “I got to heaven by doing that,” "I got to heaven because I worked up enough faith in Jesus.”

God forbid that heaven would be like that. No-one will enter into heaven boasting about what they have done. Salvation has to be by grace through faith:

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Romans 3:27,28.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2;8,9.

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Galatians 6:14.

For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh..... But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,” Philippians 3:3,7,8.

But to many people, this way of salvation is an offence. They have a problem with the whole idea of salvation by free grace alone. They would argue that, if salvation is by grace alone, and not by anything we do, then that’s unfair. We could just sin all we like and still get to heaven. But they have no idea about the new birth, wereby all those who put their trust in Christ are given a new heart, a heart that abhors the very thought of sin.

All of us need to mature in the faith. How do we do this? Simple. Exclude boasting and nurture the virtue of self-abhorrance:

Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.” Ecclesiastes 5:2.

After all his trials, Job came to this position, and to a right view of himself:

Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further.” Job 40:4,5.

Then Job answered the LORD, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:1-6.

Boasting of anything in ourselves, being self-confident of anything in ourselves or thinking anything of ourselves AT ALL, is truly and properly sin. We really need to understand this fully and keep ourselves from this evil above everything else.

For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” Galatians 6:3.

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” Romans 12:3.

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14.

January 2016

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