Tuesday, 31 January 2017

How to make heaven happy!

With February fast approaching, we are currently in crunch time for New Year’s Resolutions. According to research, the number of people keeping their resolutions is shrinking week by week. By the end of the first week in January it is estimated that about 25% have already given up. By the start of February nearly 40% will given up and come the middle of the year more than half will have abandoned their goals. Apparently, only 8 percent of those who make resolutions are successful in achieving the goal they had set for themselves. With such a small success rate perhaps it is little wonder that many of us don’t even bother making a resolution at all. Truth be told, we are pretty bad at keeping our promises (let alone our resolutions) and that’s largely because we are weak and feeble creatures. Who of us can promise that 2017 will not have any personal failure and disappointment in it?

The Prophet Isaiah rightly describes humanity like this: “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” We are all like sheep – easily distracted, hugely vulnerable and needing someone who will care and provide for us in our weakness.

Fortunately, we have such a person. Someone who not only cares for us but who understands and welcomes us despite our weakness. Here is a story that Jesus told to make just that point:
Related image"The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." (Luke 15:1-7). 
That final line is the crucial one. There is joy in heaven when sinners repent. God is pleased when we acknowledge our failings, our shortcomings, our sin and turn to Him in repentance. Rather than merely feeling bad over failed resolutions or another broken promise or for losing one’s temper (or whatever other sin), why not make heaven happy? Be the person who acknowledges their sin, who repents quickly and who brings God delight by trusting Him for the forgiveness that He has promised to all who trust Jesus.
Parish newsletter article for the 4th week in Epiphany (with thanks to SJ)

Monday, 30 January 2017

This is why "Social Services" is doomed!

When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and moral code that glorifies it.

 Frédéric Bastiat

...Let the reader understand!

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The pastor is no specialist!

Christian theology especially in the late 20th century variety emphasised the comprehensiveness of the Christian faith. The notion that Christianity offers a worldview embracing every area of life was never more explicitly affirmed or more elaborately detailed. Think for example of the idea of Christian pop music, Christian counselling, Christian debt management (such as CAP) and so on. Related to this is the claim that every calling is good and noble, that all work can be devoted to the service of Christ, that all Christians are called to seek first the kingdom of God.

This good and necessary emphasis has often been accompanied, however, by a denigration of the pastoral ministry: All Christians, it is said, have a “full-time” ministry, so the pastor has no higher a calling than any other Christian. But this does not follow. Though all callings can be equally devoted to Christ’s service, not all callings are equal. In Scripture, the pastoral office is specifically tasked with equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12), with the ongoing teaching of the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2) and with seeking the well-being of all God’s people (1 Peter 5:1-4).

Another way to put all this is to say that pastoral ministry is the broadest calling, a vocation to minister and to serve (cheerfully) men, women and children in every circumstance.

When sickness strikes, we call the doctor. When in legal trouble, we contact a lawyer. When made redundant, we sign up with an employment agency. When labour pains begin, we call a midwife or a doctor, and when we have breathed our last, the undertaker has his way. For each stage of life, each crises, we have our specialist.

The pastor however is no specialist. They are called to represent Christ and speak for and about Him in every kind of situation. When visiting the ill, when guiding the adulterer in the way of repentance, when seeking to encourage the entrepreneur whose business has folded, when rejoicing with new parents or mourning with those who grieve, the minster is tasked with presenting Christ for the aim of caring for, building up and strengthening God’s Church. Beside the doctor, beside the financial advisor, beside the care home assistant, stands the pastor. In the maternity ward, in the jail cell, in the home tense with marital strife, stands the pastor. At the baptism, the wedding service, the funeral, stand the pastor: a generalist in human crises, a generalist in moments of passage, a generalist particularly called to equip the whole body of Christ with the whole word of Christ.

There is one sense in which the pastor is a specialist. For every situation, they have essentially one word, the word of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Among the sick, the pastor’s concern is not only for healing but to indicate how suffering can be transformed into joyful witness. Among the poor, the pastor’s concern is not just how to pay next month’s bills, but to consider how poverty may strengthen faith in the goodness of the heavenly Father. At the bedside of the dying, the pastor’s concern is not just to ease pain but to hold forth the promise of resurrection life. It is for this that we are to pray for our ministers namely, that they would faithfully proclaim the Word of Christ as they joyfully serve all people and so build up God’s Church.

Words for PCC away morning (with thanks to PL)

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

That man is perfect in faith who...

...can come to God in the utter dearth of his feelings and desires, without a glow or an aspiration, with the weight of low thoughts, failures, neglects, and wandering forgetfulness, and say to Him, "Thou art my refuge.

– George MacDonald.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

How to be joyful in 2017

I wonder how many people still write Christmas thank you letters. I try, but confess that some of mine have been written closer to Easter! Perhaps for some, snail mail has been replaced by a thanx txt, which is not quite the same. Whatever our media of choice thankfulness is an important, and I suggest, a neglected virtue. Not only is gratitude right, it also does good to our souls.

Image result for keep calm and count your blessingsOf course, life normally has its fair share of frustrations and some may have faced dreadful griefs in recent months. I, for example, know of one family in our benefice that had a difficult and sad Christmas. But even then, I’m sure we can find reasons for thankfulness amidst our tears. Sometimes people think that a good moan might be therapeutic. And maybe there’s something to be said for getting things off our chests. But I reckon a habit of thankfulness is a much more effective way of increasing our joy.

Though it might be trite, the old advice is true: “Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” Expressing our appreciation (for a lovely sunset, an enjoyable meal, a beautiful garden) actually increases our enjoyment of it. Praise and thanksgiving fosters joy.

From a Biblical standpoint, everything we have is a gift from God - the food on the table, the roof above our heads, the life we have are all tokens of His kindness and care. In other words, there are no self-made people. We owe our very lives to God. This perspective ought to intensify our joy because, as the harvest hymn puts it: “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, so thank the Lord for all his love”. Every blessing you enjoy is not a matter of your good luck or the product of your unaided hard work. All we have comes from God.

For the Christian, thankfulness goes even deeper and is more than trying to keep positive and looking on the bright side. The believer enjoys the great privilege of knowing and being known by our Maker and Saviour – Jesus Christ. In dying for us, Christ dealt with our sin, which is the chief source of unhappiness in life. As we turn to Him, we are assured of sins forgiven and promised the great gift of eternal life. May we abound in thankfulness and joy in 2017 as we reflect on and remember this good news. If, however, you do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and would like to, please come along to church or speak to David or myself.

May you have a joyous 2017!

Parish article for the first Sunday of Epiphany

Monday, 9 January 2017

An army that marches on its knees

Perceptive insight from The Most Reverend Nicholas Okoh, the Archbishop of Nigeria, to those of us wanting to see the Anglican Church reformed:

"As a spiritual movement that trusts in the promises of God's Word,
our part above all is therefore to pray
It is said that an army marches on its stomach
but in 2017 let GAFCON be an army that marches on its knees."


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New Year, New You - how to put the past behind you

Image result for new year new you 2017
New Year’s resolutions are no longer popular. This is partly because many people reckon that they would break them in the first twenty-four hours and so it seems easier not to make any at all. But I guess we shouldn’t let the possibility of defeat cause us to give up the fight altogether, before we’ve even begun. It is sometimes said that if you aim for nothing in particular, that’s exactly what you’ll achieve!

The question remains, however, how should we respond when we fail again to achieve our goals and aspirations. The Bible’s answer is to remind us that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love… He does not deal with us according to our sins. … As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion on those who fear him. …” The God of the Bible is someone who gives us a first, second, third, fourth chance and more, when we cry out to Him. Failure in God’s eyes is not grounds for rejection or abandonment. Rather, it’s an occasion for Him to pour out His steadfast love found in Jesus Christ. It is no wonder that the Apostle Paul (a former murderer) could write:

One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Such confidence and future hope (despite a messy past) only makes sense if the good news of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection are true. If the Gospel record about Jesus is false then we have no hope and each of us faces a bleak and anguished future in an eternal hell. As someone has put it “No Jesus = No life” but, “knowing Jesus = knowing life” – eternal life. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ gives us the confidence to put the past behind us and to look forward with great hope to that great and awesome Day when Christ returns.

So, rather than dwell on past failures and disappointments, why not bring them to Christ seeking His forgiveness and peace? Come along to church to find out more (Matthew 11:28) and don’t let your past distract you. Your past is past. Today is a brand new year!

Magazine article for January 2017 AD the Benefice of East Dean, Friston & Jevington