Pastoral Letter July & August 2014

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise

– Proverbs 11.30

Dear Friends,

For your summer contemplation I present a well–known text. At least, the second part of the proverb is well–known! It is a favourite of archetypal ‘babdists’ (Baptists!) of the deep south in the USA, who describe their churches as ‘soul–winning’ churches. By this they generally mean that they engage in what they see as evangelism, most usually door–to–door visitation. So this verse is taken up as a ‘badge of honour’, and only churches that follow the set pattern of ‘soul–winning’ are considered worthy.

I’d like to point out that this verse is speaking about each of us as an individual. Of course, it does apply to the ‘the church’, but we need to apply it to ourselves first. I’d also point out that the verse does not say ‘you are a wise person if you go and win souls’. No, it says, if you win souls, you are wise. What does it mean?

What does it mean to ‘win a soul’? If your own soul has been won, you will know! It means that someone has been saved from their sin, and turned from their godless life to follow Jesus Christ. How can a soul be won? Of course, only by God’s power at work in their lives, convicting them of sin and granting them repentance unto faith. God is sovereign, but man is responsible, as we have seen in our recent studies in John 3.

If we are saved ourselves, then we have a responsibility to be soul–winners. God uses feeble folk like us to accomplish His work, and we are always amazed at that. Does this mean that we should be out on the street pushing people into false professions of faith or emotionally manipulating people so that we can claim to have ‘won a soul’? Many churches do just this, and so long as a person repeats a prayer on a door step they count them in their statistics. This is the result of human pride and the need to feel a sense of ‘accomplishment’.

No, we don’t need to be like that. Look at the text — ‘the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life’. We are to be those whose lives are like a fruitful tree, bringing blessings to those around us by our conduct, example, and prayers. Then, when we have the opportunity to witness (which is the use of actual words, the good news of the gospel) then our lives will add credence to the words we say as folk see Christ in us. Let us seek to be soul–winners. It begins with the reality of our own walk with God, and continues with our simple communication of the gospel. Then, when sinners come to Christ, we may be proven to be wise indeed!

 

 

Pastoral Letter June 2014

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD

– Proverbs 16.33

 

Dear Friends,

My wife and I recently had the opportunity to go and watch the filming of a couple of episodes of the popular Channel Four game show, ‘Deal or No Deal’. We also had to sign some pretty extensive legal documents, so don’t expect me to reveal any specific details of what we saw!

What struck me, in the very real and ‘close-up’ atmosphere of the studio, was that the superstitions and anxieties we see in the players when we watch the show on television are not a matter of editing after the show, (unlike a lot of the sounds: the studio filming can be quite a silent experience in parts!).

Players on the show have some pretty constant and solid ‘beliefs’. They generally believe that the ‘newbie’, the newest player, will have something in their box that will damage the game. They generally believe that box 22 in particular is very much to be feared for the same reason (it gets called ‘the death box’). Some players bring ‘lucky’ objects with them or avoid number 13.

But the truth is that they choose a box at the start of the game (by a random draw) and nothing they do can change the contents of that box – or of any other box. Things are as they are. It may seem an absurd transition in thought, but we see precisely this in our text from Proverbs. Casting lots was a common method of decision–making in Old Testament times. The result of casting the lot may seem to be random, but, says God’s word, it is not random at all.

We have a sovereign God, who does whatever He pleases, whenever He pleases. He is in absolute control of all things. We are not in the hands of ‘fate’ or ‘Lady Luck’. There is no such thing as luck, really. We are what we are, and we have what we have, by the eternal decree of our sovereign God. So if we have needs, we must turn to Him and bring them before Him, not go out and play the lottery or grab a scratch card. By the same token, we should be satisfied with what we do have – everything has come from the Lord.

Whatever you face in the current week, or month, ahead, you can trust the Lord for it all. Nothing in your life is random, everything is planned with divine wisdom, even though often we cannot see or understand why. Don’t believe in fate, don’t trust to luck – but trust in the Lord!

Pastoral Letter May 2014

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying,“Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

– 1 Samuel 7.12

 

Dear Friends,

So, here we are. A Chapel has stood at Lower Morton for 180 years, and an independent Church has occupied this Chapel for 30 years.

We can review our common history (many copies of the 2009 booklet are still available in the schoolroom) and see how it is true that the Lord has indeed helped us ‘hitherto’, as the old King James version has it. If you know the Lord Jesus as your Saviour you also know that we can make the same claim for our personal lives. Our Lord helps us in so many ways, many unnoticed by us. We owe Him everything, yet so often we give Him thanks for next to nothing.

Anniversaries are good things. We need to set up a monument here and there, an ‘Ebenezer’ – for two main reasons. One is to remind ourselves of what the Lord has done, so that we can look back and give thanks, and the other is to proclaim to other people what the Lord has done for us.

We must not lose sight of that fact that it is the work that God does in hearts and lives that is far more precious than bricks and mortar. We may love our ‘picture book’ chapel very much, but the reason that we are having a Day Conference on the subject of the ‘local Church’ is to underscore what we affirm – that our prime concern is the life and growth of the Church, not the preservation of buildings.

What will our focus be in the days ahead? Dealing with the damp in the back corner of the chapel? Well, we will have to look into it. Replacing the roof of the schoolroom if it fails? Again, it will have to be done. But may our focus truly be the growth of the church? Our highest concern should be twofold: That believers would grow in grace, and that unbelievers would be saved and turned from self-interest and self-service to follow and serve Jesus Christ. Such ‘conversion’ is the greatest and most mighty miracle God does.

We must be praying and asking earnestly and urgently for His blessing for the next thirty years. We depend completely and utterly upon Him – and don’t think that your responsibility stops with praying for conversions. If you are a believer – it is time to grow. Can you articulate your faith? Are you familiar with even such basic expressions of truth as the ‘Apostles Creed’ on the cover of the magazine for this month? The image is there for a reason – don’t just look at it, but read it, think about it, even question it if you want to (it is written by men, not by God). Let us raise our ‘Ebenezer’ together, and then let us advance!

Apostle's Creed at Wesley's Chapel

 

Pastoral Letter April 2014

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

– 1 Peter 1:3

Dear Friends,

Easter is late this year, and this ‘movable feast’ is quite a reminder of the national church’s involvement in the history of our nation. The formula for deciding when Easter is, is rather complicated, I understand. I did once try to use a chart in a Prayer Book to work out the right dates, and I got it totally wrong!

Rather like Christmas, Easter presents us with certain opportunities. We do have a ‘Good Friday’ service at Morton. This gives us more time together to focus on Calvary’s Cross, which must always be a good thing. Of course, nobody is obliged to gather on this day — the only day we are obliged to gather is on the Lord’s Day. We should be constantly reminding ourselves that every Sunday is ‘Easter Day’ because it seems quite obvious that the biggest single reason the New Testament Church met on the first day of the week was because it was the day when the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead!

Looking at our text for this month, I was struck by those two words ‘living hope’. The Resurrection of our Saviour is what gives us this hope. It isn’t a vain hope, nor is a possible hope, but it is a living hope. That is, it has a vitality, a vibrancy, a certainty to it which is unique. Our hope is not based upon words in a book, or ideas of men, but upon a person — Jesus of Nazareth, who is the God–man, the King of kings and Lord of lords. We know that He died, and that He lives. As Christian Gellert wrote and John Lang translated:

Jesus lives, and so shall I.

Death! thy sting is gone forever!

He who deigned for me to die,

Lives, the bands of death to sever.

He shall raise me from the dust:


Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

We have a living hope in a risen Saviour. Nothing and nobody can take that hope away from believers. Why not? Because He lives! The God–man has defeated death and vanquished sin and He reigns forever. We know His presence and power by the work of the Holy Spirit, and eternal glory is before us — we have no grounds to despair. Of course, we can’t all be ‘happy all the day’ — if we’re honest, life is hard sometimes. But we do have ‘living hope’ every day. Rejoice!

Pastoral Letter March 2014

the Lord God omnipotent reigns…

– Revelation 19.6

 

Dear Friends,

If you worship at Morton Chapel, you’ll have noticed that we have had our chapel texts behind the pulpit repainted. The paintwork we have replaced was not original, but as far as we can tell, the choice of the actual text has remained the same throughout the life of the building. It was on 23rd March 1984 that Morton Baptist Church held its first members’ meeting with sixteen founder members. We are glad to have some founder members still in the congregation today, but of course, a great deal has changed. I was just approaching my seventh birthday when that meeting was held!

Signwriting is a dying art–form, and I was surprised to be told by our signwriter that he only knows of two other people still working in England — but what surprised me more was that he asked me what ‘Omnipotent’ means. Would it embarrass you to be asked the same question?

Worry no longer! Omnipotent means ‘all–powerful’. It is so closely associated with God that it can also be used properly as a noun to refer to Him. Like many of our words, it has its roots in Latin (omni potens).  This truth is foundational to the Christian life, and to all that we seek to do as a church together. We give thanks to our all–powerful God for thirty years of His help and blessing in the life of this church. It goes without saying that there would be no church here at all without His help and blessing. By His power He saves people from their sins and adds them to the church — He is sovereign. By His power He keeps His people from falling away. By His power He provides for His people’s needs. Our church exists because the Lord God omnipotent reigns, and it is proof of the fact that the Lord God omnipotent reigns!

We have nothing to fear, and everything to expect, as we press on together. As time passes, some things do change. The Lord has called some of His servants home, but He can call more into His service and add to His church. All sorts of physical things around us change too — as our new paintwork reminds us. But the Lord God omnipotent reigns. He is our unchanging God, working His purposes out, founded upon our Saviour’s dying love at Calvary, which secures everlasting life for all His covenant people. Our triune God is all–powerful. Do you believe it? Are you willing to join with your brothers and sisters in fellowship, in worship, in service, in giving, and in united prayer, to prove it?

Pastoral Letter February 2014

…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together… 

– Hebrews 10.25

 

Dear Friends,

The Lord our God provides for all of our needs. He gives to us not what we think we need, but what we actually require. God’s laws function in the same way, and are designed not for suppression or restriction, but for our ultimate happiness and protection. The Ten Commandments stand as a plain expression of God’s eternal moral law, and there is no area of life which they do not touch.

The fourth commandment, regarding the Sabbath Day, has always been a matter of controversy for some Christians. Does God require us to keep one day in seven special for Him? The New Testament sheds more light upon each one of the Ten ‘Words’ and helps us to realise that the keeping of them is a far greater task than Israel ever faced. Israel was to cease from all work for one day, and there was a solemn penalty for breaking the Sabbath precisely because it was the sign of the Covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. To reject the Sabbath was to reject Almighty God.

The letter to the Hebrews makes it clear that the fourth commandment still applies to us – see chapter 4 and especially verse 9, but it also explains that our ultimate rest is in Christ. The ultimate keeping of this commandment is by resting in Christ, yet we understand plainly that God’s plan for us is to rest from work one day in seven – and if we do not do this, we suffer, as not just experience, but many scientific studies have shown.

In Revelation 1 John writes to the churches that he was ‘in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day’. He does not have to explain what that is, he assumes that they will know. We firmly believe that he refers to the day on which our Saviour rose from the dead, and the day that the Spirit came at Pentecost, further, the day that the church met together and brought their offerings (see 1 Corinthians 16.2).

My simple question to you is: What do you think of the Lord’s Day? In our culture there remains a privilege attached to this day so that most do not have to work, and we are free to meet and worship. If you respond ‘well, there’s no longer any particular day to be kept’, then I won’t make it my primary cause of debate with you. Some will recoil in horror at this, but please allow me to finish, because what does not follow from a difference of opinion about particular days is the liberty to be absent when the Church meets.

I believe that if you follow the New Testament expansion of the fourth commandment you will find that you are, as a believer in Christ, required to rest in Him. To seek to know more of Him. To gather with His people to worship Him. He has given us by example a particular day to do it, and by circumstance, two wonderful opportunities in our morning gospel and evening teaching meeting.

Some may be kept away from one meeting or other quite legitimately by frailty, age, or duty. But might you be putting the things of this world above the things of God? What do you really think of Jesus Christ? Are you truly resting in Him, or is He an occasional comfort to get you through the week? May the Lord grant us all grace to examine our lives, our comfortable traditions, and our practices, solely in the light of His Word. Don’t forsake our assembling together. You may rest your body one day in seven – but have you rested your eternal soul upon Jesus Christ?