Pastoral Letter October 2014

There shall be no night there – Revelation 22.5

 

Dear Friends,

The nights are drawing in once again, and soon, if you are anything like me, you’ll be longing for a little more light! The darkness makes us want to settle comfortably in our homes earlier every evening — and who can deny the comfort of being ‘tucked up’ by a warm fire?

Darkness is unsettling, it conceals dangers and can play tricks with our minds. In the Bible, darkness is originally associated with nothingness (Genesis 1) but it takes up a familiar association with God’s judgment, and with danger or threat very quickly. The Lord Jesus spoke of those who had rejected Him as being cast into ‘outer darkness’ (Matthew 8.12, 22.13, 25.30).

The future of the Christian believer is one that will leave memories of winter far behind, for we read in Revelation 22 of the city of God, and that there will be ‘no night there’ and that there is no need of any ‘lamp nor light of the sun’ because ‘The Lord God gives them light’. How could it be otherwise? We know that ‘God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1.5). He is not just the Creator of light, but He is light.

In recent days, we have seen a dear church member go to be with the Lord. We mourn, of course, but we rejoice greatly for her blessedness in the presence of God — and think of this — she will never be ‘in the dark’ again. It simply is not possible. God is light, and she is with Him. Remember that the passing cycle of night and day, and the seasons of light and darkness, all mark the certain passing of time. Every day brings us nearer to the land of light and life, and closer to seeing the Lord face to face!

We know that darkness is purely the absence of light. Night comes because the Sun is shining on another part of our planet’s surface, not because the Sun has stopped shining! Our Saviour is the ‘Sun of Righteousness’, and His saving, healing rays never cease in their radiance and strength. The light is shining constantly, even now, but for the time being we must be content with a partial experience of it, just as we settle for our daily dose of sunshine, however small it may become. Even on the darkest winter’s day, we know that the sun still shines. Dear reader, keep looking to Jesus. However long, or dark, the night of this life may seem, it will end in glorious day.

No more night… may this promise gladden your heart, because whatever darkness you may face, it will not last, and one day, it will be gone forever!

Pastoral Letter September 2014

Where no oxen are, the trough is clean;

But much increase comes from the strength of an ox.

– Proverbs 14.4

 

Dear Friends,

Harvest time is upon us again, with our familiar services coming at the end of the month as usual. Our text this month is a proverb that has a rural, farming background to it.

The basic meaning of it is that everything around the farmyard will be clean and tidy without animals — no expensive feed needed in the trough, no waste to clear up. In today’s terms it would be like having a tractor with immaculate bodywork … but no engine. It might look good and cost nothing to run, but nothing will be achieved. Without the Oxen doing their work, the ancient farmer wouldn’t get very far, and so even though they were smelly, expensive to feed, and made a lot of mess, they were absolutely essential. You wouldn’t get very far trying to pull the plough along by yourself!

It can be quite easy to operate a church which appears to be ‘clean’. Things happen when they should, there are regular services, a smart church magazine perhaps, a building in good working order, and so on.

But we are seeking more than that, aren’t we? We are longing to see increase — that is, people being added to the Kingdom of God and those who are in the Kingdom already growing in grace and understanding. If increase is what you want, then things will get ‘messy’. We want a Pastor, well, he has to be supported, and that costs money. We want to see people reached with the gospel, well, we have to speak to them — we cannot leave it to others. That costs time, and effort. Regular attendance at church costs us something too, as does growing as disciples and helping others to grow. Sometimes, things can go wrong, and church discipline is needed. Again, it is costly to us, uncomfortable, inconvenient. It seems like it would be much easier just to keep the trough clean.

Make no mistake, we have a great need to see increase at Morton in the coming months. Do I mean greater numbers? That would be great, but I’d rather see people who are already here following Christ in Baptism, becoming members, spending more time in the Word, engaging in outreach, and most of all coming out midweek to pray. That’s real increase. Is it too inconvenient for you? Are you too busy? Increase requires effort, and it costs us something. If you don’t know Jesus Christ as Saviour then you’ll never want to pay, because you’ll have no motivation — but if you do, then His love will enable and empower you.

How is it with your soul? Whose kingdom are you trying to increase?

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!