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?

Pastoral Letter January 2014

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.

– Psalm 42.11

Dear Friends,

The text above is our ‘New Year Motto’ text, and as I intend to preach from it on the first Sunday morning in January, I don’t want to get into too much detail here, but I do want to encourage you to get thinking about what it means to ‘hope in God’ as we move forward in applying that new year sermon.

More specifically, what does it mean to us as a church? We have been considering the early church in Acts in Sunday nights, and have begun to see the burning priority of the church as being the proclamation of the gospel, and fervent prayer. When we look at what we do as a fellowship, and ask ‘what can we do next?’ we do well to remember that God never calls us to change the message we proclaim – but that we should always be looking for new opportunities to reach others with the gospel.

This is a time for straight talking – if we can’t be honest at the time of ‘New Year Resolutions’, when can we? We live in an age of great ignorance and apathy, which brings its own challenges and opportunities. But we find ourselves, as a church, largely unable to respond to them. We hope to reach the people of Thornbury, yet we meet in a well-hidden location, out of the town. This has a knock-on-effect on our ability to have an effective young peoples’ work, for example. We are also widely scattered. Whilst some live in Thornbury, many in the church who play vital roles live a long way from the town. How can we be a local church when many of us (including me) are not local at all? Many of us are growing older, and we cannot do the things we used to. The Lord has provided for us financially, but we still have limited resources. We do not have a Manse.

We have much to be thankful for, of course. There is unity in our membership, there is a kind and caring spirit in our fellowship. The Lord has sent in new faces amongst us, and while some times have been trying, we can truly say that we have been encouraged.

But what next? What next, dear friends? Can we be content just to maintain what we are doing, which in itself is good, and right? Or do you, like me, have a longing to see the gospel making an unquestionable impact in our community? Do you, like me, find yourself wondering exactly what the Lord would have us do? Wondering how we may see conversions? Well, remembering that ‘Salvation belongs to the Lord’ (Psalm 3:8) is a good starting-point. He is in control.

We might be cast down, but why should we be? We proclaim the same gospel that the Apostles did, and it has the same ‘ancient power’ it ever has had!

We are not called to be passive, but active. ‘Hope in God’ is not a vague, comforting expression, but a positive command. We should not be in the business of seeking to maintain things as they are, of holding on to traditions for their own sake. Our business is to be serious about what God’s Word says a local church should be, and how we ought to conduct our whole lives, and our worship, and begin from there. We trust in Him, that He will bless us as we seek to obey Him.

So, we are going to carry on calling our morning service an ‘Evangelistic Service’, so that we can invite others to come and hear the gospel, not an exposition of tithing or something else that is irrelevant to the life of an unbeliever. We are going to carry on expounding the Word of God verse-by-verse on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, so that we may be instructed by the ‘whole counsel of God’. We are going to carry on singing ‘Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs’ that edify our souls and befit the majesty and glory of a Sovereign God.

Over the past two years, we have distributed an invitation to every home in Thornbury. We’ve a new campaign planned to bring the gospel directly to people in the New Year. We’re going to carry on being on Thornbury Market on Saturdays if we can. Yet, we want to do more.

How can we? ‘Hope in God’ is the answer! Where are you when the Church meets for prayer on a Wednesday night or Sunday afternoon? Age dictates that not all of us can support these meetings. But many more of us could. If we would be in the business of asking the Lord, then I am confident that He is in the business of answering! If we really have hope, then we must express it! It doesn’t matter how bad we think things are, or how difficult the task appears to be, when we genuinely ‘Hope in God’!

May I say something to you if you read all of this, and roll your eyes, and think, ‘Well, he’s the Pastor, he’s just over-enthusiastic. I’m just content to live my life and attend chapel when it suits me’. What I have to say to you, with concern, is this:

A tree is known by its fruit — says the Lord Jesus in Matthew 12. ‘Hope in God’ is the most wonderful encouragement to a true child of God, but it does not just support us, it propels us forward. To be saved by the grace of God is such an experience that if you have no desire to share your faith, or to see others saved, the only conclusion must be that you are not saved in the first place. I urge you to seek conversion as your first priority in this New Year — no other ‘resolution’ matters compared to your need to be reconciled to God.

Now, may the Lord grant us grace, may He grant us faith, and may He grant us, above all, hope for this New Year. Jesus Christ, the Captain of our Salvation, leads us on — let us follow Him, wherever He leads us!

Pastoral Letter December 2013

… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.John 1.14

Dear Friends,

Many bible–believing Christians are divided on the subject of Christmas. Should we celebrate or mark it at all? Well, we find ourselves with an evangelistic opportunity, so let us use it, but let’s not get carried away with the greed and commercialism of our times. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Victorian Baptist preacher, was preaching in December 1871, when Christmas Eve fell upon a Sunday. I’m turning the rest of this letter over to his opening remarks that morning, as he was wiser than I will ever be!

“We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called ‘Christmas’: first, because we do not believe in the ‘mass’ at all, … and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Saviour; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Saviour’s birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred. Fabricius gives a catalogue of 136 different learned opinions upon the matter; and various divines invent weighty arguments for advocating a date in every month in the year. It was not till the middle of the third century that any part of the church celebrated the nativity of our Lord; and it was not till very long after the Western church had set the example, that the Eastern adopted it. Because the day is not known, therefore superstition has fixed it; while, since the day of the death of our Saviour might be determined with much certainty, therefore superstition shifts the date of its observance every year. Where is the method in the madness of the superstitious? Probably the fact is that the holy days were arranged to fit in with heathen festivals. We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year, of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Saviour was born, it is the twenty-fifth of December. Nevertheless, since the current of men’s thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavouring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men’s superstitions to render such a meditation improper for today. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of his dear Son.”

Amen! Oh, and Happy Christmas to you!

Pastoral Letter November 2013

For a thousand years in Your sight
 are like yesterday when it is past, 
and like a watch in the night.

Psalm 90.4

 

Dear Friends,

November always brings us to a time of remembrance. In preparing our ‘Reformation Day’ talk on William Tyndale, I was looking into the history of the village of Little Sodbury, and found that it was a ‘thankful village’. Not one inhabitant was lost during the First World War. There are only 52 ‘thankful villages’. The scale of loss in World Wars, and conflicts since, is hard to comprehend. But it is very easy to forget!

We need to remember the price which was paid for our freedom, and the great capacity man has for wickedness, as we remember the great sacrifice which so many made, and the bravery and courage of so many more. Some will still sorrow on ‘Armistice Day’, but for most, the general feeling is one of thankfulness and respect. Still, it can be hard to comprehend much of what began to happen, in the main, 99 long years ago.

It is not so with the Lord our God. He has perfect knowledge of all things past, present, and future. We often struggle to remember the last seven days, let alone our lifetimes – but with the Lord, a thousand years are like a day. He remembers every creature He has ever created, and He knows what we are like – we forget!

So, we should never despise the ways He has devised for us to remember important things. He has given us His Word, the Bible. Do we read it regularly, and commit it to memory? He has given us a pattern for prayer. Do we pray as we should? He has given us the church, and we can gather together and remind each other of all the great things the Lord has done for us individually and corporately. Of course, He has given us the Lord’s Supper, and we hear our Saviour say ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ ( 1 Cor 11.24) as we repent of sin, and rejoice in the great Salvation accomplished at Calvary.

Remembrance is good, and we need it, because we forget. At the same time, we must not live in the past. Our Saviour has a great eternal future for us, which should be our focus. Does it all seem a long way off and distant – like a thousand years? It is not! If you knew that you only had a day to live, how would you live? What would you do? As we remember with thanksgiving past fallen heroes, let us remember with greatest thanksgiving the Lord Jesus Christ, and live for Him, boldly and fully, in the here–and–now!