Pastoral Letter December 2018

Him who glories, let him glory in the Lord’ – 1 Cor. 1:31

It was probably in 2009 that Alex Macdougall first mentioned ‘Morton, a small church out towards Bristol’ to me. Then, information came about the then-held preaching rallies over the anniversary weekend in May 2010, and I, along with two friends from church, came down for the first time, when I met Fred Witchard, who had his moped out the front. After the meeting, Philip Chillcott spoke to me and I mentioned that I felt unready to take a pastorate, and I suggested another man. I came to preach a few weeks later, and I will always remember praying in the vestry with four deacons and the Pastor Emeritus, Peter Crowhurst. When I returned to a Rally in May 2011, I was shocked to learn that Fred had gone to be with the Lord, and that the number of deacons had gone from four to one. Philip asked me again how I felt, and the rest is oft-repeated history.

I will always remember my ordination and induction, with so many making so much effort to get everything done, and such a turnout of friends and supporters, it was a very happy day. It was a privilege to share it with dear Colin ‘The Collar’ Lewis, who is now with the LORD. His advice and help was of great value.

Firstly living in Cheltenham, it made sense to be based in Thornbury 2-3 days a week, and so the vestry began to be filled with my books, and I ‘made do’ with the various sticks of furniture that existed. Over time many things have changed in there, not least the volume of books. It has been a great trial to reduce my library again!

I tried to visit those who wished to be visited, starting with dear Nellie Sherman, whose tender heart I will always remember. I was thankful that I visited David Collins early, as we were all shocked when he unexpectedly went home to be with the Lord. Inevitably, funerals have featured often, whether of those in the congregation or those connected in some way. It is the way of pastoral ministry that you meet new people and make new friendships which last only a short while in this world!

My greatest mistake, if it can be called such, was to focus more on evangelism in those early days than on our identity as a church. I would always now advise other pastors to focus first on strengthening ‘the things that remain’. It is wonderful to have a heart for the lost, but if the church is not itself in good health, it won’t be a good home for new converts. Still, we pray for all the many Saturdays spent on the market, and for our presence at the Thornbury Carnival, and for the thousands of items handed out and delivered through local doors by several willing helpers.

Much of the ministry at Morton has focused on the pulpit, and I have spent hours, even days at the Chapel, seeing not a soul from morning to night. In the winter it has been common enough to arrive in the dark and leave in the dark too. I am profoundly thankful for the opportunity given to me to spend so much ‘time in the word’, and I hope that it has been a blessing to all. Our worship has been simple, but profound, and I am grateful for the willingness of the church to sing hymns and psalms unknown before. I hope that all will have encountered new ‘favourites’ in our book ‘Morton Praise’.

Despite the hidden location of the Chapel, it has been good to welcome folks to various events. I have appreciated those who have attended the annual church history talks I have given, and a particular highlight has been the three talks given by Professor Stuart Burgess, the first one especially being thronged. It has also been a privilege to continue the Church visits to Alexandra Way, for many years blessed by the musical talents of Gordon Ball.  Since 2014 I have supported Clare in running ‘Coffee and Craft’, and we have seen many come in, but not following on with attendance at various events to which they have been invited.

Some of our midweek meetings have been particularly precious, especially prayer times. It has been good to vary our meetings, and those of us who have attended Men’s and Ladies’ Bible Studies have profited from each other’s reflections and prayers.

My greatest joy in these seven years has been to baptise Joshua Witchard upon his profession of faith, and the truth is that we have known more encouragements than troubles. As I have said many times, none would believe the number of kind words, notes and cards I have received over the years, not to mention occasional gifts which have always seemed to arrive ‘in the nick of time’ — the LORD’s timing, of course!

I have been helped and encouraged by many, and I am particularly grateful to Bernard for his faithful help and encouragement in the early evangelism efforts. A debt of gratitude is owed to Mary, Yvonne and Donna for all their musical assistance. Robert has served carefully and thoughtfully as Treasurer for many years, supported by Lana. And Philip has been my right hand for these seven years, doing so many jobs, and always able and willing to talk and pray over various matters. It would be wrong to mention Philip without honouring Marlene, who encouraged him and supported him to ‘go on’ when he was the only church officer. I will never forget her funeral, and one day we will meet again — as will we all, if we are one in Christ Jesus. I could name everyone in the church and mention something about them for which I am thankful, but let me just also mention Jean. Silently, uncomplainingly, efficiently—one could almost say relentlessly—she has completed a regular roster of small tasks which most would never notice—unless they were left undone!

For any area where I have fallen short, I can only apologise, please pray with me that the LORD might help me to do better! In any area where I may have done well, may God have all the Glory!

Everyone who has made Morton their spiritual home is precious to me, and this place, but more, the people who have met in it, will remain upon my heart all my days. I have learned a great deal, and grown spiritually, and I hope that one day I might be able to serve a church again as the LORD leads. Meantime, I will be concentrating on doing my best for ‘Go Teach’ Publications Ltd, based in Macclesfield, and living there also. We will, of course, join, and commit ourselves to the work of a local church, and I urge you to do the same. When we do this, we will have to lay some personal preferences to one side in order to support a gospel work. I urge you to do the same. We have to ask whether the fundamentals of the Christian faith are taught, and whether the gospel is being preached. Your precise preference regarding worship style, Bible versions and so forth might have to be laid aside for the glory of God.

Whatever you do in the days ahead, walk with Jesus. Trust Him, look to Him. Lean not on your own understanding. He only is Emmanuel, God with us. He only can bless and help you. No Pastor, or any human being, is your solution or help. Go on with the LORD, dear friends.

For the last time, with sorrow and with joy, I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

Pastoral Letter October 2018

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known
        —1 Corinthians 13:12

Dear Friends,

We all wish that we could know a little more of the future, don’t we?

As a church, and perhaps as individuals or families now, we may feel as though we face an uncertain future, and that can often be uncomfortable or unsettling. 

Whilst we know that there is a meeting at the end of October to discuss the future of the work here at Morton, we have no real idea what will be said, or indeed what the outcome will be. We can make guesses, of course. We can fret and worry, too… or we can trust the Lord.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the difference between what we can ever know in this world, and what we shall know in the world to come. The fact is, that however settled we may feel, none of us actually knows what a day will bring forth. We should indeed live our lives walking by faith, and not by sight. We see things only ‘in a mirror dimly’ or ‘in a glass, darkly’ as the old KJV translation has it. So why is it that when there is a particular unknown in our lives, we get so unsettled?

Is it not because when we feel comfortable, we think we know what will happen from day to day, and we stop trusting the Lord? Then, when things get unpredictable, we have to start trusting the Lord again and we’ve got ‘rusty’. Faith must be exercised at all times, and it helps us to remember that even if we feel settled, we haven’t got everything sorted out and we don’t have everything under control. Events can so quickly change our whole perspective.

Speaking personally, I write this letter at a time when I don’t know what I will be doing in January. It’s unsettling—but it is an opportunity. A time to remind myself that God is sovereign, a time to prove His promises, a time to be reminded that I am but ‘frail flesh’. Perhaps if we are more often reminded of just how dimly we see, we will be less troubled when the darkest times of all come. Sometimes we can’t see our hand in front of our face, when illness strikes, or grief grips us, and so forth.

As says the hymn I have quoted a few times in prayer recently:

God holds the key of all unknown
And I am glad
If other hands should hold the key
Or if He trusted it to me
I might be sad

(Joseph Parker)

Our focus, as we gaze at the dim mirror of life’s prospects, should not be on the trouble we are having seeing the future. Our focus should be on what we know (the truth of God’s word, the indisputable facts of our salvation) and above all on WHO we know—The Lord Jesus Christ, who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Everything is in His hands. Therefore everything will be well. And one day … we will know everything, and we will rejoice, seeing how much we owe to our gracious God, and it will be our joyful song ‘through endless ages: Jesus led me all the way!’

May God bless us all and help us to trust Him like never before.

Jonathan

Pastoral Letter August 2018

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast…”
            — Hebrews 6.19

Dear Friends,

There’s an enormous anchor featured on the front cover (of our magazine). If you see images of the ship it came from, you begin to see why it had to be so big! If you look closely, you will see that this anchor weighs 13.5 tonnes. If ever an anchor was ‘sure and steadfast’, it would be one like this!

IMG_0775The writer of the letter to the Hebrews speaks about the ‘hope’ every Christian has, as an ‘anchor of the soul’. So what is this hope? It is spoken of as being something ‘set before us’—in the glory of Heaven, where the ‘forerunner’ has entered first, who is, of course, Jesus Christ.

Our hope, of course, is hope of eternal life. This is a certain hope because of the Lord Jesus, who suffered and died on Calvary’s cross and rose from the dead on the third day, paying the price for the sin of all His people, and opening the way to Heaven. There’s no way that anyone who trusts in Him can fail to know eternal life and the blessing of God. What He has done cannot be undone.

When He died, He said ‘it is finished’ meaning that the penalty for sin had been paid to the full. His work was done once and for all!

We can gain so much assurance from this ‘anchor’ picture. We are supposed to! See how it is spoken of, this hope being an ‘anchor of the soul’. We don’t have a ‘lifeboat of the soul’  which could be overturned or driven by life’s storms. We have an anchor!

Our cover quotes the hymn we all know well, and asks the question ‘Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?’ There is only one anchor which will hold. I suppose the question for all of us must be—what is the anchor of your soul?

Each one of us has a never–dying soul. Our bodies will wear out and die, but our souls will not. At death, we pass straight from this life to the next. What hope do you have regarding your soul for eternity?

The salvation Jesus Christ has won for all who trust Him is an anchor of infinite weight. Yes, much more than 13.5 tonnes! Will your anchor hold? Trust Christ, and the answer will be without doubt, ‘yes’.

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
when the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain,
will your anchor drift, or firm remain?

Will your eyes behold through the morning light
the city of gold and the harbour bright?
Will you anchor safe by the heavenly shore,

when life’s storms are past for evermore?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
steadfast and sure while the billows roll;
fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!

      (Priscilla J. Owens)

Yours, anchored in the certain hope of eternal life,

      Jonathan

Pastoral Letter June/July 2018

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…”
        — Acts 2:38

Dear Friends,

It should not seem strange to you that a Baptist pastor might talk about baptism from time to time!Frankly, it concerns me that many who profess to be Christians, are not baptised. But our problems run deeper than just that.

What does it say to us that in the earliest days of the church, the Apostle Peter answers the distressed and convicted crowds who ask ‘what shall we do’ with ‘repent and be baptised’? I suggest three things to you:

i) Genuine Christian conversion is a total change of life, not an intellectual assent.

We live in a rapidly-changing society, but we still have remnants of the ‘way things used to be’ among us. That doesn’t mean that they are good things, necessarily. One such thing is the tradition of ‘chapel culture’ which I have mentioned before. In a nutshell, it is the downplaying of the New Testament’s model of a local church, with officers and members, in favour of a ‘preaching station’ which we attend as and when we wish to, without commitment of time, or regular giving, or any real sense of belonging.

This fits well with the ‘intellectual assent’ model of Christianity that many in our society still hold to. I believe it accounts a great deal for the fact that  so many professing Christians these days have unconverted children. Now, salvation belongs to the LORD, it is in His hands, but may I suggest that if we live as though our faith is just a personal mental assent, or decision, and that others including our own children may simply take it or leave it, we should not be surprised if they don’t take the claims of Christ very seriously?

What does it say to your children when you prioritise some activity they want to engage in over the worship of God with the gathered church? It says that your faith is just an optional extra, to be disregarded at a whim. Are we getting off topic? Not really! If you claim to be a Christian, where is the total change of life that conversion should bring? Where are the radical new priorities and commitment that Christ has called us to? We need to repent—daily!

ii) Baptism follows conversion

The second point, perhaps (you might think) back on topic, is that Baptism, scripturally understood, follows conversion to Christ. For me, this is of far greater importance than the mode of Baptism (immersion, sprinkling, pouring) which we can discuss another time. If you were baptised, or christened, as an infant, how do you think that tallies with the New Testament example? Did you repent and believe as a baby? Of course not. Such a radical change should be marked by a radical action. Merely nodding to a past rite or ceremony declares nothing to the watching world, and rather confirms to them that this Christianity thing is all just a matter of tradition and culture, after all.  Baptism is a sign that marks us out as being joined to the church, and to Christ, who is its head.

iii) Baptism is essential

Don’t misunderstand me. We are saved by grace, and not works. Someone who is converted and dies before they can be baptised is not lost! But how can something so frequently commanded, and so closely joined to the command to repent and believe; something included in the Great Commission to be done to all new disciples—how can this not be considered essential? You may as well leave off the Lord’s Supper if you disregard the necessity of Believer’s Baptism! Please, think these things through, and let’s talk!

Yours by grace alone,

      Jonathan

Pastoral Letter April 2018

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
 
    — 1 Corinthians 15:51–52

Dear Friends,

Two dear friends of our fellowship have been called into the presence of the Lord in recent days. What a sharp focus this places upon the awe-full, wonderful events of the death and resurrection of our Saviour, Jesus Christ!

For our dear friends, we rejoice that they have entered into what the Apostle Paul here calls ‘sleep’. They indeed ‘rest from their labours’ as we saw in our focus verse last month. But what an encouraging choice of word this is!

God’s people who pass from this life are said to ‘sleep’. Death is not a natural thing, but rather a result of sin entering the world. Man was created to live forever, and death is the failure of the body, at which moment the soul leaves the body and enters the immediate presence of God. Yet, for God’s people, death is merely ‘sleep’, for we shall awake immediately. Our eyes close upon this world, and open to unspeakable beauty and glory, as the Psalmist says:

As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness’
(Psalm 17:15)

There is another sense to these words also. For we serve a living and risen Saviour, one who has died and defeated death, who was raised the third day, and appeared to His followers many times, in a glorified resurrection body. And we shall follow Him in this, also. For while the world endures this blessing must wait, it will not be long, just a sleep, and then:

‘we shall all be changed’

Those who are alive at the second coming of our Saviour will join with those who come with Him, and we shall receive, in an instant, our new bodies. Who can imagine how 

wonderful this will be, and what potential and capacities will be ours? All will be as God has perfectly designed. There will be no flaw, no decay. I imagine that the  abilities reserved in this time for geniuses, that the strength and athleticism reserved only for elite athletes, will be the lot of every believer!

And in this moment of glorious gain and triumph, as we who love Him meet Him in the air, we shall know that this new state and condition is ‘incorruptible’. It shall never be reversed, never be spoiled, downgraded, nor could it be improved. Such perfection will be ours as can only bring supreme joy and eternal praise.

All this, towards which we should look with wonder—all this is the fruit of Christ’s finished work at Calvary. All this is the reward for the suffering of the Lamb!

As our ranks on earth may thin, we should know that the armies of Heaven grow accordingly. Friends, the best is yet come. Is there not cause for great celebration this Easter, even in the midst of mourning?

Permit me again to appeal to you, if you are in any doubt as to whether this glorious future will be yours, to make it your first concern to be certain about it! Jesus Christ has died for sinners, and He will not cast out any who come to Him. Repent of your sin, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, redeemed, made whole, in soul, and then, in body!

Looking forward to glory with you,
Jonathan

Pastoral Letter March 2018

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, and their works follow them.”
— Revelation 14:13

Dear Friends,

This month’s magazine is dominated by reflections upon the lives of two men whom God used mightily in his service. In the past few weeks since Dick Saunders passed away, I have been reminded of several in our local area who attribute their Christian conversion to the ‘Way of Life Crusade’ held by Dick Saunders on Michael Spratt’s farm at Old Down in 1980. Then, with the more immediate news of the homecall of Billy Graham, one after another testimony has come to light of families and generations impacted for the gospel as a result of his meetings in the UK, most notably in the 1950s, 60s, and 80s. A surprising number of preachers today have some spiritual connection to the work of these two evangelists particularly.

Yet, our text does not only apply to ‘notable’ Christians. It applies to all of us. This great proclamation in the book of Revelation (written to encourage, inspire, and strengthen the churches in difficult days) is relevant to every believer. The only qualification for blessing, if you are dead, is that you ‘die in the Lord’, that is that you die as a Christian believer who has trusted in Christ alone as your Saviour.

But what does it mean to be counted among ‘the blessed dead in paradise’ (the title of a popular book written by  the founding pastor of my previous church)? The Holy Spirit gives us two answers. Firstly, that we may rest from our labours. Even for the most inactive Christian, life on earth brings many labours in the struggle with sin, temptation, and sorrow.

For many, there is also persecution to endure. It is worth noting that we will not ‘rest’ from the worship and praise of God—so if coming to church is a burden and a drag on you, and you find all manner of priorities more pressing or inviting than gathering with God’s people, it is worth asking whether you think that you will be happy in such an occupation not an hour a week, but for eternity?

We will not only be blessed in rest from labours, but also in the fact that our works will follow us. This means that those things we have done in the Lord’s service will be known, celebrated, and, yes, rewarded. Such is the grace of God towards us!

It is worth again noting that our works will not precede us, but follow us. That is important. Those things which we do in the service of God do not ‘announce’ our arrival in Heaven, and certainly do nothing to merit our place there. Instead, they follow us, that is, they provide positive proof of the grace of God in our lives. These works are the evidence of the fact that we have both lived for, and died in, the Lord Jesus, who has saved us!

We look at Dick Saunders and Billy Graham. We can see their works following them. Friend, what works will follow you? What legacy do you leave in this world? What will be said of you among your brothers and sisters in Christ who remain, and what record will be written in Heaven? This is not meant to be a guilt-trip, but a reality-check.

Don’t waste your life. Don’t let opportunities pass. Make the service of God your chief aim and delight, and Heaven shall resound with praise as your works follow you there. The praise won’t be yours, but Christ’s, the glory will be all His also, and you will hear Him say ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.

Always in prayer for you, joining together on the road to glory,
Jonathan

Pastoral Letter January 2018

“The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned” — Psalm 34:22

Dear Friends,

Our ‘New Year Text’  is  Psalm 34:8, and we will be considering this verse and others on New Year’s Eve. But let me draw your attention to the last verse in the Psalm, which speaks to us of fresh hope for a new year!

Building upon those things we have considered when gathered together (the call to taste, or try, and trust the Lord, and the fact that the Lord’s ears are open to our prayers) King David concludes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit with this great encouragement to all who trust in the Lord.

Here are three thoughts to carry into a new year:

1. We have a redeeming God

In the person of Jesus Christ our Saviour, we have a God who has entered our world of sin and shame to rescue and help us. He has redeemed us — that is, He has paid the price to release us from captivity. We have been set free, eternally. Our souls are redeemed! How much should we rejoice!

2. We have an unfailing God

You might say ‘that’s true, but it’s not in the text’. I rather think it is! It says ‘none of those…’  As we’ve recently been seeing from the book of Joshua, nobody was left behind when the Jordan was crossed, every single person intended to inhabit the Land of Promise arrived there.
Have you placed your trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour? Do you believe on Him, that He died to atone for sin, and that the Father has raised Him from the dead? If so, He cannot fail you, for He is Almighty God. Not one sinner believes on Him in vain. Not one will cry out to Him and remain unheard, as a favourite hymn says:
The sinner that truly believes,

And trusts in the crucified God,

A pardon at once then receives,

Redemption in full through His blood

(Joseph Hart)

3. We have an exalting God
Again, where is this before us? Well, not one of us shall be condemned! Indeed, we shall be exalted, vindicated, blessed — the very opposite. There is ‘no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8) , but instead, the promise of an ‘inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you’ (1 Peter 1:4). Friends, we need to be reminded of these wonderful truths that bring us fresh hope, or refreshed hope, at the start of a New Year. May we go forth with courage, confidence, and joy!

 

J.D.H.