Pastoral Letter December 2017

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
 — Isaiah 7:14
Let us to-day go down to Bethlehem, and in company with wondering shepherds and adoring Magi, let us see Him who was born King of the Jews, for we by faith can claim an interest in Him, and can sing, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” Jesus is Jehovah incarnate, our Lord and our God, and yet our brother and friend; let us adore and admire. Let us notice at the very first glance His miraculous conception. It was a thing unheard of before, and unparalleled since, that a virgin should conceive and bear a Son. The first promise ran thus, “The seed of the woman,” not the offspring of the man. Since venturous woman led the way in the sin which brought forth Paradise lost, she, and she alone, ushers in the Regainer of Paradise. Our Saviour, although truly man, was as to His human nature the Holy One of God.

Let us reverently bow before the holy Child whose innocence restores to manhood its ancient glory; and let us pray that He may be formed in us, the hope of glory. Fail not to note His humble parentage. His mother has been described simply as “a virgin,” not a princess, or prophetess, nor a matron of large estate. True the blood of kings ran in her veins; nor was her mind a weak and untaught one, for she could sing most sweetly a song of praise; but yet how humble her position, how poor the man to whom she stood affianced, and how miserable the accommodation afforded to the new-born King!

Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with Him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendour.

— C.H.Spurgeon

Pastoral Letter October/November 2017

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High

Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

— Psalm 91:1

Dear Friends,

With Harvest behind us and autumn beginning, thoughts turn towards other events, such as Reformation Day, Bonfire Night, and Remembrance. The grand and glorious comforts of the Psalms have notable connections with all these events. The Psalm which begins with the verse above was a particular favourite of a man I knew who gave his entire life to missionary work in South Africa and Zimbabwe. He served during World War Two, flying in the RAF and facing terrible danger, yet all the time convinced that God would keep him for the purpose of reaching the lost, which indeed He did.

He believed that the Lord made these words a special promise to him, and took especially to heart the seventh verse of the Psalm: ‘A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you.’

He was absolutely certain of the sovereignty of God. Surely many took comfort from these verses, and still died — many Christian believers laid down their lives in both world wars. Yet the comfort that this man knew, sortie by sortie, battle after battle, was not made more real by the fact that he remained alive upon each return, or even that he survived the war. His confidence was in the unchanging nature of God, and he dwelt ‘in the secret place’. He maintained his walk with the Lord in prayer and the word in complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit. He lived ‘under the shadow’ of Almighty God and sought refuge ‘under His wings’ (v4)

Such is the privilege of every child of God, from Apostles and Early Fathers, to giants of the Reformation like Luther and Calvin, through all passages of time, unto us in the present day. We may have the same unshakeable confidence in our Sovereign God who has sent His only Son that we might have everlasting life. But we need to ‘dwell in the secret place’ just as those who have walked the pilgrim path before us. This is the ‘everyday’ reality of the ‘extraordinary’ Christian life!

Pastoral Letter September 2017

Where no oxen are, the trough is clean;

But much increase comes by the strength of an ox.
– Proverbs 14:4

Dear Friends,
We come, once again, to that time of the year when we see the farmers hurtling around the lanes, sharing equipment and manpower to get the harvest in on those (rare) occasions when the sun actually shines! A great deal of effort is involved in farming all year around, but there are some seasons which seem to call for almost superhuman powers, and everything must take second place to agriculture.

So it is in the life of the church, in a season of Harvest, that is, of folks coming under conviction of sin and being saved by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, there is plenty of work to do. In so seeking God’s blessing in the salvation of souls, we can be criticised, by those both inside and outside the church. Evangelism is hard toil, and time-consuming — especially if church members leave it (wrongly) to church leaders alone. Gospel work is difficult, time-consuming, expensive, messy, sometimes disappointing. The temptation to draw inwards and gaze at our own navels is pretty strong when numbers are low and resources are scarce.

But you could never run a farm in this way. Oh, the joy the farmer feels in seeing his steel trough all shiny, and the barn floor spick and span! Imagine him there sweeping every day, and polishing that trough until he can see his face in it… what utter nonsense! A working farm produces a lot of muck, be it mud … or the other type.

We can run a nice, clean ‘church’, that serves us. We can gather, doing what we’ve always done, going through the motions. We can fuss over details like rotas, or musical instruments, or cups versus mugs. Or we can move forward. Get serious about what God is serious about. Identifying consistently with a local church. Pleading in prayer. Being clear about what we believe and why. Loving one another even when it costs us something. Putting God first even when it costs us something. Being bold, and moving forward not with a view to our own limited resources, but with our eyes on the storehouse of Heaven. Brothers and Sisters — it is time to make a mess!

Pastoral Letter August 2017

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
John 14:27
Dear Friends,

We have recently recommenced our series in the gospel of John, and on the day this edition comes out, we will (God-willing) complete chapter 14. It contains many wonderful sayings of the Lord Jesus Christ which are striking, but none, perhaps is as apt in the present day as the verse above.

In the latter part of John 14, the Lord Jesus announces three blessings for His disciples, and all His people. One, of course, is the ‘Helper’, or ‘Comforter’ – the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts. The second is this peace we are speaking of, and the third is knowledge. All three are closely interrelated.

There is precious little peace in the world today — not just in the sense of an absence of war and unrest, but in the personal sense — a settled, calm, frame of mind, the banishing of anxiety, clarity of thought, a slower pace for our hearts and minds. So much today is frantic, pressured, demanding instant responses, decisions, and so on.

Many folk today fret because they don’t feel safe. Whether because of terrorism, crime, or perhaps compromises in health and safety, or perhaps all three — a gnawing anxiety is eating away at the soul of our nation. This is because we are a nation who have, by and large, forgotten God. And we have done so by choice, even by demand. There is great attention being paid to the events at Dunkirk in 1940 with the release of a new film, but one part of the matter has been forgotten — that the King called the nation to prayer beforehand, and millions responded.

True peace cannot come from any source other than the Prince of Peace. True freedom and rest of soul won’t be found in any election result, bank balance or safety precaution. How we need to hear our Saviour’s voice, and trust Him. He gives His people His peace. Just ask Him.

Pastoral Letter May 2017

Dear Friends,

“I am the LORD — I do not change” — Malachi 3:6

I am writing this letter at the Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference, meeting for the first time at a residential centre near Stafford after decades in Leicester. It seems rather strange when something so familiar changes — even stranger that it snowed here this morning, in late April! At this conference there is an annual opportunity to catch up with old friends, but there is also a solemn and constant reminder of the passing of time. Old friends do indeed become older! Each year comes the reading of names of those who have gone to glory, or who are too infirm to attend any longer. We thank God, however, that old friends are being replaced by new friends, and that new preachers are being raised up.

Of course, the same things happen in family, social, and church life — but as we see each other daily, or weekly, the effect is not nearly so noticeable! The ‘change and decay’ we see all around us should not bring us to despair, however. We know that we live in a world which is only temporary, which is passing away. We know that we are all mortal, and that our bodies are a part of the creation which is ‘passing away’. Then, in life, we are people who change, and we are surrounded by people who change. We may change our minds on various things. We may change our attitudes or our tastes and preferences. Over time, we can become very different people. Often we will be let down by those who are ‘changeable’ — inconstant. People who don’t keep their word, or contradict themselves. It can be so deeply frustrating and upsetting.

But our God does not change. Everything else could change, and most things will. But He will not, and He cannot. In Malachi 3, the words following our text are ‘therefore you are not consumed’ — and how comforting this is. Our God is not only unchanging in Who He is, but in all He has said and done. Jesus Christ has come to redeem us, to purchase eternal life. Therefore we, His people, can know that we are secure for ever. Who He is, He will always be. What He has done He cannot undo. If we are His, our sin is forgiven, and our eternal future is secured. Whatever disappointments or sorrows come to us because of this changing world, none will come from Him — He does not change!

Pastoral Letter April 2017

I do not know this man!

Dear Friends,
In introducing this month’s magazine, I wanted to remind you of Simon Peter’s denial of Jesus, when He was on trial in the High Priest’s house, just hours before His death at Calvary. Normally bold and even brash, Peter is scared for his own safety and becomes almost angry in his denial that he was ever with Jesus, or knew Him. We believe that Mark, who was a young man at this time and not one of the disciples, wrote his gospel based on the eyewitness account of Peter, and so it is in Mark 15 that we find the most unflattering (honest and blunt!) version of the exchange in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house. We believe it is Peter’s own testimony that he ‘began to curse and swear’, such was his desperation to wriggle out of any connection to this ‘Jesus of Nazareth’.

When I was visiting Dublin in 2015, I came across this striking picture in the National Gallery (and it was one for which, conveniently, photography was allowed). The artist is unknown, but he was a follower of the great artist Caravaggio, and he lived in Rome. The picture is titled “St Peter Den2015-03-03 15.39.50ying Christ” and was painted between 1610-1625. I was very struck by the facial expressions, which are that much clearer when you stand in front of a large canvas like this. Here we see the female servant who is mentioned, and on her face is pure disbelief. It is almost as though she is saying ‘Come on — all the evidence is clear — you are one of Jesus’ disciples!’, while Peter is a picture of sincerity, ‘hand to heart’ and the other raised in protest. While we may not be in danger of our lives, it seems that to admit that you know or follow Jesus in 2017 is just as undesirable as it was for Peter all those years ago, at the first ‘Easter’.

This edition of the ‘Messenger’ is largely given over to three stories of people who are not ashamed to say that they follow Jesus. Some are modern, some are older. I hope that these stories, or ‘testimonies’ will be of interest to you. Perhaps you are reading this ‘magazine’ for the first time, and you wonder what all the fuss is about. Why do people still go to church? Why would anyone want to admit that they were a follower of Jesus? Going back to Peter himself — why would he soon come to the point where he not only stopped denying he knew Jesus, (he repented of it) but boldly told everyone about this man, even though ultimately it would bring him to a martyr’s death? Well, if you come to know ‘this man’ — The Lord Jesus Christ — you will find that the answer is plain. If you know Him, then you will have everlasting life.

Pastoral Letter March 2017

“Pray without ceasing”

Dear Friends,

We lead with the Apostle Paul’s very simple urging, one of a list, to ‘pray without ceasing’.
We need to follow this instruction! As we have seen in our recent series ‘The Battle for Souls’ — there is no greater need than that we see conversions, and there is no other source of power in this battle than the Lord Himself. Of course there are many other things we need to pray about, but there can be few things of such vital importance — for the glory of God, and for the continued life of our church. The ministry we seek to engage in together (the work of the ministry is for all, not just for the Pastor — see ministry from Ephesians 4) is most simply expressed in two ways — to see sinners saved, and to see believers grow in the faith. All of this is a supernatural work, a spiritual work. We cannot possibly imagine that any number of things we do — however worthy they may be — will bring these two aims to pass.

We can study God’s word diligently. We can preach it powerfully. We can witness faithfully. We can do many good things — but only God can change hearts and minds, and we need to seek Him in prayer, together.

Prayer together humbles us. It reminds us that we all depend entirely upon the Lord. Prayer together encourages us — we may discuss things together but to hear one and another pleading with the Lord is heartening, as we realise that we are united in our longing. So we can also say that prayer together unites us. Prayer together also edifies us, as we learn from one another’s prayers.

Enough theory. There will be no progress without prayer, and we will see no blessing either. There will be more ‘Opportunities to Pray’ from this month forwards. Please see the website for details of when and where we will be gathering to pray. And make this your priority. Nothing matters more.