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.

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!