The fate of sin and liberal society

I would like to start with a great quote from the previous liberal party leader Tim Farron;

“Liberalism has eaten itself because it has eaten the very world-view that gave birth to it, that made it possible, that makes it possible.”

I was preaching on Revelation 17 last week and was struck by how the beast with ten horns turns on the prostitute in verse 16 and eats her and bares her flesh and burns her with fire. Evil has in its heart very divisive power to turn the heart of the lover against the loved.

We as Christians see it in the every day in the LGBT+ lobby arguing amongst themselves over the rights of the trans people. Women now upset that having let the Trans lobby have recognition and power and having to have these people in the women’s public toilet in the local county council offices. At a deeper level we see the trouble with intolerant tolerant liberals a group that hold to another reality Tim Farron puts so clearly:

“People talk about shared values today – I’ve done it myself. But when they do, what they mean is: “These are my values – and I am going to act as though they are also yours, and will demonstrate contempt for you if you depart from them.”

And so we will slowly and deliberately destroy the society that Judeo-christian values created by the enforcing of the mantra that to be as good as we can be there must be nothing that we reject in terms of life style and sexuality. The mantra also includes the fact that the one thing that isn’t to be accepted is a biblically Christians view of the world. The world is drunk on the ideas the great prostitute in Revelation 17 has given birth to. They are loving the fact that there are ni absolutes in terms of family structure and sexual norms and even the nature of what it is to be a person is now fully fluid in many aspects of thinking.

But what is the logical outcome of this? Well it could be anarchism which can be defined as:

The theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by the submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilised being.”

This is a theory that fails to acknowledge the one elephant in the room and that is that whenever man if able to remove God and live independent of an influence from Christendom things seem to go from bad to worse. The examples from history are many and terrible;

  • Nazi Germany
  • Communist Russia
  • Pol Pots Cambodia
  • North Korea

and there are many more examples of attempts at something better than Christian living ending in the terror of the women in 1945 in Berlin being raped and gangs of Nazi thugs hanging children.

Back to my original thesis that sin is self-destructive, look around you do you see a happy society that has strong family structures and healthy life patterns? I don’t and we all know why.

 

Past Pain

I would like you to image an old soldier walking into town leaning on a stick. There is a child with him and he is happy and jolly with the child. Then they go into the park and the old man stands still as the, pass the war memorial and he looks at the names. in an instant he is back in that fox hole in 1944 in Holland the shells are raining down and the dead men litter the field. The pain is overwhelming and a tear is seen in his eye. In that moment he is broken again and the wound in his leg hurts like it did 70 years earlier.

There are many clergy like that man, they have lived through the battle ground that is church life. They have tried to bring about change or they just were not like their predecessor, they preached in a different way and or they just were ministering somewhere where the gospel was hated. What do we do with them? We move them on and put them into action again, but I can see that 13 years in a painful ministry is a God-given privilege in that as one man put it:

There are some things we would love to forget but scars will be there forever, serving as a constant reminder. As painful as they may these inwardly and outwardly actually do serve a very important purpose.

They remind us of the impacts of sin and the are a powerful reminder that as a church we are to be as it says in Ephesians 4 enabled to walk:

in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

They also remind me I walk the way of the cross and as Christ suffered so will I and that i am not immune from the effects of ministry. I have pretended that they have all healed and the past is the past but it never is it affects and is affected by the present. we need as a writer put it to remember:

God doesn’t give us scars to remind us that we have been hurt. God gives us scars to remind us that we have been healed having been faithful, we’ve been delivered; and we’ve been set free! Although Paul endured attacks upon his ministry, he reminded those involved (the Galatians church) his scars showed that belonged to Jesus. Thank God for scars!

My pain is something I need to find a way to cherish and use to the glory of God because in the darkest moments he held me and brought me out of the pit. However handle you minister, pastor, clergy with care they have been in the front line and they will have faced live fire from the Devil and will bear the scars and as much as you wouldn’t press on the wound of that veteran, why would you be careless with your minster, pastor or clergy. A U.S University research project concluded;

Social support from the congregation was a protective factor in terms of the
relationship between burnout and turnover intentions.
Remember what it says in Ephesians 4 that:
“he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to
equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until
we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to
mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

 

He gave us each other as an act of love and remeber they have been in the front line and they will hurt and they will cry and they may need space to hurt and I know that it will take me 2 or even 4 years to recover but i know i have a church that will walk with me in that recovery.

Disaster in the west

I read alot in the papers and on the internet about the demise of the west and it’s loss of its Judeo-Christian values and I see in the articles a sense of panic and yet I feel peace about it. Our society and in articular the west and the UK are seeing what God predicted would happen and we shouldn’t be supprised. In 2 Timothy 4 we read;

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

Stop worrying it will happen and yet it happens becase God has ordaind it, nothing happens in this world that is not first initiatied in the throne room of heaven. The simple truth is that we have to stop treating all this as a stoppable disaster we can some how reverse.

Do we not belive that we worship the God of Revelations 4 where it tells us:

At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings[a] and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!”

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they existed and were created.”

 

We should nte a ew key facts from these verses, firstly all this takes place under the rainbow which is a singn of God’s covenant with all humanity to never again destroy the world. It isnt a sign as it has become is celebrating sin. Then note that the 24 represent the church we will reign on high with God there is an image of soverign power and hope for the church, Then there is the image of worship which is a great band led praise session it is deeper and all about the very being of those worshipping. We need to live in the reality that our civilisation is now on a path to self destruction and God is allowing it to happen.

So what is the church to do? Well 2 Timothy tells us;

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

and

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

We live in the reality of Romans 8 where we are reminded that:

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Have we forgotten that although we are to speak out against injustice and preach the way our society is going is not to be freared in the sense that it generate panic. We are to be like Daniel when he was banned fro praying. We must accept what God is doing in our midst and pray, pray for strength to stand and that God would have mercy on us and that he would give us the right words to say.
The disater that will befall our commnuities is a testing as set out in the letter to the church in Philadelphia. I will finish with a quote from my favourite book:

Is the C of E the church in Laodicea?

The main charge against the churcg in Laodicea is that it is luke warm. Is the the church in England and the west going the same way? The thing is we have little if any passion in the average church for the Lord and the mission of the church. “A consuming passion is the last thing you think about before you go to bed at night and the first thing you think about when you wake up,” says Brian Schwartz.

We have been blinded by the need to be balanced and to ensure that we do not take this religious thing too far. We might read things in the bible about money and giving and homosexuality and marriage and much more but we are British. Also there is the danger as there was in Laodicea that we have tomuch in worldly terms and in has made us so centred on selfcentred seraches for happines and fulness of life we no longer need God in the same way. We often say about faith, church is fine and God is great but don’t become a Jesus nut please. Yes go to church but keep things in balance and don’t give a tithe and make sure that the boys get on Sunday every other week to play football. Was Jesus luke warm towards us did he give it 100% to save us? yes he did and the response must be likewise. And we wonder why God has perhaps spat us out.

Matthew Henry writes;

“They may call their lukewarmness charity, meekness, and moderation, but it is nauseous to Christ. They will be finally rejected. For far be it from the holy Jesus to return to what has been rejected.”

We are in danger in being a church hat is passionate about being a sucessful church and being intouch with the society we live in at the cost of being on fire with love for and seeking Jesus and his will for the church. Schwartz points out, it’s important to remember that passion requires fuel to grow and one of the best ways to get that fuel is to share it with others. “Just like a plant needs water, your passion needs to be nurtured a little bit every day in order for it to grow to the point where it becomes obvious to you and the rest of the world,” The best way to do that is to stay close to the teacher and share what we have. If we are just Sunday Christians we will go cold. As Matthew Roberts says:

Jesus himself demanded nothing less. Whoever wants to follow him, he said, must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow him. Whoever does not leave his father and mother for his sake, he said, is not worthy of him. Whoever puts his hand to the plough and turns back cannot be his disciple. Christians, according the one all Christians call their Lord, must be extreme in their commitment to him. To ask Christians not to be extremist Christians is to ask them not to be Christians at all. 

The church needs to gain a new confidence in the gospel as recieved and in te 39 Articles of Religion it is Christ and his rejection we should fear nit the worlds. The Archbishops oxymoron of good disagreement is part of the issue that is driving us to be luke warm infact it is a call to be luke warm, we can enjoy each others company and tollerate a via media whilst holding to orthodoxy at the sams time. No extremists welcome here then.

Again quoting from  Matthew Henry;

“They think they are rich and growing richer. They are so rich that they have gone beyond the point of wanting to become any richer. Perhaps they had all that their bodies needed, and that made them overlook the necessities of their souls. Or maybe they thought they were well off in their souls. Perhaps they mistook learning for religion. They had wit, and they took it for wisdom. They trusted in ordinances instead of the God of the ordinances. How careful we should be not to mislead our own souls. Doubtless there are many people in hell who once thought they were on the way to heaven. Let us daily beg God that we may not be left to flatter and deceive ourselves over the concerns of our souls.”

The church in the west the great gift to most of the world when it sent our missionarys has become self confident and arrogant and forgotten that we need to trust in what the bible teaches not be children of the enlightnement and ignore the bible. The church is wrethced, poor and naked in so many places lost and wandering. But the Lord loves the church and our present testing is a call to repent and return to lay hold of old truths and patterns of ministry. In anglicanism we can see that we are dying because  management is starting to replace leadership.The danger that Lambeth has to face is that once you start managing, you may stop building anything of value. Instead, you simply manage what you’ve already built. If all you do is manage what you’ve already built, you won’t have much left to manage in the future.

We also need to avoid being the notable church. How you respond when you receive attention is critical. The call can be not to go to far and then we can fall fo the call to be popular. We’ve all seen celebrities who become obsessed with being famous. Whether it’s Kanye or the Kardashians, you can make an industry these days out of simply being you.

Lets be passionate for the right things and on fire let Jesus be “the last thing you think about before you go to bed at night and the first thing you think about when you wake up.”

 

Retreat

This isn’t a call as given by the Regimental Sergent Major in battle but my monthly time away from the parish. Why do I bother and should an evangelican churchman be spending time with a group of nuns at the Holy Cross Convent? Isn’t it dabling with things Tractarian. Firstly they are an Anglican order and they ask nothing of me but just give me space to be with my bible and my God.

I am becoming a convert to this monthly pattern of a day away. It is creating space in my diary to ensure that God is the priority for that day. How often is the email and the phone the driver of the day the meeting and that pastoral situation and yes then we have time for prayer. it is said that retreat is to be seen as:

“time consciously set aside for God, a change of focus, a deliberate act of stepping outside of normal routine by withdrawing (not running away) from the noise and pressures; the immediate and insistent claims of our social, domestic and workaday responsibilities in order to be in a quiet place where all our senses are open and ready to listen to God. Evelyn Underhill spoke of this as ‘loitering with intent.’ ‘Going equipped’ would be a more modern phrase meaning the same.”

I will always defend these days in my diray days when I stop doing and start being in Christ.

The church in Philadephia

Misson, is it about what we do or what Christ has made possible and blessed. All churches can easily fall into the trap of thinking that the world is hostile and mission is something we do in partnership with God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This letter to the church in Revelation 3 has many great things to say buty on thing in particular is stunning.

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.

The opening referes to the door keper in the house of David and clearly we are meant to see Christ as the key holder both to the gates of heaven and to mission in the world. DO you and your church see that Christ has opened the door to you going out, he has gone ahead of you to bring an authentic message of hope and biblical, gospel teaching that transforms lives.

James Clark wrote;

The world is full of Christians who think their ordinary lives are not enough, who dream of really doing something for God. Imagine, if you can, what would happen if they realized that mission—their mission—is not necessarily on the other side of the world. It is right beneath their two feet where they stand and live and work and love.

So what are we waiting for because the rest of the letter assures us of Jesus protrction and of his victory and our hope in heaven.

Sardis = Church of England

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

we have all read about fresh expressions and all the other types of church being trumpeted in the U.K today. Bishop’s write endless articles for the diocesan magazine talking about growth but we are seeing real substantial longterm growth of any significance. This left me asking a question why? Then I started to prepare to preach on this passage.

A key issue in the church in Sardis was that the city had twice been captured by an enemy because they where asleep at the watch tower believing the place impregnable. As the established church are we not the same living in a lie that no one can challenge us and that we will hold on to our place in the world and national order. But we see a creepy enemy.  The church times wrote recently:

“It is abundantly clear that a strong State Church runs the risk of being both excluding and exclusive – as, indeed, does a strong state. A weak State Church has the capacity to be more accommodating.”

But accommodating of what? The church appears to have a great reputation with its equivalent of the food bank, and the outreach to the homeless and the poor, the cafe and drop in centres. They ran the equivalent of great all age worship and holiday clubs but they where at their heart dead. They are churches that as 2 Tim 3:5 puts it are having the form of godliness but the are denying its power. There was a deadness of spirit. An example of this was the Bishop of Loughborough’s sermon at the Chrism Eucharist on Maunday Thursday. There we were gathered in the Cathedral waiting to hear the gospel and we didn’t really hear reference to be bible, save in passing. You could zone in and out and miss nothing important or inspiring. I felt like we where on the edge of death.

We are in danger of kidding ourselves that the church has life in it, the church of England needs to see that if it fails to repent and turn (v3) then Christ will come and judge the church. He will come to the church in its self satisfied security and remove as one commentator says the mercies and joys we have.

There is an encouragement to all churches in this passage. I led a very small group of churches for 13 years where a good Sunday would meand we might have 35 in church. Jesus says here to the church in Sardis there are a few faithful people and only a few but the will be rewarded with white robes. So preach brothers, preach remember what 2 Tim 4 says:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

Remember as it says in verse 5 your names in the book of life and will stay there. Our church is at a turning point, will it compromise with the secular culture and the enemy will come and capture it or will it wake up and smell the mustard. to wake up it must actively repent and I believe remove bishops from post. It must require of its Vicars and Rectors full acceptance of te 39 Articles of Religion. It must stand firm against inovations intorduced to placate the secular demands of Parliament.

The Gardian reported that the authors of Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy found that on all measures, the growing churches “held more firmly to the traditional beliefs of Christianity and were more diligent in things like prayer and Bible reading,” Haskell said;

  • Only 50% of clergy from declining churches agreed it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians”, compared to 100% of clergy from growing churches.
  • 71% of clergy from growing churches read the Bible daily compared with 19% from declining churches.
  • 46% of people attending growing churches read the Bible once a week compared with 26% from declining churches.
  • 93% of clergy and 83% of worshippers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb”. This compared with 67% of worshippers and 56% of clergy from declining churches.
  • 100% of clergy and 90% of worshippers agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers”, compared with 80% of worshippers and 44% of clergy from declining churches.

The study also found that about two-thirds of congregations at growing churches were under the age of 60, whereas two-thirds of congregations at declining churches were over 60.

We are in grave Danger of being the church in Sardis