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Judgment Day Is upon Us! (Sort of…)

In the Swedish ecclesiastical calendar, the last Sunday of the church year (at the end of November) is Judgment Sunday. No, it’s not about judging your neighbours’ taste in Christmas decorations; it’s about the Final Judgment, when Jesus returns.

This made me think of a question I’ve come across several times: “Do you go to hell for…?” Surely God won’t send me to hell just for scrumping a few apples, or telling a few fibs, or cheating on my taxes…?

It’s a good question – but it’s the wrong question. Or rather, the presupposition is wrong: the assumption that we all start off heaven-bound, and although some unfortunates fall foul of God’s disapproval of certain acts and go to “the other place”, all you need to do to avoid that fate is to avoid those particular acts…

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Yes, everyone who ends up in hell does so because they have fallen foul of God’s righteous requirements – but the thing is, all of us fall foul of God’s righteous requirements. We may not all be mass murderers, but we’re all selfish rebels who prefer our own way to God’s. Thus, unless someone rescues us from the consequences of our actions, we are all heading the wrong way.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that someone has indeed stepped in to rescue us from hell. Nobody has to end up in “the other place”! Jesus calls us all to repent – acknowledge that we have done things that violate God’s plan and purpose – and receive forgiveness through faith in Jesus.

Everybody is born outside the Kingdom of God; everybody starts off in the wrong direction; everybody can turn around and be given a fresh start with Jesus. As Fanny Crosby wrote, “The vilest offender who truly believes / that moment from Jesus a pardon receives!”

In the Final Judgment scene in Revelation 20, there are two groups of people: those who are eternally condemned on the basis of their sinful acts, and those who are saved from such a fate (literally worse than death) through their trust in Jesus.

Salvation isn’t a matter of working out exactly which actions will incur God’s judgment; it’s a matter of recognising that we all deserve judgment, and that only the blood of Jesus averts it. It starts with bad news, but ends with some gloriously good news for each and every one – let’s make sure everybody knows!

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Just Stringing Some Words Together…

What is the purpose of preaching? Why do I spend hours every week preparing a message to deliver to you all? And why is it called a “sermon”?

Well, the last one is easy to answer: it comes from Latin sermo which means “continued speech; learned talk, discourse”, but originally just “a stringing together of words” – which might seem an apt description of what I do in the lectern every Sunday morning!

But hopefully there’s more to my sermons than just a string of words – I intend for there to be some useful content as well! And as all Christian sermons are (or should be) based on the Bible, we can go back to 2 Tim 3:16 to remind ourselves what the Word of God is meant to achieve in our lives.

It’s useful for teaching: telling us things we don’t know (and couldn’t know) about God, ourselves and the world around us.

It’s useful for rebuking and correcting: sometimes we get things wrong, and the Word is there to help us discover when we’ve gone astray, and to encourage us to repent and return to the Truth.

It’s useful for training in righteousness: I’m sure God prefers to tutor, rather than rebuke us! The Bible is the guide for our discipleship – not just as a simple “do this, don’t do that”, but in showing us who Jesus is, so that the Holy Spirit can get to work in us, transforming us into his likeness.

And my preaching is simply meant to be an extension of all that. If my sermons flow from the Word of God, they will help the Spirit achieve his purpose in us as individuals and as a church. If they don’t, they will be pointless, which would be rather sad…

So if anyone has any helpful hints as to how I can improve my weekly word-stringing, please let me know!

Learning from the Prince of Preachers

I’ve now been back in the saddle a few weeks, and hopefully the church will notice the influence of the books I read and the prayers I prayed. But as a taster, let me introduce you to Charles H Spurgeon, called “the prince of preachers”. He became a Baptist pastor in London in 1854, just before he turned 20, and immediately began attracting large crowds. This is obviously what all preachers dream about, but by God’s grace not what all are called to… However, I can still think about what I might like to copy from Spurgeon’s ministry.

Some things I won’t imitate:

# He only started preparing his Sunday morning sermon at 6pm on Saturday night.
# He died aged 57 (he rarely took a day off, but apparently he didn’t regret having worn himself out for the sake of the gospel).

Some things I would like to imitate:

# He always preached the gospel, calling everyone to repent and believe in Jesus. Jesus was always the focus of his ministry.
# He spoke so people could understand him, using conversational English, every-day illustration and a dose of humour – none of which, it seems, was normal in most churches in the 19th century.

And one last thing: he made sure his ministry was underpinned by prayer, because without the power of God it would all be futile. That is still true; which is why we’re introducing a new prayer endeavour this autumn – the church coming together to pray for revival can’t be a bad thing!

 

Go And Proclaim Jesus, Not Religion!

At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus encounters a group of disciples on a mountain in Galilee. It’s quite likely that this is the occasion when the risen Lord appeared to over 500 believers (mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor 15:6), since Galilee was the area where most of his ministry had taken place, and thus where there would already be many followers.

Jesus appeared to his disciples several times during the 40 days between his resurrection and his return to heaven, and each time he continued teaching them about his mission for them. Luke 24:46-49 gives one very succinct summary of that teaching, but Matthew’s words are probably better known: All authority has been given to me, go and make disciples, and I’ll be with you all the way.

Suddenly Jesus’ divine identity is no longer a secret. If he has all authority, and he can be present with them wherever and whenever, he is clearly God in human shoes, and he’s calling us to follow him.

Human beings were created to be children of God, living lives that bless other people and glorify our heavenly Father. When we listened to Satan’s lies and tried to become autonomous, everything went horribly wrong. We’re not created to be autonomous; we need to be in a relationship with God in order to function.

And the Good News is that God himself came to earth to deal with the consequences of our rebellion and open the way back to him. God the Son defeated sin by taking its penalty on himself, defeated death by dying and rising again, and defeated Satan by living a holy life in full obedience to the Father.

And now he invites all to follow him: to share the benefit of Jesus’ victory over sin and death and Satan, and to come back into the relationship with God we were created for.

Remember: the mission of the church isn’t to preach good morals or propagate a religion. Our mission is to invite people to join Jesus and become disciples, learning from him what it really means to be a child of God, and enjoying his presence both here and now and through eternity.

Yes, it may involve a change of lifestyle; yes, it may require sacrifices – but if Jesus is who he says he is and has done what he says he’s done, it’s most certainly worth it!

I’m Back!

Just a quick note to those few who may have noticed my prolonged absence from here:

I have had a long summer sabbatical, interspersed with several family trips here, there and everywhere (Albania, France, Sweden and Suffolk). I have been reading a lot about revivals (by which I mean seasons of increased spiritual growth and more conversions than normal, often transforming entire areas and usually stretching over a longish period of time), and I have been studying the life and ministry of “the prince of preachers”, Charles Spurgeon, who preached so people could actually understand him – imagine that! I also went away for four days of personal retreat, and I worked through some heavy theology as well.

Now I’m back in ministry and in my office, and will resume posting my little notes here – still mainly the letters I write for our own Church Bulletin and the Anglican Parish Magazine, but occasionally maybe something longer. Thanks for your patience!

What on earth happened to poor Tommy Robinson? 10 Things You Should Know.

I just feel there are some people out there – especially Americans who think the UK is descending into a leftist police state – who need to read this …

The Secret Barrister

It can now be reported that Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League, convicted fraudster, sometime-football hooligan and self-reinvented free speech advocate, was on Friday 25 May 2018 imprisoned for 13 months for contempt of court after livestreaming a broadcast, including footage of participants in a criminal trial, outside Leeds Crown Court.

Some people will have seen reference to this on social media; others may have had the plight of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – to use his real name – drawn to their attention by the hordes of protestors storming London over the May bank holiday weekend. But there has not, until today, been mainstream coverage of the case due to a reporting restriction – what is known as a “postponement order” – that forbade publication of these facts until after the conclusion of the trial (and subsequent related trial) upon which he was purporting to “report”.

While…

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How Bishop Curry’s Sermon Revealed the Four Evangelical Tribes

This is a very thought-provoking (and probably very accurate) analysis of current evangelical “tribes”; well worth a read, especially if you also use it to analyse your own position…

TheWeeFlea.com

The following is an extended version of an article I published yesterday on Christian Today.  After I wrote about the Royal Wedding I was faced with two direct challenges/accusations – can you do any better (what would you write)?  And what do you mean that this sermon has indicated the faultlines in Western Evangelicalism? I will get to the former later – but I have been thinking a lot about the latter.  So here is something that I hope will help explain what I was trying to say and why this is so important.

One of the biggest surprises of That Royal Wedding sermon is the way that is has shown up the fault lines within evangelicalism in the West. I have been reflecting on this over the past week and it appears to me that there is a great deal that we can learn from the reactions.

Michael Curry
Reuters

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