Sunday, 30 August 2009

Dull Day – Bright Sermon

Today, being Sunday, I’ve been to church – Park Hill Evangelical Church. The sermon was from Acts 8 and how through persecution the news of Jesus Christ was spread far and wide. Because the Jews who believed had to leave Jerusalem they began spreading the word where they were at. So instead of curtailing what was to become known as the Christian belief the authorities were instrumental in propagating it.

The story of Simon the Magician and Peter the Apostle is paramount to an understanding of prayer, belief and forgiveness.

Simon the Magician had many tricks and illusions. He was admired by many. But when he saw the ‘workings’ of the Apostles he was in awe and wanted to be able to induce the Holy Spirit upon believers as they were doing, healing and baptising in the name of Jesus the Christ. He followed them around and then asked if he could pay them to give him the power of the Holy Spirit. What followed was a harsh but correct rebuke from Peter.

Simon had followed and professed to believe but had obviously not understood. He wanted the power of the Holy Spirit for his own aggrandisement. When Peter told him to repent of this attitude and pray to the Lord for forgiveness or he would be in trouble, Simon asked Peter to pray for him. Missing the mark yet again. We have to pray firstly for ourselves, for forgiveness, for help and for God’s grace to touch us in our belief in Jesus the Christ. No priest or individual can pray for us, asking us to be forgiven. We must pray for ourselves and they, the priest or the individual, can pray with us. They may even pray that we may begin to see the error of our ways, but the first step has to be ours. We have to be pursuing the word of God for Jesus' sake not our own aggrandisement or because it makes us seem powerful or good. It does not say in Acts whether Simon got it right in the end. I hope so because with all that was going on around him it would have been a tragedy if he did not absorb the truth and then understand the reality of how to become a believer and pray accordingly.

How true is this in today’s world when self-seeking ministers preach the word to get what they want, be it power, staus, wealth and or adoration. When preachers use vulgarity and locker-room humour to attract young people to their ministries because it’s the cool thing to do. When preachers forgo the the truth of the Holy Spirit as the way for people to come to understand prayer and God’s word. When sex and lust are overplayed and love and compassion are downplayed. When truth is substituted for popularity or cultural assimilation so that the preacher is seen as one of the boys or worst, one of the elite because he belongs to the right clubs and organisations.

These preachers find it hard to pray for forgiveness for themselves because they do not see anything wrong in their way of being. They will ask their ‘flock’ to pray for the church to expand, for the tithing to be bountiful, for the means to do their job, but they seldom ask for forgiveness because they cannot accept that they need to turn inwards and see they are doing what they do for their own self-gratification. We must pray for these preachers to repent, but most of all we must pray that they, like us, must pray their own prayer asking for forgiveness. Otherwise they, and we, will be like Simon the Magician, we will be rebuked and we will face the consequences if we do not get it right.

Thank you Derek Fortnam, Pastor of Park Hill Evangelical Church for that thought provoking message.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Health Care

The USA is going through a time of interesting changes as President Barack Obama tries to improve the USA health care system (something Hilary Clinton, in her role as First Lady of the United States, tried to do before with her Clinton health plan which sadly failed to get through the US Congress). There is much at stake for the average American citizen as the USA has a totally insurance based health care system. You either can or can not afford it! And if you can not them there’s no dentistry, no glasses, no hearing aids and no medication. Of course there are many groups, including many faith based organisations, who try to provide free clinics and services to those who either can not afford health insurance or their insurance is not effective enough to cover certain health costs.

For a brief look at the differences between the UK and the USA see this link. The USA is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not have a universal health care system. So we in the UK who like to follow the American way in most things, if not everything, should be thankful that the National Health Service Act, which was passed on the 5 July 1948, was dedicated to universal health care access for all.

The credit for this remarkable piece of legislation goes to Aneurin (Nye) Bevan, member of Clement Attlee’s Labour Cabinet. Mind you he did say he had to ‘stuff their mouths with gold’, referring to the medical professions stance against the proposals – similar misgivings and personal interest abound regarding the health care changes proposed in the USA – before the proposals were finally accepted by the medical profession; but only after Bevan had conceded and compromised on a number of points to appease them.

Let us hope that the health care reform comes about so that all people and not just the wealthy, the rich and the elite, can afford and have access to health care services in the USA. Hope it seems, is all we have got.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Truth and Reality

I found this site Plugged In and was fascinated by the notion of truth and reality. That reality is created and truth is not – it is eternal if you like, especially in relation to the word of God.

Here the ‘blog’ is about teenagers and what they listen to and watch. The down side of so called “dark music”. As one youth mentioned, the music made them feel good, touched them with the reality of what they felt. They said they went to church and God helped them, but the music made them feel good/better/related to something that “understood” them.

I can go with that. However, as the blog went on to explain, people may find that the reality of something reassures them that they are not suffering alone. But knowledge they are not suffering alone is not, does not offer, a cure for their suffering or their hurt [their wounds]. The truth of the gospel of Christ can, and does, offer that cure. The fact, or reality, is they, you, are hurting. The truth is they, you, can and will get over the hurt. Not immediately maybe, not tomorrow even, but eventually you will get over the hurt or the suffering you are experiencing. But only if truth outweighs fact and or reality. Fact is that every form of depravity is real – we can feel it and see it if we want to. In reality depravity exists. We know it is about. But does it have to be acceptable because its factual and or real?

For a Christian it means we have to face the fact or reality of something, but through living in the truth of the gospel of Christ we can know that this reality or fact of life experience [I am not talking about a mathematical or pure science fact] is finite and will change. Sadly, something seen as a depravation today could be seen as acceptable tomorrow. We get older, our tastes change, our technologies change, our fortunes and our health changes, but the truth does not change. Through the truth of the gospel we can do something about our hurt, our suffering, our confusion, the acts of depravation can be countered. We can move on in our thoughts and in our actions or in how we behave, not through just relating or experiencing a sameness through expression of a certain media – using satanic or dark music, obscenity and degradation through words, music or actions – but through the exposition of the truth of Christ and the message of the Gospel.

The following Scripture verses are, as the blog suggests, a good place to start thinking about truth, fact and reality: John 8, 31, 32; John 17:17-19; 1 Peter 1:22; Romans 12:2; John 10:10, 3 John 4; 2 Timothy 3:1-9 and 4:3-4

Baptism

Baptism is both a personal and public statement of faith. The water is not magic and does not wash your sins away or suddenly make you a religious person. It is however extremely symbolic in that it represents the death of the old old self and the birth of the new self, the commitment of the believer to living in the way of Christ through faith and belief in Christ – his life, death and resurrection. A truly moving and uplifting occasion for those who are being baptised, those who are doing the baptism, and those of the community, friends and family who come to witness this profound and happy event.

My own baptism was like a blur, as if I were not really there in physical actuality. Of course I was physically there, as the wet clothes and extreme cold water can contest to, but it really was something otherworldly and very spiritual in nature. Indeed it was a very profound and happy event.

The baptisms I have witnessed have shown both the faith and the desire of the baptees (if there is such a word) to make a personal and public declaration of faith. Their individual (like mine) statements of faith being a source of encouragement and awe. How people come to faith through both tragic and mundane events and how through such events come to have faith and hope in Christ is always a wonderful thing. It cannot be denied or dismissed as trivial, fanciful or drivel. Adult people coming to faith through circumstances not foretold or enforced is an incredible witness statement. Their lives (as mine was) are changed forever as they are now living their lives through and in faith of Jesus Christ. They are now public ambassadors (disciples) of the Living Triune God – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Not just public ambassadors of the Christian faith, but public enemies of evil – Satan if you like – and as such a threat to such evil. Those who are baptised need both prayers of rejoicing and prayers of protection, because like most enemies of evil they will come under attack. May God be with them and may the love of Christ guide them and may the Holy Spirit guard them. Amen

(With Christian love and best wishes to Tim and Bernadette, 25 July 2009, New Life Church, baptised in Park Hill Evangelical Church, may the Lord bless and protect you.)