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Monday, 2 October 2017

10 Reasons Why Christians Should Go to Church

I am meeting more and more people who claim to be Christians but who aren’t committed to, or members of, a local church. (“Church” throughout this post refers to a local gathering of believers rather than a specific meeting place or building.)

Some of these people are church hoppers”- those who flit from church to church either to look for potential dates, or to find a specific “church experience” or those who are forever seeking the perfect church. These people never really settle anywhere, they are therefore never really accountable to anyone or anything and they prefer it this way.

Others have been hurt by Christians/churches in the past and are wary of getting burned again. This is perhaps understandable. However, the bad behaviour of the select few shouldn’t stop a true believer from persevering.

Some have allowed family or other life commitments to get in the way of regular church attendance. Meeting with other Christians has somehow slipped down the list of priorities. These are the people who loudly proclaim that you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.

There are also a number of people who haven’t been able to find a Bible teaching church in their area. Maybe they have travelled long distances in the past and become fed up with this or decided it’s not worth it. They worship alone at home.

In this day and age, there are people who trawl the internet listening to sermons from a variety of speakers or who tune in to a mega pastor from a mega church that is beamed around the world to all and sundry. This is “church” for a growing number of people.

Are these people right? Is it okay not to be involved in and committed to a local church? Consider these ten reasons why Christians should go to church.

- The Bible tells us to meet with other believers. As with all areas of Christian life, we need first to look at what the Bible says about this. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.Hebrews 10 vs 24-26. It seems clear that there is an expectation that Christians should be meeting together on a regular basis.

- "No man is an island." A well known quote by John Donne. We were not made to live in isolation but for relationships with other people. If we want to be effective witnesses for God then we need to build relationships with others. This should start with fellow believers.  Iron sharpens ironProverbs 27 vs 17

- Accountability. This is one of the main reasons professing Christians are not in church. They don't want to be accountable to anyone or anything. They want to do their own thing and free themselves of the rules and regulations of their local church. The alternative is that they submit to the church authorities until something happens that they don't like, then they just leave without a backward glance.

- Each Christian has a job to do! As Christians we are part of the universal church of Christ or the body of Christ, but we should also be serving locally in our churches. The New Testament gives clear instructions as to how local churches should be set up, led and function generally. The details cannot logistically refer to the universal church therefore the expectation is that all believers will be part of a local gathering.

- Evangelism. One of the main purposes of the church is for evangelism: reaching others with the saving message of Jesus. How can we do this if we arent committed to a local church? Where will we take the people we have witnessed to? Where will they be discipled or taught? How can they grow as believers or learn more? What type of example are we setting if we dont take our faith seriously enough to meet with other believers?

- Spiritual growth. God calls certain men to lead his churches. They are gifted in teaching and preaching and have special authority for their respective roles. We miss the benefits of learning and growing as believers if we fail to put ourselves under the leadership of these men in a local congregation. This is the method that God has chosen for us to grow and mature.

- Protection from the world/putting on the armour. When I was working shifts in the police I used to find it hard to get to church but always planned to make at least one service on Sunday and to try and get to the midweek prayer meeting. I noticed a distinct difference spiritually when I failed at either of these goals. I needed a spiritual energy boost that could only properly be obtained from meeting with other Christians before I headed back to the battlefield of work. Think of the church as a light and everything outside it, including secular work, as the darkness, if that helps!

- Prayer support. Church is where we can go for encouragement, help and prayer. We need to be praying together for unsaved family members, for colleagues at work, for situations around the world and for more personal things. We need to be both praying for others and receiving prayer for ourselves. The more people who gather, the more voices in prayer.

- Worship. Worship has come to mean all sorts of things, but how many of us actually sing hymns, songs or praise to God when not in church? If we aren't regularly attending then we are missing out on a vital ingredient in our spiritual lives. There is also something very uplifting about singing together with other believers, assuming your church isn't one of those where everyone mumbles into their hymn books!

- Socialising. Some churches have taken this to an extreme. Our church services should be recognisably different from worldly events. However, our local church should be our extended family. We should want to spend time together and enjoy each other's company. I have spoken to isolated believers in Turkey, Iran and Syria who would love to be able to even find another believer local to them let alone have the privilege of meeting together, they are envious of the freedoms we enjoy!

There are probably other reasons that you can think of, feel free to comment with your suggestions or to add to these ideas. If you have done everything you can to find a Bible believing church in your area and have failed, then why not start a Bible study in your home and invite your friends and neighbours!

All true Christians should belong to a local church.

Friday, 25 August 2017

10 Deadly Views that are Prevalent in Society

Since settling back in England, I’ve been engaging people in conversations about faith in a number of different environments. Rather than fill pages with lists of my contacts that will most likely be meaningless to anyone that wasn’t present for the conversation, I thought it might be helpful to mention some of the common responses and viewpoints that are emerging in faith discussions. I hope my experiences will help you, should you be faced with these questions, issues or stumbling blocks. (You can click on some of the headings for related past posts that deal with the subject, or an aspect of it, in greater detail)

A number of the statements on my list deal with the issue of whether truth is absolute or relative. In layman’s terms, whether truth can be different for different people. We know rationally that if something is true then it is true for everyone but unfortunately the lines have been blurred by those who try to suggest that people can “make their own truth.” I hope by the end of this post that you will see that truth is absolute and knowable.

1. I hope I’ve been good enough to get to heaven.” This is an extremely common sentiment, sadly even amongst professing Christians. The view that God will judge us based on our good vs bad deeds or that there will be some kind of divine scale. The fear in people’s eyes as they express the hope that they have done enough is sobering as the statement alone demonstrates that they have completely missed the point.

No one is good enough to get to heaven because God’s standard is perfection. The Bible reminds us that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3 vs 23.) This is the very heart of the Christian message, that Jesus had to die to pay the price for our sin. The most famous verse in the Bible reminds us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3 vs 16,) and perhaps a lesser known verse but one of my favourites, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10 vs 9.) It is through faith in Jesus alone that we gain our place in heaven and this has absolutely nothing to do with good vs bad deeds.

2. All religions/faiths lead to God. Again, a commonly expressed view, but one which I find more difficult to understand. There is an ignorance about this statement that couples with the idea of Multi-Faith facilities which are supposedly open to everyone regardless of their particular faith. Every religion/faith group is worshipping a different god or deity or in some cases several gods. They all claim exclusivity and all believe that their religious practice is the right and only way to their god or higher power. They all believe that their god is the one, true god. Most people practising a particular religion wouldn’t be willing to accept that another faith group can access their god via a different religious system or creed, nor would they accept that another faith group might be right and they might be wrong about their belief system. How, then, are we in a position where people believe that all religions lead to the one, true God and how can people of different faiths worship together when, according to their own belief systems, one of them must be worshipping an idol or a false god!?

The issue here is that the absence of a belief in absolute truth has led people to make nonsensical statements. It can be very difficult to get people to acknowledge that if there is a God, there can only be one true God due to all the religions believing things which are fundamentally opposed to each other. I have to conclude that a person following a false god is no better off than someone who fails to acknowledge that God exists. Therefore, all religions and faiths don’t lead to God. There can only be one true faith and one true God and each of us must seek the truth with all of our hearts. God promises that we will find Him if we do this (Jeremiah 29 vs 13.)

3. “There is no God.” Atheism is steadily on the rise in Western countries and yet I have been surprised by how many people prefer to be identified as agnostic (they don’t know,) rather than atheist. This seems to be a more honest position. Even the atheist London buses campaign had to stop short of declaring categorically that God doesn’t exist by inserting the word “probably” into the statement. It doesn’t have quite the same effect if, when telling people to “stop worrying and enjoy life,” you also remind them that God cannot be disproved. The Bible reminds us that God has placed the knowledge that He exists within us and, if that isn’t enough, we can see it in the things He has created. This is why we are without excuse if we suppress that knowledge and reject Him. (Romans 1.)

4. “Where is Jesus then? He would’ve come back already if He was going to.” Not such a common complaint, but one I have heard several times in recent weeks. We are not told when Jesus will return, only that He will do so and that we should be ready when that happens. Ironically, perhaps, these people are actually fulfilling a prophecy written in the Bible centuries ago just by expressing their view. "They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation." (2 Peter 3 vs 4.)

5. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.” In some ways this is similar to points 1 and 2. People that say this usually think they are being kind. They want to encourage people and believe that God will judge them purely on their levels of devotion or sincerity of belief. However, this is an extremely dangerous thing to say to someone. Would you tell someone who believed that drinking poison would make them well that it didn't matter as long as they were sincere?! 

God says that it absolutely does matter what you believe and that people can be sincerely wrong. Is it more loving to affirm someone in their erroneous view when potentially they will end up in Hell forever, or to tell them the truth before it is too late? Someone famous, I can’t remember who, once said that he wondered how many Christians would be confronted with the question, “Why didn’t you tell me?” by desperate friends and neighbours on Judgement Day. The likely answer in many cases would have to be, “It wasn’t culturally appropriate.” What a tragedy!

6. God can’t judge me because I don’t believe in Him” and “I won’t go to Hell because I don’t believe in it.” These statements and ones like them are again rooted in the view that truth is relative or that we can make our own truth. However, just because we don’t believe in something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. At the simplest level, a person can say that they don’t believe in Canada because they have never been there or seen it, but it still exists. A person who buries their head in the sand believing that they can somehow annihilate God/Hell by their unbelief has probably not seriously thought about faith rationally. They prefer to live in denial rather than honestly looking into the matter and sadly protestations of ignorance will not help them when the times comes.

7. “A loving God wouldn’t send people to Hell.”  A very common view and a stumbling block for many Christians. I was asked by a sincere Muslim girl at Speaker’s Corner recently what my biggest struggle with the Christian faith is. I immediately said “eternal punishment in Hell.” Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe Hell exists and that it is eternal, it is just the hardest thing for me as a Christian to accept and understand. The thought of anyone being tormented forever is something that most normal people cannot bear to think about for more than a few seconds at a time, if at all.

The best way to look at this subject is by remembering several things about God; He is perfect (He cannot lie) and He will always do what is right. “His ways are not our ways nor His thoughts our thoughts.” (Isaiah 55 vs 8.) He is not just a bigger version of ourselves, our finite and comparatively small minds cannot comprehend Him. Remembering these attributes of God helps us to trust that He is doing right even when allowing a person to go to Hell.

We need also to remember that the way of salvation through Jesus is open to anyone who turns to Him in repentance and faith. Also, that God “doesn’t desire for anyone to perish” (2 Peter 3 vs 9.) In rejecting God and the method He has chosen for salvation, people are making their own way to Hell…..

8. “The Bible isn’t relevant or has been corrupted, changed or falsified.” A favourite argument of those who most of the time haven’t read it. The best response to this is to ask for specifics; what has been changed? who changed it and why? how do you know? etc….There is actually plenty of historical evidence supporting the authenticity of the Bible including early manuscripts. The fact that nothing in it has ever been disproved is astonishing in itself due to the specific nature of so much of the material. As time passes, more and more evidence appears that corroborates the Bible, not surprising for those of us who believe it is God’s Word, but surely a puzzle for the rest.

As for its relevance, the fact that millions of people are still reading it today and find it to be a reliable guide for life, faith and everything else suggests that it is highly relevant and will continue to be so.

9. “I believe in science. Evolution is scientific fact.” Apart from contradicting the statement that evolution is factual, rather than an impossible to prove theory, I don’t usually get into the specifics when people take this line. Science and Christianity don’t need to be incompatible, but I’m not a scientist and websites like Answers in Genesis have a lot more to offer those with real questions in this area. However, it does seem to me that people are placing an incredible amount of faith in scientists who at the end of the day are fallible. Consider that if God did create the world, then he also created the scientists that are carrying out the research and the minds that belong to them. Should we really risk our eternal security by trusting the findings of finite, fallible people or should we instead turn to the God who created them?

10. “If there was a God He would stop all the suffering.” Another difficult but common stumbling block and perhaps the only one on my list with merit. It is really hard to explain to someone dealing with terminal illness or the loss of a loved one, especially a child, that God loves them and has a plan and purpose. As with all of the other issues though, there is an explanation which on a basic level falls into two sections.

The cause of a lot of the suffering in the world is human greed and selfishness or more specifically sin. There is enough food to feed everyone but for our greed. Likewise, there would be enough shelter and clothing. I’m sure you can think of other suffering that is caused by people; crime, war, stress, broken relationships etc. If God stepped in and prevented people from sinning against each other, then we would be akin to robots rather than having the power to choose how we behave and how we treat each other. This is one reason why is is necessary for there to be a Judgement Day, so everything can be dealt with and justice will be done.

So, what about natural disasters, babies born with cancer and things that cannot possibly be attributed to human choices that are being made now. This is again due to sin but dates back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When they took the fruit and ate it, disobeying God, sin entered the world. Sin leads to death and ultimately to Hell. God cursed the earth at this point as punishment for their disobedience. The earth is slowly dying and, like us, will eventually come to a physical end when Jesus returns. Until that day we can expect to see disaster, sickness and death as a consequence of the original fall.

As Christians, we can have hope that one day all of the suffering and pain will come to an end and we will live forever in heaven with God who created and rescued us by sending Jesus to die for our sin. That's the Good News that we need to urgently communicate to people as we also confront the deadly views that society affirms and encourages.

Monday, 24 July 2017

From Chester to Llandudno

The only positive aspect of having to be at home between 0800-1300 whilst awaiting a Sky engineer (or more likely a BT engineer on behalf of Sky,) is that I finally have some time to write something. It’s been a busy few weeks as I took part in a week long mission to Chester, moved house immediately on my return and then headed off again for another mission in Llandudno, North Wales. Both open-air missions were with United Beach Missions (UBM) under the sub-category Christian Answers.

Having been involved in a mission to London with the Open Air Mission recently, I thought I knew what to expect. However, I’m quickly learning that these teams are far from predictable due to the range of characters that turn up and form them.

In Chester we had a children’s entertainer who managed to keep us amused during our down-time and a potter who used his skill to share his testimony whilst making pots on the wheel. The Christian town crier was a definite bonus although it is sad that people are more interested in history and culture than in God. Also in our team was a young female convert from Islam which proved especially useful when a man attempted to dismiss Christianity on the basis that we had all been brainwashed by the religion we had been brought up to believe.

It did seem that God was leading the right members of our team to the specific people they could relate to. One man’s comment that he believed in science rather than religion was swiftly rebutted by our cook for the week. It turned out that her day-job was in the exact same, extremely narrow, scientific field as our friend with the strong opinions.

My most profitable conversation appeared to be with a girl in her twenties who had stopped to listen to one of the messages for a few seconds. She became quite emotional when I approached her and then confided that she had just bought a Bible having been wandering from God for a number of years. She had arrived in Chester pretty randomly having never been to the city before and was only alone because a friend had decided not to accompany her. Recognising that God was at work we spent several hours chatting over coffee discovering that our life stories were very similar. Later, having made a decision to recommit her life to God, she was put in touch with Christians in her area.

The men’s Gospel presentations were pretty varied ranging from the simple Bible verse, to philosophical arguments, to interactive discussions about where famous people should be placed on a “Goodness Scale.” My favourite for the week was entitled “What’s your end of life strategy?” The preacher highlights the fact that people buy car or house insurance without even knowing that they will crash or that their house will be burgled. Yet many make little or no preparation for death despite knowing with 100% certainty that they will die.

In Chester, we faced the usual range of reactions; people too busy shopping or heading to the races to pay much attention, people annoyed by our presence and people wanting to argue or debate. There were also some odd cults around, some had a leaflet with a list of items that they think should be included in “Satan’s Tool Box.” After reading the list which included Disney films, Christmas and the NIV Bible, I could totally understand why people think that anyone standing in the streets in the name of religion must be at least slightly mad.

Moving on to Llandudno, the team was smaller and the environment different due to it technically being the start of the beach missions for the summer, although the children had yet to break up from school. We started each day with a Bible study in James which had been faithfully prepared, and was well delivered, by our team leader who doubles as a Pastor.

Then, we were instructed to head down to the promenade in twos and engage people in Gospel conversations without props. This aspect of evangelism, that most people find extremely awkward, became even more difficult when local rules meant that we could no longer use leaflets as a conversation opener. We had to hook the fish without the bait.

Imagine the scene: an elderly couple on holiday, sitting on a bench, admiring the sea-view, are suddenly aware that they are sitting in the shadow of two comparatively young people. These people are introducing themselves, something about a mission of some sort, then asking them what they think about God! Not really something to be discussed with random strangers whilst relaxing on holiday…..especially not young ones with no life experience.

Thankfully, not all our conversations headed in this direction and we did have some profitable ones. I think we were all grateful, though, to see the presentation board up so that the focal point could be moved away from us in our clumsiness and inadequacy. I had to keep reminding myself that God uses us in our weakness so that He can get the glory.

The evenings were devoted to community hymn singing interspersed with preaching and testimonies. I was amazed by the number of non-believers willing to sing about what Jesus has done without acknowledging that He has done it for them. We met a fair number of church-goers who on closer acquaintance, sadly, were not yet saved. Most of these were willing to take leaflets and one lady said that she had a lot of thinking to do as a result of our discussion.

Only God ultimately knows the hearts that will be moved, but we had a long chat with an elderly couple one evening. The youngest member of our team, at sixteen, and I, had initially met them during our “cold calling” session earlier in the day. We were thrilled when they turned up for the singing that evening. The husband had devoted his whole life to religious activity and the wife was suffering as a result of his absence. Yet, the dear man admitted that he wasn’t fully able to trust the promises of Jesus for himself although he desperately wanted to. He pointed to a line in the famous hymn “To God be the Glory,” recognising that he was a vile sinner in God’s eyes but being unable to get beyond that. We spent a lot of time with this couple and I pray that their eyes may have been fully opened and their hearts awakened to God’s mercy and forgiveness.

I also spoke to a number of Roman Catholics including a couple from Malta. Then, I was forced to exercise my rusty Tagalog in a lengthy chat with a lonely Filipino lady having been summonsed by a fellow team member. I don’t know how much she actually understood as Filipinos tend to be extremely polite to foreigners!

Being involved in open-air work, apathy and indifference are definitely my biggest frustration. People seem to be gambling on the assumption that if they don’t think about something it won’t happen to them. Many have not even considered where they will go when they die, and others refuse to believe in an afterlife when God has made it plain to them both in their hearts and through creation that He exists.

Others are relying on safety in numbers. This means that a cultural trend away from God sweeps people along the broad path to Hell with little or no thought that the people surrounding them might also be in peril. The sheep following each other off a cliff analogy is relevant here or even the old computer game of Lemmings. I don’t intend to make light of this, it is tragic.

You might be wondering why we even bother with open-air evangelism in these days of such apathy and indifference. Isn’t forcing our beliefs on other people arrogant and intolerant? There is a simple reason, God gives us a clear command to tell people the truth before it is too late. Even if there had been no clear direction, could any of us that really believe the Bible’s teachings on the afterlife stand idly by and watch others heading to a place of eternal torment and unimaginable suffering?

Besides, for every ten or so people that reject the message, ignore us or get angry, there is one that shows a flicker of interest or accepts a Gospel leaflet. Then, there is the one in fifty or a hundred who is willing to stop and have a conversation, however brief it might be.

Some of the conversations lasted hours as people wrestled with God having been confronted with some uncomfortable truths. The results of these weeks may not be known until eternity, but we were encouraged when we heard that at least one person had returned a Chester leaflet having ticked all of the boxes on the back,( I have become a Christian, please send me more information etc….)

I enjoyed both missions and am looking forward to further opportunities in London with UBM in August, then Oxford, Manchester and Lincoln later in the year with OAM. Please remember to pray for the work or consider joining a team! If you are a Christian and are interested in getting involved for a week here and there or even just a few days then I’m happy to give you further details or you can visit the website for United Beach Missions.

 “The Gospel is only good news if it gets there in time”   Carl Henry