Wednesday, July 30, 2014

1st draft proposed Church Mission Statement

1st quick draft of a proposed renewed church mission statement. Comments and suggestions welcome.

(I fully accept that this is perhaps not quite a Mission Statement (or indeed a Vision Statement or Values Statement) or Mission Action Plan or whatever. I've tried to put down some things that the key decision makers like the PCC might be able to agree on and which might guide our planning. Perhaps most accurately it might be called "Some Principles and Priorities")

(No doubt it might also be helpful to have a kind of tag-line or church motto and a short memorable summary of what we stand for).

Our aim is to glorify God in all that we do in obedience to his written Word, the Bible.

Our mission is to be and make increasingly faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Indeed, we seek to make disciples who will make disciples.   

Our method is prayerfully to minister the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit in a context of love, warm fellowship and good deeds.

We therefore seek to pursue:

(1)   Mission / Evangelism. We want to present the good news of Jesus attractively and persuasively to those who are not yet Christians. We recognise this may involve “pre-evangelism”: developing contacts and friendships. We understand that coming to faith in Jesus may be a long process for many people. We encourage all our committed members to be known as Christians and want to help them to be able to give a reason for the hope that they have. We want to regularly put on events to which our committed members feel they could invite others to hear something of the gospel. We would ask committed members to regularly pray for a few people with whom they might be able to share something of the good news and to make suggestions as to how the church might support their personal evangelism.

(2)   Maturity / Discipleship. We want to encourage all committed members to be growing in their walk with Jesus, emphasising his two most important commandments of loving God and neighbour. We encourage regular personal and family Bible reading and prayer. We would like to see all our committed members involved in some kind of midweek group if possible and recognise the importance of Christian fellowship. We encourage our committed members to give joyfully and sacrificially to the local church according to their ability – and in a planned and tax efficient way, if possible. We would ask people to consider giving 10% of their income.

(3)   Ministry / Training. We want to encourage all committed members to seek to serve God and others with the gifts they have been given and according to the needs in our congregation and beyond. We hope people will be willing to try new things. We want to provide training, support and feedback, pointing people to other organisations and resources where necessary.    

We recognise our particular responsibility to all those who live within the parish.

Because our church family is perhaps more grey haired than the general population, we want to make a special effort with children, families and the under 65s. We also want to make a special effort with men since they are often harder to reach but if they become committed they tend to have a great influence on the rest of their families.

We recognise the need to continue to move towards paying our full Parish Contribution and will seek to gradually increase this as funds allow.

We will give 10% of our normal income to other Christian mission organisations at home and abroad and have a monthly prayer focus on one of these projects.

We seek to work together with the other parishes in our benefice, the deanery, diocese, and wider Church of England and with Churches Together in Heathfield and District, and with other Christians and churches as appropriate.

 (Making disciple-making disciples of Jesus Christ might be a good key aim for any church. Hopefully those key activities of Mission, Maturity & Ministry might prove memorable. Other key ideas like gospel, Bible, prayer, Spirit, love, fellowship, good deeds might also hopefully stand out for people!)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Discrimination against and persecution of Christians

"3,000 Christians of Mosul ... were driven from their homes in northern Iraq last week by Islamist fanatics who broadcast a fatwa from the loudspeakers of the city's mosques ordering them to convert to Islam, submit to its rule and pay a religious levy, or be put to death if they stayed. The last to leave was a disabled woman who could not travel. The fanatics arrived at her home and told her they would cut off her head with a sword.

"Most people in the West would be surprised by the answer to the question: who are the most persecuted people in the world? According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular group with members in 38 states worldwide, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States estimates that 100,000 Christians now die every year, targeted because of their faith – that is 11 every hour. The Pew Research Center says that hostility to religion reached a new high in 2012, when Christians faced some form of discrimination in 139 countries, almost three-quarters of the world's nations.

"... Christians are languishing in jail for blasphemy in Pakistan, and churches are burned and worshippers regularly slaughtered in Nigeria and Egypt, which has recently seen its worst anti-Christian violence in seven centuries. The most violent anti-Christian pogrom of the early 21st century saw as many as 500 Christians hacked to death by machete-wielding Hindu radicals in Orissa, India, with thousands more injured and 50,000 made homeless. In Burma, Chin and Karen Christians are routinely subjected to imprisonment, torture, forced labour and murder. Persecution is increasing in China; and in North Korea a quarter of the country's Christians live in forced labour camps after refusing to join the national cult of the state's founder, Kim Il-Sung. Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Maldives all feature in the 10 worst places to be a Christian."

Paul Vallely, visiting professor of public ethics at Chester Univeristy, writing in The Independent Sunday 27 July 2014

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Marquee Service Tabernacle / Temple All Age Talk & Adult Sermon

Morning service "spoiler"!


Well, here we are meeting for church in a marquee, a tent.
And there was a time in the history of God’s people when they used to meet with God in a tent.

Does anyone know what that tent was called?

It was called the tabernacle, which just means a tent or hut.
You can read all about it at great length in the Bible in the book of Exodus.
After Moses had led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, God told Moses how to have the tabernacle built.
And where-ever the people went, travelling  through the desert, they would take the tabernacle with them.
God Himself would meet with them in that tent.
The tabernacle showed the people that God wanted to meet with them.
Where-ever they went, God was with them.

But the tabernacle also taught the people that it was hard for them to meet with God.
The Bible tells us that God is holy – he’s very special.
And the tabernacle was meant to teach the people that they could only meet with God in God’s way.
They had to build and look after the tabernacle in lots of special ways exactly as God said.
There were all sorts of rules about it.

The tabernacle had 3 parts:
(1)   An outer court, where the people could come.
(2)   Then inside that an area called the Holy Place, where only the priests could come.
(3)   And then inside that there was a place called The Holy of Hollies, or The Most Holy Place, where only the High Priest could come once a year on what was called The Day of Atonement.
The very inner part of the tabernacle, the Most Holy Place, was where God’s presence was.
And it was separated from the rest of tabernacle by a curtain.
(Like this)
In fact, not quite like this!
It was thick and made of fine linen and was blue and purple and red and it had angels on it as kind of guards.  
It was probably 15 feet high and 18 feet wide.
That’s about 4 ½ meters high and 5 ½ meters wide.
Taller than 2 tall men.
That curtain was like a big no entry sign saying “You can’t come in here, because this is God’s special place.
God is holy and you aren’t so you’ve got to keep your distance!”

So, in a second we’ll have our first reading.
One of the big things to notice is what a palather it all was.
It was really hard for people to come into the presence of a Holy God.

And I want you to listen out for 2 things in particular.

Question 1: See if you can work out why people couldn’t just come into God’s presence any old how any time they wanted.
There are a couple of hints of it in the text.  
Try to work out: what’s the problem that’s got to be dealt with if people are going to come into God’s presence?

Question 2: Listen out for what’s the solution to that problem.
How is it that Aaron the High Priest can come into God’s presence?
What does he have to do first?

1st reading: Leviticus 16:1-17

So, thinking about that reading, does anyone have any idea why we can’t just approach God however we like?
What’s the problem that has to be sorted out?

13 times the passage talked about a sin offering.
Sin is all the wrong things we do and say and think.
And all the good things we should do that we fail to do.
And it’s the wrong attitude in our hearts.

The Bible says we need a sin offering – we need our sin to be dealt with if we’re to come to a holy God.

The passage says atonement is needed.
Just look at that word:
It means “AT- ONE – MENT”
God and his people aren’t at one, they aren’t friends because sin separates them, so they need AT-ONE-MENT.
They need to be made at one again.

So what about our second question.
Perhaps we’ve already given away the answer to this but:
In our passage, what’s the solution to the problem of sin?
What did Aaron have to do so he could come into God’s presence?

We need a sin offering – a sacrifice.

An innocent animal would die in the place of the people and take the punishment they deserve.
It was like a swap.
God put all the people’s sin on the animal so that they could be forgiven.
The animal died instead of the people and took God’s judgement in their place.

The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament are a picture of the death of Jesus, which we’re going to read about in a second.

* * *

In the time of King Solomon, the tabernacle was eventually replaced with the temple in Jerusalem and I’d like you to listen out for mention of the temple in this reading.

Reading: Mark 15:25-39

Did anyone notice what it said about the temple?
What happened in the temple according to the reading?

When Jesus died, the Bible tells us that curtain torn in 2 from top to bottom – as if by God.
Now people could come into the presence of God because Jesus had died to take away his people’s sin.
The way to God had been opened up.  
The NO ENTRY sign was taken away.
Jesus was the ultimate sin offering, the ultimate sacrifice of atonement.
Jesus has made a way for sinful people like you and me to come into the presence of God by dying in our place so that we might be forgiven.
The barrier that sin created between people and God has been taken away.
Isn’t that wonderful good news?!

We need to put our trust in Jesus – to depend on his death in our place, so that we can be friends with God again.

Let’s pray.

* * *


I want just for a few minutes to give you a very quick crash-course in the Biblical theology of the tabernacle and the temple.
Now, I realise that might sound as dull as dish-water.
But the tabernacle and the temple are really important in the Bible.
They help us to answer two of the great questions of life.
You went to the tabernacle for 2 reasons:
(1)   To meet with God
(2)   To be put right with God, to be forgiven and have your relationship with God restored.

So as we look at the tabernacle and the temple we’ll think about those 2 vital issues:
(1)   How can I meet with God?
(2)   And how can I be in a right relationship to him?
Those questions are just as important and relevant today as they were when Moses first had the tabernacle put up.

Many people go on religious pilgrimages today in the hope of a fresh encounter with God, or to be put right with him.
Is that the Bible’s answer to these questions?
People look for God in all sorts of places.
And they try to do all sorts of things to get into his good books.

But , in fact, what the New Testament does with these ideas of the temple tells us where to look to meet God and be put right with him.

The big thing to say is that in the Bible, Jesus himself replaces the tabernacle and the temple.
Those famous words which we read at Christmas tell us that:
“[Jesus] the Word became flesh and made his dwelling amongst us.”
Literally it says, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.
The Word tabernacled with us.

For 33 years, it was as if Jesus himself was a mini-tabernacle walking round Israel.
It was in Jesus that all the fullness of God dwelt in bodily form.
For Jesus’ lifetime, God camped out on earth – a bit like he had done in the days of the tabernacle.
Jesus was filled with the Spirit of God as the Spirit had filled the temple.
Jesus was the glory of God shinning forth and revealed.
“Anyone who has seen me”, Jesus said, “has seen God the Father.”
If you had been there 2000 years ago, you could have met God living as a man.
Jesus is the new and better tabernacle – the place to go to meet with God.

Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and I will build it again in 3 days.”
The people didn’t understand what he was on about.
The mocked him:
“It’s taken 46 years to build this temple,” they said, “and you are going to raise it in three days?”
But the Bible tells us the temple he had spoken of was his body.
In our reading, Jesus, the new temple, was being destroyed as he died – only for God to raise it up again on the first Easter Sunday.  

Jesus is the new and better temple: the place to go to meet with God.

You might say, “that’s all very well, Vicar, but how can I meet with Jesus today – he’s not here, is he!?”
It’s a perfectly fair question.
Jesus isn’t here physically.
We meet with Jesus today in his word the Bible.
The Bible was written, Jesus tells us, so that we might come to him and have life.
In the power of the Holy Spirit, as it were, Jesus walks off the pages of Scripture to meet us.
The Bible puts us in touch not with a dead hero but with our living Lord.

Second, Jesus puts us right with God.
We thought about that with the children.
All the sacrifices of the tabernacle and temple pointed to him.
The blood of sheep and goats could never really take away sin.
They were only ever intended as a picture of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice which was to come.
Jesus was the spotless lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.
Jesus’ death was the one all-sufficient sacrifice for sin.  

The Bible tells us “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place [to come into the presence of God] by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body”.
Jesus’ broken body is the way for sinners like you and me to come to a holy God.
And so there’s no more need for the temple or its sacrifices.

Indeed, Jesus predicted that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed.
And it was.
Within a generation of Jesus’ death, Jerusalem was besieged by a Roman army and soldiers burnt down the temple in AD 70.
It has never been re-built.

For completeness sake, we should say that the Bible describes the Christian church collectively and believers individually as the temple of God.

The Bible never calls a church building a church.
Really, the church is the people who trust in Jesus, not the building.
You can have a perfectly good church service in a 13th C church or a 21st C marquee.  

Another answer to the question, “How do we meet with God?” is that he promises to be specially with us when we meet together in Jesus’ name.
Of course God is everywhere.
We can talk to him in prayer wherever and whenever we like.
But when we gather together as a church, God is particularly with us to bless us, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We get together as a church to meet with God as we meet with one another.  

And if you’re a Christian, you too are a little temple.
Paul tells believers that their bodies are God’s temple and that the Holy Spirit lives in them.
When we trust in Jesus, we are made clean by his blood and God himself can come and live with us.
It’s not only that we can come to Jesus to meet with God, but when we do so, God the Holy Spirit comes to take up residence in our lives.

May God enable us today to trust in Jesus that we might meet with him afresh, be put right with him and know the blessing of his presence in our lives. Amen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lee Gatiss on some church history heroes and big issues

I happened to stumble across these links on the Monergism website so this is really a note to myself that I might like to listen to some of these sometime:

The following MP3s are some very helpful talks by Lee Gatiss with Ermine Desmond

Luther – Salvation by Grace Alone (vs. Free Will) MP3

Calvin – Union with Christ MP3

Cranmer – The Lord’s Supper MP3

Owen – Infant Baptism MP3

Whitefield vs. Wesley - Calvinism vs. Arminianism MP3

Gresham Machen – Christianity & the Tolerance of Liberalism MP3

Monday, July 21, 2014

Evangelical Ministry Assembly 2014 audio available

I am especially looking forward to listening to Vaughan Roberts on The Doctor.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Word and sacrament

Alexander Schmemann writes:

“Western Christians are so accustomed to distinguish the Word from the sacrament that it may be difficult for them to understand that in the Orthodox perspective the liturgy of the Word is as sacramental as the sacrament is “evangelical.” The sacrament is a manifestation of the Word. And unless the false dichotomy between Word and sacrament is overcome, the true meaning of both Word and sacrament, and especially the true meaning of Christian “sacramentalism” cannot be grasped in all their wonderful implications.  The proclamation of the Word is a sacramental act par excellence because it is a transforming act. It transforms the human words of the Gospel into the Word of God and the manifestation of the Kingdom. And it transforms the man who hears the Word into a receptacle of the Word and a temple of the Spirit… For the Gospel is not only a “record” of Christ’s resurrection; the Word of God is the eternal coming to us of the Risen Lord, the very power and joy of the resurrection.” (pp32-33)