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Old Meeting House Congregational Church (1643)

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Signposts

One of the things a love to do when I am on holiday is to explore the backroads by car but when I do this I often find myself in places which I don't know and roads that I am very unfamiliar. At such times I am so glad that we still have signpost - you might remember they were all removed during World War ll to confuse the enemy should they invade our country. The old wooden signposts which leaned at all sorts of angles, and were high up so that men on horseback and drivers of stagecoaches could read them easily, and the low, modern signposts with enamel plates, bearing road numbers which can be read by motorists.

During the war many people didn't realise just how much they had relied on the signposts that had been removed. Missing them, people were often in difficulties to know which way to go. I once heard the story of a school teacher who was asking his class questions, using the word "perplexed", and one boy confessed that he didn't know what the word meant. So the teacher imagined his going along a road and reaching the cross-roads. "Then", she said, "you would be perplexed as to which road you ought to take." "But", the boy replied, "at such a place as that there would be a signpost.."

Do you know who was the man in the Gospels who said that he was a signpost? It was John the Baptist. He declared that the only thing he had to do in this world was to point out to men that lead to Jesus. "No one thinks the signpost very valuable", he said. "The only thing worth while about it is that it points to the right road." So when men left him and followed Jesus, John did not worry. "I am the signpost", he said. "Jesus is the road."

The Jesus came and said, "I am the way." We are always glad to if we find a signpost at the cross-roads, but how much better it is if we find there is someone who will show us the way. Christian, in John Bunyan's Pilgrim Progress, was very perplexed which way he should go until he met one called Evangelist, who pointed out the way to him. "Do you see yonder wicket-gate?" Christian said, "No." Then Evangelist said, "Do you see yonder shining light?" And Christian said, "I think I do." Then, said Evangelist, "Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto, so shalt thou see the gate, at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do." That was very much better than just finding a signpost, was it not? Jesus does not merely say to us, "I will point out the way", but He says, "I am the way. Follow Me!"

It may seem strange to say that a man can be the way. Dan Crawford (1870-1926), the African missionary, was one day being guided along a strange road by a native guide, and the missionary was not at all sure that he was being led in the right direction . In fact, he was more than a little doubtful. "I wish I knew the way", he said. The African guide overheard him and came and pulled himself up to his full height and tapped himself on the chest. "The way?" he questioned, "the way? Want to know the way? I am the way." the knowledge he had of the country; the confidence that he could be trusted to lead the travellers safely; that was the way.

We come to the cross-road at the start of a new year when we scarcely know which way to turn, and there we find, not just a signpost but a Guide, Jesus of Nazareth, Who says, "I am the way. Follow Me!" 

John

The Road Ahead

 

This year we are hoping to have a Watch Night service on New Year’s Eve and I have started to think about what I should say at the start of 2019. I often think that our human life is rather like travelling on a road. You can stand on a hill, and look down and across the valley, and another prodigious hill lifts itself upon the other side. The day is hot, and you are tired; and it seems that you cannot climb that long hill. But you had better walk down the hill you are one, and not trouble yourself about the other one. You find the valley pleasant and inspiring. When you get across it, you only meet a slight ascent, and begin to wonder where the steep hill is which you saw. You walk along briskly, and when you reach the highest point, you find that there has not been an inch of the hill over which you have just walked. You see that it was illusory. The slight ascent looked almost like a perpendicular steep; but when you come to pass over it, step by step, you find it to be a good traveling road.

I recently read some words by the American Congregational minister, Henry Ward Beecher (1813 – 1887). As I read them I thought to myself that what he had written then still applies to us in 2018 even is some of the words have changed. Here is what he said, and I wonder if you can agree with my observation? “So, it is with your troubles. Just in that way your anticipation of mischief hand before you; and when you come to where they are, you find them to be all smooth turnpikes. Men ought to be ashamed, after they have done that two or three times, not to take the hint, and profit by it; yet they will not. They will suffer from anticipated troubles just as much as though they had no such experience. They have not wit enough to make use of the lesson which their life is continually teaching them; namely, that a large majority of the troubles which they worry themselves about beforehand either never come or are easily borne. They form a habit of fretting about future troubles. It was not the old monks alone who wore sackcloth and hair shirts; you wear them as much as they did; only you wear them inside, while they wore them outside – you wear them in your heart, they wore them on their body. They were wiser than you.”

 

John

Never let go of hope

I recently came across a story of an experiment that was carried out by some behavioural scientists in America. First they put some rats in a large tank of water with steep walls so that it would be impossible for the rats the climb out, then they turned to lights out. Just four hours later all the rats had drowned because they had lost all hope of escape. They then put some more rats into the same tank but this time the left the light on. Thirty-two hours later all these rats had also drowned. What can we learn from this experiment? Surely it must be that we must cling onto hope. Most people understand hope as wishful thinking, as in "I hope something will happen." This is not what the Bible means by hope. The biblical definition of hope is "confident expectation." Hope is a firm assurance regarding things that are unclear and unknown (Romans 8:24-25; Hebrews 11:1, 7). Hope is a fundamental component of the life of the righteous (Proverbs 23:18). Without hope, life loses its meaning (Lamentations 3:18; Job 7:6) and in death there is no hope (Isaiah 38:18; Job 17:15). The righteous who trust or put their hope in God will be helped (Psalm 28:7), and they will not be confounded, put to shame, or disappointed (Isaiah 49:23). The righteous, who have this trustful hope in God, have a general confidence in God's protection and help (Jeremiah 29:11) and are free from fear and anxiety (Psalm 46:2-3).

I rather like the words of this hymn and I hope you will as well.

Lord of all hopefulness,
Lord of all joy,
Whose trust, ever child-like,
No cares could destroy,
Be there at our waking,
And give us, we pray,
Your bliss in our hearts, Lord,
At the break of the day.

Lord of all eagerness, Lord of all faith,
Whose strong hands were skilled
At the plane and the lathe,
Be there at our labours,
And give us, we pray,
Your strength in our hearts, Lord,
At the noon of the day.

Lord of all kindliness, Lord of all grace,
Your hands swift to welcome,
Your arms to embrace,
Be there at our homing,
And give us, we pray,
Your love in our hearts, Lord,
At the eve of the day.

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
Whose voice is contentment,
Whose presence is balm,
Be there at our sleeping,
And give us, we pray,
Your peace in our hearts, Lord,
At the end of the day.

 

Hope you find this helpful. John

FOR US THEY FIGHT, THEY WATCH AND DULY WARD, AND THEIR BRIGHT SQUADRONS ROUND ABOUT US PLANT; AND ALL FOR LOVE AND NOTHING FOR REWARD: O, WHY SHOULD HEAVENLY GOD TO ME HAVE SUCH REGUARD?

 

Prayer is the answer to every problem in life. It puts us in tune with divine wisdom, which knows how to adjust everything perfectly. So often we do not pray in certain situations, because from our standpoint the outlook is hopeless. But nothing is impossible with God.

 

Nothing is so entangled that it cannot be remedied; no human relationship is too strained for God to bring about human reconciliation and understanding; no habit so deep-rooted that it cannot be overcome; no one is so weak that he cannot be strong. No one is so ill that he cannot be healed. No mind is so dull that it cannot be made brilliant.

 

Whatever we need if we trust God, He will supply it. If anything is causing worry or anxiety, let us stop rehearsing the difficulty and trust God for healing, love and power.

 

Into the experience of all there comes times of keen disappointment and utter discouragement – days when sorrow is the portion, and it is hard to believe that God is still the kind benefactor of His earthborn children; days when troubles harass the soul, till death seems preferable to life. It is then that many lose their hold on God and are brought into slavery of doubt, the bondage of unbelief. Could we at such times discern with spiritual insight the meaning of God’s providences we should see angels seeking to save us from ourselves, striving to plant our feet upon a foundation more form than the everlasting hills, and new faith would spring into being.

John

"And He could do no mighty work there...because of their unbelief."

Time and time again as we read through the gospels we see how demonstrations of God’s power were directly linked with faith. Eg. Jesus told the distraught father of an epileptic boy – “All things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23) – and on another occasion, when two blind men came to Him seeking healing He asked them – “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They did believe and as Jesus touched their sightless eyes He said, “According to your faith be it unto you.” We see too, that at Nazareth where the people did not believe, Jesus could do no mighty works.

I wonder how often in our own Christian lives we limit God because of our unbelief? Jesus said He came to:- preach good news to the poor – do we believe it? Proclaim release to the captives – do we believe it? Give sight to the blind – do we believe it? Set at liberty those who are oppressed – do we believe it?

As children of God we have been given a new life to enjoy and a new kingdom to live in. We have been taken out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light. As we entered initially into that kingdom by faith, so we enjoy the blessings of it day by day by faith. So often we try to live our Christian lives the other way round, looking at our experiences before we will believe God and trust His promises.

Do you remember the incident on the Lake of Gennesaret? Simon and some other fishermen had been toiling all night and caught absolutely nothing. Then Jesus came along and calmly told Simon to take the boats out again and let down the nets for a catch. I wonder what our reaction would have been in that situation and I wonder what thoughts went through Simon’s mind? Let’s look at his answer.

“Master, we toiled all night and took nothing.” (Luke 5:5). But then, quite simply Simon adds – “At Your word I will let down the nets.” Although everything about the situation led to disbelieving, to not trusting Jesus, this disciple was prepared to believe. He held on to what Jesus had said, and acted in obedience to that, and as he did so we are told, “they enclosed a great shoal of fish… so that the boat began to sink.”

If Peter had trusted in his own judgement of the situation or waiting to see the fish around the boat before casting the nets the miracle would not have happened. He believed God’s word. So with us we have the choice to believe or not to believe, but it is by that we will see the fulfilment in our own lives of the promises of God. We enter into them by faith, which is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

John

Tust Him Utterly

Have you ever undertaken some high adventure for God, flung yourself recklessly into it, and then in a few months grown tired and weary and given up? Sadly, many of us have had such an experience. What was wrong? Was the original impulse at fault? Not necessarily. When we are called by God to undertake some new task or adventure for Him, God has two things that He wants us to think about. First, He wants the task completed but He also wants us by doing it to train us to lean on Him more. In every duty undertaken for Him, we always come to a point where our own strength or patience gives out, we think then that God has forsaken us, whereas God meant us to get there in order that we might learn how to leave our burden with Him or receive from Him the strength we need to carry it. No matter where you are or how difficult the circumstances of your life, you are never allowed by God to remain in your impossible position. He either lifts you out of that situation or He gives you the strength you need to face it courageously. Through every difficulty that confronts you He is teaching you to trust Him more and more. We are never really safe and confident until we have learned how to cast our care upon Him who cares for us. When we can put this into practice we are able to confidently say - “Through Christ who strengthens me I am ready for anything.”

John

Are you spiritually contagious?

 

Christianity spread during the first three centuries by “one living spirit setting another on fire,” says T.R. Glover (1869 – 1943) in his remarkable book The Jesus of History. That indeed has always been the method of Christian progress at its periods of greatest vitality. Great preachers like Wesley and Whitefield, no doubt, started the fire of the Evangelical revival, but the real work of the revival was carried on through the witness of men and women who had come into a vital experience of Jesus Christ. Through the personal witness of these re-created lives the Evangelical Revival spread all over England. The same method has been adopted by every aggressive Evangelical movement in modern Christianity. The world today, more than ever, is waiting to be convinced that Christianity works. That conviction will come not so much through oratory or argumentation as through living examples of the Power of Jesus Christ in the lives of men and women of today. The sceptic can evade almost every argument except the evidence of a man or woman who can say – “Whereas I was blind now I see.” The great demand for today’s church is for “living apostles” who can be read and known of all men. If the churches were to concentrate on a campaign of personal witness, more progress would be made than by almost any other method. To-day, as in the early centuries, Christianity advances best by “one living spirit setting another on fire.”

John

Can you ride a bicycle?

How long since you tried to ride a bicycle? With things the way they are, perhaps it won’t be long before many of us taste the delights of 2-wheel rather than 4-wheel travel. The price of petrol these days is almost as high as the price of gold!

Have you ever watched a child trying to learn to ride a bike? There is a very uncertain wobbly stage as the machine gets under way, but as soon as there is a comfortable forward motion, the bike begins to steer straight.

I cannot help thinking that learning to ride a bike is a bit like being a Christian. It is not easy to start; you need a lot of support; you begin to think you will never make it, and perhaps have a few tumbles even, before any progress is made.

It is impossible to stand still on a bike, isn’t it? You must move forward in order to stay upright. The cyclist who tries to remain static will end up falling off. The Christian who makes no progress, who does not move ahead in Jesus, will inevitably fall.

I believe that this is the reason why many Christians never anywhere in in Jesus. They have begun with Him but have not moved ahead. There is so little growth in maturity, in love, in knowledge of God’s Word and in vital experience of the work of the Holy Spirit. Such Christians are like cyclists who come to a standstill, who fall off because there is no forward movement.

It is obvious that many Christians are living at a much lower level spiritually than God intends. He longs of His people to grow, to make progress, to trust Him for great things, to demonstrate the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit in everyday life. The other day I picked up a book and glanced through it: the book was written by a Chinese Christian, and my eyes were drawn to this quotation – “When God wants us to perform a small miracle He us something difficult to do. When He wants to perform a mighty miracle, He gives us something impossible to do.”

I believe that God longs to do the impossible through us here at the Old Meeting House. Even if you don’t currently come to the Old Meeting House, God still has great plans for your life.

So how about it? Are you His completely? Going on with Him? Growing in Him? Are you making progress in Jesus? Perhaps you have fallen off way back. If this is so, He longs to pick you up, and set you off again.

 

John

 

Jesus Christ - a person not a power

Jesus Christ is not a power, but a person. Christianity is not a power we can discover and apply as we choose to the many and varied problems of everyday problems of modern life. It is submission to another Person who becomes Leader and Lord of our lives. It is His power that flows into our lives, but it can only be used in His way and under the direction of the Holy Spirit. In Christianity lies the mightiest force known to mankind but it cannot be regarded as a material force, a thing we can use or abuse as we will. It will operate only when under direct control of the spirit of God. In other words, there is no such thing as “power” as we generally understand it. The power is personalised. When, therefore, we talk about the power of God we have to be careful to remember that we are talking about the Person of Jesus Christ. We do not get spiritual power without the spiritual personality, and the reason is that the power becomes dynamic only as we realise the personality. That is why the people of greatest spiritual power have been the people most conscious of the presence of Jesus Christ with them. If we would have the power of Christ at work in and through our lives, we must first surrender to the Person. When He comes into our lives He becomes power to save to the uttermost.

John

Enthusiasm is the fire that fuels my achievement (William A Ward).

I recently looked up the word “zeal” in my dictionary as it’s not a word used these days very much. The dictionary defined it as great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective. Now that is something we really need more of if we are to see revival. The early Christians believed that Jesus’s return would be immanent – just read the book of the Acts of the Apostles and hopefully you will see what I am getting at. I tend to think that zeal comes out of enthusiasm which is the greatest asset in the world. It beats money and power and influence. Single-handed the enthusiast convinces and dominates where the wealth accumulated by a small army of workers would scarcely raise any interest.

Enthusiasm tramples over prejudice and opposition, spurns inaction, storms the citadel of its object, and like an avalanche overwhelms and engulfs all obstacles. It is nothing more or less than faith in action.

Faith and initiative rightly combined remove mountainous barriers and achieve the unheard of and miraculous.

Set the germ of enthusiasm afloat in your church, in your organisation or even in your own family; carry it in your attitude and manner; it spreads like contagion and influences every fibre in our lives before you realise it; it means increase in production and decrease in costs; it means joy and pleasure, and satisfaction, it means life, real and virile; it means spontaneous bedrock results – the vital things we all long for. Let’s all pray that God will help to increase enthusiasm in our churches and in our lives.

John

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