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Old Meeting House Congregational Church (1643)

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The Hindrance of Self-Effort

January 15, 2018

The saying; “God helps those who help themselves” is supposed by many to enshrine the truth of Christianity. But this is only a half-truth as it can lead us to place the emphasis on self-effort. We mistakenly think that God has lost His power and needs our help! It may go against our human reasoning that as the psalmist reminds us that our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. God is the one who initiates we just have to follow. The act by which deliverance is secured is from God and not by our self-efforts. The best effort we can make ourselves is to bring our lives to the places where they meet Jesus Christ. He is after all the Saviour of the World. He alone can “break the power of cancelled sin and set the prisoner free.” We cannot lift ourselves by our own shoes laces. He and He alone can raise us to the high places where we can have fellowship with Him. One of the important lessons we must learn is “to let go and let God”. This is easy enough to say but terribly difficult to do. However, the more we can allow the spirit of God’s freedom to rule the less self-effort we need to make. Those who try to save themselves by the sheer power of their will sooner or later break under the strain. When we give full and free entrance to the spirit of Christ, the work of regeneration and renewal goes on steadily like the growth of a flower. The more simple and natural our faith the truer it is. “Himself He cannot save” was said scornfully of Jesus Christ by those in the crowd. It is true of every one of us. “He that finds his life shall lose it, but he that loses his life for My sake shall save it.” The way of deliverance then is the way of surrender. We die to self in order that we may live to God.

John.

How different are you?

January 4, 2018

Ideally real Christians are different from others, not by degree but in kind. They have God in their lives whilst others do not. Because they have God they have a bent towards walking in righteousness – a proactivity towards purity and holiness – and when they fail, which often happens, they feel it and know it. As any kind of sin causes a rift in their relationship with God.

But here’s the rub: though they know what it is to be holy, they cannot be holy by direct effort. That’s a job which is God sized. If we are to master our lustful passions, it will be done through His empowering our weak lives. There is no other way.

I like the following explanation given by the late C.S. Lewis. He wrote. “Put right out of your head the idea that…Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out – as a man may read what Plato or Marx said and try to carry it out. They mean something much more than that. They mean that a real Person, Christ, is here and now, in that very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you. It is not a question of a good man who died two thousand years ago. It is a living Man, still as much of a man as you, and still as much God as He was when He created the world, who is really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has. At first, only for a moment. Then for long periods. Finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity.”

Turning us into “a different sort of thing” takes time – actually a lifetime. What God wants is for us to give Him our bodies, so He can begin the process right now. It’s not what we make of ourselves that matters, but what God is making us by the power of His Holy Spirit. You might say that we’re a work in progress and will remain so until we go to God or until He comes to us. Then and only then will His work be done.

We can only see life piece-meal – like a bug working its way along a clothesline. God sees what we will be when we get to the end of the line. Until that day comes we must keep inching along making a little progress every day, upheld by His faithfulness, assured by His forgiveness and encouraged by His promise that we will someday be what He has called us to be.

The Bible reminds us in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 verse 24: “The one who calls you is faithful,” Paul assures us, “and He will do it.”

John.

2018 - The only way is forward!

December 26, 2017

Have you been in a tight corner? In Exodus chapter 14, verse 15 we read of the children of the Israelites being caught in a corner with the Red Sea in front of them and Egypt’s chariots behind them. It is not surprising to read that they acted like frightened sheep! They felt utterly abandoned. But when a sudden voice rang like a trumpet through their trembling ranks encouraging them to go forward, the soul of the people awoke to life. They found that they had courage to go forward, and when they did, they found that wonderful things happened. That call made them men, God’s men. They learned for the whole world that to go bravely forward trusting in God is to give God a chance to reveal His power!

There is a time to stand still and there is also certainly a time to wait in prayer upon God for His help and guidance, but these stages only bear their fruit when we pluck up courage and go forward. Nothing can happen till then. God has no chance to answer our prayers till then. We can learn from those far off days in the annals of Israel till our present day, that splendid rallying cry has been the very Word of God to His people whenever they fall despondent and fear what is to come. “Speak unto the Children of Israel that they go forward. It is His Word to us today.

Those who are facing difficult tasks, duties that frighten or responsibilities that weigh heavy need to have their blood stirred and their courage stiffened by being told in God’s name to go straight up to the thing whatever it is and do it. You know best what your particular Red Sea is, you have no doubt stood still and looked at it, and I am sure you have prayed about it, but it is still there, God’s ordained obstacle in your way. Well, His Word to you is Forward March. The time for prayer is past, now give God a chance to answer it now.

Things happen, wonders happen, even miracles happen when we go forward trusting in His Word. Gates open apparently of their own accord, mountains of difficulty dwindle into climbable slopes, the very sea has a path through it after all. Forward then with your trust in God no matter what is to come.

Furthermore, there is a message here for all of us who are perplexed and doubting souls, even to us there is a way out, and the way is just right forward. A man who has lost faith in prayer stops praying, he gives the habit up, is this not so, whereas his way of deliverance is to go on. Even though he is in doubt as to whether God hears him, even then for he will never learn the truth about prayer if he gives up the practice no matter what his doubts are, or what his anxieties are and moreover he will come to have no desire to learn, but pray on and the faith and justification will surely come again.

Again, this is a message for every soldier in the army of Christ. Moods come to most strenuous people when they sit down and try to reckon up the prospects of success. Despondence is also apt to find them when they are too easy prey to the enemy. One cannot be a Christian and admit that someday the spirit of this world will conquer the spirit of Christ. This wave or that one as you watch them comes in at last for all that. Remember God is as willing as ever to deliver those who put their trust in Him. The Name of Christ still casts out devils from men’s lives. It only seems that the glory has departed because we stand shivering on the brink of the great new tasks to which God is calling us. Let us all go bravely forward, and the sea will be divided for us again.  

John.

Kneeling we conquer

December 15, 2017

We all experience difficult times in our Christian lives, but we must remember that behind every human opponent lies the invisible power of darkness. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual powers that control them. For this reason, “we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish (demonic) strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4).

I once heard a preacher say that life is like a Punch and Judy show. When the puppet-villain puts in an appearance, we can take him out with a club, but what have we accomplished? The man behind the scene will simply place another puppet on the stage and begin to pull the strings once more. Far better to get behind the scenes and take out the puppeteer!

God has supplied us with the means to reach beyond the scene to the unseen realm of reality. His are not the schemes of human endeavour, but an infinitely more powerful strategy – namely prayer. This is the mechanism that puts the forces of God – a third force – on the field, a force for which the enemy has no counter-measures.

The main thing about prayer is to keep at it. Jesus said we “should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). But praying is hard work at times! It can be much harder than waging war.

The Puritan, Matthew Henry wrote, “Our cause is more or less successful, as our friends are more or less strong in faith, and fervent in prayer. We should be glad of such help. We should not be shy of asking it of others.”

Martin Luther agreed: “No man should be alone when he opposes Satan…If the prayer of one doesn’t help, the prayer of another will.” 

John.

God’s power tools

December 4, 2017

Do you enjoy an exciting life? When we commit our lives to God utterly we never know what is going to happen. We are born into a new world. We have to learn the laws of that world. The old laws won’t work. Many of us make the mistake of thinking we can have a new life in God on the level of self-directed thinking and planning. When we give God control of our lives we give Him the right to use us as He chooses. We become His power tools to be used for His purposes in the world. So long as we claim the right to self-determination we thwart God. When we die to self we literally cease to have any right to ourselves apart from God. Our new aim is to discover His purpose for us and with us. If He chooses to ask us to face a difficult situation of word with awkward people, or bear a heavy burden, we face these things as part of our service to Him. If we complain or feel sorry for ourselves, we proclaim that we have not completely lost ourselves. God asks His disciples to have unquestioning faith in His leading. Can we hold on to His declared Will even when material things suggest we are wrong? That was the triumph of the Cross. Humanly speaking, it seemed absurd that Christ should allow Himself to be crucified. Yet it was in line with the Will of God, and He never wavered. We can trust God utterly. He never fails. Out of seeming disasters God can bring His most wonderful victories. We just have to trust and obey. 

John.

You’re not alone in your crisis

November 29, 2017

What happens when we run against life and are brought to a full stop? Most of us have at some time or another come to a situation where we could not see a single step ahead. Our scheme of things may have tumbled about our ears and we stand feeling helpless and bewildered among the ruins. On such occasions it is easy to become panic-stricken and lose control, or feel sorry for ourselves, and ask why we should have had to stand so much, or simply lose our temper with the first person we meet and “let off steam.” From my experience, none of these ways help, and most make life more difficult for others. Everything depends, as G.K. Chesterton said, on your “view of the universe.” If this is a God-less world, all you can do is to keep a stiff upper lip” and make the best of things. If on the other hand this is God’s world, He is present in every happening. He may not be responsible for the event, but He can use it to work out His divine purpose. When we realise that God has the situation in hand and is using it to make us and shape us to a finer character and a deeper faith we cease to be afraid and wait patiently for Him to reveal the next step. We do not need to see beyond the next step. Most of our worries arise from wanting to see the final issue. If we believe that God is with us, the issue is in His hands. The bible reminds us – “I fear no foe with You at hand to bless. Ills have not weight and tears no bitterness.”

John.

What is the hardest thing God asks us to do?

November 20, 2017

Perhaps the easiest things are to speak for Him, or to do some work for Him. But most of us find that the most difficult task is to listen to Him. So often when we think we are listening to God we are hearing only the echoes of our own restless, disturbed and anxious thinking. We have to be very still before we can hear God and that is almost impossible in our increasing noisy world. All the noises around us, all the worry and fear of our hearts have to be left behind before we are even ready to hear the still small voice. We know that God listens to us. So much of our prayers tend to be spent in our talking to Him. We chatter out our needs and wishes and hopes so rapidly and breathlessly that it would be almost impossible for us to hear God if He did speak. Our prayers are a constant “Give me.” However, the prayers, which rally touch the deeps of our lives have as their refrain, “Make me.” To know what God wants to make our lives is of supreme importance. It comes not by might or knowledge or subtlety of self-analysis, but by listening to the divine voice. God can make of any life an epic so wonderful that no human mind could ever dream of it, much less attain it. We need to ask ourselves, “What is God’s plan for me?” Let’s remember that only God can tell you although lots of other people often try to help! We must learn to listen, and be prepared to pay any price that will help us develop listening hearts. The best of us only know part of His will, the rest of us must learn the difficult art of listening. The Scriptures remind us that except we become as little children we will not be able to learn, and we are also reminded that we must be still before we can hear God.

John.

 

Contagious Christian Living

November 15, 2017

What are the marks of a vital experience of knowing Jesus Christ? It is not a question of uniformity of opinions, because one finds spiritual vitality among the most varied sects and creeds. It is not acceptance of anyone particular form of worship, because virile Christians are found using all forms of worship.

The only test of a living thing is whether it is able to communicate life. The difference between a dead and a living seed is not seen until both are planted in the ground. It is surprising how the emphasis in Christianity is coming to be placed on contagion as the really valid test of spiritual vitality. The early church grew, not because of its organisation or its wealth, or its intellectual brilliance, for it had none of these things. It grew because its members were the channels of supernatural power. Wherever they went new spiritual life came to birth and began to grow.

The early Christians had the secret of victory over a life which was proving too much for most people. They were able to communicate that secret to those who sought it. All may learn the secret. No one is by temperament or training debarred. This experience will ultimately prove the unifying centre of Christendom, as it did in the past. The church which is alive with Christ’s life is spiritually contagious, no matter what its organisation or worship may be. John chapter 15 verse two reminds us that “He removes any of my branches which are not bearing fruit and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit to increase its yield.”

John.

You were born for such a time as this

November 2, 2017

Do you, like Frodo to the wizard Gandalf in J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings series, lament your fate and ask, “Why was I born at a time like this?”

Grandalf’s reply you might remember was “You were born for a time like this.” If we follow scripture you might remember that Jeremiah was also born for such a time as this and this also applies to you and me today.

The days in which Jeremiah lived were every bit as evil as the days we are living in now. However, we must remember that evil days are not all bad. Paul reminds us in Ephesians chapter 5 verse 16, “Be careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Paul is trying to tell us that perilous days are times of unparalleled opportunity. T.S. Eliot said, “Redeem the time; redeem the dream.”

So how do most of us reply to this? Do we respond like Jeremiah by saying, “I don’t know a thing? What in the world can I do?

The answer is that God had already done everything that needs to be done: He planned our usefulness. In Ephesians chapter 2 verse 10, we read, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

“But,” you may ask, “how will I know what I should do? How will I find that particular purpose for which I’m intended?” Hear what God said to our friend Jeremiah: “Go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you” (Jeremiah chapter 1 verses 7-8).

God’s call is first a call to follow Him in obedience – to go each day where He wants you to go and say what He wants you to say. It is only as you look back over the path of obedience that you’ll be able to see what God has been doing with you all along. His plan is always better seen in retrospect than in prospect.

God has called us all to a Great Adventure. Let’s follow Him in obedience – do the very next thing He asks you to do – and see what happens! Anyone can find out what will happen,” Aslan said to the children as he shook his great mane “Get up at once and follow me. What will happen? There is only one way of finding out…” (C.S. Lewis in Prince Caspian).

John.

The Only Way is Forward

October 22, 2017

Have you ever come to a stage in your spiritual experience when it seemed a heavy burden and you began to consider letting it all go and reverting to life before you became a Christian? Back then you did not have to consider things like discipline and responsibilities like you have to now. Do you remember how you did not attempt to restrain yourself? If you felt irritated, you let your temper fly. If you were tired, you did not hesitate to consider your own convenience first. If you felt resentful against another, you indulged your hatred to your heart’s content. That temptation has come to most of us, and some have yielded and gone back, only to discover after a short time that it was because the old way proved impossible that they turned to Christ’s way in the first instance. Whenever we begin to doubt the value of the higher way, it is generally because we are facing some new discipline which we are afraid or unwilling to meet. When we are afraid or refuse to go forward, the most natural thing is to try to go back. Before we can go back we have to make the old way attractive to our minds. We try to believe that the old days and the old ways were easier. It is all a mistake, as we quickly discover. The only way for the Christian is forward. Face your hurdle. God gives the strength you need. Let’s follow the scripture in Philippians chapter three verses 13 & 14, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead. I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.”

 John.

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