Firstfruits

Honour the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. (Proverbs 3:9–10)

September is here and so Harvest will soon be upon us, even though many crops we remember that the Lord has blessed us with have already been gathered in. Such was the case with my honey harvest, which is collected in early August and harvested soon after. Despite the drought, because bees like warm weather, one hive produced a whopping 170lbs! At Harvestime the ancient Israelites were commanded in Leviticus to bring the firstfruits of their crop (or wealth if a merchant)—the very best devoted to the LORD—as a sign of their thankfulness to God and in conjunction with their tithes and offerings, a recognition and sign of their dependence upon Him. Whilst our worship no longer operates in quite the same way under the New Covenant, the principle of firstfruits, and the wisdom of the proverb, is still worthy of our acceptance. Do we bring Him our best (a sign of God’s worth), the first (an act of faith and expression of His priority in our life) or anything at all (an act that worship’s God, or fails to, as the great provider). Bringing our firstfruits in time, giftings, service and monetary gifts is a very important spiritual discipline to cultivate. When we honour the Lord He will in turn honour us. We can give without loving, but we cannot love without giving.

 

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

 

 

The Miracle of Life

Yesterday in our People’s Choice series we dealt with one of the most important social and moral issues of our day, abortion. Here is a helpful little video followed by a resource link to the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. You may also want to listen to the sermon on our sermons’ page.

Society for the Protection of Unborn Children:

SPUC-Logo

Children, a blessing

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3–5).

Rebekah and I continue to give thanks for our new son. We are very grateful for the flood of cards and small gifts we’ve received from family, friends, Chapel and community (in fact we have never received so many cards!). We also gave thanks for him in the presence of the Lord recently with a special service of dedication on the Lord’s Day (NB-not infant baptism).

The most basic view of children in the Bible is that they are a gift, a blessing and a delight. Indeed, having children is one of the great callings of a husband and wife in the creation mandate (Gen 1:28, “be fruitful and multiply” [sexuality is not only about pleasure but procreation and the calling and joy God intends in this]). If someone jadedly or sarcastically thinks contrary they have a wrong way of thinking and need to renew their mind to conform with God’s will on the subject (Ro 12:1). Many people today think children a drudge, something that is the unwanted fruit of lust, something that gets in the way of having the newest car or biggest house (itself an indicator that marketers have done a fabulous job duping many parents so that they think they have to have everything for their children and so they become expensive and so is generated the myth that children need to be costly). Many people have children as the last item in their checklist because it is the done thing (and their life checklist is also often out of whack in terms of order and priorities). Ironically, there would be no immigration crisis in most Western nations today if people had retained a biblical view of children because the birth-death ration would be stable and allow the welfare states that have been created to sustain themselves, and thus we’d have no need of mass immigration. I digress. Now, getting back on track, to be sure there are many parents who do have children because of that innate desire to fulfil Gen 1:28, but I am especially drawing attention to extremes. For some parents children are a burden, and yet for others they become a burden because they pander to them excessively—creating little devils—all under the false cultural teaching that a parents job is to ‘make them happy’ (which is foolish because we all know that is a mirage we can never arrive at).

The Bible balances these two extremes. It counters the first example by teaching children are a blessing from the Lord, and the second by stipulating that parents spiritual commission is to raise their child to love and fear the Lord and walk in His ways (Deut 6:1–10).

Further reflection on text: Behold, listen, says the Bible. Children are a heritage, a gift, from God. It commends having 7 of them (the traditional number of arrows in a quiver and the number of perfection, but which ultimately means many, i.e. more than one or two [if possible]!). And here also is parental responsibility and investment (any fool can make a baby, it takes a man to raise a child), for these are needed to turn children into mature and useful godly adults (children of one’s youth). When you stand with your grown children at the gate, the place of justice and community decision making in the ancient world, you will have no shame in your children. You will love and respect them and they you, and as their father (or mother), you’ll stand at the front of a unified and respectful family, united against any enemies and held in honour and respect.

This is the Biblical vision for parenting and may it be wonderful in our eyes!

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Their hearts are far from me

Jesus, quoting Isaiah, said:

…their hearts are far from me… (Isaiah 29:13; Mt 15:8; Mk 7:6)

That adequately describes the vast majority of people in the UK (and the West!). More than this, it is a recognition of why people do the things they do since the Fall, their hearts are evil and far from God (Prov 4:23; Mk 7:20-2). Is it any wonder godlessness runs rampant?

Any God fearing and loving Christian has reason to lament: the erosion of Biblical values; the aggressive assault on marriage and gender; pornography; human trafficking; family breakdown; children disrespecting parents (and parents provoking children); social injustice and deprivation; the idolatry of materialism; the rise of cults and false religions; the embrace of the godless theory of evolution instead of faith in a Creator; people, generally, calling evil good and good evil (Isa 5:20).

Hanker for the ole’ days we might, this behaviour cannot be reversed unless there is first a heart change wrought by the Gospel. The evangelical Anglican and abolitionist, William Wilberforce, noted this in Real Christianity (1797). He said:

Fruitless will be all attempts to sustain, much more to revive, the fainting cause of morals unless you can in some degree restore the prevalence of Evangelical Christianity. It is in morals as in physics; unless a source of [good morals be caused], it will be vain to attempt to make them [improve] in their future course…By all, therefore, who [desire] their country’s welfare…every effort should be used to revive the Christianity of our better days.

The God who can do the impossible, did this in Wilberforce’s day by a moving of His Spirit and He could do it again today (Lk 18:17). May we therefore pray, and preach the Good News.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

A 2.5/3 for the Royal Wedding Sermon (and yet a…)

A 2.5/3 for the Royal Wedding Sermon (and yet a…)
A number of people I spoke with commented on how “good” the Royal Wedding Sermon was that was preached by Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church of the USA. If you haven’t seen it you can watch it here:

*This brief analysis is not being offered under the old proud preacher’s adage, “it was a good sermon but I could have preached it better.” It also recognises that where the Word of God is faithfully preached, even if it is not entertaining, we are called to listen remembering the story of Balaam, “if God can speak through an ass…,” he can speak through a faithful preacher, no matter how dull or unpolished, so we must listen.

First point. His rhetoric was great. That he managed to raise a few royal eyebrows and break the homiletic mould of traditional nominal Anglican formality and dryness in a way that captured people’s attention was due to his African-American preaching rhetoric (which I confess I have always appreciated). In terms of public speaking at least, it drew people’s attention and engaged.

Second point. He used lots of Biblical examples and metaphors. He referenced many passages of scripture and unashamedly mentioned God, Jesus, love, the Bible, etc.

My half-point. He used a tablet and appeared “cool.”

Yet despite scoring a 2.5/3, his sermon ultimately receives an F. For all that it has been applauded for we must be discerning and see how it failed, and as such gave a false representation of Jesus, the Gospel and Christianity to millions of viewers, most of whom don’t know Jesus (what a millstone!).

Here are just three examples that should disturb you:

  1. Curry presented the mainline liberal “Gospel” of social initiative or love (works!). You can listen to a likewise disturbing presentation of such things on his website. He is able to arrive at such conclusions by being vague and subjective in all his approaches to the Bible, Christian terms and truth.
  2. Curry does not know what the Gospel is. He says on his website, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” Yet, he neither knows God nor love. He spoke of following Jesus example of love. He spoke of the power of redemptive sacrificial love and that if we loved we could redeem ourselves, others and the world. Yet God, the Gospel and true love are not rooted in such things, but rather “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10). God’s love is displayed in rescuing sinners through the Cross; faith in the Gospel redeems us not human works or actions.
  3. He also quoted 1 John 4:7b (“whoever loves has been born of God and knows God”) to suggest that if you love in any way you are God’s child in a specific sense (universalism!). John’s context, however, is one of speaking to Christians and of love being a fruit of faith and repentance.

Jesus spoke of false teachers being wolves dressed up in sheep’s clothing. Bishop Curry is a wolf. His ecclesial position, Christian-like language, positivity, worldly popularity are all a guise to spread untruths and heresy. That he did not share any robust Gospel truth should come as no surprise to the discerning viewer because he is leader of one of the most liberal sects in the United States. Curry’s Episcopal Church is under sanction by the worldwide Anglican communion for unorthodox views on marriage and sexuality, something of which he proudly acknowledges he is an advocate for.

If you’d like to read a more in depth article on the sermon I would recommend you click here.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

 

 

Membership, Conflict and Discipline

This past Lord’s Day I preached on the body of Christ, what it means to join it and what its life ought to look like. Three related matters didn’t make the cut for inclusion into the sermon, so here they as tasters:

Church Membership

When we place our faith in Christ we are in Him, meaning we share in His benefits. At the moment of justification we are then adopted into His body, the Church. This is what is often referred to as the invisible or holy catholic (universal) Church. How is this tangibly manifested, through the visible local church. We see this throughout the NT, believers engaging in the life of local churches. In Acts 2:42 it even says they devoted themselves to the fellowship. Sadly, too few Christians in these post-modern anti-institution days think we are required to become members of a local Gospel church but Church Membershiphere at the Chapel we believe this is how we formally identify with the body of Christ and its mission. A great resource for the membership sceptic, enquirer or already member is Church Membership: How the world knows who belongs to Jesus by Jonathan Leeman. I have a copy and it is worth you getting your own. It is the only book in the 9 Marks series I have read but if the rest are as sound and as helpful as this one I heartily recommend them all. If you can’t pick up the book check out their blog. I am convinced of the necessity of the principle of local church membership. Don’t remain aloof with some abstract I’m a member of the invisible church only club idea—join a church!

Conflict

No one likes dealing with conflict, which is why most people run from it. That, however, is not the wisdom we find in Scripture. That got David into big trouble when he failed to address Amnon’s sin (2 Sam 13). He went against this proverb from Ecclesiastes 8:11: Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. Whilst the conflicts we face may not be so severe, the consequences of not dealing with them will be just as painful. So, don’t let the sun go down on your anger (Eph 4:26). If you have an issue with someone in the body, deal with it. This is the process Jesus gave:

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15–17).

In other words try to solve the issue at the lowest common denominator. Don’t escalate it by taking it to the top right away (any good church leader should challenge you to first deal with the situation yourself [unless there is a safety issue]). Remember that one of the fruits of the Spirit is to be “open to reason” (James 3:17). Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ (Eph 5:21) and trust the Lord will be faithful to your attempt to bring peace to the body (Ro 12:18).

*If this involves an Elder, not because they are perfect but because Christ’s image is at stake, the Bible requires two or three witnesses for any such charge (1 Tim 5:19).

Discipline

One of hardest things a local church will have to do is discipline one of its members. Just as the Lord disciplines us for our benefit so too the church is to discipline members as medicine for their souls (and the local body, purging it of “poison”). Yes this has been abused but double YES it is still biblical. The best example is from the Corinthian church. In 1 Cor 5:2 Paul demands a man be removed from the church for incest. This story happens to have a positive ending for in 2 Cor 2:5–11 it appears he repented and was restored. 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14–15 and also Titus 3:10—to reject a “divisive person”—are also passages to keep in mind on this subject.

Discipline lets the member know they have sinned or erred in doctrine and gives them the opportunity to repent and be welcomed back into fellowship (always the goal). To the watching world discipline says that we do not associate that kind of belief or behaviour with following Jesus and so long as they persist in it we do not recognize them as part of it.

Here again you may want to check out the 9 Marks series, Church Discipline: Medicine for the Body by Jonathan Leeman.

May a robust commitment to what the Scriptures teach on these matters for the body be used to build up healthy churches.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

 

God-confidence

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I the LORD your God, am with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Whilst it is good to believe in yourself to the extent of not being falsely modest of the natural gifts you have (remembering with gratitude these are from God!), and whilst it is good to challenge oneself to sharpen and hone those gifts, ultimately the self-confidence promoted in society today is misguided because it roots its confidence, strength, trust and hope in SELF—Just do it! (Nike slogan). It teaches that believing in your own actual or potential strengths will save you. It doesn’t recognise that we are finite and limited beings who can’t do everything and anything, nor does it take into consideration the effects of sin on our lives which impairs what we could do. Ultimately, it fails to use those God given gifts for God’s own glory and instead risks self-glorification.

This is a far cry from what Jesus taught in the Gospel, to abide in Him…for apart from Him you can do nothing (John 15:5b). It is the complete opposite of the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5–8 that tells us to trust in God rather than in a reliance on self. It is far better to trust in God and find our confidence in His promises, including His promise to be with us always when we trust in and follow Jesus. We must remember that whilst we have value as persons created in God’s image, in the grand scheme of things we are a mere vapour as Ecclesiastes tells us. When we use our gifts to honour God there is meaning. When we seek his help he blesses and multiplies our gifts. When we trust Him we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil 4:13). We can do the impossible with God (Lk 18:27). Salvation, meaning, bounty, infinite power, peace; trust in self cannot produce these things. It is no wonder that our society that champions self-confidence is still chasing after the wind, leaving only despair in its wake.

God-confidence over self-confidence is the essence of what Joshua learned. God told him before he assumed his duties as Moses successor, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I the LORD your God, am with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9). Insofar as he trusted the Lord the Israelites were victorious (like at Jericho), but when they trusted in themselves they were defeated (like at Ai). In light of this may we have God-confidence as we trust in the One who is unfailing and in His promises which are ever true. You may want to learn this song, which the Lord inspired and which I taught to the village school to help us learn about God-confidence as we focused on our termly Christian value of courage. May it draw to mind this promise and may the Spirit enable you to remember it when you are facing discouragement. To listen click here. Jos 1.9

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

 

 

Us vs. Them

This year our theme verse is Romans 12:2a and our motto is “Don’t conform! Be transformed!”

This focus on being apart from the world could logically lead, quite dangerously, to some very harmful and unbiblical positions (superiority, seclusion, hate and a lack of evangelism to name a few). There is an “us vs.” them mentality in the Bible, but lest the existence of this lead us into any hazard allow me to offer some ballast that should keep the ship stable and on course (lest we end up embracing aspects of the Amish or the Exclusive Brethren who pervert John 17:16 to be in but not of the world).

The Church is to be an inclusive yet exclusive community.

The Church is an Exclusive Community:

A constant drum beat throughout the Old and New Testaments is that the people of God (the elect) form an exclusive community, special to Him, with certain blessings and responsibilities unique to them in their relationship with the Lord.

Consider verses on the special nature of His people, both Old Covenant and in the New:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

The Bible also speaks about two ways: the wicked and the righteous (Ps 1); the wise and the foolish (Prov 9); those who are spiritually dead and those made alive in Christ (Eph 2); and those destined for hell or heaven (Mt 25:46).

The Bible also places restrictions such as limiting baptism and communion to believer’s, and likewise “marrying in the Lord.”

All of this centres around one’s response to Jesus and His Gospel: 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12).

These are just the tip of the iceberg for as one scans the pages of Scripture one will find these sorts of texts at every turn. The Bible does not just teach this exclusivity, it shouts it!

The Church is exclusively made up of the redeemed in Christ. If you are not in Christ you are outside the benefits of His body, the Church. In this sense the Church is exclusive.

The Church is an Inclusive Community:

HOWEVER, the Church is also inclusive! There are plenty verses to demonstrate this too!

First of all for the truly regenerate grace is humbling and never encourages pride: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:4–5). Grace is of a humbling nature.

God’s general will is that: all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4) and He calls Christians to extend the Gospel call to all nations (Great Commission Mt 28). If the Lord has had compassion on Christians (Mt 9:36) then we ought also willingly be obedient and extend that same offer to others, treating them not with disdain but remembering such were we (1 Cor 6: 11a) and loving our enemies as Christ loved us (Mt 5:44).

Therefore, whilst the benefits of the Gospel are limited to believers its invitation is universal (or inclusive, meaning open to any who would believe).

Whilst we journey under this year’s theme bearing this healthy tension between exclusivity and inclusivity—the us & them— in mind, we will not go astray.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Culture meets the Church

We live in an interesting time culturally speaking. In fact there are elements of modern culture that are downright disconcerting. Consumerism, materialism, narcissism along with a whole host of other “isms” plague us. Today seems to be all about me, the ultimate sign of how far society has moved away from God (the first sin was pride, Gen 3:5, see also Ro 1:25). What is perhaps even more troubling is the way culture is leaking into the Church. Whilst we as the Church are not supposed to be conformed but be transformed (Ro 12:2) sadly in many areas believers allow culture to lead them rather than the Gospel of Truth. One area this has become apparent is in “church hopping,” switching churches frequently whenever they cease to meet your needs or try to hold you accountable. In speaking with our missionaries recently who serve in South Korea this is even a problem there! Instead of continuing on I thought it would be worth re-blogging a couple of different articles and a video by an American Christian comedian (the discerning Brit will be able to read between the lines):

What if the church doesn’t meet my needs?

7 bad reasons to leave a church (and while we’re on it, what might be 7 good Biblical reasons to leave a church?)

And finally, check our an comedic episode of “Church Hunters”:

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

ISingPop Ministry

Hands

By Chris W. Crocker

Presented at the St.Andew’s CE School ISingPop concert at St. Andrew’s Church on September 28, AD 2017, a community event sponsored by St. Andrew’s Church and Cromhall Chapel. This 360 degree reflection of the Christian faith followed the song See Those Hands.

The Lord be with you!

Hands up if you think the students of St. Andrew’s School are doing a fab job this evening! Let’s give them—and ISingPop— a big hand for all their hard work (clap [draw attention to hand actions with each subsequent reference]).

Take a look at your hands for a moment. Our hands have done a lot of things we are proud of, and if we’re honest also a lot of things we’re probably not. But our hands are amazing aren’t they! The Bible says they were created by Jesus, just as a potters’ hands shape the clay. Did you know the finger prints on your hands are unique to your DNA. No one else in the world has hands like yours, you are special!

But while we were designed to bless Jesus our creator in worship with our hands (lift them up) and live in a relationship with Him, instead we choose to go our own way and curse Jesus with our hands, we sinned.

BUT God the Father, with loving, gracious, merciful and just hands, sent His one and only Son, Jesus into the world He created so whoever would believe in Him might not perish but have everlasting life (Jn 3:16).

So, Jesus was born of the virgin Mary—that first Christmas—and she held the Rescuer with her hands as she pondered these things in her heart. As Jesus got older, He grew up with His hands in wood, working in the family business as a carpenter.

But there came a day when it was time for Jesus to set His hands to the work His heavenly Father had sent Him for. And as He began that work, and was baptised at the hand of John the Baptist, God the Father stretched out His hand from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

During His 3 year ministry, Jesus laid His hands on people and healed them of illness, stretched out His hands and fed people, calmed the storm, taught them, all to prove who He was, but most importantly to make a way back to God, which He did in the strangest way.

Jesus suffered abuse at the hands of the Roman soldiers, crowds and religious leaders. Finally the soldiers took nails and a hammer in their hands and nailed Jesus’ hands to the Cross. He hung on that cross by His hands and died. And to make sure He was really, really dead, a soldier picked up his spear in his hand, and thrust it into Jesus side. He died the death that all those who’d believe deserved to die.

BUT that isn’t the end of the story, because three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, proving that He was God’s Son, showing He had power over sin and death in His hands.

People don’t come back to life from the dead though, we’ve got a handle on that, and they knew that back then too!

Yet, 100s of people saw the risen Jesus—this miracle—including His disciples, all but one, Thomas. Thomas said, “Unless I see His hands,… and place my hand in His side, I will never [ever, ever] believe.” (John 20:25).

But a week later Jesus appeared to Thomas and said to him, Thomas “put your fingers here, and see my hands; put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe!” (John 20:27) and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who will give you” life and life to the full” (John 10:10).

For the Bible says there is coming a day when Jesus will return, not as a baby or a suffering Saviour, but as a great and mighty King and Judge with justice in His hand. What will be the deciding factor?

Not by the “good works” done by our hands but whether we’ve put up our hand and said, “Yes, Jesus, I believe,” put up our hand and said, “Jesus I’m sorry for my sin,” praising Him with our hands and serving Him with our lives.

This is the message of the Lord to us this evening. Thanks be to God!