Thursday, 22 September 2011

Autumn Leaves

I have often found a prayer bolt-hole at the beautiful church at Tudeley, resplendent with its complete set of Chagall windows. It is a most austere church inside, apart from those beautiful windows, but on a clear, bright summer's day, the colours from the stained glass wash the floor in many rainbows. One of the best times of the year is in darkest winter, on a crisp early morning; the sun is low and as it shines through the large main window the ceiling is covered with a great palette of colours. Out in the churchyard, sitting on one of the benches, it is possible to see the farmer's year turn from ploughing to sowing to harvesting. Beyond the fields are the gentle hills of North Kent.

People come from all over the world to see this little church, which looks quite plain on the outside; many would have been unaware of its dazzling treasure, until they opened the door and stepped inside for a few minutes away from the busy world. It really is a gem, a quiet place, a place where the Spirit dwells. I love to go there to pray about the work, to seek guidance, to seek encouragement. I'm often struck by the effect that the church interior has on those who come. Their sometimes fussy chattering can be heard as they approach the door, but once inside, most visitors are reduced to a hush or a whisper. God is in the house!

Now, here in September, the work takes us into the autumn - the Feasts of the Lord and singing at Christmas. A group in Essex is rehearsing one of our musicals, 'The Olive Tree', ready for summer performances. The days grow shorter but the work is just as urgent. "Work whilst there is still light" says Jesus.

As I write this, myneighbours' tree is bathed in the thin pale sunshine of autumn. Soon the leaves will turn and fall. and we are all a little nearer to the time of the Lord's coming!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Getting Warmer

It appears things are hotting up. When we look at the increasing frequency of natural disasters, it's beginning to sound like Jesus' description of the end times:

"And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences, and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven." (Luke 21:11 NKJV)

When disaster strikes, people can react in various ways. Non-believers might put it all down to chance. Or, there is the current favourite - Global Warming. Increasingly, I hear Christians pronouncing that God is punishing this or that nation for whatever it is they have (or have not) done. I don't feel entirely comfortable with jumping to that conclusion, not least because in Luke 13:1-5 Jesus seems to be saying that bad things happen, simply because things are bad, not because God likes beating people up. But it does appear He might be trying to catch our attention!

Perhaps you've been in discussion about some disaster and you've received the rejoinder: "I can't believe in a God who would allow (whatever it is) to happen". Let us be quite clear about one thing: We have a good and holy God. He cannot tolerate evil; therefore He cannot send it. In any case, He doesn't have to, because evil is already here, as a consequence of man's rebellion and the Fall.

However, God is in control of everything that happens; nothing can happen without His permission, so there has to be an explanation. My belief is that God, in His mercy, shields us from much of the evil around us. But, if people or nations reject His rule and walk in ways that are abhorrent to Him; worse still, if a large part of those who claim to be His, aren't listening and are ignorant of, or even hostile to, His purposes and are just content with playing at Church, can we reasonably expect Him to continue to do so regardless? Or might He start to withdraw His hand?

The tragedy is that men were created to be God's vice-regents, governing the earth on Heaven's behalf. But because of his rebellion, Adam forfeited his dominion over the earth and handed it to the enemy. The problem now is that, because of that contamination that we all naturally carry, anything we touch or do just spreads the contamination. So there is no way that we can redeem the situation by our own efforts, which makes all the struggling and striving of religion utterly pointless.

Ultimately, the only One who can sort the situation out is the spotless, sinless Son of God. The trouble is, many have bought into the 'gentle Jesus, meek and mild' mind-set, forgetting that the Scriptures also portray Him as the victorious warrior King and Righteous Judge. We often hear the phrase: 'Once saved, always saved', but how many of those who thought they had their fire insurance sorted, will find matters rather warmer than they might like? Those who view salvation as just getting their ticket to Heaven need to take note of Paul's words:

"If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." (1 Cor 3:15 NKJV)

However, those who are relying on religious observance and ritual, or good works, rather than repentance, need urgently to heed the words of Jesus:

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matt 7:21-23 NKJV)

Do you know what's really shocking about these words? These are people inside the Church (outsiders wouldn't be saying 'Lord, Lord'), who seem to be doing all the right things and even performing signs and wonders. Yet, when it comes to the crunch, the King disowns them. Time for a policy review, perhaps?