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The Southgate Christian Fellowship

Message Centre

New Year Message
January 2010
 

 

Reading
Matthew 7:13-29 
13
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. 15"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' 24"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." 28When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

 

 ‘Imagine’

 We’ve just come to the end of the first decade of a new millennium, and in December 1999 Britons voted John Lennon's ‘Imagine’ as the song of the millennium to come. It’s a song that looks to a world without conflict which, John Lennon suggests, will happen if there’s no heaven or hell to worry about, and there are no longer any countries, religions, or private possessions to fight over.

Presumably the fact people voted this way reflects people’s tentative hopes that the 21st century might herald a better world and a better future for everyone.

But it hasn't. Ten years ago most people hadn't heard of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and had never lived through a financial meltdown that threatened the economy of the world. Now we have.

Sadly, here in Britain, we have the unhappiest children in the G20 (UNICEF), the most miserable adults in Europe (WHO), and only 6.3% of us go to church monthly.

The last ten years have been labelled ‘The Noughties’, or more appropriately ‘The Naughties’, and BBC’s Andrew Marr, at the end of a series of ‘History Now’ programmes on BBC2, said ‘it’s easy to say the Noughties were a time of enormous delusion and folly’. However, he said the last ten years were also a time when a lot of people enjoyed life more, for some it was the best 10 years of their life.

  Is that a good epitaph for a decade, just that ‘people enjoyed themselves’?

 

The Me-attitudes

The reading at the top of the page comes towards the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which begins with the Beatitudes, or the beautiful attitudes characteristic of Jesus and his followers. In the following, Mark Greene of the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity sums up the last ten years with a rework of the Beatitudes, more aptly called the ‘Me-attitudes’:

Blessed are the brazen for they will be applauded.

Blessed are the beautiful of body for they will be adored.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for fame for theirs is the kingdom of Cowell.

Blessed are the selfish and the individualists for their ends will justify their means.

Blessed are those who don't strictly believe in anything for they can dance to any tune.

Blessed are the drug-dealers, dream-weavers, make-over mavens and jingle-writers who help us forget our fractured hearts and our clipped wings and the echoing chasms of our souls.

Is this a good summary of life, hopes and aspiration in the UK today.

However, a more important question is:

‘As Christians, to what extent do we embrace and live by this culture?’

 

Statistics

The three statistics mentioned above are fruit of this culture, so:

1: How is it that here in Britain, we now have the unhappiest children in the G20 (UNICEF)?

The Good Childhood Inquiry (Church of England Children’s Society) claims that almost all of the problems now facing young people stem from the culture of ‘excessive individualism’. This is the widespread belief among adults that the prime duty of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than to contribute to the lives of others. Where does this leave their kids?

2: Then, how do we have the most miserable adults in Europe (WHO)?

The report from the Children’s Society speaks of the culture of ‘excessive individualism’ where we treat other people simply as a means to our own gratification, without due regard for the consequences.

Does this lead to happiness? No, many of the problems that beset us today, whether depression, distrust, sexually related disease, or the collapse of marriage and the family, can be traced to selfishness. This also has implications for the commercial world,

On the ‘History Now’ programme mentioned above there were many new words that have crept into our vocabulary over the last ten years. One of these new words is ‘Kidults’ which was coined to describe the trend among older adults who want to stay young. Now, it seems, Botox parties, as against Tupperware parties, are all the rage so that people who want to feel and act younger can look younger as well.

   And what is behind all this frantic effort to stay young? Is it fear? Fear that life is passing you by and then what?

Tragically, ‘older people’ were shown in the programme as shuffling along with Zimmer Frames.

  3: In the light of items one and two,
does it matter that only 6.3% of us go to church monthly, and that probably means less go weekly?

   As an aside, ‘Back to Church Sunday’
in the Autumn of 2009, saw 82,000 people
return to church.

   However, the Barna Group in America last year interviewed thousands of pastors on a variety of topics and has released a survey focusing on the top themes regarding religion in 2009. The most prevalent finding is that Americans are more interested in faith and spirituality than they are in Christianity.

 George Barna, president of the Barna Group, explains that Americans are ‘more interested in feeling like they belong to a community of faith’ than they are with feeling like they belong to a particular church. ‘They're more interested in having a faith system that addresses the needs and issues and struggles that they're dealing with than they are with working through a whole body of beliefs, activities, and practices that might be part of that larger faith entity.’

  In other words, there’s a drift from the idea of God as a Sovereign Creator who none the less chooses to come and live amongst us, but also says the only way to know him is through Jesus. This doesn’t appeal to someone living by the culture of ‘excessive individualism’. Instead it’s easier and more convenient to find faith and spirituality by embracing eastern and new-age philosophies. This pick and mix spirituality not only provides a feel good experience that neatly suits the individual’s lifestyle, it’s without the demands and commitment of Christianity which, Jesus said, is a ‘Narrow Way’ (vs13).
No wonder few find it (vs14), but it also emphasises why we must find the answer to the following question.

 

A key question to answer

 A UK church minister was recently sat in a coffee shop looking around at other customers. He says… ‘at one table were a couple of women in their twenties gleefully discussing a recent trip to Paris. What could belief in God give them that they didn’t already have? At another were an older woman and someone who was probably her daughter. They looked well-off and comfortable. What did the ‘God-shaped gap’ in their lives look like? And then there was my wife and I. What would make the other customers want to swap their lives with ours?’

 As he thought about this he
asked himself this question:

“What, really, has Christianity got to offer these people which they might possibly recognize that they need?”

Notice he didn’t say ‘that we might think or know they need’ but that ‘they might possibly recognize that they need’.

This isn’t a question asked in despair but out of a recognition that in order to effectively communicate the gospel to people we need to know something of the culture by which they live their lives.

It is a question we all need to find an
answer to because it affects the way we tell others about Jesus.

As it happens, the conclusion he came to himself was to give people an ‘experience’ of God, not just a message about him. This fits nicely with a Spirit filled church like ours.

 

‘Hope’ in Carnaby Street?

I first went down Carnaby Street in London’s West End at the beginning of the 1960s, but when I went there just before Christmas last year I was interested to see their Christmas decorations. Hung the width of the streets were giant blow ups containing the words Love, Joy, Peace, Hope! I thought to myself, ‘I’ve seen those words somewhere else’!

 Fifty years ago Carnaby Street was a focus of innovation and creativity in fashion and design. Today it’s probably an institution catering for the ‘coffee shop’ generation who, like the folk in the coffee shop mentioned above, seem happy but still have a ‘God shaped hole’.

Why did a successful commercial enterprise display the words Love, Joy, Peace, and Hope so prominently this Christmas unless it was an expression of need? But where do they think they can find this Love, Joy, Peace, Hope?

   Will the answer be in a ‘government of aspiration’?

 

False or Genuine Prophets

If nothing else, all the above flags up the fact that there is a longing in people’s hearts.

  There is a longing in people’s hearts for something beyond the material realm, and there is a longing for personal satisfaction, fulfilment and peace. But will they find it in the dreams expressed in John Lennon’s song? Will they find it in a culture of ‘excessive individualism’? Doesn’t this culture go in the direction of what Jesus calls ‘the road that leads to destruction’?

In the passage above from Matthew, Jesus tells us there’s a clear choice for everyone when it comes to satisfying the longing in our hearts for a better life and better world, and finding an answer to the ‘God shaped hole’.  He says it’s a choice between the ‘broad’ or ‘narrow’ way.  He also tells us that there will be ‘prophets’ pointing in either direction, and he warns against the false ones. He says They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves (vs15).

If we want something to judge a
false prophet by, Isaiah paints a good picture. He says… ‘the fool speaks folly, his mind is busy with evil: He practices ungodliness and spreads error concerning the LORD; the hungry he leaves empty and from the thirsty he withholds water. The scoundrel's methods are wicked, he makes up evil schemes to destroy the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is just.’
(Isaiah 32:6-7)

So, particularly with an election approaching,
we need to be discerning and look behind the words. We need to test the spirit at work and look at the fruit because, as Jesus said…  ‘Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven’ (vs20-21).

The fact is, there will always be false prophets as there have been since the serpent said to Eve, ‘did God say…’. But that’s not the problem today. The problem today is that there are too few genuine prophets around. Why is the church so silent on so many issues?

 An article posted on Premier Community suggests that Christians seem to show little concern over the way Christianity is being eroded from British culture and our Christian Heritage dismantled. Why is this? Why is the church so silent on so many issues?

 Yet, when good people speak it resonates with others. Look how the people responded to Jesus… When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law (vs28-29).

  In the chapter from Isaiah quoted above he also describes the difference a genuine prophet can make. He says…See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen. The mind of the rash will know and understand, and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear. No longer will the fool be called noble nor the scoundrel be highly respected. But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands. (Isaiah 32:1-5,8).
Aren’t we called to be like that?

 

What do we know
about 2010?

Well, whatever we can’t predict with certainty, there are two things we know:

1: There will be a General Election.

2: Christians can make a difference through being genuine prophets.

   What if, as a result of the election, the financial restraints really start to bite, leading to selfish people fighting for self preservation? How will the Christians respond? Will we be the same? Or will this give Christians the opportunity to demonstrate and uphold Christian values, and show that walking the ‘narrow way’ really does lead to life and building our lives on the ‘rock’ of God’s Word really does make for stability and confidence for the future? Won’t it be an opportunity to demonstrate that living life God’s way is best?

We need to.

Someone needs to
because the alternative is scary!

 

Yes. It’s scary!

It’s scary because those, the false prophets of Isaiah 32, who have been busily dissolving the spiritual and moral glue that has held British society together for centuries admit that they have put nothing else in its place.

 For instance, Prof Richard Dawkins, the Atheist’s Messiah, says ‘you don’t need God to be moral’. But he also says ‘I don’t on the whole know what is moral’, and what he goes on to state as moral principles are all based on the Judaeo-Christian ethic he probably learned at Sunday School. Yet Richard Dawkins and others like him are working hard to influence society and the ‘powers that be’. They are busy re-educating people and rubbishing the Judaeo-Christian ethic, but what do they have to put in it’s place? And what will happen when no one can look back to what they learnt at Sunday School?

 

Ask yourself
questions like this…

Is the financial and political crises primarily about the failure of procedures and regulation?

   Can we legislate to change the drinking culture and prevent crime and youth violence?

 How do we get a culture of caring, kindness and goodness from a culture of ‘excessive individualism’?

Isn’t the real problem that we’ve lost sight of the Judea-Christian ethic that’s been the ‘rock’ on which this nation has been built, and aren’t we now seeing society being built on sand?

 

Genuine prophets

Thankfully there are genuine prophets around. George Carey, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, and Michael Nazir-Ali, the previous Bishop of Rochester (note ‘the previous’), have both been speaking out.

The Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, until recently the Bishop of Rochester, says…‘there has been the loss of a common narrative, a story which underpins our national life. In the past, this was provided by the Judaeo-Christian tradition, derived from the Bible.’

As a Nation, our laws, literature and national character have been built on a framework of Christian morality, whether to do with the dignity of the human person, with fundamental freedoms of belief, speech and assembly, or with equality – which is not about "sameness", but a recognition of the image of God in others.

 

A new Vision
for our life together

BBC’s Andrew Marr said it’s easy to say ‘the Noughties were a time of enormous delusion and folly’. But they were, because people’s hopes and dreams, as expressed in John Lennon’s song, of a better future weren’t realised. And they were a time of enormous delusion and folly if the only alternative to unrealised dreams is to live for today and just claim this was a decade when people enjoyed themsleves.

The question we need to ask ourselves
at the start of this year, and as we look ahead to an election, is: ‘What sort of society do we want in the UK?’

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali says… 'We need a new vision for our life together. We need a recovery of Christian good news which can provide the spiritual, moral and intellectual underpinning for a renewed social order.'

But, how can we as local Christians achieve this? We are not the movers and shakers in society, but we still have opportunities to make a difference.

We can start by acknowledging that Jesus has something to say and that his words in the passage above are as relevant today as they’ve always been.

We can reaffirm our acknowledgement that the only way forward in life is to walk the ‘narrow way’ and build our lives on the ‘solid rock’ of Jesus and his Word.

But, especially with an election approaching, we can get a new vision for society that cuts across the ‘excessive individualism’ and selfishness of modern culture.

Here are some points for prayer and action based on an article by The Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali:

1: The dignity of human life is sacred, from the beginning to the end of life.

2: A belief in the fundamental equality of
all and our commitment to freedom based on the Bible's teaching that we have been made in God's image.

3: A respect for persons, as made in God's image, so that "self-fulfilment" isn’t achieved at the expense of others.

4: Promote marriage and the family as the basic units of society.

5: Work to re-establish ‘community’ so that our towns and cities don’t become heartless conurbations, dormitory towns and villages.

6: We should work against excess in living because a proper use of resources from food to the environment is not only good for us but allows us to be generous to others.

 

A fresh Vision
also for our own lives

Taking note of what Jesus says in our reading…

1: Let’s make sure we are careful as to what extent we embrace the culture of selfishness around us.

  2: Let’s recognise that living life God’s way is best, and make sure we continue to build our lives on the ‘rock’ by hearing and applying God’s Word in our lives.

 3: Jesus says it’s a narrow way - and that doesn’t make it attractive - but the alternative, says Jesus, is destruction.

  4: We can’t help others if we’re in a mess ourselves.

5: Let’s be more proactive in responding to the Holy Spirit so we’ve got the power of God in our lives to help us.

 6: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25) 

 

Finally, how would you yourself answer the question the minister asked:

“What, really, has Christianity got to offer these people which they might possibly recognize that they need?”

 

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