Rich Poor & Comforted Mourners

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In the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins to teach His disciples, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”   Here, Jesus Christ turns the world upside down or rather, the right side up! Christians are poor in spirit and yet they are blessed! They are happy and fortunate! It is even good to be a mourner!  However, Jesus isn’t here referring to physical poverty or mourning the loss of loved ones. Instead, He is describing attitudes that define His followers.   Poverty of spirit is a description of the humility with which we relate to God and others. If we live our lives as if we do God the favours; if we think we have something that God didn’t give us in the first place, then we cut ourselves off from God’s blessing. Pride gets in the way.   Followers of Jesus recognise that they are the needy receivers, God is the great giver. To be poor in spirit, means that we are not too proud to live our lives depending on God; not too proud to ask the questions and follow advice. In learning to depend on God we then learn to be dependable for others.   There’s the story of the little girl who pointed & said, “That horse, it must be a Christian, it’s got such a long face!” Hopefully that’s a false stereotype or one to be disproved. Notice that Jesus tells us that it is the mourner that is blessed, not the moaner!   Christians are to be persistent mourners and blessed with it! There’s a part of us that mourns every time we let God and others down. Christians are those who honestly confess their sins to God; it hurts them to disappoint the Lord.   Christians are to be serious people. We believe that Jesus died to save us from our own sins; we see the pain and hurt of others. We see consequences of greed and hatred in families, communities and nations. The follower of Jesus can’t fail to be sad and want to respond. Jesus taught His followers to be realists.   The paradox is that Jesus calls us to acknowledge our spiritual poverty, weakness and neediness; He leads us to be the saddest people about sin and its consequences, and yet we are most fortunate with real reasons for greatest joy!   How does anyone become a Christian in the first place? You come to recognise yourself as a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. You realise that Jesus died to save you. You reach out for His love and mercy. God forgives and welcomes you into His family. Now in relationship with the risen Jesus, you humbly follow Him. You are poor in spirit and daily mourning over sin and yet, joyfully possessing the Kingdom of God and revelling in the love of God. You have peace with God, the assurance of forgiveness and a sad-free Heaven ahead!

‘NOT JUST WORDS’

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Have you felt a sense of shock or concern about the level of swearing you hear in public these days? I’m sure I didn’t hear so much when I was a lad – and I’m only in my early 40’s! I don’t want to sound like a moralising grumpy old man but it is a real concern. The Bible teaches that our speech is a key measure of character. Jesus said, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Individual characters make up a community. Our speech is an indicator of the health of our society.   Christians are challenged to have the very highest standards in speech. Eloquence and elocution are not really in mind here. The real concerns are for truthfulness, well intentioned and well timed words. The Proverbs tells us, ‘A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.’   The Apostle James instructed us to exercise a measure of self-control in speech and to keep a tight rein on our tongues. The Apostle Paul instructed Christians at Ephesus: Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body… Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.       We shouldn’t be afraid of having fun and creativity with words! There are examples of humour and word-play throughout the Bible. Some are only seen in the original languages in which they were written! As well as the spiritual treasure in the Bible there are literary treasures too!   However, there is a very serious side too. Words are important to God, not merely as a creative interest but because words are at the very centre of whom God is and what He does! The Bible is a written record of God communicating with humanity. God has something to say to us!   It’s really clear that words are very important to God because of one of the titles for the Son of God, is the Word. The eternal Son of God left Heaven, taking on humanity, living amongst us, as one of us, to give his life for us. His life was a rescue mission and His life was God’s supreme communication with us! In the Gospel accounts, God the Father spoke about the Son, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!”   Well intentioned words aren’t always pleasant. Jesus reveals that our greatest need is peace with God. Truth hurts in order to heal! God communicates the way that human beings are put right with Himself. Amazingly it’s a gift – not what you’d expect and amazingly it’s received through faith in Jesus Christ – seems too easy! God has taken care to communicate clearly and accurately through His Son this important message. Words are important. Faith is taking God at His word.

Christmas Message 2011

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Copy of Christmas Message submitted as a peice amongst other church leaders in the local newspaper: I love to see the children in our Church family at Christmastime and always! We’ve been blessed with new little ones this year. I have three children myself and I know that it is a daunting joy to bring them up. There’s so much you naturally want to protect them from; so much you want to give them. For those who love children, this time of year is delightful. To see happy wonder in a child’s face is priceless. Christmas is about a child: The Son of God who became an infant and lived in a family on the Earth he had created! One of the great things about childhood is the sense of simplicity. As adults, we know that life isn’t so simple as we once thought. Between childhood and the complex adult world are the entangling sins of jealousy, greed, lies and hurt; some against us and some from us. Christmas should move us back towards that simplicity of childhood because the Child of Bethlehem came to bring forgiveness. God’s grace, at the cost of the Cross, clears the decks, puts us right with our Maker and enables us to make a childlike and guilt-free start.

Hallowe’en Dangers!

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From an article to a local paper: In terms of any comments from a Christian perspective, I see two main areas of concern. Firstly there’s the social / community aspect. Clearly there are vulnerable people behind some doors who will be terrified by Trick or Treat callers. Children are potentially vulnerable to some people behind the doors – and it’s advisable that if children do go trick or treating, responsible adults go with children – at least to be there at the end of the pathways to homes. The very concept of threatening an unpleasant consequence if the person at home doesn’t deliver the treat is worrying. That we can get something through threat is not good. Even though it can be by mutual consent of the threatener and the threatened, the principle itself is not good. This, together with a general breakdown of respect and trust in our present society, one can see it doesn’t lead in a healthy direction. Maybe we should start a tradition of offering to do jobs for people instead of threats! Secondly, there is the spiritual concern over the whole issue of Halloween. There is a general increase in interest in the occult or related subjects. TV programmes, films and books have multiplied on the subjects of witchcraft and wizardry. Christians must be careful to uphold the principles of free speech and people’s freedom to believe. However, there is the need to inform people so that they can make reasoned choices. On the one hand, many people innocently go to parties and join in the Halloween festivities and that’s as far as it goes. On the other hand, do people realise the origins of Halloween; do people see the bigger picture of a general increase in the interest in the horror genre and it’s occult associations?   Kevin Logan records the following statistics in Paganism and the Occult, “In a recent survey of nearly 300 fourth-formers in two Lancashire schools, we found that 87% had dabbled in the occult (44% of them with Ouija boards).” pp.33/34.   ‘More‘ magazine in August 1996 reported on the findings of a Glasgow University survey. They estimated that as many as “1 in 10 people – 65% of them women – have been psychologically damaged by their (occult) experiences.”   Halloween has its origins in pagan festivals held around the end of October in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. People believed that, at this time of year, the spirits of dead people could come ‘alive’ and walk among the living. They thought that it was important to dress up in costumes when venturing outside, to avoid being harmed by the spirits.   People are free to choose if they want take part in pagan festivals, but do many know what they are doing? Whilst not wanting to overstate the danger for innocent party goers, we must not be unaware that witchcraft and other occult practices do go on and that people, including children, can get drawn into this whole area. In the ministry of Jesus, he was confronted with a number of people grossly influenced by the occult. He was able to release those people from this influence. The occult is clearly portrayed in the New Testament as an enemy of God and goodness. Halloween is therefore in effect a celebration of anti-Christian forces – however unwittingly done!   Having worked with a number of people with mental illness, I’ve seen how the film horror / occult genre has been a factor in their symptoms. I can see real concrete dangers that the growing Halloween interest raises. For those who have been affected by or need information, I’d recommend the Reachout Trust http://www.reachouttrust.org. Local churches should also be able to help or point people to the help they need. Certainly, at the Evangelical Church, we’d do our best to help.

What a Waste!

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By now the refuse collections and a visit to the tip have cleared the remnants of Christmas! We moaned at the voluminous packaging, food the children didn’t eat and the bin that was too small for the rubbish! There’s even a gadget available to squash it down. It would be far better if we did not produce so much waste. The Bible teaches the principle of responsible use of resources. This principle relates to much more than packaging and bin filling. We only have so much time to live and we only have a certain number of opportunities in life. We all know these are serious points but how we waste time and miss opportunities. We could, for example, read a book, go for a walk, learn at college, but instead, we spend precious hours with the TV. Has this New Year started with a wise use of your limited resources of time and opportunity? Some opportunities do come round again like the recycling of certain waste. Some opportunities never come back and disappear into the land fill of ‘What If’. The Bible tells us that God is grieved at waste of life. This includes murder and cruel oppression of vulnerable lives. This also includes the waste of life in the sense of missing the things that really count and wasting golden opportunities. Ultimately life is wasted when we live it without faith in or reference to God. An ancient king, Solomon had wealth, knowledge, power and pleasure. Yet even he concluded that life in this world without faith in God is meaningless. “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!” There is cruel oppression in our world that goes on despite real efforts to make a difference. Without faith in God who will bring ultimate justice, it is an utter hopeless waste. Riches and wealth are hard to gain and easily lost. We cannot guarantee we’ll have health to enjoy them! We can’t take them with us when we die! People wear themselves out to have modern comforts and luxuries and can still find that they have missed what really brings meaningful life. Whether we have little or luxury, life without relationship with God, as Solomon taught, is ultimately wasteful. Some waste can be composted and I’m a keen composter! It’s great to see waste fruit and vegetables transformed into a useful and nourishing substance for the garden. If we’re feeling that lack of meaning as 2008 has got under way, there is a great opportunity. We can’t compost our lives! But we can have our lives transformed and discover the missing peace and purpose. Jesus came to give His life so that through faith in Him we can have life to the full. That’s real hope for what lies beyond this life and a relationship with God here and now which gives meaning and a purpose. That’s not a promise of an easier life, but it is a promise of a life that will not be wasted. Carl Meachem – January 2008

Intolerant Tolerance

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Sometimes people with firm beliefs are accused of being intolerant. Yet it can also be the case that people with strong beliefs strongly believe that we need to respect others even if they strongly disagree! We must not confuse disagreement with intolerance nor assume strong belief as unreasonable. In fact we have a strange and dangerous new intolerance emerging in our society dressed up as tolerance! It criticises those who do have clear beliefs and tries to shut them up calling them intolerant! We have extreme political correctness that refuses to call a spade a spade or to acknowledge the plain nose in front of its face! Christian Union groups have been refused rooms to meet on university campuses by a number of Student Union bodies. Those who say, “I firmly believe”, are written off as bigots. The hypocrisy is that those who try to silence strong believers obviously have strong beliefs themselves! Strong beliefs that are based on good and reasonable evidence can stand debate. The key is the pursuit of truth and the willingness to be honest with the facts. This is why openness and honesty in government and media is so important. How can people form balanced and fair opinions if they are not told the truth or feel they are not told the truth? People must be allowed to speak freely and in turn be willing to have their opinions tested in the light of available evidence. In the 19th Century a scholarly movement began in Germany which took the Bible to task. The so called ‘Higher Criticism’ asked searching questions dissecting and criticising the Bible from cover to cover. Much of the negative result of this research has been overthrown as new textual and archaeological evidence has since come to light. The overall effect of these searching questions is that the veracity, historicity and reliability of the Bible is even more clear and many Christians today have a renewed confidence in the Bible. In my office there’s a world map and a list of 50 countries where persecution against Christians is worst. In some nations there are laws against people converting to Christianity and even against Christians talking to others about their faith. The worldwide picture is of increasing persecution, often motivated by an ignorant fear. This was true of the Pharaoh at the time of Moses, who feared the Hebrew tribes and ordered the slaughter of baby boys. The Romans justified their persecution of Christians with reference to hearsay rather than facts. Modern states have also painted Christianity as a threat to the order of society to justify persecution. Yet the Bible tells Christians to be good citizens, hard workers and caring people! The Bible never teaches that Christians should seek a ‘Christian state’ which excludes other beliefs. Instead it teaches Christians to be like ‘salt’ within the community. A healthy society has freedom of speech and the desire to pursue truth and a willingness to change in the light of it. Carl Meachem – November 2007

The Hardest Word to Really Mean

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One key word that parents try to teach their children is ‘sorry’. Maybe we can remember our own parents trying to get us to apologise for hitting our brother/ sister or for breaking the window, or whatever! Can you remember that battle within you as you knew what you should say, but pride and stubbornness made this small word the hardest word to say! The next stage for parents is when their child has got the hang of saying the word, ‘sorry’, but they then have to teach them to really mean it! If we’re honest, we’ve all been in situations where we’ve been at least tempted to say ‘sorry’, just to get off the hook! I know I have. If I really believe that what I have done is wrong, then my sorry will mean far more. And that raises two questions: Are there clear rights and wrongs, and if so, am I willing to take responsibility for my actions? If there are clear rights and wrongs, then logically, when I do or say something not right, I must genuinely apologise and take steps to avoid doing or saying it again. Jesus clearly believed in rights and wrongs. He believed in a standard that is higher than human opinion – God’s standard. Let’s face it, if rights and wrongs are just down to human opinions, then you could end up justifying a mass murderer – “Oh well, he thought it was OK!” Even the fact that most people now would regard murder as wrong, isn’t that secure. There have been many occasions in history where communities have been persuaded that even genocide was acceptable. The Bible teaches that God’s standard is far reaching, dealing not just with our visible behaviour, but also the very attitudes of our hearts. So, for example, murder is wrong, but so is the festering hatred in the heart. It appears that a major problem in our society today is the erosion of a serious sense of right and wrong: at least, our view of wrong isn’t serious enough. It follows then, that we don’t take real responsibility for our behaviour, and respect for each other is eroded too. The Bible teaches that rights and wrongs and personal responsibility need to be taken seriously. This raises some more questions: after sincerely apologising to whoever I’ve hurt, how do I get the record straight with God whom I’ve also offended, and how can I find the strength to be different? The great news is that Jesus came to pay the price to put our record right with God. Getting right with God is a fully paid-for gift! It’s a gift we receive as we trust in Jesus Christ – committing our lives to him. The other fantastic news, is that the Spirit of God will give us the power, bit by bit, to change for the better. Now in the case of our society, as well as our individual salvation, where does it all begin? It all starts with learning to say, and to truly mean, that hardest of words: ‘Sorry’! Carl Meachem

What is an ‘Evangelical Christian’?

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This is not a promotion for our own church, which bears the word ‘evangelical’ in its title! Evangelical is not a separate denomination. There is no Evangelical HQ which tells affiliated churches what to believe. Evangelical properly refers to a movement which runs through a range of mainstream Christian denominations. My thesaurus tells me that evangelical is defined as to do ‘with missionaries or their work’. This rightly describes one characteristic of an evangelical Christian: They believe there’s good news and have a desire to share it. The word evangelical itself comes from the Greek word meaning ‘good news’. Yet this in itself isn’t exclusively a Christian activity. In advertising, for example, a company may be evangelical in the promotion of its products! This leads us on to another characteristic of an evangelical Christian, which is to do with the basis of belief. Evangelicals are characterised by a belief that the Bible is God inspired. They believe that the New Testament was written by or at least approved by, the Apostles. “What does the Bible say?”, is a key question to an evangelical. So where philosophies or church traditions conflict with Bible teaching, the Bible wins! This then raises the question of interpretation of the Bible. It also raises the accusation that evangelical Christians are ‘dogmatic literalists’! Evangelicals say with the Apostle Peter that some parts of the Bible are harder to understand! They are not literalistic about the Bible, because they recognise that there’s a range of genre including poetic symbolism and that some parts need very careful interpretation. However, they believe that all the Bible is reliable and that when the Bible claims to be telling clear facts of history or giving direct teaching, then they need to take that directly to heart. I personally have friends in Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal circles who would all describe themselves as evangelical Christians. As a testimony to the clarity of the core message of the Bible, the styles of the churches just mentioned would differ widely, but the heart of the teaching would be the same. Evangelicals therefore take the Bible seriously. Many of our modern charities and reform movements owe their origin to Christians who took the Bible seriously. It has been said that evangelical Christianity is a strange new phenomenon. One test is to listen to what is taught today and compare it with the message that the Apostles preached in the New Testament. When you do so, you should see that at its heart, the message of evangelical Christianity is what the Apostles Peter and Paul preached in middle of the 1st Century AD. Arguably, therefore, evangelical Christianity is very old with roots even back in Old Testament Judaism. The essence of the Apostles’ preaching was the historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that through personal faith in Him, God grants forgiveness. This brings peace, purpose and hope leading to the transformation of lives. Evangelicalism has a very old message, yet it remains freshly relevant. Carl Meachem

The Knowns and the Unknowns

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When US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, said “… there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns…” many people, with furrowed brows, struggled to make sense! But as we try to peer round the edge of the year into 2005, what hopes can we have for the future? We live in a world of many unknowns. Who knows what events will be round the corner of the year? Will there be a major terrorist attack? On a personal level, will we have to face illness or unemployment? On a brighter note, maybe there’ll be new cures for dreaded diseases. Maybe there will be greater peace and stability in the world. Maybe…but we just don’t know. Christians are no different from anyone else, in that we all wrestle with the unknown. Yes, we know that suffering in general is connected with human rebellion against God. It’s also obvious that when people do not love and respect each other, as instructed by God, that suffering and pain is the result. Many people without Christian belief have commented, that if we all tried to follow the example of Jesus, the world would be a far better place. Yet even though we can see human responsibility for the sufferings in the world, we still wrestle with the unknown: Why me? When will it stop? Where will it all end up? So we have the unknowns, but Christians believe that we have a number of knowns which mean we can look to the future with hope. God has kept His promises in the past: There are many, many examples but thinking of Christmas, here’s a promise made over 700 years before Christ was born, predicting His birth in Bethlehem, “But you, Bethlehem… out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 God has clearly demonstrated His love. We all go through experiences where we may feel unloved – however true or not – that’s how we feel! In a world with so much pain, how can we know that God loves us? God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 These examples of knowns for the Christian, don’t answer every question, but they give us a solid basis for trusting God, even in the face of the unknowns. From the Bible we see that God has promised a day ahead when justice will finally be demonstrated. At that time all the frustrating unknowns will be swallowed up in a glorious new start! There’s a dear elderly lady in our congregation who is suffering from terminal cancer. There are unknowns ahead for her. Yet her confidence and joy is due to her reliance upon the knowns: that God keeps his promises; that God has demonstrated his love to her and for her – and for you! Carl Meachem, December 2004