Monday 25 January 2021

God Comes First!


We all begin our lives as babies in our mother's arms but as we grow, we begin with a few faltering steps along that road to independence and adulthood. Along that self-same road we all face, in one way or another, all those difficulties that somehow have to be overcome. We will often find that many of these difficulties may be surmounted through the help and advice of others, generally from those, who have acquired, experience, knowledge and the wisdom of age. Furthermore, in this age of books and information technology, we may discover that there is no shortage of instruction and opinion that may help as we travel the road of life. And If we want to achieve a certain sort of success there exists what I would call the 'self-help industry' that comes in all its forms, especially online or perhaps more traditionally in the form of self-help books.

More often than not, but not always, these books purport to offer us the secrets of success, which usually means how we can get rich, how we may obtain untold riches or how we can get anything we want. There must be literally thousands of books, like this in existence. One such book, first published in 1937, entitled, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is based on the idea that we create our own reality through our thoughts. If we know what we want and actively pursue our objectives, single mindedly and with faith, we can turn our dreams into a reality. So runs the usual blurb. The Victorian writer, James Allen produced his famous booklet: As a Man Thinketh, it was an exposition on the Biblical proverb (27.3): 'For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.' Both these writers, Napoleon Hill and James Allen, are essentially saying that we ultimately become the product of our own thoughts. In the Gospel of Matthew (6:21), Jesus said, 'for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.' I think that we can rest assured that Jesus, in this context, is saying as he does elsewhere in the same Gospel, that 'it is impossible to serve both God and mammon.' We cannot serve God with a divided heart.

At the same time, I don't think that simply wanting to have something or to own something is a sin. If we say that our God is a God of love he is also a God of common sense. Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount tells us not to worry about the things of this world, what we want or need. He said, 'your heavenly Father knows that you need them.' We just need to get our priorities right, firstly to seek God, and to acknowledge him first and if we can do that then all the other things will be added. It's just that all the other things that may be added cannot compensate for spiritual poverty, we cannot live 'by bread alone' and yet so many people act as if they can, the grasshopper mind, the restless, acquisitive soul always jumping from one thing to the next, the compulsive buying, the next new novelty, always having to have something new and having thoughts that go no further than this.

Before all this lockdown business began, ten months ago, it appeared to me that on Sundays the roads were just as busy as any other day of the week and that Sundays far from being the sabbath day of rest as I remembered them from years gone by, when all the shops were closed, people actually attending church and the town centres empty; were replaced by streams of traffic driving to huge shopping centres, super stores and retail parks. Welcome to the new Godless society.

Years ago, I remember how as a student minister I was advised to be 'more inclusive' which meant not using the 'God word' in my ministry. A friend of mine was wont to say in the face of all this opposition to Christian ministry, 'If you don't like religious language, instead of complaining, and spoiling it for everyone else, why don't you just stay away from church on Sunday and just go for a walk round Tesco instead?' That same friend once commented in the local press that on Sunday mornings that there were more cars queuing up to dump stuff at the civic amenities site than there were cars making their way to the local churches.

These civic amenity sites, recycling centres or tips as they are generally known, seem to be part of an endless cycle of car queueing. Queuing to get into the tip to dump all your unwanted stuff and then queueing again at the retail parks in order to buy more stuff that will eventually end up at the tip. The queueing at the tip must in some way be proportional to the frequency of visits to the retail outlets. It has to be. I think there's a manic restlessness driving this cycle of buying and dumping. Only this week another friend spoke of a house not very far from where she lives where the occupants regularly hire a skip to remove their unwanted household waste. I'm told that their neighbours regularly go to this house when the skip is full and help themselves to nearly new or even brand-new items that have simply been thrown out, some stuff can be found unopened; in its original packaging even.

When I think of those skips, filled with unwanted goods, purchased probably just on a whim, just lying there in the skip under the rain swept skies of Oldham, I can't help feeling that there's a sadness to the whole thing. There is of course, the waste of it all and the negative impact to the environment, but there's something else here too - a deep sense of some spiritual malaise. Today, it's fashionable to talk about one's mental health problems which we are assured may be resolved through recourse to counselling, therapies or medicine or any combination of these strategies. Whilst I may acknowledge this, I do reserve the right to say that many of our problems are often of a spiritual nature. So, I return to that skip full of unwanted products and I think of the people, the individuals who have sought some solace, some comfort, some momentary happiness through what we have jokingly come to describe as ‘retail therapy.’

Indeed, there does seem to be a sadness here, a sort of unconscious, human suffering; a seeking of consolation in a world that simply defines itself through owning and buying stuff. But the skip stands as a silent witness against this notion, basically showing us that we cannot buy happiness, inviting us to believe that there exists a profound unmet need bringing to mind those words of Jesus, that, 'Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions' and Thomas A Kempis wrote:

(But) if you hanker inordinately after the good things in life, you will lose those of heaven and eternity. Therefore, make right use of this world's goods, but long only after those that are eternal. This world's good things can never satisfy you for you are not created for the enjoyment of these alone. Could you enjoy every good thing in existence, this could not of itself bring you blessing and happiness, for all the joy and blessedness rests in God alone, the creator of all things.

Our 'right use of this world's goods' as Thomas A Kempis says, is important but our wise judgement is also required at that interface between the spiritual and the temporal.  'What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his own soul?' (Mark 8:36).

In the Acts of the Apostles (6: 2) we read:

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.

So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.

These few verses reflect a new situation in the early church, not only of growth but of division. There was division between those Jews of the diaspora who no longer spoke Aramaic, but Greek, the international language of the time. We can see from the text that not only had a divisive problem emerged in the church but the apostles were also facing increasing difficulties by being sucked into the administration of feeding the needy. In other translations we hear the apostles saying:

It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.

Now, you might think that this is harsh indeed, but the reality was that seven men were appointed, in fact ordained as deacons in order to carry out this very necessary function of food distribution. But and this is an important 'but', the fact is as in each person’s life as in the life of the Church, there has to be an order of priority summed up in those words that 'man cannot live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'  'In the beginning was the Word', as it says in the Gospel of John. Through the drawing board, the plans and design must come before the workshop, so the word of God comes before creation and so must the preaching and teaching come before the serving tables at tables. How could it be otherwise? Our own chapel exists primarily for the worship of God, from our worship and acknowledgement of God, but it is from this small congregation that God's love has been made manifest in its service to the community. Again, we have Jesus' interpretation of the law as being to love God and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. We have to see that the love of God is the first part of the law and that love of neighbour must follow, that is the order of priority. God comes first.

The early Church knew that priority could not and should not be subverted, even though the feeding, clothing, and housing of the needy was a function of the church long before the secular state in the form of its social services took over those responsibilities. The apostles of the early Church made it very clear what their priorities were and we have to be alert to the subversion of those priorities. Such subversion may present itself in very reasonable ways: 'I'm not interested in religion and theology, why don't you just campaign against injustices and why don't you just feed the poor? And so, it goes on, the constant undermining, we see it in the story of Jesus' anointment with the spikenard. 'What a waste!’ cried Judas. ‘The money from the sale of this valuable ointment could have gone to the poor! And within a few hours, Jesus was betrayed and handed over for trial and execution.

We see the same thing in that slogan from the charity: Christian Aid, 'We believe in life before death' and nobody can disagree with that, can they? Except that it is a subversion. It’s a sop to those who would much rather see an end to faith altogether. They're the ones who may have already read the self-help book that Satan has written for them, 'All this shall be yours if you bow down and worship me'. Perhaps that's what hell is really like, wandering forever round a shopping centre and being able to buy everything that you see and wish for. When Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world and all its glory, Jesus didn't deny that it was Satan's to offer him - he knew it was! And he refused. 

St Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians (2:8-10) wrote:

But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
for those who love him.”

But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets.

Photograph: By Rainer Zenz - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Monday 4 January 2021

New Year Thoughts


Back in 1992, the Queen in a speech at the Guildhall, to mark her Ruby Jubilee on the throne, referred to that year as an 'annus horribilis' She did so with some justification. As we mark the passing of this year and look forward to the new, we know that each year will always bring its joys and sorrows. But how often we may underestimate the depths of human sorrow and how often when we are given the happiest of circumstances, we heedlessly allow that time to pass us by! The present moment is all we have.

I have noticed even as we have approached the threshold of this New Year, how many have expressed their wishes that 2021 will be better than 2020. For those who read beyond the popular headlines and all the government propaganda, it is writ large that life is not going to return to the normal as we understood it, prior to March 2020. Little by little, it is beginning to sink in that there really does exist an agenda for massive societal change, at home and abroad, and furthermore that this agenda is already in process. More and more people are waking up to the aims of The Great Reset. To find out more, simply Google up 'he Great Reset'. Read and you will learn how the coronavirus is being hyped up to lever in unconsulted change that will change your world, forever.

You might ask what the response should be to such misgivings as we move forward into 2021. There is the story of Jesus who in Roman occupied Palestine, was asked, 'Should we pay taxes to Caesar?' A dangerous question, but Jesus said, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.' Each year, we as dutiful citizens may fill in our tax return forms and also make arrangements to pay our local council taxes. Thus, we too, figuratively speaking, do our duty and 'render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's'. We will note however, that Jesus' words did not prevent his execution on the cross, because it was not deemed expedient to let him live.

Perhaps we too are beginning to see that even for us it may not be enough to 'render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's.' In a totalitarian state, mind and soul are required for sacrifice too, and so there exists in China 'thought transformation camps' where faith and cultural identity must be replaced by 'love for the Chinese Communist Party.' A BBC documentary recorded a Chinese official denying that these thought transformation camps were prisons. Where in prison can you paint? He objected.

Similarly, in recent lockdowns at home, otherwise known as house arrest, Facebook memes suggested that all that was required of the obedient citizen was to 'sit at home, watch Netflix and eat Pringles.' Later as Christmas came upon us, further memes were posted on Facebook comparing our comfortable loss of liberty with the very real hardships of the soldiers of the First World War. Notwithstanding the destruction of the economy and the very fabric of people' lives, such blandishments were and remain an obfuscation of the loss of our civil liberties and democratic rights. All of it is as duplicitous as the Chinese Communist Party' official line that the thought transformation camps are not prisons.

We are living through times of great change and it is difficult to understand what is really going on. As I have previously stated, the information is out there, and one only needs to do a little internet research to see how far reaching these changes are and are going to be. I think it is helpful also, to see that from the globalist-capitalist perspective, the methods of China, a capitalist economy under the control of the totalitarian one party surveillance state, has become for the elites, an attractive alternative to Western democracy. The recent utterances of Professor Neil Ferguson, the Government’s top scientific advisor, as reported in The Times, clearly shows that same direction of thought and where we are heading:

'I think people's sense of what is possible in terms of control changed quite dramatically between January and March,’ Professor Ferguson says. When SAGE observed the 'innovative intervention' out of China, of locking entire communities down, and not permitting them to leave their homes, they initially presumed it would not be an available option in a liberal Western democracy: 'It's a communist one party state, we said. We couldn't get away with it in Europe, we thought...and then Italy did it. And we realised we could.'’

In the same interview Ferguson said: ‘If China had not done it, the year would have been very different

Ferguson is currently advocating the continuation of lockdown until Easter 2021 and possibly beyond, this from a lockdown that was originally sold to the British public as a solution designed to last for only three weeks! This continuing level of totalitarian control has been deliberately achieved through months of fear inducing propaganda and government misinformation.

The Guardian recently published the concerns of the country's leading psychiatrist, Dr Adrian Jones with a headline that read: Covid poses greatest threat to mental health since second world war'. The telling paragraph reveals that up to 10 million people including 1.5 million children, 'are thought to need new or additional mental health support because of the crisis.' When one considers the fact that from the inception of this 'pandemic', in England, only 377 healthy people under the age of 60 have died of covid, then perhaps we may get a real sense of perspective and an inkling of the power of the government's fear induced tyranny. I read somewhere that, 'Where the government fears the people there is freedom, and where the people fear the government there is tyranny.'

The opposite of love is not hate but fear. God is love and the churches exist for the worship of God (love). Love casts out fear. The continuation of the 2020 'annus horribulus' is set to continue. Unless the churches really do wish to be consigned to oblivion, they need to take a stand now. The retreat to online worship is no substitute for the fellowship of public worship. This is not the time to step back but a time to step forward into 2021, to reject the lies, false promises and predictions of fallible men and to place our trust in God. 

By Peter Paul Rubens -, Public Domain,