Don’t go to Church!

In the book of Amos God says to his people:

“Seek me and live; but do not seek Bethel” Amos 5:5

Bethel means house of God. It was the place where the children of Israel knew that God had been with their father Abraham. Although Jerusalem was the designated place of worship Bethel was still seen as a place to come to God, especially after Israel and Judah split.

The problem was that the Israel were paying lip service to Bethel. They were going there, and they were offering sacrifices of a sort. In essence, they were half heartedly hedging their bets on being right with God by doing what they thought was just enough to get on God’s right side, when all along they were offending the Holy God who demands all because anything less is nothing.

That is why God says “Seek me and live” – it’s God we are to seek, not the peripherals, not the accoutrements that come with the practicalities of meeting together. As human beings we are prone to substitute doing for being, to assume that activity will do instead of attitude of heart. God says “Seek me”, don’t go to church just to go to church, seek out me and the church will be there.

It’s all too easy to rationalise our spiritual state by counting churchgoing as religion. It can and should be a fundamental part of our faith, but it doesn’t prove it or compensate for a hard heart.

The starting point for every believer is expressed in the Psalms:

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” Psalm 73:25

So, please don’t stop going to church, but please don’t go thinking that church is a substitute for God. Seek him first and only, and go to church as a part of your seeking him. That way it will be a natural part of your daily worship and a blessing to our God and Saviour.

O Lord, forgive me for too often allowing the paraphernalia of church and Christian work to substitute for seeking you out. O Lord, whom have I in heaven but you, and there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. Draw me to you O God and I will find in you my portion forever.


Keep Calm and Chill Out

Keep Calm and Chill Out

Well, one thing the south coast has going for it is that you can always see the sea. That may not seem unusual for a coast, but having lived in Southport for many years that’s not necessarily the case.

We’ve yet to properly explore the south coast, but for now I know that I can always head for the coast and get up close and personal with the sea. Just the right place to Keep Calm and, well, just Chill Out…

The Christmas Story

The prophets had long since been stilled. The voice of the Lord was not heard. Daily life went on with hope gradually fading with every passing year of occupation and subservience. Where was the promised Messiah?

In these days came the beginning of the Gospel. It started out with a priest – not the High Priest, just a priest, a godly one, and even that fact was notable and unusual. On an ordinary day as he went about his normal service in the temple an angel of the Lord appeared to him by the altar. The childless priest and his wife were to become parents. This child would be ‘Elijah come’, and he would be named John. The child would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb – consecrated for a task. As the aged priest questioned the prophecy the angel announced himself: “I am Gabriel – I stand in the presence of God. I was sent to speak to you, but you will not speak until my announcement is fulfilled because you did not believe.”

Six months later God sent Gabriel to another town to Mary who was betrothed to Joseph in marriage. In this age of silence God’s messenger had come again. “Don’t be scared, Mary, I’m here because God approves of you, I’ve not come in judgement. You will conceive and bear a son and you will call his name Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, he will reign over Israel forever, his kingdom will never cease.” This would come about not through natural means. Mary was betrothed, but not yet married, but the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and give her this son.

So, in due course John was born and his father’s voice returned. This child, this son would be called the prophet of the Most High who would go before the Lord to prepare his ways and to give the knowledge of salvation to his people. God was speaking to his people once again!

And in these days as the Roman rulers demanded a census Joseph and Mary returned to Joseph’s family town – Bethlehem. Mary was pregnant and almost due. The town was in turmoil. All those who had left for the city of Jerusalem, or for larger towns had all returned for the census. There was nowhere to stay. And so Mary and Joseph were left with nothing but a stable to spend the night. When Jesus, the Son of the Most High was born, Mary wrapped him well, and laid him in a manger.

As Mary and Joseph lay and watched their child, amidst the noise and smells of the stable, they must have wondered: “Is this really the prophecy fulfilled?”

Meanwhile, far from the town, away from the lights of the inns and homes, out in the fields were shepherds, watching their flocks. There an angel of the Lord appeared and with the angel the glory of the Lord shone around. In the darkness of the fields at night it terrified the shepherds. But the angel said: “Don’t fear! I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today, in the city of David is born to you a Saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord. Here is the sign that proves it. You will find a newborn, wrapped and placed in a manager.”

And as the promised Messiah was revealed to these simple shepherds it was as if the heavens themselves couldn’t contain their silence any longer and suddenly with the angel, bursting forth into time and space in the fields outside Bethlehem is the entire host of heaven, myriads of angels praising God together and crying:

“Glory to God in the highest!
And on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

And when the angels had gone the shepherds left their sheep. They had something much more important than sheep on their minds. They went to Bethlehem, they found the newborn in the manger as the angel had told them and they found Mary and Joseph. As they told the parents the story of what had occurred out in the fields Mary in wonder treasured up all these things, the confirmation of the prophecy to her all those months before. And the shepherds returned to their sheep glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told to them.

At the right time, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to be presented to the Lord in the Temple, according to the law. There, in the Temple was Simeon, a godly and devout man, seeking God and waiting for God’s promised salvation. God’s Holy Spirit was upon him. He knew that he would see God’s Messiah before he died, and so he waited. When he saw Jesus he took him in his arms and blessed God.

“Now I can die in peace! Now I have seen with my own eyes your salvation, your light, shining for all nations, and for the glory of Israel.”

This is the beginning of the Gospel. Not the promise, but the fulfillment. This is the moment in time when God in grace broke into his creation with his own Son. God, the Word through whom the entire universe was brought to be was now in his creation. The Word become flesh!

Here, at Israel’s lowest point, when God had been quiet for centuries, when hope had all but drained away, when religion had become perfunctory and a duty, here God broke in! The grace of God’s angel Gabriel to Zechariah and to Mary hides the momentous events that are unfolding. And yet, at the very point of the incarnation, of God breaking into his own creation for our salvation, at this point all of the heavens burst forth in praise! How can we imagine what it was like to be on that hilltop with the shepherds? This was something the like of which had never been before, and never will be until that same promised Messiah returns again!

How can we honour this promise in our lives at this time when we have chosen to remember Christ’s coming, Christmas? Please do celebrate, please do decorate your home and sing your songs and visit your families, but in so doing, treasure up in your heart the reality behind Christmas – the God of Creation become one of us to save all of us from our own sin and rebellion. And as you meet with families and friends, remember the grace that came to us all that first Christmas, the offer of redemption, salvation, forgiveness – hope and peace. And as you accept that from God for yourself, offer the same forgiveness, hope and peace to those you meet.

When we consider, when we treasure up these thoughts they almost defy description, but that should only drive us to praise and worship the more as we celebrate a Christmas that at it’s heart tells us:

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight!”

The Bottom Line – Psalm 73


Looking out at the world can be a soul destroying thing. This world is full of evil, and full of evildoers, who somehow always seem to thrive and do well. And as we look out we are inclined to stumble. The natural instinct is to envy the wicked their ease, to see their unpunished prosperity and wonder why they do wrong and yet prosper. The more we look, the worse it appears. It makes life to be a wearisome task.

But, if we are to free ourselves from stumbling we must enter into the sanctuary, the place where God is – only there will this life make sense. We can only come into God’s presence resting on the reconciliation to God won by his Son. But, as we enter into God’s nearer presence, our embittered souls are sweetened and our spiritual compasses are realigned. God is our goal, our measure of what is good and right; God, and not this world is our goal and our glory. No-one else, nothing else matters except our relationship with the living God, the Creator God, the Redeemer God, the Consummating God who will one day reveal himself and his purposes in fullness.

The more we look at the world, the less we look at God. The more we look at God, the better we see the reality of this world and the world to come.

For every son and daughter of Adam the bottom line is:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever!

Psalm 73:25-26

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