Welcome to Banbury Evangelical Free Church

Banbury Evangelical Free Church was founded in 1984, as a Bible-based, Christ-centred congregation seeking to proclaim the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ and to serve Christ in every aspect of our lives, both as individuals and together.

Monday, 22 November 2010

What hope for the future?

At a dinner function at my old College last week, I found myself seated near a Japanese academic. He is a delightful man and an excellent conversationalist. One interesting observation he made during the evening was whereas surveys in many far Eastern countries indicate a high level (85-95%) of optimism over the future, in Japan this is far from being the case (15%). The way he explained it, it seems that Japan’s economic successes have meant that materially many of the people are very comfortable. But the comfort has not brought them lasting satisfaction; and the current much more uncertain times economically – and the rapid rise of competition from other countries such as China – means that many can see no prospect but decline.

How accurate those forebodings are remain to be seen – and indeed, it is possible that I have put my own interpretation on the tutor’s comments! But to me his analysis certainly drew powerful attention to the fact that, not only can money not bring happiness, but it can give no hope for the future either. Solomon’s words, written almost 3,000 years ago have a timeless quality to them: “Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven” (Proverbs 23.5). The words of the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are equally apposite: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6.19-21)

Monday, 27 September 2010

An encouraging occasion

Two days ago, on Saturday afternoon, I had the blessing and privilege of conducting a baptismal service. As so often on these occasions, I felt I rather stuttered and stammered my way through an attempt at an evangelistic message – I don’t think I rise well to the “big occasion” (though perhaps that is a good thing!). Nevertheless, it was a great encouragement that a large number of friends and relatives of both of those being baptised – John Robertson and Victoria Cunnington – were there, many of whom are not Christians. I preached on Acts 16.30, 31 under the following three headings:
• Why you need to be saved (you are in a mess you can’t get out of; sin is serious; you must to face up to your need);
• How you may be saved (there is nothing you can do; you need to trust in Jesus Christ alone, and what he has done);
• What you should do once you are saved (rejoice!; be baptised; show your changed attitude by a changed life, living to the glory of God).

We pray that there might be fruit arising from that occasion in the hearts and lives of at least some of those present, for whom this may have been the first time they heard the gospel. And we pray that the changed lifestyles of both John and Victoria may be an on-going testimony to the transforming power of the grace of God.

A visitor from another world?

I turned on the radio this morning to discover the presenter conducting an interview about the prospects for our planet being visited by beings from another world. I learned later that this was in the context of the United Nations proposing the appointment of a “space ambassador”, to be tasked with coordinating humanity’s response to an extra-terrestrial visit. This is all because, apparently, the recent discovery of other planets orbiting around hundreds of other stars, makes the detection of alien life more and more likely.

Leaving aside the questions whether the proposed ambassador will find enough work to fill her day, and be able to justify her salary, I found myself pondering humanity’s capacity to be gullible about far-fetched notions concerning which there seems scant credible evidence, while at the same time being sceptical about well-documented claims.

You see, we have already had a Visitor from another world, Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son. Jesus was not merely a good man. Indeed, he was not merely man at all; he is the God-man, “God manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3.16). The Bible declares, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (John 1.10). The evidence concerning Jesus Christ is strong indeed, attested by numerous witnesses, that he is all that he claimed to be: God’s Son, sent by the Father to be the Saviour of the world.

Many reject that message today (just as the people of Jesus’ day rejected him and murdered him by crucifixion). But they are willing to believe to believe in aliens coming to earth to colonise our planet – aliens, for whom there is no credible evidence that they exist, but for whom the UN is willing to prepare a welcome party! Little wonder that the Bible exclaims concerning those who reject God, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1.22).

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Cricket or baseball?

I am writing this on holiday in America, where my wife & I are currently staying in Greenville, South Carolina as guests of Prof. John Carrick and his family. John observed to me that he had noticed that many Americans have difficulty in distinguishing between the objective and the subjective. He attributes this to the failure of the Americans to play cricket, preferring (as they do) baseball instead.

Leaving aside the Professor's analysis of the American pysche and the extent to which it is impacted by sporting preferences, it seems to me that in the Christian life we need to have a healthy grasp of both the objective and the subjective. For example, Romans 5.1 tells us that, being justified by faith, we have peace with God. That is an objective statement of how matters stand for the believing sinner: it does not depend on how he feels about it at all. On the other hand, when urging believers to be anxious for nothing but in everything let our requests be known to God, Paul continues, “...and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”. While objectively true, it is evident that Paul here refers to the peace and comfort that that will be subjectively experienced by the believer who heeds his exhortations.

Later in this holiday, we expect to be spending time with another theological Professor who is known to be a keen baseball enthusiast. I hope that we will be able to agree that in the Christian life at least, it is not a matter of baseball or cricket – we need both!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Calvin on Psalm 73.25

Writing on Psalm 73.25, John Calvin observed, “If we give the smallest portion of our affections to the creatures, we in so far defraud God of the honour which belongs to him”. Considering this Psalm yesterday we observed that Calvin is surely going too far in making this statement! (And Calvin himself did not – thankfully! – entirely practise what he preached here: when his wife died, he wrote, “I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life” – he evidently had had a happy marriage and had shown his wife some affection!) But Asaph’s words are a salutary reminder to us: if we place our hopes for enduring happiness in circumstances or in other people, we are bound ultimately to be disappointed – witness the all-too-predictable outcome of England’s football World Cup campaign! And indeed, even the most blessed of human relationships will terminate at death. But if God Himself is the Rock of our hearts and our portion forever (v.26), we shall never be disappointed! How satisfied are you with God Himself?

Monday, 21 June 2010

Hope for glory - prepare for anguish!

Hope for glory – prepare for anguish! This is the advice that has been given to England football supporters in connection with the World Cup currently taking place in South Africa. At the time of writing, the latter part of the advice seems all too appropriate – it seems that England’s hopes will end in tears, as they have done for the past 4 decades! But even if, by some remarkable fluke, England sneak through to the final and win, what will be the real value of the “glory” that is achieved? A night of drunken celebration followed by a hangover; a ride through London on an open-top bus, thronged by a euphoric nation; an audience with her majesty the Queen to be awarded an MBE for services to the country! And then what? Soon the memories will fade; soon the thrill of triumph will be superseded by the need to get back to training; and next time, almost certainly, the Cup will be awarded to someone else. How uncertain, then, is this “glory”; and even it is achieved, how ephemeral, how shallow, how ultimately worthless! Contrast this with the privilege of the Christian, to whom God has chosen “to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1.27). Considering this passage in church yesterday, we noted that, in contrast to the “glory” of an England football win, this glory is something both certain for the Christian, and truly glorious! Is this the glory for which you hope?

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Memory of the Just is Blessed

I don't think I will ever *enjoy* taking funerals. However, it is a great privilege to speak at the funeral of a Christian believer, as I did this morning. Mavis Parks had been a member of the congregation at BEFC for most of the church's existence. Included among her papers was the following testimony:

You ask me how I know I’m going to heaven;
You think that I am arrogant and vain
In daring to suggest it, let alone
Be confident; be sure.

I used to think Good Works would get me there;
Or giving cash to “causes great and good”.
I said, “I’m not a sinner, I’m all right;
I’ve not committed murder, thrown a bomb,
Abused, misused or hated anyone.”
And then they told me, “ALL have sinned (come short
Of God’s high standard).” Well, I know that’s true.
So all was hopeless; what was I to do?

And then I heard of Jesus, why He came
From Heaven’s glory to this wicked world.
Yes, then they told me that He came to bear
The punishment for sin, and Calvary
Was not an accident but God’s great plan
To make heaven possible for sinful man.

And when I heard of his great love for me
And how he suffered; then I wept. I came
In deep repentance, sorry for my sins,
And asked for pardon. No one asks in vain.
Now Jesus is the friend who, day by day,
Gives comfort, strength and help upon the way.

And one day Heaven will be full
Of those who claim no merit of their own;
And glorified and honoured there will be
The One who died at Calvary, for me.

Mavis will be missed. But in the light of the coming resurrection, we do not sorrow as others who have no hope! (1 Thessalonians 4.13)

Monday, 17 May 2010

Daylight meeting

Last Wednesday evening we had a visit from John Scott of Daylight Christian Prison Trust to tell us about their prison ministry. It was an informative and stirring meeting. For me, the following things were particularly thought-provoking: (1) The number of genuine conversions taking place among prison congregations: a preacher can realistically expect this to be the result of his preaching. (Why is that too often not the case when preaching to a "free" congregation?); (2) The need for churches to be prepared to adapt and change in order to be welcoming places for ex-convicts who, even if converted, do not find churches easy places; (3) The question of whether or how any in our church should consider having some involvement in this work. Plenty of food for thought and prayer!

Monday, 10 May 2010

A certain future?

Following an inconclusive General Election last week, the only thing certain about the UK's future at the moment seems to be – uncertainty! Whoever ultimately claims – or retains – the keys to Number 10, they can by no means be sure that they will still be in residence a year from now, facing the possibility of another election, or a coup from within their own ranks, in the months that lie ahead. Notwithstanding my long-standing interest in politics, it was a blessed relief to leave such matters yesterday and to be reminded of the one who is King above all – the one for whom thrones and dominions and rulers and authorities were created – as I was preaching on that glorious passage in Colossians that proclaims the supremacy of Christ as God and Creator of all. What ever our politicians may have in store for us, with our trust in Him we can have confidence in a future that is both certain and glorious!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The Banner Conference, 2010

It is already nearly a week since the 2010 Ministers' Conference at Leicester came to an end. As ever, it was a spiritually refreshing time, and I am grateful to the church here for facilitating my attendance at the conference. The stated theme was on being “men for our time”, but for me the message that came through most strongly, both through the formal addresses, the question-and-answer times, and the informal conversations between sessions and over meals, was the pressing need for a close walk with the Lord in prayer – something which has surely been a need in every time! In this respect, O Palmer Robertson's lecture on Matthew Henry's “Method for Prayer” was especially helpful; while Ted Donnelly's closing sermon on John 21.15-17 was both heart-warming and challenging. I returned home at the end of the conference with a renewed desire to serve my Saviour more effectively, with love to Him and to the people entrusted to my care.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Vote for Change?

I confess that when I first heard what would be the Tories campaign slogan in the forthcoming election, my immediate reaction was, "Surely they can do better than that!" The very use of the "change" word, after all the hype the other side of the pond last year, makes the slogan sound tired - it needs changing! :-)

On second thoughts, however, regardless of your views on the political scene, how much of your life would you like to change? Wouldn't it be wonderful if such change could be achieved just by "voting" for it, putting your X in a box marked "a better life"? Of course, life is not that simple. Old habits die hard. Sin needs to be repented of, and that is often painful. Nevertheless, the invitation of the gospel is refreshingly clear: if, repenting of your sins, you put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone to save you from the guilt and the consequences of those same sins, you will be voting for a wonderful change for the better!