6th October 2014

Letter from the Pastor

Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth?

Job 1v7

The other day, meeting Kyu in Costa Coffee, my eye glanced upon a headline from one of the newspapers there. It was the news that actress Linda Bellingham, made famous through the OXO adverts, has now terminal cancer and has given up taking treatment. She declared: ‘I have only weeks to live – so I’ve picked the date I’ll die.’ Now as the Lord’s people, surely we should have sympathy for this lady, her husband and family–praying, above all things, that they may be saved through such a trauma–but what struck me was the phrase: ‘I’ve picked the date I’ll die.’
Just a few months ago, we as a church, were beseeching the Lord in prayer for the so called ‘Assisted dying Bill’ – drafted and put forward in the Upper House of Parliament by Lord Falconer. Mrs Bellingham’s sentiments are very much in line with that thinking: seeing we cannot change our mortality, we wish as men to control as much of that event as we can: the date, time and manner of our death etc… Man wishes more and more to play God in this matter.
The verse above, Job 1v7, speaks of the LORD being the One who appoints the days of our life and the day of our departure to eternity. This is in complete accord with other Scriptures: in Rev 118 the glorified Lord Jesus Christ speaks of having the keys of death; Ps 68v20 reads: ‘unto GOD the Lord belong the issues from death.’ And this surely is what we would expect: He, our Maker, is the One from whom we have life … the One who ordains both the beginning of that life and its end.
It is surely indicative of the strident and advancing atheistic spirit of this age in the West, that these obvious truths are barely afforded a moment’s consideration. God has for them no part in life … thus it naturally follows that He has, in their thoughts, no part in death.
The way men and women of our generation are increasingly fearless as they approach ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ is particularly fearful and alarming, and bodes ill for those we seek to reach for Jesus Christ. The folly and poison of the late Steve Job’s expression about death being ‘life’s greatest journey’ seems to capture well a mood and philosophy which is gaining ground. Where in previous generations, death viewed on the horizon was the cause of sobering thoughts about the soul and the afterlife, and when funerals were services and serious occasions where heaven and hell could be pondered upon and in some cases be the means by which folk began to seek after God, this is now increasingly rare. Whereas in previous generations the people of God could use such events to bring home the reality of death and the question of what lay beyond, this generation appears to have anesthetised themselves against such thoughts – to their own spiritual, and quite possibly, eternal detriment.
Seeing these things are so, surely it is a part of the mission of the Lord’s church, to bring back something of truth pertaining to these issues. When those occasions God gives us to witness come along, to include within our presentation of the Gospel of God’s great love, a speaking lovingly, yet gravely about the reality of death and the certainty that unrepentant sinners shall go to Hell. Sadly many modern ‘evangelistic’ methods omit these key truths; at times through an over focus on what they would perceive as the nicer, more palatable elements of the Gospel, but in certain circles there exists even a deliberate and thought-through strategy not to speak of such negative things to the lost. This betrays on the one hand a failure to take seriously the Bible’s, and more specifically the Lord Jesus Christ’s, own plain and clear teaching on these matters; but on the other, the spirit of much modern religion with its focus upon this life – rather than the certainties of the one to come; a focus upon the droplet of time, rather than the ocean of eternity.
Our evangelical forefathers, the Puritans, the Reformers, right back to the Apostles themselves, had a more sober and real perspective: the temporality of this life; the permanence and everlastingness of the one to come. This affected their own personal religion as well as their own reaching out to the lost and dying. Their evangelism would never have shied away from speaking about mortality and the dangers unrepentant sinners faced should they die without having ‘closed’ with Christ.
In the light of this increasing folly in the face of death seen in our days – with its false comforts gained through imagining men can sweeten the bitter pill of death by controlling its time and method, it is the well-rounded, biblical and real message of the Gospel that is the only hope for such a generation. May God help us to minister such to the perishing souls around us.

Pastor Paul Ackerley