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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Power v. Pardon!

I have just looked at some amazing photographs of butterflies and some other insects, on Facebook.   The colours; the designs; in one case, the transparency; of those little creatures is beyond verbal description.  When we look at the world of nature is is, indeed, full of wise design.  The bird is a clever architect; the beaver a skilful builder of dams; the silkworm is a superb weaver; and even the spider is a remarkable net-maker!  There are also, in the natural world, many intricate checks and balances that speak of a great, directing, Intelligence.

But not only is there great beauty, and order in the world that we experience, there is also great power.  The earth quakes on the ocean bed - and a might tsunami surges towards land where it destroys all in its path, for sometimes miles inland.  A tornado rips through a town, and leaves only havoc in its wake.  Wind and wave have created many strange formations in the rocks that are all over the planet.

Of course, we may also look out from Earth, and marvel at the night sky - with its thousands of stars visible to the naked eye; and millions more that require optical assistance in the form of great telescopes.  We are informed of the mind-blowing distances between these stars, and from the Earth - distances so vast that they are measured, not in miles, or nautical miles, or kilometres, but in "light years".  A light-year, of course, is the distance that light travels in one earth year - at a speed of more than 186,000 earth miles every second!  That gives us a measurement of almost six trillion miles!

However, while God's grandeur, knowledge, and superior mind are displayed in the wonders of His creation, they reveal neither His heart nor His full personality - nor do they tell mere mortals like you and me, how we may ever make contact with such an all-powerful Being!  Nature, in all of its vastness, and beauty, and power says nothing about the need of sinners such as you and me - pardon; forgiveness; the removal of guilt.

I have a quotation in an old set of Daily Bible Reading Notes that reads: "Not a whisper of forgiveness comes to us from the blue heavens above us, or from any of the works of the Almighty around us.  His infinite, all-pervading Spirit cannot be comprehended.  The thought of this powerful Being brings fear to our hearts.  But when God comes near in the Person of the perfect Man, speaking of love, pardon, and adoption into His family, then the guilty dread flees away, and the love which casts out fear takes its place.  Now this is what we see in Jesus Christ - God manifested in the flesh." (Robert Boyd; emphasis added).

"Can't I worship God in the green fields, or on the rolling waves, or in the grandeur of the mountains?", someone might ask.  I suppose that you can - but it is unlikely that you will!  For centuries, the inhabitants of parts of the African continent sat at cannibalistic feasts surrounded by natural scenery that surpasses most of what you and I regularly experience, in beauty and in grandeur - yet nature, in all of its splendour did not lead them to the true God, the Creator, and Sustainer, of all that exists; the One Who, in the Persona (not a misprint - see my book on "Great Words", the chapter on The Trinity!) of the Son, came into this world, this planet Earth, this mere speck in the vastness of the universe, to die on a cross so that those who place their trust fully, and unreservedly, in Him, might be saved.  As I shared, yesterday morning, with some friends, "He made the Son of His love to be the object of His wrath, so that the objects of His wrath might become the sons of His love!"

Nature speaks of power; but it never speaks of pardon.  If you would know that forgiveness, you must come to Him, Who alone can meet your deepest need.

Friday, 14 October 2016


The following words "jumped out" at me as I read the regular bulletin from Dr Jim Denison that arrived in my Inbox today.

"The best way to deal with a changing world is to depend completely on an unchanging God."

We live in a world that, certainly for those of us who dwell in the so-called "western world", experiences change exponentially!   I am of a generation that can recall 78 rpm records.  Then there were 45 rpm, and 33 rpm (long play - maybe six tracks on each side!).  Before I knew it, recording was being done on tapes - that came in reels from about 3" in diameter to about 6"+ in diameter.  I had barely become accustomed to that medium, before cassette tapes became all the range.  Then it was Compact Discs (I still recall the "Tomorrow's World" programme that 'introduced' them!), and Mini-discs.  My "studio" was filling up - with equipment and recording/playback media that was still perfectly functional, but was already "historical"!  

Now, of course, everything is done with MP3 files, and I can store hundreds of tracks on a mere 1Gb memory stick that is smaller than my thumb!  And all of that has only to do with recording and playing back of sound!

If we look at the world of transport; of communication; of politics; of almost anything one cares to name; then, as the hymnwriter so succinctly put it: "Change and decay in all around I see"!

So Jim Denison's words are a timely reminder.  "For I the Lord do not change;" (Mal 3:6), is the word of Almighty God to His chosen people - the Children of Israel.  When we turn to the writings of the New Testament, we read that: "Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with Whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." (James 1:17); and, of course, the well-known words from the unnamed (human!) author of the letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever." (Heb 13:8).

It is a simple fact of life that the vast majority of us like to have at least a large element of stability in our lives.  We may sometimes (often?!) complain about the humdrum existence we think that we are living - but we don't really want upheaval - in our homes; in our families, in the workplace; in the church.  

Yet, even within the visible church, is there not a hankering after novelty?  We want to hear the latest "great speaker".  The "new song" must be sung this Sunday.  I have to have the most up-to-date Biblical app on my smartphone (actually I don't even possess one of these gadgets!).  We are constantly veering round in our faith and life, following the latest "new belief," accepting every modern idea, or doubting some established Christian teaching - like children, "... tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles." (Eph 4:14).

Could it possibly be that many of us, in our Christian lives, are not seeking the stability that we are offered?  One of my favourite verses from the Book of Psalms reads: "He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure." (Ps 40:2).  "He ... set my feet upon a rock" - that's stability!  The psalmist-king, David, continues: "He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear, and put their trust in YHWH. Blessed is the man who makes YHWH his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods!" (vs.3-4).  It is as I am standing, solidly upon the Rock (Who is Christ Jesus) that I can be stable - and may attract others to Him.

We have a stable, unchanging, dependable God.  Let us be more stable as we follow Him.

Monday, 10 October 2016


It was a sad morning!  For the first time in many months, I felt obliged to put on a pair of working jeans instead of the shorts that have been my attire in the garden, and the house, for a long time.  It was simply the case that, although there was not a cloud in the sky, and the sun was beaming, there was a wee chill in the air.  Mind you, by lunchtime I was ready to revert to shorts, as we sat outside for our mid-day meal!

Clothes!  We all use them - basically because of culture and climate!  They do have uses.  As I dug out some old rose bushes, I was glad that I was still wearing the jeans.  Those thorns can be quite sharp!  

I was reminded of a verse in Paul's letter to the Christian believers in ancient Rome.  He encourages his readers (and that includes disciples of Jesus, today!) to: "... put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." (Rom 13:14).

The word translated "put on" (endusasthe) refers to putting on of clothes.  But why would Paul tell us to put on Jesus as we put on our clothes?!  Well, here are some of the reasons why we put on clothes, that might provide some clues.  We put on clothes, first of all, in order to cover our bodies. In Gen.3:1-7, we read about the entrance of sin into the perfect world that Almighty God had created. When they realised what they had done, Adam and Eve "... sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons." (v.7).  This action is often interpreted to refer to nudity, as if that was the great sin!  Not so!  It has really to do with sin.  This was man's attempt to cover his sin by his own works – sewing the fig leaves together.  But Heb.9:22 makes clear that “... without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” and, in Gen 3:21 we read that: "... YHWH Elohim made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them."  In order for that to have been done, an animal had to die - the first death in creation!

You and I born as sinful human beings.  Like Adam and Eve, we need to have a covering for our sin.  Like them, we often try to make up our own covering.  But it's of no use.  Father God sees right through us!  So how can my sin be covered?  “... put on the Lord Jesus Christ ...”!  I need to be covered with His righteousness; I need to be so surrounded by His presence so that, when the Father, in judgement, looks at me, He sees, not my sinfulness, but the Son’s sacrifice and shed blood.  I need to “... put on the Lord Jesus Christ, ...”

But we also put on clothes in order to protect our bodies.  Father God’s words, after mankind had allowed sin to enter, and spoil, His good creation were, concerning the earth, “... the ground is cursed because of you.  All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.  It will grow thorns and thistles for you, ‘though you will eat of its grains.” (Gen 3:17-18).  And so, man found that an apron of leaves that was the work of his own hands, would not be sufficient.  They might have covered his immediate nakedness; they might have satisfied his desire to cover up his sinfulness; but they would do nothing to protect him from the thorns and thistles that now surrounded him or, as his descendants migrated to colder climates, from the lower temperatures.  He discovered that he needed not only covering, but also protection.

And so it is with Jesus.  We don’t just need to be covered with His righteousness; but also protected by His power.  We need to be, not just saved; but also sanctified.  We don’t just need forgiveness for all of our past sin, but also the strength to resist the temptations that we meet, day after day – the spiritual thorns and thistles that crowd into our lives.  We need to “... put on the Lord Jesus Christ ...”

Covered; protected; and then a third reason for putting on clothes occurred to me.  For is it not true that we also put on clothes in order to enhance our bodies – to make us ‘look better’?  Even a person of very plain looks may, if well and properly dressed, look more attractive.  Just think of the popularity of various ‘makeover’ reality shows on TV!  And, of course, even a person endowed with natural good looks can be strikingly beautiful, or handsome, when dressed with equally good taste.  “Clothes maketh a man” (Shakespeare) – and there is more than a grain of truth in that!

Of course, it would be unfair to directly compare me with, say, Tom Cruise (he wouldn’t stand a chance!!).  The only valid comparison is between me poorly-dressed, and me well-dressed.  It's the same in the spiritual realm.  The life of one who having confessed their sin, and repented, is following Jesus, changes – and does so for the better.  Putting on Lord Jesus Christ has made that life more attractive than it was before; the person is different.  But beware of making a comparison with someone else!

Clothing: something with which each of us very familiar: used to cover; to protect; to enhance our bodies. 

The Lord Jesus Christ: One of Whom we are all so very much in need – the need to be covered with His righteousness; protected by His power; enhanced with His beauty.

Have you “... put on the Lord Jesus Christ ...”?  Have you?

Friday, 7 October 2016

The way of the cross.

While speaking with a friend, earlier this week, he made the point that too many in the church today don't preach the Gospel of salvation.  "All that I hear", he stated, "is that we should 'love one another' and be nice, kind, people.  That," he said,"is not the Gospel."!

He certainly had a point!  We may learn a number of things about the Gospel of salvation by observing the actions of the two who were crucified with Jesus.   For example, it is possible to want salvation, and yet not experience it.  Luke provides the record: "One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Him, saying, 'Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!'" (Luke 23:39).  

Paul assures us, in his letter to the infant church in Rome, that "every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." (Rom 10:13). Why, then, was this particular man lost?  We may see three reasons:
1. he was thinking only about physical deliverance;
2. his plea was not genuine.  Luke informs us that he "railed" at the Lord Jesus. That's a word that may be defined as "reviled or scolded in harsh, insolent, or abusive language."  Some other translations use terms such as "scoffed" (NLT); "hurled insults" (NIV); "spoke insultingly" (Darby).
3. he didn't want salvation by the way of the cross.  He cried out: "Save Yourself and us!'".  What he didn't realise was that if the Lord Jesus had come down from the cross, He could not have rescued others!  

Again, writing to the Roman believers, Paul assures them that "... God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8; emphasis added).  The anonymous writer of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus tells us that "... without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (Heb 9:22; emphasis added).

Yet, in spite of these clear instructions in the written Word of God, many appear not to want anything to do with the message of the needed sacrificial work of the Christ. They call it a "bloody" Gospel - and it is!  They would rather talk about Jesus' life, teachings, and example.  Now, it is true that the Saviour's life is important; His teachings are an absolute storehouse of wisdom and truth; His example is worthy of being followed by all.  However, it is not only through His life, but also His death and resurrection, that salvation and forgiveness can be offered to a guilty world.

The other malefactor came as we all must come - in humility and faith.  Luke continues the record: "But the other rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.'  And he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'" (Luke 23:40-42).  What a difference in attitude!  And he received a response from the Saviour: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:42).

If you wish to reach heaven, you cannot avoid the way of the cross.  It's the place where, as Graham Kendrick reminds us in one of his songs, "wrath and mercy meet" - where the sins of the world, and the love of Almighty God, met in the redemptive encounter.  It is only "... the blood of Jesus, His Son ...", John reminds us, that "... cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7).

Have you been "washed in the blood of the Lamb?"  Have you come by the way of the cross?!

Sunday, 2 October 2016

It's a "Fall"!

It would be interesting to know how many of my readers would recognise a "pulpit fall"!  It is a piece of material, usually embroidered, that hangs over the lectern (the 'shelf' on which a Bible usually rests) in a pulpit in a traditional Christian church building.  Modern lectern falls can be extremely complex, and beautiful, but the one with which I was brought up (and that I do not recall ever having been changed) was a simple embroidery of three letters - 'I'. 'H', 'S'. 

There are two suggestions as to the meaning of the letters. The first is that they are the first three letters of the name of Jesus in the Greek language - the Greek letter 'e' looking like a Roman letter 'n'. This, of course, would mean that the letters were actually 'i', 'n', and 's'.

I have always accepted the alternative - that they stand for the Latin phrase "Iesus Hominum Salvator", meaning "Jesus, Saviour of men".  However, I like to play with letters and words and realised, a long time ago, that if I changed the order of those three letters, some useful thoughts were generated.

If I change the order to "HIS", I am reminded that I belong to Him!  It's good to "belong".  The need to do so appears to be part and parcel of our human nature. That's why there are so many organisations, societies, and groups. People want to belong; to be able to share with others of like mind.  However, belonging to Almighty God is of a different order altogether!  What a wonderful privilege to be able to come into the presence of the Creator of all that is - and address Him as "Abba" (Can be translated "Daddy".  It is the word that a Jewish child would use to address its natural father).

Reversing "HIS" leads me to "SIH".  This reminds me that I am Safe In Him. When I was a child, I always knew that as long as my dad was around, I was safe. He was the one to whom I looked if I had a problem; if there appeared to be danger. Of course, my dad was just another human being, with all of the natural limitations that are our human lot. My heavenly Father has no such limits (although there are certain things that Almighty God cannot do!!).  My natural father provided me with physical safety; my heavenly Father provides me with safety that goes beyond this mortal realm!

"HIS"; "SIH"; and then there is "IHS" - which takes us back to where we started! However, in this order, I think of being "In His Service".   I suppose that it is a kind of logical progression - if I am HIS, and I am Safe In Him, then the very attitude of gratitude on which I posted a couple of weeks (and posts!) ago will surely wish to be expressed in serving Him.  How do I do that?  Well, we all have different areas of service that depend on our natural talents, and spiritual giftings. To give a very simple example, my wife would be hard pressed to preach a series of sermons; while I would be equally hard pressed to lead worship with a guitar in the way that she does.  Yet each of us is serving Him, our Saviour and our Lord.

Of course, each of us who owns His Name is serving Him in one particular way that is common to us all.  That is the area of witnessing.  If I am known as a disciple of Jesus, then I am a witness - whether I wish to be or not.  The only question is: "Am I a good witness, or a bad one?"  When others look at me, do they see any difference between me and the rest of the people whom they know - and who make no Christian profession?  Do I ensure that I spend time with fellow-believers, discussing spiritual matters with them?  Whatever I am doing, reading, watching, am I comfortable in the knowledge that He is there with me - or would I be embarrassed and ashamed if He were to appear, physically, at my side?

Being a disciple of Jesus (as opposed to being a "church member", or even a "church office-bearer") is demanding.  He never promised anything else!  What He did promise is that if we deny Him, He will deny us!  That denial can take many forms.  It is as likely to be by my actions, as by my words!

Are you a disciple of Jesus?  Then you are HIS; you are Safe In Him; I trust that you are truly In His Service.