Important Information.

STOP PRESS: My first book (the first in a planned series!) is now available in paperback format. :-)
It is being published by AfJ Publications, Glasgow, and sells for £8.99 (for 230 pages). Initially, copies may only be ordered from me (p&p not included - but they may be collected in person!). Please contact me at
author@minister.com
The book is, of course, still available in its Kindle edition.


You'll find it at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009EG6TJW where you may read some sample chapters!

If you haven't got a Kindle (I haven't!), there is a FREE app at
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_pc_mkt_lnd?docId=1000423913

I am also considering producing an audio edition. Any feedback as to how welcome this might be would be appreciated, as it would involve a great deal of time and effort!

30% of the profits go to support the persecuted church.




Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Ten Words (7)

As we come to the seventh of the Ten Words/Commandments, we come to the second of those to which the Lord Jesus made specific mention in the Sermon on the Mount.  The commandment reads: "You shall not commit adultery." (Ex 20:14).

This, of course, is always the difficult one when teaching children!  Sadly, there are - in my opinion - far too many children who are the product of broken homes because one, or other, of their parents didn't abide by this commandment. 

Putting at its simplest, this commandment is saying that husbands and wives must be faithful to one another - and to the vows they took at their wedding (certainly if it was a Christian wedding service).  And, in spite of what I have stated in the previous paragraph, there are many who can claim, with absolute honesty, to have honoured those vows.  Men and women were designed, by our Creator, to be together, and to need each other. Marriage is a natural union of a man and a woman - and only of a man and a woman - and was divinely ordained and established by God from the very beginning of mankind. His laws, and in particular this Seventh Commandment, authorise the marriage relationship and establish it as the foundation of the family, which in turn stands as both the foundation, and also the most important building block, of human society.

Adultery is the violation of the marriage covenant by wilful participation in sexual activity with someone other than one's spouse.  But, of course, the Lord Jesus took it much further!  His words are "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt 5:27-29).  That is a whole different story!   Just as I may be able to say that I have never murdered anyone, but cannot say that I have never been angry, and felt like murdering a lot of people; so, although I may be able to claim that I have never committed the act of adultery, there is no way that I can claim never to have looked at another woman with a physical desire in my heart.  Indeed, I have often confessed, from platform and pulpit that, according to Jesus' stricter interpretation, I am a serial murderer and a serial adulterer!

Now, let me make clear that this is not a prohibition on appreciating the physical beauty of a member of the opposite gender.  If that were the case, I wouldn't even be married!  It is the allowing that natural attraction to develop into a desire that is prohibited, that is the problem.

So why would the Creator give this commandment?   Far be it from me to suggest that I 'know the mind of the Lord' (see Rom.11:34).  However, I would suggest that one reason is the sanctity of the family.  I have already referred to the number of broken homes that are the result of an adulterous relationship involving one, or other, of two spouses.  Not only do they suffer, but any children of the marriage suffer also - torn between two people, both of whom they love!

The adulterer him/herself may suffer psychologically.  "He who commits adultery has no sense;
he who does it destroys himself." (Prov 6:32) are words worth pondering (and, of course, they apply to both genders!).

However, I suspect that the main reason why Almighty God gave this commandment is because, as Paul writes: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Saviour.  As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the church to Himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body.  'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'  This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." (Eph. 5:21-33).  The marriage covenant is a picture of the relationship that the Lord Jesus has with His own people.  We tamper with it at our peril!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Ten Words (6)

The sixth of the Ten Words/Commandments is one of the shortest.  It reads, quite simply: "You shall not kill." (Ex 20:13).  However, it might be, more accurately, translated - as is the case in some of the more modern versions - "You shall not commit murder."  In other words, this commandment has to do with the deliberate, and malicious, taking of the life of another human being.

Life, of course, is a gift from God.  This is why we speak of the process of conceiving children as "procreation" - from the Latin pro =  "in place of, on behalf of" (proconsul, pronoun) + creare  = "to make, bring forth, produce, beget".   In the act of sexual intercourse, a man and a woman are working with Almighty God in the bringing into being of a new human life.  Because life is a gift from God, only He may legitimately take it away.

Of course, this does not include a situation of self-defence; defence of the realm; or the judicial execution of the death penalty.  Indeed, Ex.21:12ff expressly states that there are occasions on which a man must die!   Even before the giving of the Decalogue, we read that God said to Noah that "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed ; for God made man in His own image." (Gen 9:6).

This is also one of the commandments specifically referred to by the Lord Jesus.  In that collection of His teaching that we know as The Sermon on the Mount, He says: "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire." (Matt 5:21-22).  In other words, although I may be able to say that I have never been responsible for the deliberate taking of the life of a fellow human being, that is not enough.   I would need to be able to claim, with absolute honesty, that I have never (as in 'not ever'!) been angry with anyone!   From a personal point of view, having spent a total of 25 years teaching Secondary School pupils (aged 11-18) I have to confess that, in Jesus' terms, I was a serial killer!

So, where does that leave us?   Well, we are also exhorted, in the New Testament: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom 12:21).  Writing to the Galatian believers, Paul says: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." (Gal 6:2).     Jesus, again in the Sermon on the Mount, says: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matt 5:9); and "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, ..." (Matt 5:43-44).

What that would seem to suggest is that Father God wants us to go far beyond not committing murder.  He wants us to actively treat even those who choose to hate us as respectfully as possible, and do all within our power to live in peace and harmony with them.  "Strive for peace with all men , and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." (Heb 12:14).

To accomplish this we must respect this wonderful gift of the precious possession of human life.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Ten Words (5)

Whilst it may be argued that each of the Ten Words (Commandments) impinges on our relationship with our Creator God, the first four are specifically so.  The remaining six serve as the standards of conduct in areas of human behaviour that generate the most far reaching consequences on individuals, families, groups and society.  In other words, the first four commandments have to do, primarily, with my relationship God-ward; the following six with my relationship man-ward.

Commandment number 5 deals with the most basic human relationship, and is the second that is framed in a positive fashion.  It reads: "Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you." (Ex 20:12), and Paul points out that "... this is the first commandment with a promise." (Eph 6:2).

So what does this commandment mean?   In a world in which many who are able to do so spend small fortunes to keep themselves looking as young as possible while, at the same time, seeking (and, in some countries, succeeding) to legalise euthanasia/assisted dying/suicide, these words may sound strange.  Why should one be concerned about parents and, by extension, other elderly folk?  Such a question would not have occurred to the children of Israel.   Alan Cole writes: "This commandment is part of the general attitude of Israel to old age (as symbolising and, ideally, embodying the practical wisdom of life) commended throughout the Old Testament (Lev.19:32), and found in many other ancient peoples, notably the Chinese." (Tyndale O.T. Commentaries; in loc).

We should honour our parents as those responsible for our existence.  We should honour our parents for the care that they gave to us when we were unable to care for ourselves.  We should honour our parents for the good example that they provide for us.  Sadly, we live in a generation, and culture in which not everyone would recognise such reasons for honouring their parents.  There are, in my opinion, far too many who do not have any relationship with one/both of their biological parents.  It is quite tragic when that is the case because the child is an orphan.  It is even worse when the child has been, effectively abandoned by the parents.  Many parents, in our 'advanced', 'civilised', 'developed', western culture do not care adequately for even the youngest of children.  Indeed, there are millions of mothers who, every year, are responsible - with the willing assistance of others - for the deaths of their children by murder in the womb (aka abortion!).   One doesn't have to read too many news reports to discover that there are many parents whose only example to their children is negative. I wonder if this is why we are experiencing an unprecedented breakdown in, not only family life, but also society as a whole? 

So, how do we honour our parents?  May I suggest that we do so by showing them love, and care; by providing for them in their old age; by recognising their continuing contribution to society in general.  When I was sharing these commandments with secondary school pupils in their early teenage years, I would suggest that it might involve such simple act as keeping one's bedroom tidy; offering to wash up after a meal; volunteering to take the dog for a walk.

Of course, there are parents who are extremely difficult.  However, honouring even such should be our default position.  We may then claim the promise that "our days may be long".  For the children of Israel, this would have been understood in straightforward physical terms, and would have been applied to the land of Israel.  Today, I believe, we may rightly spiritualise the promise.  The honouring of parents is a Christian duty (Eph.6:1; cf I Tim.5:3-4, 8), and those who do so may anticipate, not simply length of days in this world, but the eternal day in the next!  It isn't the whole of the Christian life - but it is an important component part.  Jesus, Himself, affirmed the commandment.  "And He said to [the Pharisees and the scribes], 'You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!  For Moses said, 'Honour your father and your mother'; and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die'; but you say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, 'What you would have gained from me is Corban' (that is, given to God) - then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on'." (Mark 7:9-13).

It is also worth remembering that the way in which we treat our own parents, and older folk whom we know, may well be the way in which, if we are spared to old age, we will be treated.  We really do "reap what we sow"!



Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Ten Words (4)

The fourth of the Ten Words (Commandments) is the first of only two that are framed in a positive fashion.  It reads: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it." (Ex 20:8-11). It is also the only one of the Ten Words that is not repeated in the New Testament!

The tradition of keeping this one day in seven - Shabbat (= 'rest') - was already established within the nation of Israel, but now it became an integral part of their Law, and of the covenant relationship that they had with YHWH.  It was a reminder of creation as it was "... on the seventh day God [that] finished His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all His work which He had done in creation." (Gen 2:2-3).

Of course, when the Children of Israel celebrated Shabbat, it was not only a means of honouring YHWH, but was also a witness to their pagan neighbours.  It was also a means by which to demonstrate their different attitude to slaves.   In other nations, people might take tiime to rest, but their slaves and servants were not afforded such an opportunity.  Only in Israel was it made mandatory that the whole family, including the servants, the very animals, and even foreigners who were merely 'passing through' should take time out.

To Gentiles (non-Jews), the Shabbat restrictions often appear to be onerous.  However, to a Jew, Shabbat is a celebration.   YHWH intended that it be a time of joy; an opportunity to draw closer to Him; to study Torah; to be 'recreated'.   Through the prophet Isaiah, YHWH was later to say: "If you turn back your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of YHWH honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in YHWH, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of YHWH has spoken." (58:13-14).

So, what are the lessons for the disciple of Jesus, today?  Well, we note that, from the earliest days of the Church, it assembled on the first day of the week - Sunday.  Of course, we read of men like Paul, who made use of the synagogue, and the Shabbat service.  "Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, 'This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ'." (Acts 17:1-3).   Some would use such a passage to claim that disciples of Jesus should worship on the seventh day, just like the Children of Israel.  However, such people ignore, for example, Acts 20:7 where we read that "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight."

In passing, let me explain a little about that particular passage.   There are those who assume that Paul commenced his message to these believers in Troas some time in the late morning - maybe about 1100, as is common for many worship services today.  They then marvel that he could speak on until midnight - some thirteen hours!  That would be impressive.  I have spoken for an hour and a quarter, on occasion; but would never even contemplate speaking for such a long time.

The problem is that we forget the way in which the Jewish day is calculated!   It, too, has its basis in the Creation record where we have the refrain: "And there was evening and there was morning, one day." (Gen 1:5, inter al).  This led to the Jewish day being calculated from sunset until sunset.  So, when Paul met with these believers "On the first day of the week, ...", they met at sunset on Saturday!  It was still a long message (little wonder that Eutychus fell asleep!), but not the ridiculous length that some would seek to suggest in an attempt to belittle the written Word of God!

So, disciples of Jesus ought to be faithful in their attendance at the worship service(s) of their local congregation/fellowship, remembering the injunction of the writer of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus: "... not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Heb 10:25).   More than that, we should see it as a joyful occasion, not some boring duty!  We are to attend "... with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." (Heb 10:22). 

That is, I suspect, a challenge for some - but it is a challenge worth accepting as, in New Testament terms, you keep this important commandment.














Monday, 12 January 2015

The Ten Words (3)

The third commandment is simple and straightforward: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain." (Ex 20:7).

The most obvious - and, sadly, frequent - way in which this commandment is broken by so many is in the use of the title 'God' as an expletive, or swear-word.  Of course, there is a tendency at the present time, to think that one is getting around that by using initials.  So I notice, on many social media pages the letters "OMG".  Indeed, I recently noticed those same letters as part of the name of a shop!  I doubt that any reader of this post needs me to 'translate'.

A more recent translation renders this commandment as: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses His name.” (NRSV).  Such a translation emphasises that such thoughtless use of 'God' is unacceptable.  Of course, for the disciple of Jesus, who believes that He is God the Son, it is just as unacceptable to use His name or, indeed, His title (the Christ) in an irreverent manner.

It's all to do with respect!  One modern commentator on these words writes: "If God is the greatest Being in the universe, then His name is the greatest name, and must be honoured (respected)." (Warren Wiersbe).  Respect is the cornerstone of good relationships. The quality of our relationship with God depends on both the love and regard we have for Him; and on the way we express respect for Him in the presence of others. We are expected always to honour Who and What He is. Conversely, the use of God's name in a flippant, degrading or in any way disrespectful manner expresses an attitude of disdaining the relationship we are supposed to have with Him.

Then again, one's name is not only that which is written on one's birth certificate.  We also use the expression to refer to a person's character.  Thus, it may be said of a particular man that "He's got a bad name".  This is not suggesting that John, or Harry, or Timothy, or whatever, is somehow inherently bad.  It is stating that the person in question has a bad reputation.  It is a warning that the person is one who is not to be trusted.  When we use the name of any of the Personae in the Godhead, in an unworthy manner we are, in effect, impugning His character - making Him out to be less than He is!

In the end, it is not enough just to avoid misusing God's name. He wants us to love and respect Him in every way.  Such honouring of Him begins in our thoughts. We must know Who and What He is. We must know what He requires of us and why. We should admire His attributes - His wisdom, love, fairness, and justice. We need to stand in awe of His power and recognise that our very existence depends on His goodness. We should talk with Him in prayer every day, giving Him thanks and praise; openly expressing our appreciation for all that He gives us. We should read His word as a means of getting to know Him better.  We should acknowledge His greatness. We should ask Him to create in us His way of thinking and character. We should request the power of His Spirit to enable us to obey and serve Him "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Matt 22:37)

We honour God most of all by loving Him so much that we desire above all things to be like Him and to accurately represent Him to everyone who sees or knows us. If we have that mind in us, then even the thought of ever misrepresenting or disgracing His name will be repulsive to us. It will then be our strongest resolve to never, but never, take His name in vain!