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Sunday, 24 February 2008

Living Stones

There’s a lovely old hymn that I used to sing as a child, that isn't found in very many of the modern song-books – if in any at all! It refers to the Rapture – that glorious event when the Lord Jesus will come in the air, and take those who are truly His to be with Him throughout eternity, and it goes like this:
“When He cometh, when He cometh, to make up His jewels; all His jewels, precious jewels, His loved and His own.
“He will gather, He will gather the gems for His Kingdom; all the pure ones, all the bright ones, His loved and His own.
“Little children, little children who love their Redeemer, are the jewels precious jewels, His loved and His own.
“Like the stars of the morning, His bright crown adorning; they shall shine in their beauty, bright gems for His crown.”
I’m actually unaware of any place in the written Word of God in which believers are referred to as jewels or gems. However, there are many other descriptions given in the Word.
“You are coming to Christ, Who is the living cornerstone of God’s Temple. He was rejected by people, but He was chosen by God for great honour. And you are living stones that God is building into His spiritual temple.” (I Peter 2:4-5)
Living stones, being built into a Temple for Father God! That’s quite a thought! In I Kings 6:7, we read of the stones that were used in the construction of the first Temple, built during the reign of king Solomon:
“The stones with which the Temple was built had been prepared at the quarry, so that there was no noise made by hammers, axes, or any other iron tools, as the temple was being built.” (GNB)
All of the preparation was done elsewhere. The temple was not to be defiled, even by unnecessary noise!
I’ve had a particularly bad week – three times, on Mon-Wed, I felt that I was under a satanic attack. I’m in my final year at LHS, and it was almost as if the devil was saying, “Whatever testimony you may have in this place, I’m going to ruin it during your last year. Think you’re going to cruise gently to the end? No way. I’m going to see to that.” And so, in three different classes, I experienced a level of disruption, insolence, antagonism, and mocking of the very Name of Jesus, that I cannot recall ever having experienced before.
But Jesus has already assured me, through those words that He spoke to the first disciples, shortly before He went to the cross: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (Jn.16:33)
And, of course, this is true. There was, for a time at least, some idea that becoming a Christian meant that life suddenly became a bed of roses; all trouble disappeared; everything in the garden became lovely. It was, and is, a lie; a cruel hoax, perpetrated by the devil himself. When I became a Christian, a follower, and disciple, of Jesus, life suddenly became tough. Instead of just flowing with the stream, I was now travelling in the opposite direction! While I was doing things my way, living my life to suit myself, the devil wasn’t bothered about me. He had me in his grip, even if I didn’t realise it. But the moment that I made that decision to follow Jesus, the devil started to attack, and to do so in all manner of ways, and at the times, and in the situations, when he knew that I was weakest.
But those words of Jesus, that I just quoted, were preceded by these: “...the time is coming – indeed, it’s here now – when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving Me alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.”
Alone, yet not alone. The living presence of the Lord Jesus with me, always. That’s what makes it all possible. That’s what those who persecute – even to death – our brothers and sisters in so many parts of the world, don’t understand. They are not fighting against flesh and blood – bodies that they can injure, and maim, and kill. They are fighting against God Himself.
So when you are going through a hard patch; when you are under attack from the devil, whatever from that attack may take, remember that we are still living in the quarry. And the quarry is where the stones are hewn, and cut, and shaped, and trimmed. If those stones had been able to feel, and talk, I’m quite sure that they would have been overheard, complaining about the rough treatment they were receiving. But perhaps one of them would have had some discernment, and would have pointed out to its fellows: “Hey, I know it’s rough just now. I know that it’s much nicer just lying in the quarry, doing nothing, achieving nothing, being nothing. But don’t you realise what’s happening. This is so that we may become fit to be part of the wonderful, beautiful, Temple that king Solomon is building for YHWH, El Israel – the LORD, God of Israel. If the stonemasons don’t work on us like this, we won’t be of any use to Him.”
“You are living stones that God is building into His spiritual temple.” The writer of the Letter to Hebrew Christians explains that the earthly Tabernacle – what we might think of as the portable Temple – was only a copy of that which is in heaven. If you are in Christ, and if He is in you, then you are being formed, experience by experience, into a stone that is fit for that Temple; fit for the eternal praise and worship of Almighty God.
One last thing. That Saul of Tarsus who so persecuted the early disciples of Jesus, became the great apostle Paul. And, writing to the believers in the city of Corinth, he had this to say: “Don’t you realise that all of you, together, are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (I Cor.3:16-17)
So there is a very real sense in which, in time, we already are what we are going to be, in eternity! And I believe that this places a great responsibility upon us, to look after this temple of God to the very best of our ability. And that, I would suggest, involves being very careful what we do with our bodies; what we put into our bodies; and how we take care of our bodies.
Perhaps the very personal discipline that that will involve, will be a part of the cutting and shaping process that will make each one of us the stones that Father God wants us to be, to fit perfectly into that Temple, not made by human hands, eternal in the heavens. (cf.II Cor.5:1)

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Profound thoughts!

"... what God desires is deeper than what He demands; what He requires, more fundamental than what He prescribes." Philip Greenslade

"... O people, Yahweh (the LORD) has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you:
to do what is right;
to love mercy;
and to walk humbly with your God." The prophet Micah

"Do people ever come up to you, as a Christian, and say, 'My, you're getting very much like your Lord'? Do people ever come up to you and say, 'Oh, how you remind me of Jesus Christ'? Do they ever do that? They ought to, you know. If you are in good (spiritual) health, and if your heart is right." Rev. George B. Duncan

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Scotland's Heritage.

Joyce and I have just returned from a few days, in the caravan, in Roslin – just south of Edinburgh. We always try to go away for the mid-term break, as a joint birthday anniversary gift. I celebrate my birthday today, and Joyce celebrates her birthday next Wednesday (20th).
While we were away, we visited four different castles in the east of Scotland – Edinburgh; Dirleton; Tantallon, and Haile’s. Apart from Edinburgh, they are ruins, unfit for human habitation. Cold and dank, parts are missing, and parts are crumbling.
However, although long past their original splendour and glory, they are a part of the history and heritage of this beautiful country.
That’s a bit like the Christian faith. As I look around me I see church buildings, that once were filled with worshipping people, turned into furniture stores, apartments, even bingo halls. I see a nation that now worships the god of materialism and consumerism. Yet the Christian faith is as much a part of our heritage as any great castle.
At Edinburgh, Dirleton and Tantallon, we were struck by the restoration work that is going on – lovingly and carefully undertaken by craftsmen who have dedicated their skill, their knowledge, their expertise, in an endeavour to make those castles look like what they were in the past. And I found myself asking a question! Where are the men, and women, of God who will seek to restore, to our nation, the faith that sustained our forefathers? Where are those who will gladly, and willingly, give of their skill, and knowledge, and expertise in the things of God, in dedicated service to Him, and to their fellow-man?
My current interest in politics is no secret, and I wondered, yet again, if the Lord has chosen to use a political party – like The Scottish Christian Party – to sound a wake-up call to the nation. So much of the church, across the denominations, seems to have let Him down – and suffered the inevitable consequences.
We may be thankful that the God of Abraham of Isaac, and of Jacob, Who has revealed Himself most fully in the Persona of the Lord, Jesus the Christ, is gracious and long-suffering. But let us not presume upon His kindness. Rather, let us be among those who will lead in prayerful repentance, and seek His forgiveness for the sins of the nation.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Waiting for God to ...!

There's a well-known play, by Samuel Beckett, entitled Waiting for Godot. If you don't know it, then a search on the web will tell you as much as you want to know! Maybe it's just my warped mind; or maybe it's genuinely lateral thinking, but everytime I see the title, I want to change the order of the letters in the name, and make the title read Waiting for God to ...!
The idea cropped up, again, at Thursday evening's prayer meeting in Liberty Community Church, Bellshill. We had been reminded that Jesus often spent time, alone, in prayer. And it wasn't just for a few minutes, or even an hour or two. Sometimes we read of Him spending a whole night in prayer! (see, e.g. Luke 6:12). It occurred to me that He would not have spent that length of time going through a list of "prayer requests", however worthy they might have been. Indeed, I cannot imagine that He spent all of that time talking at all. I am quite certain that a lot of the time was spent just waiting for Father God to reveal more of His will for the Son.
Of course, if I am correct, it does beg the question "How much time do I spend simply Waiting for God to ..."?
If the Son needed to spend time waiting upon the Father, then surely I need to spend more time following His example! Some of us live such busy lives, cramming all that we can into every passing minute, that we tend to forget that we are human beings, not human doings.
The old hymnwriter had the right idea when he urged us to "Take time to be holy, the world rushes on; Spend much time in secret with Jesus alone." And if we let more of that time be a waiting upon Him for guidance and direction; in ever-deepening worship; then we shall grow more like Him, and draw others to Him that they might receive the salvation that He offers to all who repent,and believe.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

God can't do that!

I am often asked the question (especially by sceptical pupils!), “Do you believe that God can do anything?” For many years, my immediate answer was, “Yes, of course He can. He is God!”
However, I have come to realise that I was giving a false answer! There are, in fact, many things that God cannot do. So not even Almighty God can draw a square circle, or a five-angled triangle. These would be totally self-contradictory (oxymoronic), and God does not contradict Himself. But there are much more important things that God cannot do. These may be summed up as “anything that is contrary to His essential nature”. Here are three of them:
God cannot
1. Love you any more than He does
Possibly the best-known words in the whole of the Bible are those found at John 3:16 “God loved the world so much that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever places their trust in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” I wonder how many times I have preached on those words, and sought to “unpack” them in order that their full wonder might be glimpsed!? The central word, of course, is “gave”. It’s not too long since we celebrated Christmas. And many of us will have purchased gifts – gifts of different values. And the most expensive gifts will, undoubtedly, have gone to those who are most dear and precious to us. God loved, and loves, you and me so much that, in the Persona of the Son, He gave Himself. What more could he possibly give? How could He love you any more?
But also, God cannot
2. Give you any more than He’s already given
So what has He given? Well, we could start with physical life! It’s been many decades now since the birth of the first so-called “test-tube” baby. But no scientist has ever created life! The best that they can do is to artificially bring together the “component parts” – in this case the female egg and the male sperm – outwith the womb. But where is the life? I’m no biologist, but my understanding is that, however we look at it, it’s a miracle. We may be able to describe the mechanics, but we can’t fully understand what causes that spark of life. It is God-created.
But the real gifts are for those who have come to Him, in repentance and faith, and acknowledged the Lord Jesus as Saviour and Lord. He gives us that very salvation. It is the gift of God. I can’t earn it; I can’t buy it; I can’t deserve it. “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a free gift from God.” (Eph.2:8)
He gives us His Spirit. That’s the promise of the Lord Jesus: “... I will send you the Paraclete – the Spirit of Truth. He will come to you from the Father, and will testify all about me.” (Jn.15:26). Paul writes to the Roman believers that “... we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”
He gives us peace. Remember those lovely words of the Lord Jesus? “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.” (Jn.14:27). And the peace of which God’s Word speaks is not just an absence of conflict. It’s a very positive thing. It’s the Hebrew concept of “shalom” – a total well-being.
He gives us joy. That was the message of the angel to the shepherds who were being told of the birth of Messiah – the Saviour. “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy...!” And not only at the beginning of that unique life, but also at the end. In His final great discourse to the inner band of the disciples, Jesus gives this assurance: “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow.” (Jn.15:11)
He gives us His love. And that takes us back to Jn.3:16. And, in his first letter, the same John makes the point that “This is real love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (4:10). And this is the unconditional love that is expressed by the Greek word agape.
Final thing that God can’t do is to
3. Make choices for you
Many a time, I wish that God would just make me into a robot. Life would be so much easier for me if I had been programmed to do only those things that please Him, and never to do those things that offend Him.
But that’s not how He works. And I can actually understand that. My wife loves me – would have to, to have put up with me this long! – and I truly appreciate her love. But if I knew that the only reason that she loved me was that she was incapable of doing anything else, then that love would be totally devalued. It’s the fact that she has chosen to love me that makes her love so very special.
God is no different. Of course He could have programmed mankind to love Him, and serve Him, perfectly. But that would have given Him no pleasure; no joy. And so He created us with freewill. It means that I must make the choices of life for myself – but that’s what makes them worthwhile.
But what if I make the wrong choices? Well, that will sadden Father God – but He will allow me to do so. Indeed, sometimes that’s the only way by which He can teach me some important truths. And, of course, His eternal purposes are still worked out. Because He knows my every decision before I make it.
So, next time you are asked if God can do anything, please don’t come out with a glib response. Do remember that not even Almighty God can love you more than He already does; give you more than He’s already given; make choices for you – including the choice to be His faithful follower.
But remember, too, that you may choose Him today, by confessing your sinfulness; repenting of your sins; and committing your life to Him in love and obedience.