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Friday, 28 March 2008

The answer to despondency!

They were depressed and despondent, those two travellers making their way from the great city of Jerusalem to their home village of Emmaus, some seven miles from the metropolis. They had, just a couple of days earlier, witnessed the torturous treatment of the Leader of the group of people to which they belonged, culminating in His death by crucifixion.
Yet they had been so certain that this Man was not only a prophet of YHWH - the LORD, God of Israel, but that He was also the One Who was to be the Redeemer of their nation, the nation of Israel. They were a nation that, for almost a century, had been under the occupation of the mighty Rome. There was no-one alive who could remember what life was like without the Romans, and their military might, being in control. But they could dream; and, every so often, someone would rise up against the Romans – and be quickly, and cruelly, put down.
Yet, this man – Jesus of Nazareth – had seemed to be different. He didn’t act like the usual rebel leader; He taught in a way that far outshone their religious teachers who taught in the Temple and the synagogues; He had brought healing, and compassion, and had even raised some people from the dead! Yet His dead, broken, body had been taken down from that cross, and laid in a tomb that had been hewn out of the solid rock of Mt.Zion. Little wonder that they were so depressed as they discussed these events.
But there was puzzlement also! For some of the women in their group had claimed that the Body had disappeared from the tomb – and that angels had informed them that Jesus had risen from the dead!
Suddenly, a Stranger drew near to them, and enquired as to what sort of conversation was making them appear so sad. They could hardly believe that anyone who lived in the area didn’t know the story – but they shared the basic details with Him. Then, to their utter amazement, He started to share with them from their Scriptures – what some refer to today as the Old Testament. And, starting with the writings of the great prophet Moses, He carefully explained that those very same Scriptures actually made it clear that Messiah – that Redeemer for Whom they were waiting – was to suffer, and die, and be raised from the dead.
Well, it was getting dark, and no-one wanted to be out at that time of the evening so, as they approached their home, they invited the Stranger to eat with them, and stay for the night. He readily accepted their invitation and, as was the customary act of hospitality, He was invited to break the bread that they were going to eat. As He did so, they recognised Him – it was Jesus!
He vanished as suddenly as He had appeared; but what a difference in their lives.
“They began telling each other how their hearts had felt strangely warm as he talked with them and explained the Scriptures during the walk down the road.” (Luke 24:32; TLB). They rushed all the way back to Jerusalem, so that they could share with the other followers of Jesus this wonderful news that He was, indeed, alive.
Are you despondent, depressed, disheartened? Then let the risen Lord Jesus speak into your life, even as He spoke to those two dear people all those centuries ago. You, too, will find your heart strangely warmed, and you will have a new spring in your step as His healing power touches your innermost life. I commend Him to you.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Easter Day.

"The Lord is risen!"

"He is risen indeed!"

This ancient liturgical response for Easter Day rings out with as much force today, as it has ever done. This, indeed, is the central message of the Christian faith. The Christmas story is of great importance - the message that Almighty God, the Creator of all that is, has entered the dimensions of time and space, that He had created. The message that He, the Holy One, Who cannot look upon sin, has taken upon Himself the flesh, and nature, of a sinful mankind. What a message! Little wonder that we celebrate it every year. But if the story stopped at that point, then it would be little more than the sentimental, overly-romanticised, soppiness that the world has turned it into over the intervening centuries.

So, on Good Friday, we remember the death of that Infant, now grown to full Manhood. As I've mentioned in the previous post, it was a cruel, agonising death; so shameful that no Roman citizen could suffer it. It was a death that He did not deserve - but that we did; and He died in our place, bearing the punishment for our sin.

Yet even that is not enough. A Christ Who had died, and remained dead, would not be the Saviour Who offers eternal life to all who place their trust in Him. Writing to the believers in Corinth, Paul emphasises the point: "For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ must still be dead. And if He is still dead, then all our preaching is useless and your trust in God is empty, worthless, hopeless;" (I Cor 15:13-14,TLB).

So we rejoice on this day, that we worship a living Saviour; One Who has conquered death, and hell, and the grave. "An empty tomb is there to prove my Saviour lives." And because He lives, we know that we, too, will live. If His return should be delayed, then death will, for the true disciple of Jesus, give way to victory. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

Friday, 21 March 2008

Good Friday.

Crucifixion, it is claimed, was the most agonising death that any human being could suffer. Even the Romans, who seem to have invented that particular method of executing the death penalty, deemed it to be too cruel for any Roman citizen to endure. And for a Jew, it was even worse. The Jewish Scriptures (what some of us refer to as the Old Testament) state that "... anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse." (Deut. 21:23). For anyone to volunteer to be crucified would have been a clear sign of total, and irrefutable, madness. For a Jew to do so, would be an act of defiance; of 'shaking a fist at' God; of saying to God "Go on. I dare You to do your worst"!

Yet the story behind Good Friday is of One, a devout Jew, Whose whole life had shown Him to be perfectly sane, and in control of Himself to an extent that others could never hope to achieve, doing exactly that! But if this was not an act of madness, what on earth could it have been? The Gospel message is clear, and simple. It was a sacrificial act of love - pure love; overwhelming love; unconditional love; that love that is "the minimum of emotion, and the maximum of evaluation" (G.B.Duncan). It is that love that is named, in the Greek language, as άγαπη (agape); it is the very love of Almighty God Himself. And, as has been stated many times, by many poets and preachers, it was not the nails that held Jesus to the cross, it was love - love for you, and love for me.

But there was a reason behind this. This was no mere Man Who hung on the particular cross that is at the centre of this day. This was the One Who was the God-Man - YHWH El Shaddai in human flesh. God the Son, perfect in His humanity even as He was, and is, in His deity. And this was the ultimate, once-for-all sacrifice for your sins and for mine. "At Calvary, Jesus stood between God's anger and the punishment for our sins. having lived the life we couldn't live; then taking the punishment we couldn't escape; He freely offers us redemption we couldn't afford." (The Word for Today; UCB - see the link to obtain your free copy).

"My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought - my sin, not in part, but the whole is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord; praise the Lord, O my soul." (H.G.Spafford).

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Palm Sunday politics!!

Today is Palm Sunday - that day in the calendar of the Christian church on which we remember the triumphal entry of the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem. Many of us know, and love the story of the young donkey; the arrangement that Jesus may have secretly made with the owners of the animal; the "password" of "The Lord needs it", that immediately allowed the disciples to take the animal away from its owners.
What we may not always realise is that there are profound political undertones to the whole incident! This was a fulfilment of the words of the Jewsih prophet, Zechariah: "Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet He is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey's colt." (9:9)
On other occasions, we read of Jesus taking a low profile, because His "day has not yet come". But this is the day - precisely as prophesied by Daniel (9:24-27) - and the King reveals Himself in no uncertain manner.
What a political statement! And the people respond in two ways - with the shouting of "Hosanna" (not, as we often think, a shout of praise, but a plea for salvation [see Ps 118:25]); and with the waving of palm branches - a popular national symbol - and thus an activity that, in the context of a nation suffering from the occupation of the Romans, was paramount to waving the national flag; an act of blatant, and defiant, nationalism!
There are those who claim that Christianity and politics do not mix. Tell that to the slaves who owed their mortal lives to the efforts of men like William Wiberforce; or to the children who benefitted from the work of Lord Shaftesbury; or to the great Scots Reformer, John Knox!
For far too long, the church in the U.K. (and in many other places!) has allowed the tide of secular humanism; pressure from the homosexual lobby groups; and the self-interest of big business; to dictate the moral tone of the nation. I have stated often, over the past year or so, that this may be the very reason why the Lord has raised up a new political party - The Scottish Christian Party (and its counterparts) - to be that prophetic voice to the nation that the church has failed to be.
Will you join with us, and be prepared to stand up, step out and, by the power and inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, help us to be that prophetic voice, proclaiming the Lordship of Christ Jesus, to the glory of God the Father?

Friday, 14 March 2008

Soaked in prayer

A few posts ago, I mentioned that I had experienced a truly horrific few days in school, with a level of indiscipline that I had never experienced before. It was just last week that I suddenly became aware of the root of the problem!
In August, we moved into a new building and, obviously, I got a new room. Now, in my "old" room I had a base that I had built in one corner and, for some fifteen years, I had been using that base for my daily personal devotions that I mentioned in the previous post. The new room didn't really lend itself to that - no "secret place"; a corridor right outside; and overlooking the main road.
However, I suddenly realised that it was also a room that was "spiritually sterile". My previous room had been soaked in prayer, and in the audible reading of the Word of God, for all those years. This room had nothing.
On Monday I used the room, for my devotions, for the first time. It's amazing how one can arrange things when one has the will to do so. An old computer trolley in the far corner, with a wee lamp that I took in from home, and a file-box to hold my Bible, "The Word for Today" (available, free of charge, from UCB - see My Favourite Links), and whatever else I am using to help - together with a pen and a highlighter, and I have a set-up that has proved to be quite conducive to meeting with Father God.
Perhaps it's a lack in my own faith level, but I don't expect instantaneous results. However, I am in no doubt at all that, given a little time, the very atmosphere in that room will be positively changed. I'll try to remember to report in a future post!!
Let us never underestimate the power of the prayer-soaked place, and the praying saint. (James 5:16 [b]).

Saturday, 8 March 2008

The Presence of God

To most Christians, their “Quiet Time” or “Private Devotions” are, indeed, private and personal. I don’t suppose that I am any different in that regard but, every so often, something comes out of that special time with the Lord that I reckon is worth sharing!
Most days, I have to have my devotions with one eye on the clock. Saturday is the wonderful exception, as it is only occasionally that I have to leave the house by a specific time. It was as I sat at my desk, thanking Father God for the wonderful life with which He has blessed me, that I said something like: “Lord, I want this to be really special. I don’t have to watch my time, and what I want is to have such a real experience of Your Presence that it’s almost as if You have walked through the doorway, and sat down beside me. And I want You to just point out things, in Your Word, and explain what I don’t understand. I want to be like those disciples on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13ff, if you don’t know the story) who were accompanied by the risen Lord Jesus, Who “... took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (v.27)
I am privileged to have a fairly good little library of theological books, and I am grateful for the insights that I have gained from the writings of men, and women, of God who have a much deeper relationship with the Lord than I do. But I recall a statement from a book that I read in my undergraduate days. It was a commentary on one of the works of the English Bard, William Shakespeare, and the author made a profound statement along the lines of “It’s the book that matters, not the commentary thereon”. If I was studying one of Shakespeare’s plays, how wonderful it would be to have the man himself seated at my side, telling me exactly what was in his mind when he wrote a particular passage!
That is the immeasurable privilege of anyone who comes to the written Word of God, with a sincere desire to discover what it has to say to them, as individuals. The Author is always available, to guide and direct our thinking; willing to open that Word to our understanding; eager to share with us what is in His mind. It’s the answer to the request of the Psalmist: “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in Your instructions” (119:18)
The accompanying thought that has been with me for most of this week, is that it is not just having a head-knowledge of God that makes the difference in life. It is “knowing” Him (see Philippians 3:10). And that, in Biblical terms, involves a deep and intimate experience that is akin to the sexual relationship between husband and wife. It’s a mind-blowing thought, that a sinful mortal like me may, by His grace, have such a knowledge of, and relationship with, the sinless Creator of all that is. I trust that such is your experience also – through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, at Calvary.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Practical Atheism!

Philip Greenslade is one of those authors of whom I had heard but whose work I have only recently started to read. One of his books - "Songs for all Seasons" - is based on some of the Biblical Psalms, and I have been using it, as part of my private devotions, for a few weeks.
This morning, he quoted a passage from another book, that contained one of those phrases that seem to jump off the page: "... the practical atheism of many 'believers'". My own interpretation of that is that it refers to those who are sometimes named "nominal" Christians, that is, those who pay lip-service to the existence of God, and to His sovereign claim on their lives; whilst living out their lives as if He doesn't exist at all. In other words, for all practical purposes, they are not believers, but atheists!
I guess that this "practical atheism" is seen in a number of different ways. Here are some that immediately spring to mind:
The words that we speak - is our language, in both it's content and its delivery, peppered more with swear-words and blasphemies, than with references to the Lord Jesus?
The places to which we go - is there anywhere that we frequent that would cause us to be concerned, if not ashamed, if the Lord Jesus asked to go along as well?
The things that we watch - does what we view, on television, or on the internet, fill our minds with images that are honouring to the Lord Jesus, and helpful to ourselves?
The activities in which we participate - does what we do draw us closer to the Lord Jesus; encouraging us to grow more like Him?
Now, I'm not even suggesting that the only way in which a Christian may live the life of a true disciple of Jesus is to become some sort of 2nd century hermit. However, I was also conducting the Communon service in a parish church this morning, and was reading, again, those words of Paul from I Corinthians 11:23 ff. In them, is the encouragement to examine ourselves - to do a bit of "spiritual stocktaking". It may well be that some of us need to do that examination on a more regular basis and, depending on His grace, ensure that our practice matches our profession - that we are not, in spite of what we may call ourselves, "practical atheists"!