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Sunday, 27 April 2008

So what IS a Christian?

On a couple of occasions this week I have spoken with folk who don't seem to be absolutely certain as to what Christian is - at least in the Biblical sense of the word. There are many passages in the New Testament that give us good definitions/descriptions of what Christian is, one of them being Philippians 4:4-7 - "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (NKJV)

So, a Christian is someone who enjoys a presence - even the presence of the Lord, Jesus the Christ. He is, Paul says, "at hand" or "very near". One translation says "The Lord is at your elbow"! Our company makes such a difference to our lives. "Show me your company, and I'll tell you your character" is the old adage - and how true it is. The Christian is blessed in having company that is perfect: the company of Jesus. And He is One Who is always there for us. Family, friends, colleagues, however fine, are often elsewhere. But Jesus said "I am with you - always"! (Matt.28:20)

A Christian is someone who also forms a practice. Paul encourages us to "Rejoice". He is writing from prison, in Rome but, in spite of all that he has gone through as a disciple of Jesus; in spite of his present situation as a disciple of Jesus; despite what he knew would be his earthly future (death by beheading); and despite the persecution he knew would be experienced by his fellow disciples; he repeats his exhortation: "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, 'Rejoice." Such joy comes from two activities - prayer, and praise. "Don't worry", says Paul, "Pray!" Nothing is too small; nothing is too great, to bring before Father God in prayer. And we may do so in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving. (see also I Thess.5:18)

The last thing that Paul says in this little passage is that a Christian is someone who trusts a promise. That promise is that "...the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Here is a promise of adequacy provided by Jesus. He, alone. In Him we have the assurance of sins forgiven, and the power to resist the temptations that the devil keeps placing before us. He also stills the anxieties that crowd into our 21st century "sophisticated" minds.

Being a true Christian, in a living relationship with Jesus is wonderful. Those of us who claim to be such need to show the real thing to those with whom we come in contact, day by day.

Be blessed.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Guidance

If I had my way, the Lord would make His will for my life perfectly clear by sending me regular postcards, postmarked "Heaven", and signed G-O-D, with a list of bullet-points that I could easily understand, and readily obey.

Sadly, although He has given the promise "I will guide you along the best pathway for your life; I will advise and watch over you" (Psalm 32:8) that isn't the way in which God provides that guidance. He seems to expect that I will actively seek His will for my life. But the guidance is there, and it comes in a number of ways.

Often, it is simply through circumstances. How often I am able to look back over a series of events - one leading directly to another - that I could not possibly have arranged or anticipated; and that have brought me to a particular point in my life, or to a particular experience. Who is to say that such situations were not ordered by God Himself?!

Sometimes guidance comes through reason or, perhaps better, common sense. That may not seem very spiritual to some, but if we believe (as I do) that Almighty God created every aspect of our beings, then why should He not use the faculty of reason with which He has endowed me. There have been times when I have simply, but prayerfully, weighed up the "pros and cons" in a situation in order to determine the best course of action.

Tied in with reason is conscience. Of course,I'm not referring to some sort of Walt Disney created "Jiminy Cricket". I believe that, for the disciple of Jesus, conscience may be the prompting of God the Holy Spirit.

Of course, these means of guidance may be experienced, to some extent, by anyone - Christian or non-Christian. There are, however, three other means of guidance that are available only to the child of God.

First of all, there is prayer. My former minister, and spiritual mentor, the late Rev George B. Duncan, used to speak of bringing every moment, and every matter, to the Lord in prayer. And as I pray about a particular situation, how often the answer, the guidance, comes even as I pray.

Then, of course, there is the written Word of God - the Bible. If it is, indeed, His word, then I will hear Him speak to me through it. Not by lifting down a dusty copy, flicking through its pages,and stabbing my finger at some random verse; but by reading it daily, and getting to know it intimately. And I may always be certain that if anything contradicts the teaching of the Bible, then it most certainly is not God's will!

Finally, there is the Christian fellowship. Often I have found that simply talking a matter through with a mature and trusted Christian friend, has brought clarity. Bringing some matter to the prayer meeting, or the Home Group, and having Christian brothers and sisters pary it through with me, has enabled a wider perspective to be brought to the particular situation.

Guidance! So very necessary if I am not going to make a complete fool of myself; and available from a loving God Who has a perfect plan and purpose for my life. May you, too, dear reader, know His plan and purpose for your life; and thus bring glory and honour to His Name.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Dependability!

If you are one of those who checks out this blog from time to time, you may have had the same difficulty that I have had in gaining access to it, in its fulness, over the past couple of days. There was, apparently, some problem with the provider, and the posts themselves were not showing. Nor, I discovered, could I add a new one so, my apologies for not having added anything for almost a week! All the wonders of modern technology - but not always totally dependable!

How unlike Almighty God that is. He is the One Who is utterly dependable. He is the One Who, as we come to Him through the Persona of the Son - the Lord, Jesus the Christ - never lets us down. He is, as the writer of the Letter to Hebrew Christians puts it "the same yesterday, today, and forever". And that "sameness" is true of His attitude towards both you and me.

He never lets us down, and He never lets us go. "I am with you always" was the promise of the Lord Jesus to those disciples who had spent some three years of their lives with Him, seeing at first hand the miracles He performed; hearing His voice as He taught both them and the multitudes. What a wonderful encouragement to know that, when my feeble faith begins to slip, His strong hand holds on to me.

He never lets me down; He never lets me go; and He never lets me off!! That isn't always an aspect of His character that we want to remember - but it is absolutely true. And would I really want anything else? A recent question I was asked in "AllExperts" (see the links) had to do with the discipline of children. Now, as anyone who knows me would expect, I have absolutely no time for those who abuse children, whether physically, emotionally, or sexually. But where I believe the "do-gooders" have got it wrong is in not differentiating between an adult using his/her superior physical strength to thrash a child, and a parent disciplining their child - for the child's ultimate good. The latter is not only Biblically endorsed, but is also a sign of love. When I smacked my own children for some relatively minor misdemeanour, it was because I loved them and didn't want them to end up in much more serious trouble. The state of society today, certainly in the UK, shows the sad state of affairs that has resulted from children constantly being "let off". Thank God that He loves me enough to discipline me when the need arises.

Never letting me down; never letting me go; never letting me off. The God Who is, not merely of love, but love itself (I John 4:8). I commend Him to you.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

A different perspective!!

Contentment is not getting what we want, but being satisfied with what we have. (Anon.)

Humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself; it just means thinking of yourself less! (The Word for Today, 14th April, 2008)

Work can be worship – when you do it for God. (Woodrow Kroll)

Friday, 11 April 2008

What's in a name?

I’m just back from Spring Harvest – an annual Christian “Event” that is held in a couple of UK venues. It was excellent, in both the worship and the teaching. One of the speakers was a Church of England Bishop, Tom Wright. For those who don’t know my “denominational pilgrimage”, I started of (and was converted) as a Presbyterian, and it was into the Church of Scotland that I was eventually ordained. After a doctrinal disagreement, I left “the Kirk” and was called into teaching. I also moved into the Baptist Church; then became an active part of the Charismatic movement; returned, briefly, to the Baptist fold; joined a former Brethren Assembly; and am now part of a new, independent Christian fellowship! After listening to Bishop Tom, I was constrained to speak with him; give him the bare bones of the above, and inform him that “almost you persuade me to become an Anglican”! (cf Acts 26:28 in the New Testament). As you may have guessed, I was impressed!!

So, why share that piece of apparent trivia? Well, just to point out the importance, and the unimportance, of Christian denominations! When I was at Grammar School, I had to wear a school blazer (jacket). This garment had two very important items attached to it. One of these was the label. This provided certain pieces of important information such as the material from which the blazer was made; the size of the garment; and the cleaning instructions. However, although it provided all of that information, it was attached, out of sight, inside the inside pocket, or inside the collar. And, of course, there were lots of different labels, on lots of different blazers.

The other item was the school badge. This gave no other information than the name of the school, and its heraldic crest. But this item was worn, proudly, on the front breast-pocket, and it was exactly the same on every blazer in the school.

The lesson is that a denominational tag is nothing more than a label. It may give some useful – even important – information about my views on church government; on water baptism; on the use of the gifts of God the Holy Spirit. But the really important thing is my badge – and that is Christian. So, I don’t really mind what label you may bear. My concern is your badge. If you are a Christian – one who has trusted, completely, in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin, and a hope for the future that is firmly grounded in the here-and-now – then your label is of secondary importance. As long as you are seeking, with His help, to follow that same Lord Jesus, you are my brother, or my sister. I’ll be interested in your label – but it will never be allowed to come between us.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Just being there is often enough!

I’ve started reading in the Old Testament Book of Job during my private devotions. This morning I was at the end of the second chapter: “When three of Job's friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and travelled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.”

“No one said a word to Job.”
were the words that jumped out at me. These three friends started off by saying precisely nothing! It is obvious that they cared enough about Job to have travelled to be with him in his predicament. And they shared his situation with him – sitting on the ground with him for a whole week! I was reminded of the old saying attributed to the North American Red Indians: “Don’t criticise the way a man walks, until you’ve worn his moccasins.” Although they later changed their positions, these men started out well.

So what lessons did I gain from those words? Well, the first one is that there are occasions when words are superfluous; when a hug speaks volumes more than a sermon.

My second lesson is that we shouldn’t be like Job’s friends by then going and spoiling everything by becoming “devil’s advocates”, or “witnesses for the prosecution”!

The third thought that came to me this morning is that part of the message of the Christian Gospel is that the Lord Jesus meets with us wherever we are, and shares in our circumstances with us. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament reminds us: “So then, since we have a great High Priest Who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (4:14-16)

Few of us, in the so-called “free” West, are likely to ever suffer the sort of difficulties and losses with which Job had to deal. But what an encouragement for those who are disciples of the Carpenter from Galilee: that we have One Who is closer than a brother and Who, whatever our situation or circumstances, has promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us. Hallelujah!