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Saturday, 31 May 2008

Continuing Professional Development!

One of the better innovations in the field of British education in recent years, has been the introduction of formal CPD (Continuing Professional Development). This is an official recognition of the truth of which many of us were already aware, and to which we were already givng attention - that learning is a life-long process (even for the teachers!!)

I spent this morning and afternoon in the very beautiful campus of the University of Stirling, attending a CPD Conference on spiritual development within the context of the latest educational initiative - A Curriculum for Excellence.

It was a most interesting, and useful, day, and I came away with a number of ideas, including some for the dissertation that I have almost completed. But I had some additional thoughts that don't have an educational bias. I found myself thinking about the Christian life. It's a life of continuing development. It's a life of constant growth - growing to be ever more like Jesus, "the Author and the Finisher of our faith" (Heb.12:2). Theologians use the big word 'sanctification', and it's a major part of the work of God the Holy Spirit, in the believer's life.

The other thought was that, as a believer, I should always be striving for excellence. This is surely the thought that was in the mind of the hymnwriter, M Farningham: "Just as I am, young, strong and free, to be the best that I can be for truth, and righteousness, and Thee; Lord of my life, I come". Paul certainly thought that way. "I don't mean to say ... that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me." (Phil.3:12).

Continuing development towards excellence. It's what is now expected of Scottish teachers; it's what every Christian should be constantly seeking!

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Apprentices!

I’m just back from an Induction Service! For those to whom that is totally meaningless, it refers to the “setting in” of a new minister within a Christian congregation. I had preached a number of times during the period when the two congregations involved were without a minister, and had been invited to the service this evening. Being a Church of Scotland event brought some physical colour to the proceedings as most of the clergy were wearing robes – of different colours – and academic hoods from a variety of Universities, and for a variety of degrees.

Part of the proceedings involved a message from the Word of God – the Bible – brought by one of the younger ministers. He based it on the well-known account of the feeding of more than 5,000 people with just five small rolls and a couple of small fish, but started with a reference to a well-known programme currently being aired on British television – The Apprentice. The disciples, he suggested, were Jesus’ apprentices.

What is an apprentice? Well, when I was a commie (apprentice) chef, I was watching, learning, copying, the chefs who were fully trained and experienced in the job. And that’s what a disciple of Jesus is – one who watches Jesus, learns from Jesus, copies Jesus.

I guess that people fall into one of three categories. There are those who have no time for Jesus at all; who deny His very existence; who live their lives in their own way, satisfying their own desires. Then there are those who claim membership of a Christian fellowship/congregation, but who have no personal knowledge, or experience, of the Lord Jesus. They bear the name, but lack the power, of the Biblical Christian. But, praise God, there are also those who are true disciples of Jesus – those who seek to keep Him at the centre of their lives, and themselves in the centre of His will; those who look to Him for guidance and direction; those who are true followers, true apprentices, true disciples.

In the television show, only one apprentice wins the right to a year in which Sir Alan Sugar (a well-known British businessman) shares his business-building secrets. All of the other contestants hear the words, “You’re fired!” How different it is with Jesus! With Him, every apprentice is a winner. He shares, not the secrets of business, but the secrets of the Kingdom of God (Mark 4:11), the secrets of eternal life (John 6:68) – and not for a year of time, but for eternity itself.

I wonder into which of the three groups you would place yourself? If it isn’t the third group, then that’s where to start (some of the audio messages may be helpful). If it is the third group, then I pray the richest blessing of Father God that you might be the best apprentice, the best disciple, that you can possibly be. Your prize? The upward calling of God, in Christ Jesus (Phil.3:14), and a crown of glory that will not fade away (I Pet.5:4). Hallelujah!

Friday, 23 May 2008

Keeping fit - physically, and spiritually.

A website to which I subscribe has provided a video workout for Beginners. You may like to try it!!


Online Videos by Veoh.com

Keeping our bodies in good condition is something that we all know we should do. It's also something that is Biblically sound! Christians are told that our bodies are the temple of God, the Holy Spirit (I Cor.6:19) and, as such, should be kept in the best condition possible. We may not all be able to be Olympic standard sportsmen/women, but we can all do something other than turn into couch potatoes!! And, of course, as we progress, we discover that we are able to accomplish more and more.

However, of even greater importance is spiritual fitness. The protests over the Chinese occupation of Tibet have brought the Beijing Olympics a level of publicity not normally seen so far ahead of the Opening Ceremony. And it got me thinking about the spiritual sports commentary that we find in the pages of the New Testament. For example, in just one brief passage Paul refers to running; training; boxing; and self-discipline. (I Cor 9:24-27) Writing to the church in the Roman garrison town of Philippi, he may well have had that supreme test of endurance, the marathon, in mind when he wrote: “Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” (3:13b-14); while, in his letters to Timothy, he speaks of fighting the good fight, and of gaining the victor's crown/laurel wreath (I Tim 6:12; II Tim 2:5; II Tim 4:7-8). The writer of the Letter to Hebrew Christians refers to the spectators urging the believer on (12:1)

Right now, athletes all over the world are training hard for the 29th Olympiad. But in what sort of training should the Christian be involved? Well, just as the athlete has different exercises to build up both general fitness, and physical strength, so the believer has different areas in which to work. I would suggest that prayer is the first. This is the way in which we may be said to be in direct touch with our Trainer. Then there is our daily reading of His Word - getting our direction; being brought into an ever-closer relationship with the Lord. Thirdly, there is witnessing. Not everyone is gifted as an evangelist, but every believer is a witness. The only question is as to the kind of witness I am!

In spite of China's appalling record on human rights - experienced by many Christians on a daily basis (see some of my favourite links) - many will, in due course, tune in to watch the Games. But if you are a believer, people are constantly watching you - and what they see in you will be what they see of Jesus. Let's be sure that they get a good picture, from a people who are spiritually fit, and bringing honour, not just to a nation, but to the King of all of the nations.

Monday, 19 May 2008

A couple of updates!!

Some time ago (14th March), I shared that I had come to the conclusion that the level of indiscipline that I was experiencing in my new classroom was the result of that physical room's spiritual sterility. I am happy to be able to report that, as I have resumed the practice, of some 15 years in my previous room, of having my private devotions in the room, the level of indiscipline has noticeably dropped. Hallelujah!

The other update is that, in response to my letter (see below, 12th May), my Westminster MP, Mr Frank Roy, sent me a very encouraging letter that assured me that he is definitely pro-life, and would be voting accordingly. I have e-mailed him to thank him for his support. Sadly, the news came through, earlier this evening, that the amendment on the animal-human hybrids has been defeated - possibly because of a strong lead from the Prime Minister. Those words of Jesus, as He hung on the cross, immediately came to mind - "Father, forgive them; they don't realise what is is they are doing."

Sunday, 18 May 2008

The Trinity

Some time ago, I promised that I would share on the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity on this blog. Today being Trinity Sunday seems to be an appropriate point at which to do so! However, what I have done is add my teaching on the subject as an audio message! Please scroll down and you will find it, clearly marked, on the left-hand-side of the blog. I trust that you will find it understandable, interesting and, above all, edifying (i.e. helpful to your understanding of, and living out, the Christian faith). Please feel free to leave any comment. I'm a big boy, and can handle constructive criticism just as well as genuine praise.

Be blessed.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

"Nominal" Christianity

Two events that have been reported in the national news today appear, at first glance, to have no connection at all. However, I quickly realised that they have one common denominator. The events to which I refer are the marriage of Peter Phillips, eldest grandson of H.M. the Queen to Miss Autumn Kelly, and the addressing of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

What, it may be asked, do these two events have in common? Well, it is reported that the new Mrs Phillips gave up her Romanist faith and "converted" to the Church of England, enabling Mr Phillips to retain his right to the throne. As far as Mr Brown is concerned, I have never - in spite of his Presbyterian manse upbringing - heard him say, or seen him do, anything that would even suggest that he has a personal, saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. This means, to me at least, that the two events have one word in common - nominality.

If the new Mrs Phillips had anything other than a nominal belief, i.e. something that exists in name only, she would not have given it up. By the same token, her new husband would not even have expected her to have done so. As others have pointed out, being 11th in line to the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland doesn't actually allow for much of a possibility of gaining it!! As for Mr Brown, one does not need to be a student of politics to know that he has repeatedly deceived the British public with, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he brought ten years of "stealth" taxes. Recent publications by those who have been closer to him than I, also suggest that his private speech and attitude are a long way short of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus, the Christ.

At the General Assembly, Mr Brown called for people everywhere to discover their shared values, communicate with each other and join together with people in other countries in a "single moral universe to bring about change".
"This is the irrepressible revolution of our time - a billion voices for change. And I'd like to think that acting together we can become the generation to address climate change," he said.
"Acting together, the first generation in the history of mankind to abolish illiteracy and give every child the right to education; acting together, the first generation to eradicate tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, malaria, on the way to eradicating HIV/Aids.
"And to honour the dream of the scriptures: that justice will roll like water and righteousness like a mighty stream." (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/7405547.stm)

I find it interesting that he (or, at least, his speech-writer) quotes from one of the Old Testament prophets (Amos 5:14), and that he quotes from a passage in which it is YHWH (the LORD) Who is speaking to His people, Israel, and warning of impending judgement! Perhaps the Prime Minister, and Mrs Phillips, should consider more the words of the Lord Jesus to the Jewish leader, Nicodemus: "You must be born again" (John 3:7). It is only as we enter that new life - confessing, and repenting of, our sins; accepting the salvation that Jesus won for us on the cross; and sharing the Gospel message wherever, whenever, and with whoever, we can; that we become "conviction" Christians. And that, as far as the Lord is concerned, is the only kind of Christian that He recognises. The nominal "Christian" is heading only for condemnation, and a lost eternity. (see Matthew 7:21-23; 25:31-46).

Monday, 12 May 2008

The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill

This is a copy of the letter that I have sent to my own Westminster MP, Mr Frank Roy.

Dear Mr Roy,

Although I am aware that the debate on the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill has already commenced, I am contacting you more fully, than by the e-card already sent, in order to ask you to consider the following points, and to vote accordingly.

1. Animal-human embryos
This proposal would, if accepted, cross all natural and ethical boundaries. It is a simple fact that there is no natural crossing of “kinds” (or genii). This proposal may well have been presented with the superficially commendable objective of producing stem-cells that may be used to discover new treatments for certain diseases, and to replace damaged tissue. However, it is my understanding that adult stem-cells have already been used successfully in this area of medical research – and this route does not create any ethical concerns. If Parliament were to succumb to the demands of certain scientists in this way, then I would maintain that it would be guilty of destroying the very definition of what a human being is.

2. “Saviour siblings”
This, as you will be fully aware, would effectively involve the creation of a living being simply to provide “spare parts” for another human being. While I can understand the desire of parents to do everything possible for a child who suffers from a severe medical condition (a concept, by the way, that appears not to be any more fully defined in the Bill), I fear for the psychological damage that would be done to the child who discovers that the basic reason for its being is not the love between its parents, but the love that they had for a sibling. Even Lord Winston, the pioneer of much of IVF technology, has voiced fears that this legislation, should it be approved, would provide a real risk that children might be used and, therefore, abused because of this technology.

3. The removal of the requirement for a father for IVF treatment children
It is my understanding that current legislation requires that children conceived through IVF treatment must have a father – in more than a biological sense. This, I would suggest, is eminently sensible, as it is the way of nature, and has been successful for a very long time. The proposed legislation seems to be yet another move towards the making of single-gender relationships to be identical to those of heterosexual couples. This, also, I would contend, goes totally against the natural law that requires one parent of each gender for conception, and that works best when there are two role-models, one of each gender, for the growing child. One does not have to be a social scientist to realise that the breakdown of the traditional family unit has been paralleled by a general breakdown in society.

4. The abortion limit
Reports suggest that certain members will use the passage of this Bill to further liberalise the terms of the Abortion Act (1967) that has already been responsible for the deaths of almost seven million children in Great Britain. According to the government’s own figures for England and Wales (2006), less than one-half of one per cent of these were because of a serious risk to the life of the mother! These figures, of course, do not include early abortion by the use of the “morning-after pill”. The recent report on the survival of prematurely-born infants has been used by the “pro-choice” lobby to suggest that there should be no reduction in the time limit. However, this is, in no way, comparing like with like. All around the area in which we both reside are signs that remind us that, in the area of vehicle speed, and for the safety of young children, “20’s Plenty”. May I suggest that, in the case of the unborn children of our nation, twenty weeks is also plenty, and urge you to support any motion that would reduce the maximum to that amount?

I fully appreciate that, as a Government Whip, you may feel some sort of required loyalty to the Party. However, a free vote has been offered with regard to any amendment, and I would urge you to vote in favour of those that would address the matters I have raised above, so that the final Bill might be more morally and ethically acceptable.

Yours sincerely,

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Birthday Celebration!!

Yes, today is Pentecost Sunday, or Whitsun – the day in the Christian calendar when we celebrate the birth of the church.
The story has been recorded for us, by Dr Luke, in that part of the New Testament that we call The Acts of the Apostles. The early disciples of Jesus had met together in Jerusalem. “Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.” (Acts 2:2-4, NLT)
However we may wish to interpret some aspects of this record, certain things are confirmed by the rest of the story:
1. These men and women were totally transformed. Peter, the man who had denied any knowledge of Jesus, stood up and preached to the crowds who gathered to find out what was happening. And he didn’t “miss them and hit the woodwork”! (see v.23)
2. People responded, positively, to the clear message of the Gospel (v.41)
3. There was a great sense of unity and fellowship (vs. 42-46)
4. The church continued to grow (v.47)
I suspect that there are some valuable lessons for the church in the “west” to day. We need to look beyond our narrow denominational viewpoint, and recognise all who have committed themselves to the Lord Jesus as brothers and sisters. We need to be less fearful, and less “politically correct”, in our proclamation of the Gospel.
It’s no coincidence that it is where this kind of action is taken, even today, that there is growth in the church – both numerically and spiritually. God grant a fresh Pentecost experience to His people, that His Name might be glorified, and His Kingdom (rule/authority/government) be extended.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Christian Tithing

It had been my intention to add this post much earlier in the week. However, a number of reasons conspired to stop me from doing so! The trigger was an article that suggested that the practice of tithing (giving 10% of one’s income to the Lord’s work) is not one that Christians should follow, because there is no direct command, in the New Testament, for them to do so; and then the topic was raised at last night’s meeting of my Home Group.

It is certainly true that there is no direct command for Christians to tithe. The only such command of which I am aware is in Matt 23:23. "What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things." (NLT) However, whilst this may be interpreted as applying only to the scribes and the Pharisees to whom Jesus was directing the words, it could be argued that we don’t conclude from the fact that He said “You must be born again” only to Nicodemus (John 3:7), that this need doesn’t apply to us all!

What I would suggest is that there are certain principles set out in the pages of the New Testament, that make it clear that the Christian should not only tithe, but go beyond the tithe!

Speaking in what is usually referred to as “The Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus says to His disciples: "But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!" (Matt 5:20, NLT). Now, as the previous quotation makes clear, these people certainly kept the law of tithing so, it would appear that Jesus expects His followers to give more than 10% the tithe! Immediately before this, Jesus makes another profound statement: "Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God's laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven." (5:17-19) As tithing was an integral part of that law, it would seem that the Lord Jesus didn't provide any warrant for abandoning the practice!

Mark records another well-known incident: "Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she ... has given everything she had to live on." (12:43-44, NLT)

Paul, writing to the Corinthian church has this to say: "Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure. 'For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.' And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, ‘They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.’ For God is the one Who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, He will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you." (II Cor 9:6-10, N.L.T.)

So, it seems to me that the appropriate action for the Christian is to tithe – not merely as the obedient response to a command, but as an expression of love – and then to give as much more as is possible without causing suffering to others, e.g. one’s immediate family. Of course, that’s merely my own opinion!!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Forgiveness

Thursday evening's prayer-meeting also saw us considering the area of forgiveness. In my private devotions, I am still reading in the Old Testament book of Job. This morning, I found myself wondering how difficult it must have been for Job to forgive those "friends" who were so convinced - and so clear in telling him so - that his unenviable situation had to be the result of his own sin. However, he must have done so, as we are assured that he prayed for them, and that the LORD responded positively. (42:7-9)

Of course, there is an ultimate sense in which forgiveness can only be provided by God. David realised that when, after his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, he cried out "Against You, and You alone, have I sinned. I have done what is evil in Your sight." (Ps.51:4). Now, it might be argued that he had also wronged Bathsheba - and her husband, Uriah the Hittite, whose murder he arranged - but he knew that all sin is an offence against God.

But I must also seek the forgiveness, at a human level, of the one whom I have wronged - whatever form that wrong may have taken. If I fail to do so, as I reminded the group on Thursday evening, then I cannot expect to be forgiven. That, it seems, is the force of those words in the model prayer that Jesus gave to the early disciples: "Forgive us our sins (hamartías), as we forgive everyone who is indebted (ofeílonti) to us". By that measure, I fear that few of us would be forgiven ourselves!!

But what about the person who wrongs me, time and time again, in the same way? Do I have to keep on forgiving that habitual wrongdoer? Jesus seems to have thought so! He was asked that sort of question by Peter: "Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?" "No, not seven times," Jesus replied, "but seventy times seven!" (Matt.18:21) And that doesn't mean purchasing a "click counter" and checking to see when it reaches 490! What Jesus was saying, in the colloquialism of the time, was that we should forgive without limit. Now there's a challenge!!

It occurred to me, this morning, that to truly forgive is to be very close to the heart of God. Only there, I suspect, can we draw on enough of His love, and grace, and mercy, to be able to be like Him Whose forgiveness is a gift to many, through the sacrifice of the Son at Calvary. (see Rom.5:15).

Thursday, 1 May 2008

"Supernatural naturalness"

It's the first Thursday of the month - and that means the monthly whole church prayer-meeting at Liberty Community Church, Bellshill. I always look forward to those evenings, and always receive more than I give. This evening, as I prayed for our young school-age folk, I heard myself use a phrase that I may even have coined - "supernatural naturalness".

It does sound like something of a contradiction of terms, and yet I believe that it says something important. I suppose that what I was trying to convey was the idea of being very natural in our sharing the truth of the Gospel with our friends and peers, yet doing so in a way that shows that we are 'operating' under supernatural power.

As I continue to ponder,I am realising that that is also one description of the Lord Jesus. No-one was more natural than He; so much so that even children (among the best judges of character in the human race!) flocked to Him. Yet He lived a life that was totally at one with God the Father; He lived a sinless life (even His enemies were unable to convict Him); He performed supernatural deeds - both in terms of His power over nature, and His healing miracles.

So what I'm advocating is, I suppose, that we live our lives more and more like Jesus - theologians use the word "sanctification". And that involves being open to God the Holy Spirit, and to His working in our lives. That isn't necessarily going to be easy, but it's the only way forward for those who call themselves disciples of Jesus. May each of us seek to live out our lives, in our homes, in our workplaces, and where we enjoy our leisure activities, with "supernatural naturalness", and show more of Jesus to a needy world.