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Sunday, 29 June 2008

Addiction!

Addiction is a terrible thing, and I have dealt, over the years, with folk who were addicted to a number of drugs – both the “socially acceptable” and so-called “harder” drugs. I have seen lives that have been ruined because of an addiction to one substance or another.

Addicts, of course, are totally consumed with their “habit”. It is the main focus of their lives; they will go to all sorts of lengths to acquire their next “fix”; they are unable to function to any degree without that ingestion of their chosen (?) substance.

However, reading a book yesterday, I came across a different reference to addiction. The author (a converted Hindu) wrote of the “glorious addiction” to God! And that, I suggest is a good addiction. What a wonderfully positive difference that would make to our lives! As we were thinking at the Communion Service in Liberty Community Church, this morning, we would be focussed on Jesus – letting Him fill our minds, and take captive every thought (see II Cor.10:5). We would be willing to pay any price to spend time with Him; go to any lengths to make time to read His Word, to pray, to have fellowship with other believers. And, of course, we would willingly recognise that, without Him, we are nothing; that all that we might claim to be is the result of His grace – His undeserved, unable to be bought, or earned, favour.

God grant that all who visit this blog will be addicted to Him. It’s an addiction that’s worth having!

By the way, Joyce and I go off on holiday tomorrow, so I won’t be able to add any posts for the next six weeks (I know – it’s tough, but somebody’s got to do it!!). Please don’t forget me while I’m away. I would encourage you, if you haven’t done so already, to listen to the various audio messages – you’ll find them as you scroll down! I hope to add some fresh material as soon as I return – about Aug 12th.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Sin, Grace, and Forgiveness

It was at the Home Group this evening, that I had this wonderful thought concerning the forgiving grace of God. Like every other mortal being, I am a sinner. Even ’though I have been saved I remain, by nature, a sinner – i.e. one who has a tendency, an inclination, to sin.

But, not only do I sin – I seem to keep on repeating the same sins, over and over again! There is a lot in the writings of Paul that I don’t understand. But I do understand him when he writes to the Roman Christians, baring his innermost self to them: "... I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can't. I want to do what is good, but I don't. I don't want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don't want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God's law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God's law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
" (7:18-25)

The wonderful thought that came to me this evening is that when I come to the Lord, again, and tell Him, “Lord, I’m really sorry that I have to ask for Your forgiveness for this same sin yet again. This must be the – oh, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve let You down on this one.”, He just puts His loving arms around me and whispers “I didn’t even start to count!

What forgiveness; what grace; what love! And available to all who come to God the Father, through the God Son, by the power of God the Holy Spirit.

What is the church?

I’ve just finished reading a book that records some of the major speeches, and writings, of that great American Negro leader, Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jnr. In a letter sent from the City Jail of Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, he wrote:
“There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town, the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators’. But they went on with the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven’ and had to obey God rather than man’. They were small in number, but big in commitment. They were too god-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated’. They brought to an end such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.
Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent, and often vocal, sanction of things as they are.
But the judgement of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club ...”
The sad thing is that those latter words paint every bit as accurate a picture of the church, in the UK at least, today as they did of Dr King’s contemporary situation.
Another leader, of whom I had not heard before, is another man with black skin. His name is Sunday Adelaja, and he is the pastor of the Embassy of God Church in Kyiv in Ukraine. The church is growing in Ukraine because it is acting like the early church as Dr King described it, and Pastor Adelaja encourages every single member of his extremely large congregation to influence and impact the culture for God.
Speaking at a recent conference of church leaders in the USA, he stated: “Do not let your people get comfortable with sitting down in pews. You have to strengthen them so they can go out there and invade the darkness of the world, because they are the light of the world.”
Forty-five years after Dr King penned his letter from the Birmingham Jail, it is another man of African descent, in a country that was then on the other side of the Iron Curtain, who is showing the way forward. God grant that the church in the UK, and other countries that are similarly “post-Christian”, rise up like the church in Ukraine, that the gospel might be proclaimed to every nation, in preparation for the return of the Lord, Jesus the Christ, as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

To judge, or not to judge - that is the question!!

Sometimes I wonder how much the Lord still weeps over those who are called by His Name!! At a conference, yesterday, my dear wife learned of a fellowship that had informed a young man who had been attending for some time, that he should improve/change his clothing as he was frightening the children!! The alternative, it seems, was that he should no longer attend!

It is true that this young man doesn’t dress in the most conventional way, but he is a kindly lad – who, to my certain knowledge, regularly had children flock around him. The real problem seems to have been that he didn’t achieve the man-made standard of the fellowship.

When I learned of this sad situation, I immediately thought of the anointing of the shepherd-boy, David, as king of Israel (I Samuel 16) and, particularly, those words of YHWH (the LORD): “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (v.7); and of the One Who was known as “a friend of tax collectors and other sinners.” (Luke 7:34).

Yet, I also had to take look at myself!! It’s so much easier to judge others but, as the old preachers were prone to emphasise, when I point one finger at others, I have three pointing back at me!!

It’s another of those Christian paradoxes. On the one hand I am told “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37); while, on the other hand, “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.” (Matt 12:38) – an implicit judgement!

I suppose, when we read all of the “proof texts” in context (and it is always wise to do so!), it boils down to having the gift of discernment that enables me to see when actions are opposed to the clear teaching of the Word of God, but not being judgemental against those who don’t measure up to the standards that I, myself, have set.

Only Father God can make the ultimate judgement: my responsibility is to ensure that I am keeping close to Jesus – and encouraging others to do the same.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Follow the Leader!

After a flurry of posting activity last week, my mind seemed to have gone completely blank! I wondered about a number of topics, but simply wasn't able to produce anything on any of them.

This evening, however, we had visitors joining with us in our evening meal and, as might be expected, we had a great time afterwards talking about serious issues – and a lot of not-as-serious ones!!

Our visitors were a couple from Liberty Community Church who, with their two daughters, are heading off to Tanzania at the end of July. They are expecting to be there for some five months – returning (hopefully) just in time for the Hogmanay Party!!! Stephen is the Principal of Tilsley Theological College, here in Motherwell, and this is a sort of “working sabbatical” for him. For Debbie and the girls, it is more of a great adventure.

That’s the thought that has struck me. You see, the real Christian life is one of adventure. We follow the example of Abraham, who “... when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. ... went without knowing where he was going.” (Heb 11:8-9). It’s all to do with faith/trust. If I trust the One Who is guiding me, knowing that He already has a perfect plan for my life, then I can safely follow His leading knowing that, whatever happens, it is for my highest good – and for His glory.

Not too difficult to take that sort of attitude in the comfort of my home in the relatively safe UK. But what if I was in N.Korea, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Burma, or any of the other 50+ countries in which, in 2008, acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord is to invite harassment, persecution, imprisonment, torture, death? It’s one of those things that never fails to amaze me. From my (albeit limited) contact with the persecuted church, it seems that those who suffer for the Name of Jesus really do “... consider it an opportunity for great joy.” (James 1:2). They seem to have an inner conviction “... that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:3-4).

Let’s all take Jesus’ command to “Follow Me” to heart – whether it leads us to an African country; to our next-door-neighbour; or to persecution, and even death! It was, after all, that same Jesus Who, having told His early disciples that His way was to be the way of the cross, said “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matt 16:24-26).

He set the example – we simply follow!

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Visitors!

I recently added a nifty little bit of software to this blog! It provides some limited information about my visitors - and I am amazed at how widespread you all are!! I have folks logging on from Motherwell to Manchester; from Rugby to Reading; from Leeds to London; and from Stockport to Swindon. There are folk from Bellshill, Royston, Worcester, Dartford, Luton, Glasgow, Ayr, Harthill, Inverness, Swindon, Sunbury, Wickford, and Matlock. And those are just some of the ones from the UK! There are also visitors from a number of other countries - and sometimes from different parts of the same country. Folk have logged on in Australia; New Zealand; Switzerland; the US of A; Canada; Denmark; Israel; and Mexico. It's really exciting - and somewhat humbling (yes, even for me!!) - to know that people from all over the UK, and all over the world, are reading my words, and listening to my audio messages.

However, the one important thing that this software doesn't provide is the identities of my visitors! So, a request. Unless you have a particular reason for keeping your identity secret (and I fully respect any such decision), would you please use the "Comment" facility to let me know who you are; where you live (general area - not full postal address!); and what improvements you would like to see made to the blog? If you would like to make more personal contact, then leave me an e-mail address - although I have to confess that I am not the best correspondent!

Of course, this two-way communication has a spiritual aspect, as well! Father God has made His approach to us, through the Bible. He has even revealed Himself in the Persona of the Son (listen to my audio message on the Trinity!). But so often we just "log on", take what He offers, and then disappear. That's the importance, for the Christian, of prayer. It's meant to be, not just some sort of celestial shopping list - although our prayers of intercession are of the utmost importance - but an opportunity to tell Father God how wonderful He is to us.

You may not want to respond to my blog posts, and that's perfectly okay. But don't miss out on a full relationship with the Lord, simply because you don't take time to respond to Him!!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Holy, Wholly, Holey!!

No, I haven't made a lot of typing errors in the first line of that great Trinitarian hymn!! However, as those who know me well are aware, I love words! I love speaking them; I love writing them; I love reading them. And I love "playing with" words!


The three words in the title of this post all sound the same - but there are three totally different spellings, and meanings. Yet I want to suggest that they each say something important to the follower of Jesus, as each one may be accurately followed by the words "unto the Lord".


1. Holy unto the Lord
This reminds the disciple of Jesus that (s)he is totally different. That's what the word 'holy' means. It's not that, as a Christian, I am automatically better than other people (although I should always aim to be the best that I can be), but that I am different. "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." wrote the American author, Henry David Thoreau (Walden, Conclusion, 1854). The Christian is one who should certainly be marching to the beat of a different drum - he is holy unto the Lord. That's why Peter makes clear that disciples of Jesus "... like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.(I Peter 2:5).

2. Wholly unto the Lord
This, to me, suggests total commitment - giving myself, completely, in the Lord's service. Of course, service isn't a particularly popular concept in the so-called civilised world of today. Our elected politicians are meant to serve their constituents; and ministers of state ahould be administering government in such a way as to best serve the people. Yet what I see, at least in the UK, are far too many who are out for what they can get, and who seek only to follow the "party line"! Jesus gave us the perfect example: "For even the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve others, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Matt.20:28)

3. Holey unto the Lord
This word has to do with - yes, holes! So a sieve, or a colander, is a holey item. So are my socks, sometimes, if my dear wife doesn't see them before I put them on!! But how can that possibly relate to the Christian life? Well, it occurs to me that it has to do with being totally transparent. Some of us are so good at hiding our true feelings; our hopes; our desires. People are never quite certain that what they see is what they'll get. But if I am a true follower of Jesus, then I should be as transparent in all of my doings as He was, when He walked on this earth.

Totally different; totally committed; totally transparent. If we seek to be all of those, then we will become such a force for God that it will be said of us, as it was of the early believers, that these are they "who have turned the world upside-down" (or should not that be "right side up"?!).

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Simple Secrets.

I've just received, and watched, a beautiful presentation that I found to be quite touching. You, too, might enjoy the stunning images and the accompanying words of inspiration.
You can check it out here: http://www.findingjoymovie.com/

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Collection – or Offering?!

It was in a conversation with the church treasurer that the topic arose. Almost everyone who leads the Family Worship Service announces that the collection will be taken up.

But what is a collection? Well, to me it is something to which I am asked to contribute. It involves people with collecting cans standing in the shopping precinct on a Saturday morning, or going door-to-door in the early evening. It also conjures up the picture of the bin-men collecting our household rubbish week by week!

An offering, on the other hand, is something that I gladly and willingly bring to the recipient. It is a form of gift; something I present. It conjures up a picture of Jesus on the cross, willingly giving His life as a sacrifice for my sin.

So, in church, I prefer to talk about the offering – a tangible expression of my gratitude to Father God for all that He has done, and continues to do, in and for me. He shouldn’t have to “rattle a can” in front of my face in order to receive what may even be a somewhat grudging contribution! It should be my desire to give, and to do so joyfully (see II Cor.9:7), not only of my material wealth, but also my whole being:
"And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Don't copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." (Rom 12:1-2).

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Preparation for Mission

First Thursday, whole Church Prayer Meeting for Liberty Community Church, this evening. The major theme was the week of mission (reaching out to share the Gospel with others) in the local community. Although this isn't due to be held until the beginning of August, preparation is already under way, and many folk have indicated their desire to be involved in one capacity or another.

Of course, preparation is so necessary in every area of life. Our senior pupils return to school this week, after their period of Standard, and Higher, Grade examinations. For them, there is now the long wait for the results; but the one thing of which I would be fairly confident is that those who gain the highest marks will be those who did the study, and the revision - in other words, those who put in the necessary preparation.

I've already mentioned, in an earlier post, the coming Olympic Games in Beijing. The athletes who will compete there, in not too many weeks' time, will only do as well as their preparation. They will have spent years working towards this, for them, major goal. No-one who failed to prepare would be chosen to compete, let alone win a medal.

In just over three weeks, D.V., my dear wife and I will be heading off to the continent with our caravan for our annual summer holiday. But already we have done a fair bit of preparation - booking the ferry; talking about where we would like to go, and who we would like to visit; thinking about how many euros we will have to take with us to cover all of the necessary expenses.

Jesus told the well-known parable of the two builders (Matthew 7:24-27). One built his house on solid rock, having gone to the trouble of finding such a safe spot. The other man took the easy way out, and just built where he was - unfortunately, on sand. When the storms came, and the floods rose, guess who's house stood??! That's right - the house of the man who had prepared properly, and who, therefore, had a good foundation for his building.

I'm also finishing off some teaching on the Rites of Passage with my 1st year pupils, and that means talking about death. It's an experience that, until the return of the Lord Jesus, will come to each one of us. The sad thing is that so many seem to have made no preparation for that event. Jesus said to His disciples: "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." (John 14:1-3;NKJV). If He has gone to the trouble of preparing a place for us, and has promised to be there with us, what a shame it is that so many give no thought to Him, or to His claim on their lives.

I was never in the Boy Scouts (although I served in almost every rank in The Boys' Brigade), but I have always loved their motto - "Be Prepared". For this life, and for the next, it's very good advice!