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Sunday, 31 August 2008

The faithfulness of God.

Due to road-works, we were just a minute late in arriving at Liberty Community Church this morning. As we entered the building, the folks had commenced singing that great hymn by T.O.Chishom: “Great is Thy faithfulness”. It’s a song that always makes me a little bit emotional, as it was the unofficial “College Song” when I was a student at the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow – now a full forty years ago!!
The theme of the first service was that very faithfulness of God, and Ian Smith reminded us of many of the areas of life in which we may experience it. (He also, by the way, pointed out the need for us to be faithful in all of our activities, relationships, service etc.)
However, my mind was working overtime. I recalled my days at the B.T.I. and the fact that I received no financial support from the government – either national or local. I was solely responsible for the payment of all College fees, for the purchase of necessary books, and for any personal needs (does any student get through a course without copious amounts of coffee – even if it is as weak as I drink mine?!). Yet I left the College, after two wonderful years, owing them not a single penny. “Great is Thy faithfulness”.
I also thought of my Christian brothers and sisters in the Persecuted Church. Men and women, boys and girls, who suffer the most horrendous privations – harassment, persecution, imprisonment, even death – for the sake of the Lord Jesus. People like Meena: a beautiful young woman with a smile that would light up any room, who lives in Pakistan. In November, 2005, her husband, Younis, was talking to a Christian friend about worship. The conversation was overheard by a Muslim who was participating in a Muslim festival next door. He started to beat Younis, and a mob quickly gathered. The police were called and the end result was that Younis was convicted of blasphemy against the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, and sentenced to death!
Meena now lives in a single room, with her four young children. She earns the equivalent of about 70p (sterling) per day, and depends on some assistance from Release International and its partners (see the website – it’s in “My favourite Links – for the full story). Yet, her testimony is simple “… we know that Jesus is with us.” “Great is Thy faithfulness”.
This is the assurance for the true child of God – that, whatever the circumstances or the situation, He is indeed faithful. And He is faithful to forgive the sins of all who come to Him in repentance and faith (see I John 1:8-10).
That song that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, has its roots in the words of the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah – a man who, himself, knew much suffering for his willingness to go against the popular tide, and speak out the word of YHWH. In Lamentations 3:22-23, we read: “Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (NKJV).
May each one of us continue to experience that Divine faithfulness in our own lives, and respond with faithful living for Him.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

What is a Christian?

At Liberty Community Church we are spending a few weeks looking at the question “What is a Christian?”  Last week we thought of the Christian as a lover – a lover of Jesus, and a lover of others; this week, the theme was the Christian as a witness – telling others about the Gospel message.  Well, I presume that it was along those lines but I wasn’t there.  I was preaching for my former congregation of Bellshill-St.Andrew’s.  However, I decided to look at the same question there, although I had to do it in just one message. 

So, what is a Christian?  This morning, I suggested that Paul gave some very clear indications in his letter to the church in Philippi, particularly in some words near to the end of the letter: “Always be full of joy in the Lord.  I say it again – rejoice!  Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.  Remember, the Lord is coming soon.  Don’t worry about anything: instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ alone.” (4:4-7) 

The apostle gives three pointers in those words.  He shows that the real Christian is someone who enjoys a Presence.  And that Presence is the Presence of Jesus Himself.  Other translations use words like “at hand” or “very near” instead of “coming soon”.  And Paul may be referring to the Rapture – the coming again of the Lord Jesus.  But he may well be referring to His closeness to the believer.  Have you noticed how your behaviour and speech can change according to your company?  Who we spend our time with makes a real difference to our character.  What better company than the One Who is King of kings, and Lord of lords!? 

But a Christian is also someone who forms a practice.  Paul is writing from prison – not a pleasant experience in first-century Rome!  Yet his instruction to these Christian brothers and sisters is to “Rejoice”.  He recalls what he has gone through in his Christian walk; he recognises that the Philippians will face similar persecution; he knows that his own death, by beheading, is imminent.  Yet he still says “Rejoice!”   He advises two activities to bring about that untouchable joy.  He says that they should pray – about everything; and he tells them to praise God – for everything!  And these are good practices for you and me as well. 

Finally, he says that the true Christian is one who trusts a promise.  He speaks of the adequacy that Christ brings.  We know that, in our finances, we need to have more coming in that we spend – or we have a problem.  And this is no less so in the realm of the spirit.  I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me” Paul shouts out a few sentences later.  We might paraphrase that as “... through Christ Who gives me adequate resources”.   We can meet anything that life throws at us if we are “in Christ”.  And, of course, He stills the anxieties that effect each one of us, bringing a peace that the world cannot understand – indeed, that none of us can understand. 

It’s wonderful, being a Christian in the Biblical sense of the word.  If you aren’t one, then please feel free to contact me (through the ‘comments’ facility) for some additional help.  If you are, then share it with those with whom you come into contact, day by day.  And we’ll be careful to give Father God all the honour and the glory.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Going for gold?

It’s been a busy old time since we returned from our extended summer holiday. A pile of “snail-mail” to go through; thousands of e-mails to sort out; a load of clearing-up (still ongoing – the weather conditions have not been particularly conducive to working outdoors!); the caravan to unload and clean up; and a dissertation to complete!
That last item was the real “spanner in the works”. I’ve been working on it for almost two years, and thought that it was due to be submitted by the end of August. However, when we arrived in Maidstone, and had access to the internet, I discovered an e-mail that informed me that I was already late!
Frantic phone-calls to my supervisor (who also thought that we still had a couple of weeks!), and two trips to the Jordanhill Campus of the University of Strathclyde, and I managed to submit the required two copies last Wednesday. Now I just have to await the decision of the Examination Board but, hopefully, I will graduate in November with the degree of Master of Science (in education management!).
It hasn’t been easy to work at that sort of postgraduate level, and it certainly wasn’t an employment requirement. So why have I spent the time and energy doing it? I think that there were two basic reasons:
I am an enthusiastic advocate of life-long learning, and am continually seeking to expand my personal knowledge-base
I had a goal in sight, and only doing the work would enable me to attain it.
That’s a bit like the Christian life. There’s no such thing as “having arrived”. It’s no coincidence that it is constantly referred to as a walk, and a race. It’s a journey that commences at conversion, and continues until we are called home by Father God.
And, of course, we have a goal. That great 1st century Christian, Paul, put it all like this: “I do not claim that I have already succeeded, or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to Himself. […] So I run straight towards the goal in order to win the prize, which is God’s call through Christ Jesus, to the life above.” (Phil.3:12,14).
Some are currently winning gold medals. The Christian’s prize is eternal life – much more precious than even the finest gold!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Abortion – the scourge of our time (Part 1)

While I was on holiday, the news broke that Radovan Karadzic, the Serbian leader allegedly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands, had been arrested and sent to The Hague for trial before the War Crimes’ Tribunal. I was reminded of some of the other people who, during the second half the 20th century, were held responsible for mass murder – Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party leadership; the Cambodian leader Pol Phot; the Albanian, Slobodan Milosevic. Each of these, and others, was rightly condemned for their “crimes against humanity”.
However, one name that is not always added to such a group is that of David Steel – the mildly-spoken son of the manse and, for many years, the Member of Parliament for the Borders’ Westminster constituency. It was that same David Steel who introduced the 1976 Abortion Bill to the British Parliament – legislation that has resulted in the pre-natal murder of some 6.7 million infants, in Great Britain, in its first forty years. However, while the others were sentenced to death, or to life imprisonment without parole, David Steel was eventually awarded a British life-peerage and, in 2004, was created a Knight of the Order of the Thistle – the highest honour in Scotland!!
Imagine a woman coming into a doctor’s surgery. She is carrying a one-year-old child, and informs the doctor that she is pregnant again. She cannot face the prospect of having another child, and asks the doctor if he can “do something about it”. The doctor goes to a cupboard, lifts out an axe, grabs the one-year-old, and starts hacking it to pieces with the words “This one is easier to reach”!
It’s not going to happen, of course, but it raises the question – “When is it acceptable to take a life?” If it is unacceptable to do so at one year, what about at six months? If that is unacceptable, what about at six weeks? If that is still unacceptable, what about six hours, or six minutes, or six seconds?
Life, I would contend, begins at fertilisation. From the moment when the sperm penetrates the outer wall of the egg, and the first division of the cell takes place, there is growth – and growth is a certain sign of life – in this case, human life. It is universally accepted that the deliberate, premeditated, taking of a human life is murder. Abortion is the deliberate, premeditated taking of a human life – however early in its development it may be. Therefore, according to the rules of logic, abortion is murder!
[Part 2 follows below]

Abortion – the scourge of our time (Part 2)

The Bible also makes clear that the unborn child is a human being. So the Psalmist-king David, without the benefit of modern ultra-sound scanning and the like, says that “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body, and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank You for making me so wonderfully complex!” (Ps.139:13-14). He also recognised that we are not only human in the womb, but also sinners! “For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” (Ps.51:5).
So does this mean that the woman/girl who undergoes an abortion is a murderess? The simple answer is “Yes”, and I can never forget, while in full-time pastoral ministry, the young woman whom I sought to counsel – both before, and after an abortion. We sat in her home, about a week after she had left the hospital, as she sobbed “Mr Ross, I murdered my baby”. It was one of those very rare occasions on which I had nothing to say. All that I could do was to silently agree.
But, praise God, this isn’t the end of the story. Further on in that 51st Psalm, David makes the prayerful request “Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. ... Forgive me for shedding blood, O God Who saves; then I will joyfully sing of Your forgiveness.” (vs. 7 & 14). Paul, writing to the Ephesian Christians, assures them that God “... is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son, and forgave our sin.” (1:7)
The bottom line is that each one of us – male and female; whether or not we have had an abortion – is a sinner. We don’t have to have committed some major crime; we just have to have been born! “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Rom.3:23); but, although “... the wages of sin is death, ... the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom.6:23).
May all who visit this blog, and read these posts, receive that gift, and discover the joy of sin forgiven, and a new life lived out for Jesus.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

A different view of China.

This report has been received from "Open Doors" - one of the organisations concerned about the plight of the persecuted church (see the link in My Favourite Links)

Chinese police detained house church leader Zhang Mingxuan, along with his wife Xie Fenlang and co-pastor Wu Jiang He, at a police station in Hebei after a BBC journalist attempted to interview him on Monday, 4 August. BBC International affairs journalist John Simpson phoned Zhang to request an interview, as required in a handbook given to journalists reporting on the Olympic Games in Beijing. Zhang agreed to the interview, but as Simpson traveled to meet him, police seized Zhang and his companions and moved them to a local police station. When Zhang informed Simpson of their whereabouts using a cell (mobile) phone, Simpson drove to the police station and shouted a few questions across the courtyard to Zhang, who was visible through an open window on the second floor of the building, as shown on BBC video footage. Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials had banished Zhang and his wife from Beijing for the duration of the Games, fearing they would try to meet with visiting foreign officials. After forcing Zhang and Xie to leave their home and evicting them from several other temporary residences, on 18 July police entered a guesthouse where they were staying and drove them to Yanjiao in neighbouring Hebei province. Zhang and Xie then moved to another, more remote town to await the completion of the Games. Zhang traveled as an itinerant evangelist throughout China before moving to Beijing in 1998. He is co-founder and president of the China House Church Alliance, established in April 2005 to defend the rights of house church Christians.

Source: Compass Direct
View the story here (the relevant section is the second part):
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/7541832.stm

Quotable Quotes

“When you belong to the family of God, through faith in the Son of God, life is not monotonous: it is a daily adventure that builds character, and enables you to serve others to the glory of God.” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Satisfied, p.20)

“Faith does not deny the reality of the circumstances – it just refuses to be intimidated, limited, or ruled, by them.” (The Word for Today, May 18th, 2008)

“Faith is dead to doubt, deaf to discouragement, blind to the impossible, and knows nothing but success in God.” (Ray Comfort, Militant Evangelism, p.74)

Thursday, 7 August 2008

He knows you - by name!

We're not yet home but, as we are stopping in Maidstone, England for a couple of days with our good friends Harry and Ruth Loudon, I have access to the Internet :-) My thanks to the anonymous comment-leavers who have been missing me! Hope that they will appreciate this post!
It was the second-last Sunday of our holiday, and we were settled in a small town (large village!) named Soullans, in the Vendée region of France. One of the reasons for being there was that it is only about ten minutes’ drive from Le Pas Opton – the French Holiday centre organised by Spring Harvest. As we had done before, we went along for the family service and, while it was great to be able to praise and worship God in our native language, to be able to understand everything else that was said, and to share in the Lord’s Supper, my personal highlight was when some of the very young children were taking part. At the end of their “piece”, four little girls each read a prayer that she had composed. One of them finished with “Amen. By Gemma”. I doubt that I was the only adult who smiled! In fact, I suspect that Almighty God smiled as well!
However, I also realised that little Gemma had emphasised a wonderful Christian truth. She may have thought that it was necessary to inform the Lord as to who had been speaking – but He already knew! You see, we have the assurance that He knows each one of us by name - indeed, He knows us so intimately that we are even assured that the very hairs on our heads are numbered! That may be a lot easier for some than for others, but I wouldn’t want to have to count every individual hair, even of my rapidly vanishing locks!
It’s a tremendous thought – that the One Who created, and continues to sustain, the whole known universe (and all of the dimensions that are unknown to mankind), is so interested in me that He knows me like that. But what is even more amazing is that knowing me as He does – with all of my sinfulness, and guilt, and shame – He loves me. Indeed, He loves me enough to have entered those time/space dimensions that mankind does know, in the Persona of the Son (Jesus), and to have taken upon Himself all of that sin, and guilt, and shame as He hung on the cross at Calvary.
This is the heart of the Christian Gospel (the Good News), that God loved sinful humanity so very much, that He willingly paid the penalty of that sinfulness, in Himself; and that every individual who responds to that love, with repentance and in faith, may receive as a free gift, God’s own life within them. And that life is a life that reaches beyond the grave itself, into an eternal dimension that we can never hope to even begin to understand with our human, finite minds.
I trust that, as you read these words, you have already experienced that new life, in Christ. If not, then I commend it you. If I may be of more personal assistance, please feel free to contact me by leaving a comment.