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Sunday, 28 September 2008

Another poem!

After my recent little poetic offering on the subject of The Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist, I’ve decided to publish, not so much a poem as a song. I spent a little more time over this one, and it may be sung to the tune of that lovely old “Seekers” number – “The Carnival is over”.

In a world that’s full of sorrow; so much trouble everywhere.
Many fearful for the future; other folk who just don’t care.
It’s a story that depresses; causes sorrow, hurt, and pain.
But the story isn’t ended, for the Lord will come again.

Once He walked this earth so humbly; clothed in flesh, as mortal Man.
Teaching of the Father’s mercy, and His great eternal plan.
For His love is overwhelming; full salvation’s ours to gain.
And the story isn’t ended, for the Lord will come again.

’Though they led Him up to Calvary; crucified Him on the tree;
’Though He gave His life so freely; suffered death for you and me;
’Though His death is all-sufficient, cleansing us from sin and shame;
Yet the story isn’t ended, for the Lord will come again.

’Though His friends so gently laid Him in a tomb ne’er used before;
’Though they rolled a stone to seal it; placed it like a mighty door;
Not e’en death could hold Him captive; in the tomb He’d not remain;
And the story isn’t ended, for the Lord will come again.

Yes, He rose, o’er death triumphant; ascended to the Father’s side;
Sent the Spirit to be with us, that in us He might abide.
And the trumpet soon shall echo; and His folk with Him shall reign.
Still the story won’t be ended – for the Lord has come again!

Friday, 26 September 2008

Hope!

Any one who has watched a commercial channel on British television over the past year will be familiar with the advert for foodstuffs from a certain well-known retailer: “This is not just food; this is M & S food”.

One of the things that I will miss now that I no longer have to travel regularly to Jordanhill to work on my dissertation, is passing Balshagray Parish Church’s building. They regularly have the most interesting posters outside. The one that was displayed this morning as I went to collect the copies of the dissertation (that has been accepted!!) was a play on that advertisement. It read “This is not just hope; it’s Christian Hope!”

So what is special about Christian Hope? Well, I would suggest that it’s a hope that liberates – that sets free; it’s a door. Through the mouth of the prophet Hosea, YHWH said, concerning His people Israel: “I will … make the valley of Achor a door of hope.” (2:15). The Valley of Achor was the place where Achan took some of the wealth of the destroyed city of Jericho, against the Divine command. He, and his family, and his property were destroyed in that valley. Yet, this very place, that was the scene of Achan’s sin and shame, and of Israel’s defeat, was the very place that YHWH gave to His people as a door of hope.
How often God points us back to our own ‘Valley of Achor’ – to the place where we have already failed and fallen. And He says, “There’s your door of hope. Go back, and try again.” And those who go back, in His strength, are enabled to write a new memory upon the old shame. As someone has said: “Our God is the God of the second chance”!

But Christian hope also protects – it’s a helmet. It’s part of the armour of the Christian (see I Thess.5:8; Eph.6:17), preventing him from being struck down. One of the social reformers of an earlier age, John Howard, said, “There is a hope set before me. In the Lord Jesus Christ I put my trust. In many instances God has disappointed my fears, and exceeded my hopes.” And the hymn-writer, Edward Mote, expressed himself in these words: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

When the shallow hopes of the world – currently demonstrated by the financial, social, and political chaos in which so many of us find ourselves – are all dead, we may hope in God. And the pledge of that is on a hill outside a city wall where, in the Person of the Son, Almighty God died the death that man deserved, and deserves.

And Christian hope holds – it’s an anchor. And that anchor is the unchangeable character of God. As long as we have that hope in our hearts, life cannot destroy us; it may hurt us, but it won’t be able to break us; as long as it holds out, we may weather the roughest storm.

That hope is an anchor, sure and steadfast, and immoveable; it is the attitude of the one who has gazed upon the face of God the Father, as He has revealed Himself in Jesus “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb.13:8).

So what sort of hope do you have? The worldly sort: uncertain, vague, desire with only a slight possibility of fulfilment? Or do you have Christian Hope – that God-given hope inspired by the Father, founded on the Son, sustained by the indwelling power of God the Holy Spirit? You see, it’s only where there’s Christian hope that there’s real life!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

The ministry of healing.

During the week, I was asked about “spiritual healing” – in this case involving what I consider to be the suspect practice of “Reiki”. It’s one of these situations in which the terminology used needs to be very specific. Allow me to explain!

As I see it, “spiritual healing” can be obtained from any powerful enough spiritual force. The problem here is that not every spiritual force is able to be referred to as benign. I remember well making the discovery (many years ago!) that the devil can counterfeit all of the gifts of God the Holy Spirit. However, what he is totally incapable of doing is counterfeiting the fruit of God the Holy Spirit (Gal.5:22-23). That is why I am always wary of accepting someone simply on the basis of their apparent spiritual gifting. Even Jesus recommended that course of action (Matt.7;16)! And, of course, just a few sentences further on, the Lord is recorded as having said that there would be those who, on the Judgement day, would say that they had even performed miracles (including, I imagine, miracles of healing) in His Name – who would not be owned by Him. (v.22). Perhaps it is by our fruit that even He will know us??!

Another commonly-used term is “faith healing”. The problem that I see here is that the emphasis is placed on the faith of the recipient. Now, I am well aware that there were occasions on which the Lord Jesus, Himself, seems to have responded to – and even expected – an element of faith. I think of the two blind men whose healing is recorded in Matt.9:27ff. It is, Jesus says, “Because of your faith …” (v29) that the healing was granted. However, I also think of the leper, whose story Matthew records just a little earlier. In Matt.8:1-3 we discover that the man recognised that if Jesus was willing, He could make him whole. Jesus was willing – and the man’s leprosy disappeared! Faith in the Lord is certainly useful, but it is He Who heals – regardless of the level of that faith. I love the honesty of the man who said to Jesus “I do believe (have faith), but help me overcome my unbelief (my lack of faith)” (Mark 9:24). But I love even more, the Lord’s gracious response!!

So, for me, the only acceptable term is “divine healing”. This allows all of the credit, and all of the glory, to go to the Lord Himself. It is a recognition that all healing comes from Him, and Him alone. That, as the old medics used to admit, “We set the bone; the Lord does the healing.”

So why, then, does not everyone for whom healing is requested, in the Name of Jesus, with genuine faith, and with a recognition that all is of Him? Sadly, since the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, physical death has been part of our mortality. We simply cannot live forever in these bodies (although, for those who have placed their trust in the Lord Jesus, there is a glorious resurrection body to take its place). And, of course, if we believe in the Sovereignty of God, then we believe that He knows best, and will always do what is best for us. Paul could say that to be with Christ (after physical death) is “… far better …” (Phil.1:23); and Jesus went to the Cross, even ’though He knew what that experience of human death would be for Him.

Rom.8:28, 38-39, seem appropriate words on which to end a somewhat longer post than usual. May each of us be found, regardless of our state of health, or our circumstances, praising Him, and giving Him all glory and honour.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Bread and Wine.

As we shared the elements of bread and wine, this morning, the following thoughts came to me. It’s never going to be classic literature, but the thoughts are sincere, and intended to bring glory to the Lord.

It’s only a tiny piece of bread, but it speaks of a God above
Who came, in the Person of the Son, to show how great His love.

It’s only a tiny piece of bread, but it speaks of atoning death
As Jesus completed His earthly work, and breathed His last human breath.

It’s only a tiny piece of bread, but it speaks of new life for me.
It reminds me of all that Jesus did, on that cross, at Calvary.

It’s only a little cup of wine, but it speaks of the Saviour’s blood
Shed on that cross, for all mankind; fulfilling the sacred Word.

It’s only a little cup of wine, but it speaks of the mighty flow
Of the mercy of God, to a sinner like me, and the grace that e’en I might know.

It’s only a little cup of wine, but it speaks of great sacrifice
As it spurted from head, hands, feet, and side; and the soldiers threw their dice.

It’s only a tiny piece of bread, and a little cup of wine;
But, each time I partake, I rejoice once again, in His wonderful love divine.

Do you really know Him?

At the communion service at Liberty Community Church, this morning, one of our young men, Stuart Taylor, shared a recent experience. With his prior permission, I would like to share it with you.

He had gone to London to a major work-related conference and, at dinner, everyone was asked to make themselves known to five strangers. When the meal was over, Stuart made his way towards a group of men in order to introduce himself. Of course, being at a conference, he already had a name badge on and, as he approached the group, one of the other men spotted him and greeted him with “Hello, Stuart. Good to meet you at last!” Seeing Stuart’s mystified look, he explained “I’m **. We’ve worked together on some contracts.”

Stuart suddenly realised what had happened. He has, he informed us, a colleague in the Edinburgh office of his company, who is also named Stuart Taylor and who even celebrates his birthday just a couple of days away from (my!) Stuart. This was simply a case of mistaken identity!

However, Stuart made a very relevant, and vitally important, point. He pointed out that this man knew his name, but that he didn’t know him! As we had been concentrating, this morning, on the Name of Jesus, he reminded us that it is very easy to know that Name, and to be able to provide a lot of information about Jesus; but not know Him in a personal way.

I trust that, as you read this blog (and not simply this post!), you will learn much about Jesus, and His wonderful offer of salvation to a sinful mankind. But I trust that you will also come to a personal, saving knowledge of Him that will enable you to declare that He is your Saviour, your Lord, and your Friend.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

"The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas"

On Tuesday evening, Joyce and I went to a preview showing of the film “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” – due to go out on general release tomorrow. The story is set in Second World War Germany, where an army officer is promoted to be Commandant of a “Work Camp”. His whole family leave their beautiful home in Berlin, and are moved to within sight of the camp.

His eight-year-old son sees the camp from his bedroom window, but thinks that it is a farm. However, he is unable to understand why the workers are all wearing their pyjamas! Eventually, and in spite of having been forbidden to even go into the area behind the house, he finds himself outside the perimeter fence. Opposite him, is another boy – wearing the striped pyjamas that were the “uniform” of the camp’s inmates. This boy is also eight years of age – but he is a Jew!

As the film unfolds, the Nazi officer’s son comes to realise that, in his native country, Jew and German are not supposed to be friends. However, the somewhat harrowing conclusion of the story has the two boys holding hands, totally unaware of the fate that awaits them both.

For us, the story was a wee bit slow at times, but the ending was quite emotional, and the whole film was a reminder of the horror of the Holocaust – the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jewish race. There is an insight, through the glimpses of the lessons provided by the German boy’s tutor (who also tutors his twelve-year-old sister) to the kind of propaganda that was delivered in German schools of the period; and the changes in the sister show how well such propaganda was able to do its work. The use of propaganda film is also included and, having seen some of it, the German boy is fooled, and even looks for the pleasant scenes from the camp when he eventually manages to enter it himself!

This is a film that would be better viewed more than once. It is only as I have reflected on it over a couple of days that I have begun to realise how many strands have been followed in it. I would have liked it to have brought in some element of the concept of sacrifice; of the cost, to a father, of his only son; of forgiveness; of restitution; of reconciliation; and other specifically Christian messages. However, part of the benefit of the film as it is, is that it may well allow Christians to interact with non-Christian friends, and to raise some of those issues in their own way.

I would commend the film to anyone who has the opportunity to see it, and am grateful to have had that opportunity myself.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

What is the Church?

The question “What is a Christian?” leads (I would say, quite logically) to the question “What is the Church?” It is not, of course, the building – whether it be a grand cathedral with beautiful stained-glass windows and soaring spires, set in a hill overlooking the city or town in which it is set, or a small hall in the middle of a council housing-estate, and surrounded by towering blocks of 1950s flats/apartments. Such a structure is no more than the meeting-place of the local church.

The Church, in New Testament terms, is people – people who have made a conscious and deliberate decision to commit their lives to following, and serving, the Lord Jesus Christ. They are the saints who do not require any form of canonisation by any particular denomination, but who are made holy by the cleansing blood of the Lamb, shed at Calvary.
Just as we may find a number of descriptions of the Christian within the pages of God’s written Word, so there are a number of descriptions of the Church. One of these is a Body. Indeed, we are told, quite clearly, that the Church is the very Body of the Lord, Jesus Christ. (Rom.12:5; I Cor.12:27)

Of course, apart (possibly!!) from an amoeba, or some other such creature, a body is made up of a number of parts. My human body has a head; a torso; legs; arms; feet; hands; internal organs; etc., etc. And the Church is no different! “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ's body . We are many parts of one body, …” (Rom 12:4-5; see also I Cor.12:12ff).

The Church is a body that, similarly to the human body has many parts, each with its own function. The nose is a very useful organ if I want to check whether, or not, food is fresh; or if there is an unlit gas tap turned on; or even if the person beside me on the bus has been perspiring! However, it isn’t of much use if I want to consume a bowl of soup – my hands are much better at holding a spoon! And there are many parts. Can you imagine a six-foot tall nose making its way down your street? The nose isn’t going to get anywhere without the rest of the body. And while it might make the next majot news-bulletin, such an unattached appendage isn't going to be capable of very much!

So it is with the Church. Each of us is given different giftings and talents; but each of us also depends on the others in order to fulfil the task(s) to which God has called us. Unity in diversity; diversity in unity. Not everyone is called to be a preacher; an evangelist; a teacher; even a Christian blogger! But I think of one dear lady in Liberty CommUNITY Church. She’s unlikely to ever lead from the front; or bring the message at the Family Service (although we must never seek to limit what God can do in, and with, any one of us!). But she has an amazing memory for dates, and does a superb job in sending cards to church members, on behalf of the Fellowship, on their birthday anniversaries; and she’s always involved in serving the refreshments in the interval between the two morning services. Not the highest-profile ministry – but we would miss her greatly if she wasn’t there, faithfully serving the rest of the Body,
as the Lord has enabled her.

So, if you’re a disciple of Jesus, please ensure that you are an active part of the Body – and that means being part of a local expression of that Body, where your specific contribution can enhance the whole, and where the whole can make your specific contribution more effective.
May you know the Presence, and the power, of the Master, in all that you do.