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Friday, 26 February 2010

Model railways, and sanctification!

One of the joys of retirement is the freedom to do things during normal working hours! Today, for example, I was able to visit Model Rail, Scotland, 2010 - an exhibition of model railways built by various Clubs throughout Scotland, and even from Newcastle (England). It is many years since I have had a model railway and, to be honest, mine wasn't much more than a train set! I was, therefore, totally amazed at how the hobby has progressed during those years.

The Exhibition was superb. There were layouts representing many parts of Scotland, together with Canada, Germany, Italy, and Wales. The sizes of the models ranged from the large '1' gauge, down to one of which I had never heard before - 'T' gauge, with a distance between the track rails of only 3mm!! There were amazing sound effects; carriage doors that opened and shut; new types of controller that allow up to three locomotives to be independently operated on the same stretch of track - without the complication of wiring up isolated sections.

The whole set-up of each layout was a work of art. Countryside; roadways (with operating trams in some cases!); harbours with realistic-looking water; small boats and medium-sized vessels; railway turntables; passengers on the platforms; etc., etc. As I looked, I realised that, in the years since I had last had a train set, the models had become more and more like the real thing!

On Sunday, I was preaching on the subject of Sanctification - the process through which the disciple of Jesus becomes more like Him. I thought of that, to day, as I wandered around the Exhibition. I asked myself if, during those years, I had become more like the real thing - even Jesus?! That should, of course, be my constant desire, and my focussed aim.

The other thought that struck me, today, concerned the dedication of the modellers. The time that is spent building, maintaining, and improving the layouts is a challenge to me and, I suspect, to many followers of Jesus. When I considered the time that they devote to their hobby, and compared it to the time that I tend to spend in the study of God's Word, and in prayer (two irreplacable activities in the process of sanctification), I was humbled. Yet their labour brings about something that, while very beautiful, is transient. The process of sanctification - that is, of course, a gracious work of Father God - leads to an eternal reward as, in glory, I see the Lord as He is; know Him as I am known; and spend eternity in the praise and worship of the "Lamb Who was slain from before the foundation of the world." (Rev.13:8).

I may well return to the Exhibition tomorrow - this time, remembering to take my camera! God grant that He may see as big a difference in me, as time passes by, as I have done in the world of Model Railways.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Pope (again!) and Jim Murphy, M.P.

It is interesting, at least for those of us who are domiciled in Scotland, to note that the Scottish Secretary, Jim Murphy, is reported as wanting to "play the religion card to win votes" (The Scotsman, 23-02-10). This, of course, is the same Mr Murphy who, last month was reported as aiming to counteract the threatened oppostion of the BNP in his East Renfrewshire Westminster Constituency, by uniting " ... Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups to battle the party, which he described as 'abhorrent'." (The Scotsman, 18-01-10).

However, it should be noted that this is also the same Mr Murphy who was apparently happy to support the present government in its attempts to add further restrictions to the Equality Bill - thankfully blocked by the House of Lords - that would have removed the right of, e.g. churches and other Christian organisations, to refuse to employ persons who do not share their core beliefs, in particular those whose sexual conduct is contrary to the teachings of the Bible (see my post: 02-02-10). This I should perhaps have pointed out, includes adulterers and fornicators just as much as active homosexuals/lesbians. This same Mr Murphy appeared to be happy to erode such exemption so that it would have applied only to those whose employment wholly, or mainly, involves the leading of worship, or the promotion/explanation of doctrine. Apart from the fact that even a full-time parish minister spends a considerable amount of time in areas such as pastoral work that are outwith those proposed exemption paramenters, there are many churches who employ a deacon/deaconess; a youth worker; a church secretary; etc., whose terms of employment would certainly not have fallen within the terms of the 'new' exemption, had it gone ahead.

The track record of the present Bitish government, with regard to religious liberty, is not one of which they have any right to be proud. Since the Roman Pontiff was roundly criticised for daring to comment, adversely, on the Equality Bill, and other restrictive legislation introduced by Mr Murphy's party (The Scotsman, 02-02-10) with, to the best of my knowledge, no public support offered by Mr Murphy, it would appear that the latter will seek assistance from anyone who might save his political skin, regardless of how he and his colleagues have treated them in the past! To see a photograph of him, in Tuesday's newspapers, holding the Pope's hands and gazing with such reverential devotion into the Pope's eyes, makes me think that his middle name must be 'Hypocrisy'. No surprise there!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Richard Dawkins, and the Bible.

One of this morning's items in the Sunday programme, to which I listen, concerned a project to celebrate, next year, the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorised (King James) Version of the Bible. This project, apparently, involves people from all over the U.K., both the 'famous' and the 'ordinary' recording the reading of specific passages from the A.V., that they find particularly meaningful. All well and good, one might say!

However, the surprising bit of information was that the so-called 'high priest of humanistic atheism', Richard Dawkins - a man who is one of today's most vocal critical antagonists of Christianity and the Bible, has recorded a passage as part of this project! The passage that he has chosen is a few verses from the Old Testament book, The Song of Songs. Of course, being Mr Dawkins, he still has to get his little dig in! So, as was broadcast this morning, he commences by casting doubt on the Solomonic authorship of Canticles (the alternative title for the book), and in referring to it as a piece of "erotic poetry".

It so happens that I am currently reading the Song in my private devotions, so am in a better position, than I might have otherwise been, to comment thereon! First of all, the allegedly erudite Mr Dawkins should note that the authorship of Solomon is not only accepted by any of the Biblical scholars whom I have consulted, but is specifically stated in the opening sentence of the Song: "The Song of Songs, which [is] Solomon's" (1:1, A.V.). I am unaware of any available evidence that would suggest the contrary - but am always open to enlightenment!

As to the content of the Song it is true that, on the surface, it may be viewed as a song of physical love (Dawkins' description of it as an erotic poem, and his choosing a passage from it as having some special meaning to him, may suggest more about him than about the Song!). Indeed, a couple of the early Church leaders stated that the Jews forbade its reading by anyone less than forty years old! It is certainly a part of Scripture that requires a certain spiritual maturity (which, I would suggest, has not been attained by Richard Dawkins!) to understand. It is wholly allegorical, and is only fully understood as a very beautiful description of the relationship between the believer and the Lord Jesus.

Of course, as someone has said, "To the pure, all things are pure". It seems not unreasonable to suggest that the opposite may also be true - Mr Dawkins, please take note! Another old adage is that, concerning the Bible as the written Word of God, "The New [Testament] is in the Old [Testament] concealed; the Old is in the New revealed."

Richard Dawkins is one of those who would happily state that people who believe in the Bible as inspired by the Almighty God Who is the Creator, and Sustainer, of all that is, are simpletons; and that the [visible] church is full of hypocrites. Well Mr Dawkins, we always have room for one more, and your very willingness to be involved in a project that seeks to honour the very Bible that you so vociferously despise and attack, indicates that you are well qualified to fill that place.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

The "Robin Hood" tax

Although not usually one for "mass e-mailings", there are occasional situations in which I feel that a cause is particularly worthwhile. The attached video clip will, I trust, encourage many to sign up on the website

http://www.avaaz.org/en/robin_hood/?cl=482386303&v=5427

You may already have received an e-mail from me but, if not, please use this opportunity to become involved. As far as I know, this is for UK residents only but, if you live outwith the UK, why not contact Avaaz (a reputable organisation) to find out what, if anything, is happening in your own country!!

And now for the video. Please click on the link! Thank you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYtNwmXKIvM

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Money, money, money!

One of the major news stories of the week, thus far, is the winning of £56 million (and 20p!!) by a couple from Gloucestershire. They have been featured in all of the national media and, as far as I can make out from the interviews held with them, they are a level-headed pair who will not simply squander this fortune that is actually beyond my full comprehension.

However, hearing of the win set me thinking. What would I do with £56 million (we'll ignore the 20p!)? Particularly at my age, I wouldn't need very much of it. Indeed, I reckon that a number of Christian ministries and organisations would be pleasantly surprised. I would happily write out a cheque for £10 million each for Release International, Open Doors, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide - three organisations that support the persecuted church in over 50 countries in the world today. Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) would also receive a cheque for £10 million as theirs is a high-cost ministry with the upkeep of aircraft, and the cost of fuel.

We have sponsored children for many years, so £3 million would be set up as a Trust Fund with World Vision to provide support for as many children as possible. ICC (International Christian College) is the descendant of the Bible Training Institute and would receive £2million to set up a Trust Fund to support overseas students in their studies. Aware of the benefits of Christian radio work, I would send a cheque for £2 million each to FEBA, and HCJB - two international ministries who beam the Gospel message into places where it is difficult for a physical missionary to work. As we have a particular fondness for France, I would give £1 million to Mission France; and another £1 million to GLO for its work in that country. The Preshal Trust would also receive £1 million in order to fulfil May Nicholson's vision of a purpose-built Centre for that work.

If I have been calculating correctly, that comes to £52 million. I would provide smaller cash boosts to a number of other organisations, to the tune of £3 million. The remaining £1 million (and 20p!) would ensure that my daughters had their mortgages, and any other outstanding debts, cleared; that my dear wife and I had a long holiday during which she would not have to lift a finger; and would ensure some extra income to supplement our pensions.

See! It doesn't take long to dispose of £56 million (and that 20p!). So, knowing how I would use it, why doesn't the Lord arrange for me to receive that kind of instant income? It seems, to me, to be a not unreasonable question!

Actually, I suspect that I already know the answer! I suspect that too many of us, if provided with such sums of money would lose some of our trust in the Lord to be our Provider. I fear that faith would be weakened, and trust transferred to a bank account.

I know that there are wealthy believers - both in the pages of the Bible, and in contemporary society - but I honestly believe it requires a special grace to handle such riches. In the meantime, I believe that I am called to be a good steward of all that the Lord has, in His wisdom, entrusted to me. For me, that starts with the tithe (10%), and goes on to the Love Gift (that's between the Lord and me!). Indeed, when I think of it, if every believer gave like that, then there probably wouldn't be any need for large donations to any genuine ministry. So, rather than be despondent that I don't have £56 million, and 20p, I'll simply thank the Lord for His constant provision of all that I need, and my ability to support His work in the world in accordance with the way in which He has blessed me.

However, if He ever does decide to bless me with £56 million (with, or without, the 20p) ... ... ...!!!!!!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Love, and marriage.

"Love and marriage;
Love and marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage.
This I tell you, brother - You can't have one without the other!"

So, if my memory serves me well, sang Alma Cogan - but if I am wrong, then some old codger will undoubtedly correct me!!

I thought of the song when, a few days ago, I read that the trend for couples to commit themselves to a formal marriage is, again, taking a downward path. Now, at the risk of having some of my regular readers label me as a liberal-minded heretic, let me say that I actually have more time for the co-habiting couple who are faithful to one another, than the couple who have gone through a marriage ceremony of whatever sort but who, either/both, then 'play the field' with a string of extra-marital affairs!

However, as those who do know me are aware, I am a passionate defender of the institution of marriage - especially for those who claim to be members of the Body of Christ. Co-habitation is one thing; a Christian marriage is another altogether. On this Valentine's day, we tend to think only of the 'romantic' aspect of love. For many, cards, and flowers, and chocolates, and special treats are the order of the day. And I would be the last to condemn any of that! But ... ... ..."!

So why is marriage so important? I would suggest that it is is for the very simple reason that every day is not Valentine's Day; that young couples grow old; that not all the 'miracle' creams and lotions (however much "You're worth it"!) in the world can keep the lines and wrinkles away for ever; that the vigour and vitality of youth become, all too quickly, the wheezing and the weakness of old age.

On Songs of Praise, this evening, I listened to the actress who plays the character Peggy in the radio serial The Archers. She had to play the part of a wife whose husband suffered from Altzheimer's - and that radio part mirrored her experience in her real life and marriage. However, she reminded us that the vows in the Christian marriage service speak of sickness, as well as health; of poorer, as well as richer; of worse, as well as better. Listening to her testify to the love that she continued to have for the husband who, in many ways, was nothing like the man she had married all those decades earlier; and to the strength that she received from God when the situation was tough; I knew that I was listening to one who had understood her marriage vows, and who had kept them well.

The Christian marriage service is also a Covenant relationship. It is not even just a civil contract. It is an eternal threesome of husband, wife, and Father God. It is "until God shall separate us by death"! All of this involves commitment on the part of both the husband and the wife. If I am merely 'living with' a woman (what a previous generation referred to as "living in sin"!), then all may be well while we are in our twenties, or thirties, or forties. But what happens when I start to lose my boyish charm; when my 'partner' starts to lose her sexy figure? What happens when I am required to clean up after her when she has been violently sick in bed; or when she has to clean up after me when I am suffering from the dreaded Montezuma's Revenge (diarrhoea, to the uninitiated!)? And if such situations happen while I am still a viable proposition to another woman (or my 'partner' to another man), how much easier it must be to walk away. No ties; no commitment; no worries!!!

"Love", said another song-writer, "is a many-splendoured thing." I suspect that the reference there was simply to moonlight and roses; to balmy days on palm-bordered beaches; to beautiful sunsets over peacefiul lagoons. But real love - the love that translates the Greek word 'agape', is a giving love; a selfless love; an unconditional love. It is the love that Almighty God, in His grace and mercy, shows to sinful mankind. How sad that so many reject it, out of hand.

So, back to the Alma Cogan song. If you truly love each other, take that step of commitment and enter into a marriage relationship. Don't settle for second-best. If there is no-one even 'on the horizon', then rejoice that you may still be a partaker of the love of Almighty God. And, married or single, build every relationship on a saving relationship with Him - made possible through the greatest act of selfless love in the history of mankind: the passion and death of the Lord Jesus. As the old sticker used to proclaim: "God is love; Calvary proves it"!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Birthday Anniversaries!

Since it has now gone 11.15 p.m., I am officially a full year older! Yes, that's me reached 28 (and some months!!!) again!

Seriously, I sometimes wonder where the time goes (simple answer - it goes into, or becomes, the past!). As I look back over my life, I see so much that I wanted to do, but have never done; I see so many mistakes that I made; I see as many broken relationships as lasting ones. All in all, I could think of many reasons to be disheartened and depressed.

But then I remember - I can celebrate two birthdays! A few days before my 15th (physical) birthday anniversary, I made a conscious commitment of my life to the Lord Jesus and, in the words of John 3:3, I was born again. On that occasion, the birth was a spiritual one and I became a child of the Living God; a joint-heir with the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the wonderful outcomes of that second birth was that I received forgiveness of all of my sins - even those that I had not yet committed! I accepted that Jesus had paid the penalty for my all of my sin as He hung on the cross at Calvary; and that His shed blood atoned for my transgressions.

So, as I look back over my physical life, but remember my spiritual life, my depression is lifted, and my despondency is cheered up. On that day (Feb 9th, 1959), I moved from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light; from being under the wrath of the sinless and holy God to being under His grace; from being the recipient of righteous judgement to being the partaker of His love.

As if all of that were not enough, I also have an assurance that this life is not the end and that, for me - as for all who have similarly committed their lives to Jesus - their is a resurrection life in a dimension that I am incapable of understanding while in this mortal body. I don't know exactly what it will be like, but I know that it will be far better (see Philippians 1:23)

The only question is - Will you be there? I trust that you will - to His glory.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

One law for them??

The U.K. news during the past week has featured at least two major stories that seem to suggest that British law is a multi-faceted entity.

Much has been made of the sexual shenanigans of the (now former) captain of the English national footbal team. This gentleman, it has been alleged, has been in an encounter of the very close kind with the former girlfriend of one of his national team-mates. This, in my old-fashioned type of morality, is adultery, and I am not going to make any attempt to defend Mr Terry's activity. However, it is interesting to note that he has had the English team captaincy taken from him - a punishment, I imagine, that means a lot more to him than it would to me!

Now, let's take just one example from the world of the rest of the rich and famous. On Remembrance Day 2008, senior Labour Party politician Nigel Griffiths smuggled a woman - who was not his wife - into the House of Commons, and not only had a 'sexual romp' with her, but actually filmed the hour-long encounter. And what was the punishment that this (dis) honourable gentleman had to face? As far as I can make out, there was nothing (someone please correct me if I am wrong). It is true that he has intimated his intention to stand down from his Edinburgh Parliamentary seat at the forthcoming General Election but, even then, he will do so with a handsome financial severance package, and a pension that will make mine look like pocket-money!

The other issue to hit the headlines was the ongoing saga of members', and Lords', expenses. Only three members of the House of Commons, and one from the House of Lords, have been formally charged with fraudulent activity. However, I seem to recall that there were a lot more than 3+1 who were guilty of similar "creative accounting". I am no more of an apologist for Livingston MP Jim Devine - one of the three - than for John Terry, but his misdemeanour seems to fade into relative insignificance when compared to that of, for example, Barbara Follett, a former Labour government minister who is being told to repay more than £42,000 that was wrongly claimed for items such as security and insurance.

So what is wrong with British justice, and our fabled "sense of fair play"? I am reminded of the wise saying in the Old Testament book of Proverbs: "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people." (14:34) It is to be hoped that, at the Election, with so many 'standing down' (rather than face the ignominy of losing their seats - with the resultant loss of that severance package!), that the corridors of power at Westminster will be filled with a new breed of politician - those who are men and women of faith and integrity, and who put the Lord at the centre of their lives. Perhaps, then, we might see this nation return to the paths of righteousness from which it has so long departed.

Friday, 5 February 2010

The Parable of the Sower!

After a couple of fairly 'heavy' posts, time for something a little lighter (although the heavier material does seem to increase the traffic to the blog - quite considerably!).

It was many years ago, now - some time in the mid-80s - when the whole family were at the annual Keswick Convention . The girls were still very young and, for the special 'family service' folk had been invited to make a presentation. As we sat in our little trailer-tent, I came up with the following. It was sung by mum and dad, as daughters acted it out. Oh, to have a video-recording!!! The tune is "Tell me the story of Jesus". (See Matthew 13:1ff for the original!).

Jesus, one day, at the lakeside sat down to teach.
All of the folk who had gathered, He longed to reach.
He in a boat, the crowd on the shore;
As He did tell the tale of the sower.

"Once there was one who went out to sow all his seed.
A harvest was what he was wanting to meet his need.
But, as he scattered, lo, he did find
Seed fell all over, blown by the wind.

Some of it fell on the pathway, where it did lie
'Til it was eaten by birds that swooped from the sky.
Some fell on rocks, and sprouted so well;
But, when the sun came, frizzled and fell.

Other seed fell among thorns that soon choked the plants;
But the rest fell on the good soil as he did want.
And there it yielded plenty of corn:
Thirty, sixty, a hundred-fold, filling his barns."

Jesus then told His disciples what this tale meant:
"The seed is theWord of the Kingdom, to each of us sent.
Some just reject it; some take it in;
'Though not all continue, the Kingdom to win."

So, we ask you to consider - which soil are you;
As you keep each of these pictures plainly in view?
Hear Jesus' words; respond to His call;
Grow by His Spirit strong, true, and tall.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Pope, and the Equality Bill

Someone has said that there are none so intolerant as those who would seek tolerance for themselves!

As one who would class himself as conservative evangelical in his theology, and who is firmly wedded to the Reformed Christian faith, I congratulate the Pontiff of the Church of Rome for his comments on further restrictions of the rights of Christians in the U.K., through the terms of the Equality Bill. The supporters of the current government's attempts to provide increasing 'rights' for certain minority groups within our society, e.g. homosexuals and lesbians, seem to forget that the majority also have their 'rights' in civil law. I fail, utterly, to understand why any group of people should be forced to accept into their number, anyone who does not share their core beliefs and values. Would Stonewall wish to have me, with my totally heterosexual lifestyle; my personal disgust at the unproductive and perverse activities of homosexuals; and my strong Christian beliefs; as an employee? Would they trust me not to seek every opportunity to propagate my (to them) unacceptable views and practices? Somehow, I suspect that the reality would be resoundingly negative! Yet, if the Bill had progressed as Harriet Harman wished, churches and other Christian organisations would have been compelled to employ those who not only disagree with, but also actively oppose, their particular beliefs.

By all means, let us have equality where it is reasonable and sensible. But I am so grateful to those members of the House of Lords who, through common-sense and integrity, ensured that the minority cannot force the majority to accept their beliefs and practices. And, from a dyed-in-the-wool protestant, thanks to the Pope for speaking out on my behalf.