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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

In the Upper Room

Servant, and service, are words that are no longer in vogue. They smack of the Victorian/Edwardian "Upstairs Downstairs" sort of class divisions. Yet, in John 13:1-17, Jesus of Nazareth shows that service is love's royal road to happiness"! It's not how we normally think!

If you take a few moments to read the record of this amazing incident, you'll discover that Jesus was fully aware that His hour had come (v.1). He recognised the urgency of the moment and so, in the very shadow of the cross, He took a towel and wrapped it around His waist. Then He took a basin of water and performed the function that was usually left to the lowliest servant in a middle-eastern household - washing the dust from the feet of the guests.

Of course, there are some people in the life and experience of each one of us whom we would gladly serve. But just think! Among that group whose feet Jesus washed, was the man named Judas Iscariot. Would I be willing to serve someone whom I knew was shortly going to betray me (see v.27)? Would you?! I might wash the feet of those who had my respect - but Judas?! Yet Jesus washed even his feet. He also washed the feet of Peter. Here is a man who is shortly going to deny his Master. Here is a man who is good at letting out the clutch on his mouth, before his brain has engaged gear! Here is a man who can assure Jesus that, whatever the other disciples might do, he would stand by Him. Here is the man who, three times, denied having any knowledge of the Lord! Yet Jesus washed his feet as well.

Perhaps there is an example, here, that each of us might follow! That's certainly what Jesus says (vs.14-15). For the disciple of Jesus, service is not an optional extra. It's an obligation that is placed upon us by the Saviour! And that obligation includes the sharing of the Gospel message - not only by the message on our lips, but also by the manner of our living. The motivation, of course, must be love - love for our Lord, and love for our fellow-man.

I imagine that all of us desire happiness - but how many truly find it? Perhaps the mistake that many make is to expect happiness to be the result of having others serve them, instead of serving others. Many years ago, I obtained a book entitled "The Happiest People on Earth". It's a book about a group of Christian men who have discovered that there is no-one happier than the disciple of Jesus - in the service of the King of kings; serving all men.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Palm Sunday +2

"Who is this?", was the question of many of those who witnessed the arrival, in the city of Jerusalem, of Jesus of Nazareth - the One Who, some had claimed, was the long-awaited Messiah - riding on a donkey.

Over the last two days, I've offered two suggestions as answers to that question. I've suggested that He might be considered to have been a liar; or a lunatic. In both cases, even a cursory examination of His life makes it abundantly clear that He was neither of those.

So, the question remains - "Who is this?" The only other alternative that any one seems to have suggested is that He was (and is!) Lord. This is Almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, having taken upon Himself, in the Persona of the Son (please listen to my message on The Trinity at www.revcbross.blogspot.com), a body of human flesh.

"Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; Hail! the incarnate Deity."

And, because of this, there are very definite implications. We cannot say that He was merely a great moral teacher, whose teachings may, or may not, be followed without any long-term effect. If He is Lord, then it is His to command; and those who do not follow His commandments are being flagrantly disobedient. Such will, of course, reap the consequences of that disobedience.

But because He is Lord, He is also able - able to save; able to keep; able to forgive; able to meet every need of those who do keep His commandments; who love, and trust, and commit themselves to, Him.

When John wrote his account of the Gospel story, he drew to a close by pointing out that he had written only a small fraction of all that could have been written. "But", he wrote, "these things have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and" - and this is of supreme importance - "that believing, you may have life in His Name." (20:31)

A Man rode into a city on the back of a donkey; and the question was asked, "Who is this?" All of the available evidence throws out any suggestion that He is a liar, or a lunatic. It clearly supports the claim that He is Lord. Is He your Lord, today? He is King and Lord of the universe; but His desire is to be King and Lord of your life. Let Him take control, and be able to go forward in the resurrection power that we will be remembering on Sunday. Then you will know, not mere existence, but 'Life with a capital L' - "life in all its fullness" (John 10:10).

Monday, 29 March 2010

Palm Sunday + 1

So, if my reasoning of yesterday - and that of others - is correct, Jesus of Nazareth, Who rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey on that first Palm Sunday, was not a liar. But perhaps He was a Lunatic!

Perhaps He actually thought that He was God; perhaps he was totally convinced, in His own mind, but was simply mistaken! It is, after all, perfectly possible to be both sincere and wrong!

Of course, merely being sincerely wrong doesn't automatically mean that a person is suffering from lunacy. But we must surely remember that for someone to think that he is God - especially someone brought up as a Jew; someone who knew and recited many passages form the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament of the Christian Bible) on a daily basis, especially Deuteronomy 6:4ff that begins "Hear, O Israel, YHWH, your God, YHWH is One ..."; for one like that to think that he is God, and to tell others that what happened to them after physical death depended on their believing in (trusting) him, committing themselves - body, mind, and spirit - to him; this is no little mistake, no flight of fancy. This is way beyond the man who thinks that he is a poached egg (as someone - possibly C.S.Lewis - has put it!). This is the thinking of a lunatic; one who is insane, crazy, mad, senseless. "Who is this?" - a lunatic?!

Permit me to quote from a writer who belonged to a group of people who don't accept the Deity of the Lord Jesus, but that thinks of Him as being no more than a very good man. Speaking of the lunatic theory, William Ellery Channing (honorary transcendentalist, and Unitarian minister) wrote: "The charge of an extravagant, self-deluding, enthusiasm is the last to be fastened on Jesus. Where can we
find the traces of it in His history? Do we detect them in the calm authority of His precepts; in the mild, practical, and beneficent spirit of His religion; in the unlaboured simplicity of the language with which He unfolds His high powers, and the sublime truths of religion; or in the good sense, the knowledge of human nature, which He always discovers in His estimate, and treatment, of the different classes of me with whom He acted?" (The Romance of M. Renan, and the Christ of the Gospels; p.91). And the answer, of course, is that it isn't found anywhere! Whatever else Jesus was, He was no lunatic!

So, "Who is this?" Please check out this blog tomorrow for a final possibility!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Palm Sunday

It must have been an exciting, and memorable, occasion – that day on which Jesus of Nazareth, the Galilean Teacher, rode into the great city of Jerusalem, on the back of a donkey! Certainly, the evangelists, who have recorded the event for us, speak of great crowds; of cheering and rejoicing; of the Eastern custom, when a person of distinction is passing by, of strewing the road with the branches of trees, and with their cloaks. It was the first Palm Sunday!

Some, however, appear to have been unaware of the identity of the One Who was the centre of attention. For Matthew records that “… when He entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying ‘Who is this?’” (Matt.21:10)

“Who is this?” The answer given was that “This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.” (v.11). However, that may be considered to have been a somewhat superficial response. There is, indeed, a much better, and timelessly relevant, answer. It is a question that, when directed at Jesus of Nazareth, becomes the most important question in the world; the most important question of all time!

There are, in the end, only three possible answers, and I hope to share each of them over three days of this Holy Week. The first answer is that He is a Liar! His own claim, both implicitly and explicitly, was that He was God. But if, when He made that claim He knew, consciously, that He was not God, then He was lying. And, if He was a liar, then He was also a hypocrite, because He taught others to be honest – whatever the personal cost might be – while Himself teaching, and living, and perpetrating, a colossal untruth.

More than that, He was a demon, a very devil, because He told others to trust in Him for their eternal destiny. But if He was unable to back up His claims, and was aware of that, then He was unspeakably evil.

And, of course, He would have been a fool, because it was this very claim – that He was God – that led to His crucifixion! (see Mark 14:61-64; John19:7).

If this is a liar, then He is also a hypocrite, a demon, a fool. But here is what one man has written: “How, in the name of logic, common-sense, and experience, could an imposter have invented, and consistently maintained from the beginning to the end, the purest and noblest character known in history, with the most perfect air of truth and reality?” (Philip Schaff; The Person of Christ, pps. 94-95). The unspoken answer is that he couldn’t!

Someone who lived as Jesus lived; taught as Jesus taught; and died as Jesus died; simply couldn’t have been a liar. I’ll offer a second suggestion in tomorrow’s post!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Sleaze, greed, and stupidity!

Monday, today – but still no internet access. However, this provides my third posting while away for a few days, so that should keep me going until the end of the week – provided that I don’t post them all at the one time!

Yesterday’s breaking news, in the political sphere, was the allegation that a number of former government ministers, backbenchers, and a peer, have been ‘caught out’ in a so-called ‘sting’ operation by the Sunday Times newspaper and the Channel 4 television broadcaster. It would appear, from the clips that have been referred to on various radio and television news, and current affairs, programmes that the going rate for lobbying one’s former ministerial department on behalf of a commercial company, is between £3,000 and £5,000 per day. If I could find legal and ethical employment at even the lower end of that scale, I would only work a couple of days each month!

I regret to have to say, that I am unaware of any organisation that would provide me with that kind of income for the sort of knowledge, and experience, that I have acquired over my lifetime. However, what I do know is the absolute assurance of the provision, by my heavenly Father, of all that I need. Indeed, I have enjoyed far more than I need. I have been blessed in so many different ways that I wouldn’t know quite where to begin if I were to tell them all! I don’t know why I have been the recipient of so much blessing. I have not deserved it; I could not have earned it; I would never be able to afford it. Enjoying a time of fellowship with a very dear minister friend, just last week, I made the point that, if anyone deserved blessing, it is those in the persecuted church, who undergo such severe privation, and harrassment, and imprisonment, and torture, and death, for the sake of Jesus. I can only believe that Almighty God has a greater reward for them, in glory, and that all that He does will ultimately be seen to have been just and right.

But, back to the politicians. It is difficult to believe that such highly educated people should display such utter stupidity – especially so soon after the ‘expenses scandal’. One can only assume that, if these allegations are confirmed to be true, their insatiable greed ovecame their reason. This is just one reason why it is my hope, and for months has been my prayer, that at the forthcoming General Election, millions of voters will cast their votes, not for a ‘Party candidate’, but for a man or woman of personal integrity, regardless of the colour of the rosette. May it be that the Lord will use the unprecedented number of members who are, for whatever reason, not seeking re-election, to fill the Palace of Westminster with an army of those who will seek to put Him first in all things. Then we might see this once-great nation return to walking the paths of righteousness – to the good of the people, and to the glory of His Name.

PS Since typing the above, and watching the full Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme, two interesting developments have taken place:

1. The Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnel, is reported as having looked at the behaviour of those involved, and concluded that there was no requirement for a wider investigation – as requested by the Opposition.


2. A meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party resulted in four of their colleagues who were involved in the scandal (including three former government ministers), being suspended from the Party.

Together, these developments surely beg the question: “If there is nothing even worthy of investigation, why would these four members be suspended?”


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Life, death, and victory.

It’s still Sunday! (well, you know what I mean!). This morning, I awoke unusually early, and listened to the final fifteen minutes of a radio programme presented by the well-known broadcaster, Fergal Keane. The subject of the programme appeared to be the inevitability of death, and the different ways in which particular people had faced up to it. I realise that I had missed the first half of the programme, but the thing that appeared to be missing in the second half was any concept of hope.

That, of course, is one of the central aspects of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus, the Christ. The New Testament never tries to deny that, until the Second Coming of the Lord, physical death is the appointed lot of each and every one of us. “… each person is destined to die once and, after that, comes judgement.” writes the author of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus (Heb.9:27). However, that same writer goes on to say that “… Christ died once, for all time, as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people.” In other words, because of the death of Jesus, as the ultimate sacrificial Lamb of God, those who have placed their trust in Him have already passed from death to life – the very life of God, here and now!

Paul, too, speaks of this wonderful hope. Writing to the believers in Rome, he has this to say: “… we … also groan, even ’though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffereing. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as His adopted children, including the new bodies He has promised us .” (8:24).

That’s why, as one of my own daughters once put it to me, the one whose trust is in Christ Jesus may not relish the process of dying, but has no fear of death. He, Jesus, has already conquered it. So Paul can write, this time to the Corinthian believers: “But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed. It will happen in a moment; in the blink of an eye; when the last trumpet is blown. For, when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

“Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin, and death, through our Lod Jesus Christ.” (I Cor.15:51-57).

Not the Messiah!!!

Although I have another couple of posts from our few days away, the following - that was awaiting me when I logged in to my e-mails - would seem to be a priority matter, at least for those of us who love, and seek (however imperfectly) to honour the Lord Jesus.

CLASSIC FM PROMOTING 'NOT THE MESSIAH'

Classic FM are promoting the showing of the blasphemous 'Not the Messiah', on the Classic FM website and in trailers. 'Not the Messiah' is by Monty Python's Eric Idle. It is being screened in cinemas this Thursday (25th). It is a musical version of 'The Life of Brian' in which Brian gets mistaken for the real Messiah and is crucified. Well-meaning people will urge us to see it all as not about Christ but about Brian and to see the funny side.

But the film sponges off the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ and this mock-oratorio parodies the glorious music of Handel's masterwork. It is even billed as 'a spoof of Handel's Messiah'. It has the song from 'Life of Brian' which 'Brian' sang while hanging from the cross, 'Always look on the bright side of life.' Crucifixion is not funny. It even has 'Hail to the Shoe' sung to the music of the Hallelujah Chorus. That isn't funny either.

While pretending 'Not the Messiah' is not blasphemous or offensive, Idle is well aware of what he is doing - mocking the Gospel of Jesus Christ. According to Eric Idle: "There is no controversy .. it's only people stupid enough to realise Christ is in the movie twice, and Christ isn't Christ, so there's no real controversy... It's very simple - you either get it or you don't."

But Eric Idle is an avowed atheist and a supporter and reader of both Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. He has a song on Atheist Nexus: 'F*** Christmas'. This is a man with an agenda and a big anti-Christ chip on his shoulder. I think we get it. He is out to mock religion and people of faith; and it's a great pity that Classic FM has joined him, showing contempt for their Christian listeners.

It is worth taking a look at the LIBRETTO: The show opens with the words: 'The Book of Brian'. It then mocks the Biblical apocalypse, which it calls 'Apocalypso', blasphemes the Christian doctrines of the awesomeness of God and depravity of man, refers to 'The Evangelist Monty' - and we are still only on page 3 of a 22-page libretto. Instead of the shepherds glorifying God, they ask 'is it AD yet?' and sing about how much they love sheep. Take a look, and see if all you hold dear isn't being dragged through the mud, vilified and ridiculed.

EMI pulled the funding of a 2007 DVD release of 'The Life of Brian' after the CEO read the script. Classic FM should have kept well away from 'Not the Messiah' as well.

PRAY: that Classic FM will pull all the trailers and the competition they are running for this event. Pray that audiences will not turn up at the cinemas. Pray that atheist Eric Idle will repent and turn to the Christ he is mocking.

EMAIL: darren.henley@classicfm.com (Managing Director). Copy to requests@classicfm.com
Let Mr Henley know that his promotion of 'Not the Messiah' offends and insults you and Almighty God. If you are a regular listener, tell him so. Ask him to stop promoting it on Classic FM.

I have read the Libretto, and would wish to emphasise just two lines:

"Everyone reaps
The seeds they have sown" (p.14)

Mr Idle should take due notice of his own words - he will, eventually, discover their truth!

Preaching the Word, in season, and out of season.

It’s Sunday, as I type, and my wife and I are enjoying a wee break, in our caravan, near to the fair town of Ayr. Yesterday, we were up in the town and, as we awaited a ’bus to take us to ASDA, there was an elderly gentleman standing in the adjoining pedestrian area, with microphone and loudspeaker, faithfully proclaiming the Gospel. He had no visible support, in the sense of other members of a fellowship and, if we had not been awaiting that ’bus, I think that I would have gone over, relieved him of his microphone, and given him a wee break. To my own shame, I failed to do so. However, I thanked God for that gentleman’s faithful witness – and I had two specific thoughts.

I realised, again, the truth of Paul’s word that there is no-one who has an excuse for rejecting the Gospel message (Rom.1:18ff). Certainly, those who “passed by” (cf. Mark 15:29), yesterday, in Ayr, can never claim not to have heard the news that each one of us is a sinner, needful of the grace of God as He has shown it in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus. I remembered, sadly, the question put to the Hebrew disciples of Jesus: “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Heb.2:3)

The other thought that struck me was that, so often, our idea of ‘evangelism’ in the western church, today, is to put on a special service, and expect the unsaved to throng in – leaving behind the other interests that lay claim to their time. Yet the command of the Lord Jesus was that we should be the ones who make the move: “… go, and make disciples of all the nations, …” (Matt.28:19), and see also Mark 4:14; Luke 10:3, 14:23 inter al. I also thought of a man like Wilson Assavi, an Iranian pastor currently in prison for his evangelistic work among Muslims. I thought of his wife, Medline, who has been informed that her husband is “awaiting his trial and execution”! That gentleman in Ayr may have been ignored by those who passed him by; the worst that would have happened in the U.K. – at least, at the present time! – is that he might have suffered some name-calling. That is also the worst that would have happened to me, if I had taken the opportunity to support him in his vocal ministry. Yet so many, in over fifty countries around the world, suffer in ways that I am barely able to imagine – but they witness, boldly and faithfully, to the saving power of Christ.

That gentleman’s voice will, one day, be silenced as his mortal body reaches the end of its journey. I have no way of knowing what measure of ‘success’ he will have enjoyed – although, doubtless, there will be some for whom he will have been an important stage on their journey to saving faith. However, I am quite certain of one thing – that man will one day stand before Jesus, and will hear those wonderful words: “Well done, My good and faithful servant. … Let’s celebrate together!” (Matt. 25:21,23, NLT).

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Is this the true face of Islam in the U.K.?

This video clip was sent to me, by e-mail. It makes very interesting watching! Note that the speaker is not some extremist Islamist with a desire for martyrdom, but a minister in the current British government! Note, also, his projections with regard to the British parliament! How many "Wake-up" calls must we receive?

More on "total depravity"

The U.K. government’s Schools Secretary, Ed Balls (who, in my opinion, every time he opens his mouth, proves that he is one of the most accurately-named politicians in Westminster!) has come out with the statement that what the killers of Jamie Bulger “… did to James Bulger was evil, but I'm not willing to say the children were intrinsically evil”

This, of course, takes me back to a couple of days ago and Calvin’s doctrine of the total depravity of mankind. This doctrine does NOT teach that all of mankind is ‘totally depraved’; it teaches that ALL mankind (the totality thereof) is sinful.

This teaching comes straight from the written Word of God, the Bible. In Ps.51:5, David confesses that “Surely I was sinful at birth; sinful from the time my mother conceived me”, while in Ps.14:2-3 (repeated in 53:2-30) is the statement that “YHWH looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand; any who seek God. All have turned aside; they have together become corrupt; there is no-one who does good, not even one.”

This theme is picked up in the New Testament – most clearly in Paul’s Letter to the disciples of Jesus, living in Rome, where he makes the simple, but profound, claim that “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23)

The simple fact of the matter is that I am not a sinner because I sin – I sin because I am a sinner! The sinfulness of Adam is inherited by all of his descendants. I have always found it interesting that one of the first words a small child uses is the word “No” – and disobedience is only a small step away from rebelliousness!

So, sorry Mr Balls, but you are talking a load of …! (you may insert your own name!).

However, the good news is that all is not lost. Paul continues, in v.24 of that 3rd chapter of Romans: “…and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” This is simply making the point that salvation/justification is a work of God’s grace. Every single one of us needs it; not one of us can ever earn it; purchase it; deserve it.

Doubtless, Mr Balls, like me, has never been charged with, or found guilty of, a criminal offence. But we are both sinners from the moment of our conception – it’s in our genes – and we both need that salvation that comes only through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus, at Calvary.