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Saturday, 28 August 2010

Seeking God?

Probably the best-known quotation from the Early Church Father, Augustine, is found in the first paragraph of the first chapter of the first book of his Confessions. It reads (in translation): "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless 'til they find their rest in Thee". More recently, the French philosopher/theologian/mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote: "There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator." And, to bring it right up-to-date, someone put it that "There's a God-shaped blank in every heart, that only God can fill".

So, is there a restlessness - a seeking after God - deep in the human heart? If so, where does it originate? Humankind, as we know it, is referred to by anthropologists and evolutionists as Homo Sapiens - 'wise' man, or 'knowing' man. Mind you, as I look at the destruction of the planet; at the breakdown in social relationships - especially in terms of marriage and the family; at the continuing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; at the ever-growing abuse of substances that people know to be harmful, if not fatal; the increase in terrorism, and criminal activity - especially in crimes of violence; I really do wonder why we should be so named! But that's the official terminology, used in the best text-books and encyclopaediae.

Yet even the modern scene does suggest that, whether or not some would wish to admit it, we are Homo Religiosis - religious man. The prevalence of scientific humanism, and selfish materialism, that has pervaded so much of modern society - at least in the so-called 'developed west' - has not diminished a longing for God. Indeed, if anything, it has increased it. People will always end up paying a price - for some, a very heavy price - when the religious drive within them is stifled, or frustrated. And in the crazy pot-pourri of cults; New Age movements; new religions; and even the Goth sub-culture apparently still loved by many young, and not-so-young, people; we may see evidence of a hunger and thirst for God that such dear people don't even recognise.

But, whether we recognise it, or not, we human beings do have a yearning to know that which is, in fact, beyond our understanding. Religion may be defined as society's attempt to formulate its beliefs about that 'higher power', and practices for relating to that same power. This, of course, is where the disciple of Jesus refers to 'faith' rather than religion. The Christian faith speaks of a God Who is Holy (that means different from all that He has created), and Who cannot even look upon the sinfulness of the pinnacle of His creation. But it also speaks of a God Who is Love, and Who longs to see the relationship with humankind restored. In order to be true to both His love, and His holiness, He had to become one of us - in the Persona of the Son (and that isn't a typo - go to my audio blog and listen to the message on The Trinity, and all will be made clear!) - and, in love, pay the penalty that His holiness required.

Now, obviously, one cannot share the fullness of the Gospel in a couple of sentences, and what I have just written is very much simplified. But, if anyone wants to know more, then please leave a comment - which will not be published - with an e-mail address, and I will happily endeavour to answer your question(s), and provide any other help that I am able to provide. However, the bottom line is probably those words from the New Testament that have been heard by many, even if they couldn't give the reference: "God loved (and loves) the world (that includes you!) so much that, in the Persona of the Son, He entered the time-space continuum that He had created, and permitted humankind to nail His human body to a cross, and lay it in a tomb, from which He arose, victorious over sin, and death, and hell; so that anyone (that still includes you!) who confesses their sin, and accepts His offer of full and free salvation, acknowledging Him as Saviour and Lord, may have, here and now, His life within them." Okay, that's very much an expanded paraphrase of John 3:16 - but I hope that it helps to make it more clear.

Seeking God? He's already seeking you - and is always willing to meet you more than half-way! Now that has just got to be "Good News"!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The STD bombshell!

I recall the excitement when STD was introduced to the U.K. I mean, of course, Subscriber Trunk Dialling - the means by which one no longer had to go through the operator at the local telephone exchange in order to be connected to a particular number.

However, those letters eventually came to signify something much less exciting. Another memory is of being in Glasgow, and seeing a large bill-board at the site now occupied by a major shopping centre. There were two notices on it. The first one provided the contact details for a clinic for those who thought that they might have contracted one of the sexually transmitted diseases - venereal diseases as they had been previously known - and encouraging them to do so. The other notice, in a classic example of unfortunate juxtaposition, showed a buxom Glasgow housewife, complete with coat and hat, a big smile on her face, and a well-filled shopping basket in her hand. The accompanying caption read: "I got it at the Co-op"!!! I have to admit that I was very wary about entering a Co-operative store for some time afterwards!!

One of today's UK news items concerned the statistics from the Health Protection Agency, which recorded almost half a million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in 2009, mostly among the young - data that confirms this country’s unassailable position as Europe’s trailblazer in sexual irresponsibility.

What so many of those who contract these diseases do not seem to realise is that, while treatment is apparently much easier and quicker today, there are long-term consequences. On this morning's Today programme on BBC Radio 4, the point was made that they can cause infertility. It was also affirmed that some of the diseases - gonorrhea was specified - have developed a growing resistance to the treatment provided. And it should never be forgotten that STDs can cause other physical problems - and may even be transmitted to an unborn child!

But why should there be such a high incidence of STDs in the U.K.? Or, to put it another way, why is there so much sexual activity among young people in particular? The benefit system has, almost certainly, a part to play. Too many young girls seem to think that having a baby is the beginning of a career in which the state (i.e. the tax-payer!) will provide everything that is required. The attitude to alcohol must also, surely, bear some of the blame. The apparent desire of the previous Labour government to have sex education given to children who were barely out of nursery school - the mechanics, without any refernce to the morality - may have made even those children who might have held back from active sexual intercourse more curious about it. The loss of the stigma that unmarried parenthood used to have. The list could probably go on, and on!

So, is there an answer? Of course there is - but who, in authority, is going to listen? We could start by actually prosecuting those who have sexual intercourse before they are 16 years of age - and maybe even raise that to 18 years of age. It's a law to which a 'blind eye' has been turned for too long! We could insist that fathers - whose identity may be verified by the use of DNA samples - be responsible, financially as well as any other way, for their offspring. We could then cut back on welfare support such as a flat, a brand-new buggie, cot, clothing, etc., etc.

Yet even all of that would only cut down the incidence of STDs - and of abortion! The ultimate answer is even more radically reactive. I don't want to get too personal, but when the AIDS epidemic was recognised, many people went to clinics just to check their condition. Neither my wife nor I bothered to do so. There was a simple reason for that. Each of us had remained chaste until we were married to one another; and we had remained faithful to each other since then. Therefore, there was no way in which either of us could have contracted any type of STD!

It's the Christian way! Paul writes to the young church in Corinth, a city that was, in those days, infamous for its sexual immorality: "Don't you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don't you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, 'The two are united into one.' But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, Who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body." (I Cor.6:15-20)

Abstinence before marriage, and faithfulness within it, really is the only answer. How sad that it is rejected by so many!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Being apart!

Amazingly, I am now into my third week of separation from my wee wife - and am missing her terribly. :-( However, some news this morning helped me to put my personal situation into perspective!

A group of 33 Chilean miners have already spent 18 days, trapped some 2,300 feet underground - and may have to remain there for another four months! Makes my few weeks seem like nothing, by comparison. They are in a 500 sq.ft. chamber in a tunnel in the rock - about 15 sq.ft. per man. I have more than ten times that space all to myself in the caravan - and I am above ground, with the trees and the river; the sky and the sun (some days!); people moving about; a whole town around which to walk. They have survived on two mouthsful of tuna fish and a half-cup of milk each, once every other day. I have a stock of food and drink that, if necessary, would keep me going for the rest of the week - and shops within walking distance, where I may purchase more food as I need it! They have, now, limited communication with their families; I have the advatage of Skype, that allows me to speak with my wife, and my daughters (and a couple of friends!) at any time that is mutually convenient.

I am reminded of the old Persian (or, perhaps, Russian!) proverb: "I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet."

However, my uppermost thought is of the words of Jesus, to the eleven, as recorded in John 16:32 - "... the time is coming—indeed it's here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving Me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with Me."

It is, above all, the living Presence of that same Father God that is sustaining me during these days. I recall the old chorus that was often sung in my days in Christian Endeavour:
"No, never alone, no never alone.
He promised never to leave me,
Never to leave me alone." (and repeated!)

It's promise that He has kept, and continues to keep. I trust that at least some of those Chilean miners are aware of that Presence. I trust that you are, too!

Friday, 20 August 2010

Should they just become Muslims?!

According to a report in The Daily Telegraph, this week, two registrars in Lambeth, south London, are being investigated after allegedly refusing to conduct same-gender partnership ceremonies because they went against their religious beliefs. Apparently, the two persons - whose identities have not been revealed - made informal shift-changing arrangements with colleagues in order to avoid having to act against their own consciences.

However, according to the report, one of their colleagues mentioned this at a seminar (it doesn't tell if the mention was a complaint, or just an 'off-hand' comment!) where it was picked up by Brian Palmer, a member of the Labour council’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender forum who was at the seminar and who then complained to the borough’s chief executive, who ordered the investigation.

This investigation follows the case of Lillian Ladele, a registrar at Islington in north London who refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies because they were against her Christian beliefs. The Court of Appeal ruled in December that her refusal breached equality laws, ending a four-year legal battle in which she claimed she had suffered discrimination. Ms Ladele had initially tried to change her rotas but homosexual colleagues complained and she was disciplined by her employers. She later resigned.

Some, of course, will ask, "So what? Is this not a bit of a 'storm in a teacup'?" However, what concerns a growing number of people in the UK is that this is a form of discrimination that is moving towards mild (!) persecution. It would appear that not only are the consciences of a vast number in public life already seared to the point of impotency, but that those same people want to have no-one act in accordance with their conscience! In these cases, I would have thought that the introduction of civil partnerships constituted a change in working practice and conditions that should have, automatically, ensured that no-one was obliged to accept - especially when, as it would seem, others were quite willing to attend to the matters involved.

I always find it interesting that, in today's U.K. it is always the vocal minority who are supposed to be discriminated against, never the (even nominally) Christian majority! It does make me wonder if these registrars should perhaps claim that they are Muslims, to see what the council would then do!!!! In the meantime, let those of us who are disciples of Jesus uphold these two people in prayer (Father God knows their identities!); and remember to pray for those who know persecution at a much deeper level - those who suffer imprisonment, torture, and even death, for the sake of Jesus; those who can say, with Paul, "... I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus." (Gal 6:17; NLT)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Who is my neighbour?

Pakistan is a country that has been on my own heart for many months. Nothing to do with the devastating floods, and the death and deprivation that has resulted from them. No! Long before the water-level rose so destructively, the level of persecution against the minority Christian population had been rising to an unprecedented height.

It was, apparently, an advertising executive in a company that made baking powder who, through a mistranslation of a Chinese saying, coined the phrase "A picture is worth one thousand words"! It is a phrase that has been in my mind over recent days as I have seen more and more of that destruction, and devastation, and deprivation, that is currently being experienced by so many people in Pakistan. One of the most poignant photographs was in yesterday's online edition of the Metro. It showed a small child, asleep in a makeshift tent - with flies swarming around his nasal cavaties, and crawling over other parts of his face (http://e-edition.metro.co.uk/2010/08/16/).

Yet the headlines have also been proclaiming that the level of aid going to Pakistan is unusually low, and appeal after appeal has been made for people, and governments, around the world to give generously to assist in the rescue efforts.

I have found myself, with so much time on my hands, reflecting on why this should be so. I suspect that I am not the first, or the only, person to wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that Pakistan is a Muslim state; that it is seen as a refuge for Islamist terrorists; that all non-Muslim groups are ill-treated; that the blasphemy laws are regularly abused in order to take Christians to court; that Christian girls and young women are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault, and rape - with the perpetrators acting with apparent impunity!

Such an attitude is, of course, perfectly understandable! However, I have to ask myself if that makes it right. My answer is that, for the disciple of Jesus, it most certainly doesn't! I am currently reading through Luke's account of the Gospel in my personal devotions. Today, I was thinking on Lk.12:22-34. It was the last two verses that stopped me in my tracks (figuratively speaking!). "Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it, and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart will also be." (NLT)

Then I turned to The Word for Today. The reading for today was based on Mk.12:31 - "... love your neighbour .." It began: "There are two things we should never do.: First, to expect to feel fully at home in this world, because '...we are citizens of heaven...' (Philippians 3:20 NLT), and second, to become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly use. The 'salt' and 'light' principles Jesus taught call for us to influence and illuminate others for good and for God. That means taking responsibility to do things better at home, on the job, and in all our dealings. If the only people you show genuine care for are in your church, your salt isn't flavouring and your light isn't dispelling darkness. Christ's command to 'Love your neighbour' includes the less-than-lovable." (my emphasis).

I support - prayerfully, financially, by writing to some, and by signing petitions (and encouraging others to do likewise) - my brothers and sisters in Christ who experience persecution the like of which I can barely imagine. But that does not mean that I should not help those who may not even be persecutors, but who happen to be fellow-citizens of those who are. They are my neighbour!

And may it not be that it will be the selfless giving of Christians that will make many in Pakistan question their own activities? Wasn't it Abraham Lincoln who said that "The best way to defeat your enemy is to make him your friend"? The so-called 'war on terror' hasn't worked. Perhaps it is time for an 'assault of love'!!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Late - but still on time!

It's really quite miserable, here in L'Isle-sur-le-Doubs! On Saturday, there was an 'orange alert' concerning heavy rain - and it proved to be not unfounded! The river level has risen, by my reckoning, some four to five feet; and the rain, while no longer as heavy, has barely ceased.

So what does one do in such circumstances? Swimming and sunbathing are totally out of the question - but I do have my internet connection! One of the things it took me a long time to discover is the wide variety of material available on YouTube. Amongst it, I have found many of my favourite singing artistes - The Gaither Vocal Band, and The Oslo Gospel Choir, to name but two. This afternoon, while reading a book (yes, I still have time for some 'low-tech' stuff!) I was listening to some music on my little MP3 player. Karen Peck and New River were singing, and I decided to check them out on YouTube. I discovered a number of songs that I had not heard them sing before, but one in particular spoke to me in a powerful way. The video (just one of many that are available - but I think it's the best!) is below and, in my opinion, is well worth watching and listening to.

The song is based on the incident, recorded in John's account of the Gospel, of the raising of Lazarus - friend of Jesus, and brother of Martha and Mary (see John 11:1-44). One of the major points of the story is that it was four days after Lazarus had died, that Jesus arrived at the home in Bethany (see v.39). The composers of the song, Aaron and Roberta Wilburn, make the wonderful point that our timing and God's timing don't always coincide - but that His timing is always perfect. I was reminded of the late Rev Andrew Macbeath, Principal of the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow when I was a student there. One day, in the middle of a lecture, he stopped; looked over the serried ranks of students in the Lecture Hall; and made the profound statement: "Ladies and gentlemen. Always remember that God's clock is neither fast nor slow!" That is a statement that will stay with me for as long as I live.

And isn't it encouraging to know that, when situations don't work out as we had planned, or as we would want; that whenever He appears to be 'letting us down'; it is a matter of timing. We should never lose hope. Even when we think God's too late to help us, He will still be on time. Human circumstances and situations can never limit Almighty God.

If you, as a believer, are going through a difficult time just now, please remember these words:
"Isn't it great, when He's four days late, He's still on time!"


Saturday, 14 August 2010

Demons, delusion, and discernment.

Sometimes the subject of a post comes to me just as I read the newspapers; sometimes I realise that I haven't posted for a few days, and have to work at a post. This post is one that has been on my heart for some 36 hours - since I received a regular mailing that pointed me to a video by a New Zealand preacher named Andrew Strom (see below- it's in two parts).

It's many, many years since I first became involved in the Charismatic Movement. My early objections to it were based on what I considered to be an inappropriate use of some of the more spectacular gifts of God the Holy Spirit. However, I would have claimed that the Lord sorted all of that out for me and, eventually, I found myself in a leadership role in one of Scotland's larger Charismatic Fellowships. It would be churlish of me not to admit that, during my years in that Fellowship, I received much that truly blessed me. However, although it was not the ultimate reason for my leaving the Fellowship, I was concerned by some of the behaviour that was manifest by many of the members - including some of those who were with me in leadership - when the so-called 'Toronto Blessing' was believed to have arrived among us. I was concerned when a specific prophesy that was given, by a visiting speaker, failed to come to pass. I wasn't prepared, under the New Covenant, to approve his death - but I expected that at least the senior pastor would have publically acknowledged that the prophecy had been false, and accepted some of the responsibility for allowing it to have been made 'on his watch'!

All of this, and more, came back to me yesterday, when I watched these videos. I recalled that I, myself, had been 'affected' by some of the phenomena that I was now seeing others manifest. For years, I had been saying (and would continue to say) that there is a sad lack of the gift of discernment in the Body of Christ. That, I believe, is at least partly because, in some places, it is so far divorced from the Head - even the Lord Himself. In those cases where I was laughing uncontrollably; going into involuntary spasms; even encouraging others in those areas that I found to be acceptable; I confess that I allowed my own better judgement to be clouded - which may be why the Lord used something much more personal to sever my relationship with that Fellowship.

I believe that these videos, and the message that they give, may be very timely. I have had to renounce a number of things in my life and, although no longer participating in most of these activities (I am happy to raise my hands in worship to the Lord; to dance; and to pray, in my own devotions, in tongues), I confess that I was once involved, and renounce all that was not of God the Holy Spirit, but of a false spirit that had wormed its way into the chuurch - and that appears to be gaining an increasing influence in certain circles.

Do take the time to watch the videos.

"He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev.2:7, inter al)



Friday, 13 August 2010

Personal responsibility - again!

Two of this week's news items will, doubtless, be seen as good news for many. One headline read: Scots scientists developing protein pill to tackle obesity; the other declared that: Cholesterol-busting drugs could be served with fast-food meals!

So, I guess that's alright then. I can gorge myself with all the high-fat-content foods that I want, confident that science will take care of the undesired, and unhealthy, effects!

Whatever happened to the concept of personal responsibility? It certainly seems to be in short supply in our 21st century cultures! Last year, it was British politicians using 'creative accounting' to cover their abuse of the expenses system but, when caught, complaining that they had been 'wrongly advised'! There are many reports of leaders in the so-called 'developing world' siphoning off to their private bank accounts, large amounts of the financial aid their countries receive, with no apparent thought of the devastation they are causing for millions! So many seem to expect the state to provide everything for them, through fraudulent benefit claims! Certain bankers have been seen to be putting personal profit before the good of their customers! It's the "I'm alright, Jack" syndrome gone mad. Just let me live as selfishly, and self-indulgently, as I want - and ensure that others deal with the fall-out!

There is, of course, one very important area in which personal responsibility cannot be abrogated - the area of one's eternal salvation. The faith of my forefathers will not be sufficient for my salvation; their lack of faith will not bar me from salvation. Before God, I am an individual, responsible for my own life.

Many years ago, The Times newspaper ran the headline What's wrong with the world? A few days later, a 'letter to the editor', written by a well-known Christian named G.K.Chesterton, was published. It was a very short letter in which he merely quoted the headline and so, the whole letter, in the style of the day, read:

Dear Sir,

What's wrong with the world?

I am,
Yours faithfully,
G.K.Chesterton

What's wrong with the world? I AM! Here was a man who was willing to accept responsibility for his own life, even to the extent of admitting that his contribution to the world of mankind in general, was not all that it might have been.

When that Day comes, we each will stand before the throne of God - and we will be alone. Well, not quite! That's part of the wonder of the Christian Gospel - the Good News. Those who have, in faith, accepted the Lord Jesus as their personal Saviour, in this life, and have acknowledged Him as such, will find that He is with them, and that they are already passed from death unto life (see Matt.10:32, Lk.12:8; Jn.5:24).

Paul wrote: "... I know the One in Whom I trust, and I am sure that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until the day of His return." (II Tim 1:12; NLT). A personal knowledge - I know; a personal trust - I trust; a personal assurance - I am sure. It all leads to a personal salvation. May that be your experience, today.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Going to the Rock!

It's not that I'm one for name-dropping, but I have met my share of celebrities in my day - and been no further than about 7' (2 m) from HM the Queen on occasion!

I recall, one Saturday evening in Glasgow, spending about an hour and a half with a still young Cliff Richard. I've chatted with Graham Kendrick; shared a few thoughts with Jack Hayford (composer of 'Majesty' among other songs); and sat (almost literally!) at the feet of Billy Graham - to name but a few!

What made my thoughts start to travel in that direction was, earlier this evening, listening to Helen Shapiro sing "I go to the Rock". I had the pleasure, many years ago now, of meeting Helen as well, and spending some 20 minutes with her. She made her name, of course, on the secular scene when as a young teenager, she shot to fame with "Walking back to happiness". However, like so many, she discovered that true happiness can be extremely elusive. It was in 1987 that this Jewish-background young woman discovered, after several months of searching the Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament of the Christian Bible) that they had been fulfilled in the Person of Yeshua (Hebrew for 'Jesus'), and that only in Him is real happiness, that doesn't depend on physical circumstances and material possessions.

Of course, throughout the last two millennia, and in spite of scepticism, mockery, persecution, and death, millions of others have found the same truth - that when Jesus said "My purpose is to give ... a rich and satisfying life." (John 10:10; NLT), He really meant it!

So, where do you go when there's nobody else to turn to? Who do you talk to, when nobody wants to listen? Who do you lean on when all around is sinking sand, and there's no stable foundation? May I recommend my Friend, Helen Shapiro's Friend, and the Friend of countless numbers in every place, and in every age - the One Who truly is "the Rock of our salvation"?

"YHWH is my Rock , my Fortress, and my Saviour;
my God is my Rock , in Whom I find protection.
He is my Shield, the power that saves me,
and my place of safety." (Ps 18:2; NLT).

"... and that Rock was Christ." (I Cor. 10:4-5; NLT).

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Respect - an outmoded concept?!

The article was published last week but, somehow, I missed it. However, while reading today's (online version of) The Herald, I spotted a link, and followed it. The lead sentence had me hooked: "Look at Alia Gilani's mobile phone and the list of aunties and uncles will take your breath away."

The article went on to explain that these "... are not her blood relations, but a measure of the trust that she has built up in Glasgow's South Asian community. 'It's a mark of respect to call older people in our community 'auntie' or 'uncle' - it would be considered rude to refer to them by just their first name', explains Giani."
(http://www.heraldscotland.com/life-style/real-lives/a-healthy-minority-1.1044718)

For many of my generation, in the U.K., the same was true. I had more non-related aunties and uncles - and even grannies! - than I had hot breakfasts in a month. Sadly, this simple mark of respect for those who were of an age with one's parents, or even older, seems to have died during the seventies - largely, I suspect, under the influence of those psychologists who advocated treating small children as young adults.

The same situation has been adopted by the church. So much for not conforming to the world (cf. Rom.12:2!). I cringe every time a child - often not yet at Primary School - refers to me by my personal name, alone. I am at a loss as to how to react when a parent introduces me to such a child by my personal name, alone.

I recall a situation from before I was married. With the young girl who was to become my wife, I attended a Sunday afternoon Bible Class for young people. However, although designed for those in their late teens and twenties, the father of two of the girls also attended. As he was of a similar age to my own father, I always spoke to him as Mr Hunter. Then, one afternoon as we were leaving the Bible Class, and he and I were descending the stairway together, he turned to me. "Brian," he said, "I think that we know each other well enough now for you to call me John." I floated down the rest of the stairway. What a privilege; what an honour! And I was already 26 years old!! Sadly, I am unable to give that privilege to the young people I know. They assume that it is their right to call me "Brian" without my permission or acquiescence.

But I believe that it goes much deeper than that. It must have been about a year ago that we had David Clarkson speaking at Liberty Community Church. During the course of his message he commented that he had been at a particular conference/convention. It was, if I remember correctly, a bit of a charismatic affair but, David assured us, he had no problem with the 'happy-clappy' (not a verbatim quote!) stuff. What did get to him was the way in which so many treated Almighty God like the pal next door. I understood completely. I have shared the same misgiving from many a pulpit. Yes, He is my Friend; my Saviour; my Helper; and so much more. But I must never forget that He is God!

Could it be that this attitude to the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, is merely an extension of that loss of respect for adults that has been in vogue for a couple of generations? I fear so. However, it is not merely a lack of respect, but a lack of reverence - and that, I believe, is much more serious.

Our 21st century 'multicultural society' has raised many problems. But wouldn't it be wonderful if that Southern Asian culture, described by Alia Gilani, were to take hold in the U.K today? It might even lead to the return of a deeper reverence for God - His Person and His character.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Quotable quotes

It seems like some time since I published a collection of quotable quotes so, in spite of it being two lots of 'cribs' in one day (!!), here is a little selection.

"Reasoning is a product of your head; discernment is a product of your spirit." (The Word for Today; June 22nd, 2010)

"Miracles are for the obedient, not the wishful." (TWfT, July 25th, 2010)

"God doesn't call us to work for Him, but with Him; and that guarantees our success." (TWfT, July 20th, 2010)

"Time and again in the evangelical world, we get the Gospel wrong. We seem to be preaching that the Christian message is 'O Lord, my life is empty - fill me; rather than 'O Lord, I am an offense to You - rescue me.'!" (Rico Tice; co-author of Chrisianity Explored)

"... you're not defeated until your doubts and regrets take the place of your dreams."
(TWfT, Aug. 2nd, 2010)

"The church's problem isn't too many people speaking negatively; it's too few people speaking positively!"
(TWfT, Aug.5th, 2010)

"Why should we pursue excellence? We worship a God Who demonstrates excellence in all He does. He created the entire universe, and then made that simplest and most satisfying of quality control statements: what He had made was good (Genesis 1). When faced with solving the problem of a human race that had rebelled against Him, He chose the most costly of solutions: sacrificing his only Son." (J.John; Evangelist, author, and speaker - read the full article at:

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/why.is.church.coffee.so.often.bad/26346.htm )

The Word for Today is published by UCB, and may be read on a daily basis, online at http://www.ucb.co.uk/

It may also be received, free of charge, by post (within the UK) by applying to UCB.

The unfairness of life!

I don't normally 'crib' on my blog - unless to publicise a particular situation in which disciple of Jesus are being persecuted for their faith, or to quote an excerpt from some other publication. However, given our current situation, I have decided to publish in full this wek's Friday Night Theology from The Evangelical Alliance, that has just arrived in my Inbox. Anyone may sign up to receive their own regular mailing at

http://www.eauk.org/fnt

It may be that it will speak to others as well as it speaks to me!

www.eauk.org/fnt

Life isn't fair. We all know that.

Sometimes you step off the kerb, and get knocked down by a bus”.[1] These were the parting words of the former BP chief executive Tony Hayward as he left the company where he had spent his entire career. Commenting on this unfortunate departure, his successor Bob Dudley added, “Whether it is fair or not is not the point. The fact is that life isn’t fair. We all know that”. The grieving families, the local tradesmen, the environmentalists and creation itself know that. They have all been hit by a bus.

There is indeed something very random about life. While we would love to discover a sense of orderliness and coherence, life seems pretty incoherent and chaotic at times. The connection between our actions and the results appear to be missing. At times, we may conclude, like the author of Ecclesiastes, that everything has lost meaning (1:2). This is not a blunt, cynical, response to the crisis created when he recognised life’s vanity and inequity. Rather, it is a valuable contemplation of a mature thinker.

Life isn’t fair. This is a bitter reality in the human experience. The apostle Paul portrays the struggle in this world and in the Christian community in Romans 8. Creation is groaning and so are the people of God. Life is tough. We all know that. But Paul also knows something beyond this common knowledge. Following his reflections on life’s suffering, groaning, and inherent weakness, he adds a subsequent “we know that…”.

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (8:28). And here is where the Christian experience and knowledge become distinctive. Like the BP executives we know that life is not fair. But the Christian carries a conviction that such common knowledge of life is superseded by a greater truth of heaven.

In his letters, Paul uses the phrase “we know that” to introduce commonly recognised truth. The idea that “all things work for good” has parallels in philosophical and Jewish literature. Joseph’s story is a classic example that God uses suffering for His overruling purposes. Joseph stepped off the proverbial kerb and was knocked down by his brothers who sold him to merchants on their way to Egypt. Life takes us on surprising trajectories. While Joseph knows that life isn’t fair, he also knows the transformative capacity of a just and purposeful God. While his brothers intended to harm him, God intended it for good: “to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).

“All things work together for good” literally refers to “all things”. When life is neither good nor fair, we have a Person to turn to. We have a rich body of literature that resonates with, and gives expression to, our laments. We have an Advocate Who appeals for us and we can make our own appeal to the One Who can restore and redeem. And so we know that the painful contractions in life are placed within God’s overarching purpose.

Marijke Hoek, Coordinator Forum for Change

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Personal Update!

And the saga continues!!! We thought, yesterday, that things might be moving a wee bit more quickly, as the garage in Audincourt closes on Friday until the end of Aug., but they were willing to send the car to Mulhouse (a further 40 miles/65km away). However, today we were informed that the Audincourt garage had been in touch again to say that the only (!!) man in Mulhouse who could have dealt with the car is off work, unwell - and doesn't expect to be back until Sept.! So, whichever way we looked at it, and whatever we decided, it looked as if nothing was going to happen this month!

As a dear friend put it in a message received earlier today, "The Lord must have a really good reason for keeping you there all that time."!!!

It is tempting (and I confess to having yielded to the temptation!) to speculate as to what that reason might be but, at the end of the day, it is unlikely that I would manage to get it right. This, of course, in the 'non-persecution environment' in which we live, is when one's professed belief in the sovereign power of a loving heavenly Father is shown up for what it is. I trust that our response to the current situation is showing that our belief and faith are strong.

Whether, or not, these are the reasons, there are certainly a couple of 'by-products' of which we are already fairly certain. If I am going to be here for another 5/6 weeks - and, from Sunday, without my dear wife - then there is no doubt that my use of the French language will improve, and do so (I hope) quite considerably. We have also made real friends in the family who operate the camp-site, and in one of their friends - one of the local pharmacists - who speaks good English. And, of course, although Joyce and I are going to be physically separated for that long time, the wonders of modern technology mean that we will be able to speak with each other, every day, using Skype. After almost 40 years of marriage (come Sept.4th) we reckon that our enforced separation will be a case of "absence makes the heart grow [even] fonder", rather than "out of sight, out of mind"!!!!

We also appreciate, greatly, the messages of encouragement that have been coming via e-mail and Facebook. It's always good to know that there are friends upon whom one may count in times of difficulty.

Do keep returning to the blog for further updates, as and when there is anything to report!

The right to believe!

Most of us, in the "western world" have the freedom to believe. We are free to read the Bible whenever we like, or to go to church and worship with other Christians whenever we want to. And we can do all of this without thinking the police might break down our door, seize our Bible, and haul us off to jail.

It’s easy to forget that millions still don’t have this right to believe.

This year at the United Nations the Defamation of Religions Resolution will be voted on again. Its supporters claim that it protects religious freedom but, in reality, it does the exact opposite. It gives governments the power to determine which religious views can and can’t, be expressed in their country, and it gives the state the right to punish those who express ‘unacceptable’ religious views, as they see fit.

So, in effect, it makes persecution legal.

Incredibly, many countries have backed this resolution in the past, but some are now changing their minds. This year, there is a real possibility the Resolution could be defeated. And you can help.

Say NO to the Defamation of Religions Resolution, and say YES to the right to believe, by going to

http://advocacy.oduk.org/ea-campaign/clientcampaign.do?ea.client.id=77&ea.campaign.id=7285
(please copy, and paste)

Monday, 2 August 2010

What's in a name?

Have you heard the one about the woman who changed her name, by deed poll, so that she could have a word for each letter of the (Roman) alphabet? Yes, it sounds like the opening line of a joke - but it's actually true (if newspaper reports are to be believed!). The woman, formerly known as Ceejay Epton, is now legally known as Ceejay Apple Boat Cat Dog Elephant Flower Goat House Igloo Jellyfish Kite Lion Monkey Nurse Octopus Penguin Queen Robot Sun Tree Umbrella Whale X-ray Yo-yo Zebra Terryn Feuji-Sharemi. To use a common cliché, "You couldn't make it up!"

To me, the silliest aspect is that she hasn't used a single name that is recognisable as referring to a human. Indeed, I doubt that even pet-owners would use them for their animals! It's almost as if she picked up a dictionary and just randomly chose a word from each section! With just a little more thought, she might at least have been Aileen Barbara Catriona Dorothy Edith Fiona Gloria Heather Iona Joyce Kathleen Lorna Marsali Nancy Oprah Pauline Quintina Roberta Sarah Tabitha Una Victoria Wendy Xara Yvonne Zoe!!! (and, yes, every one of those is a legitimate female name - and, for all but a few, I know females who bear one, or more, of these names!).

But so what? After all, as Shakespeare's Juliet has it, "... that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet;"

Perhaps, in the 21st century, it doesn't really matter. The lady in question has had her moment of fame - although she certainly isn't going to be receiving a Christmas card from me! I'd have to start addressing the envelope at the beginning of December!!!! However, this was not always the case. There was a time when a child's name was very carefully chosen, as it was deemed to direct both character and destiny. Even today, many people want to know the meaning(s) of their name(s). [My own, by the way, mean "strong" and "noble-spirited" - so I am not unhappy!]

Of course there is one particular name, given to the mother of the Child even before He was miraculously conceived within her (Lk.1:31). It is the Name that is above every name; the Name at which, one day, "... every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, " as every tongue cofesses "... that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil.2:10).

So, what does that Name mean? In the original Hebrew form, Yeshua, it means "God is my salvation". This Child was born to save. But who needs a Saviour? Obviously, those in need. If I am swimming, comfortably, in my local swimming pool, I don't need a saviour. However, if I am being swept out to sea by currents against the power of which I am totally helpless, then I most certainly do.

That against which I am, in my own strength, totally helpless every day of my life, is sin. It, in turn, is defined as "... any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God" (Westminster Shorter Catechism). So, if I break the law of God - either by failing to do that which I should, or doing that which I should not - I am guilty of sin: and I need a Saviour. Praise God that, by both His life (Rom.5;10), and His death (Rom.5:6) Jesus - God the Son - has provided the salvation that I could never gain for myself. Through Him, my sins are forgiven, and I am made a friend of God (Rom.5:11). Oh there's more to it than that - repentance, confession, acceptance. But that's the end result, and in that I may rejoice. As the accompanying video reminds us, "Jesus paid a debt He didn't owe, because we had a debt we couldn't pay."

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus - now there really is "something about that Name"!