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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

At the Cross

A reminder, from my favourite vocal group, that it is at the Cross of Jesus - and there alone - that salvation, and true happiness, are found.


On the scrap heap?

The story is told of a blacksmith who gave his heart to the Lord. Though conscientious in his living, still he was not prospering materially. In fact, it seems that, from the time of his conversion, he experienced more trouble, affliction, and loss than ever before. Everything seemed to be going wrong.

One day a friend who was not a Christian (yes, it's possible for disciples of Jesus to have friends who are not!) stopped at the little forge to talk to him. Sympathising with him in some of his trials, the friend said "It seems strange to me that so much affliction should pass over you just at the time when you have become an earnest Christian. Of course, I don't want to weaken your faith in God or anything like that. But here you are, with God's help and guidance, and yet things seem to be getting steadily worse. I can't help wondering why it is."

The blacksmith did not answer immediately, and it was evident that he had thought the same question before. But finally, he said "You see here the raw iron which I have to make into horse's shoes? You know what I do with it? I take a piece and heat it in the fire until it is red, almost white, with the heat. Then I hammer it unmercifully to shape it as I know it should be shaped. Then I plunge it into a pail of cold water to temper it. Then I heat it again and hammer it some more. And this I do until it is finished."

"But sometimes I find a piece of iron that won't stand up under this treatment. The heat and the hammering and the cold water are too much for it. I don't know why it fails in the process, but I know it will never make a good horse's shoe."

He pointed to a heap of scrap iron that was near the door of his shop. "When I get a piece that cannot take the shape and temper, I throw it out on the scrap heap. It will never be good for anything."

He went on, "I know that God has been holding me in the fires of affliction and I have felt His hammer upon me. But I don't mind, if only He can bring me to what I should be. And so, in all these hard things my prayer is simply this: Try me in any way you wish, Lord, only don't throw me on the scrap heap."

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Stress management

Some days ago, one of my former pupils was 'complaining' about the stress brought on by his current exam diet.  I put together the following suggestions for him, and now publish them here for any others who may be feeling stressed out at any time.
1. Pray.  Now, I realise that some might not be up for that - and, of course, one needs to be in a relationship with the Lord if it's going to be anything more than 'talking to the ceiling'! But it's where I start.

2. Play some soothing music. Something from the 'popular' classics is usually best - but not a crashing symphony! There are, in fact, a number of CDs that are commercially available, usually with titles along the lines of "Tranquility", or "Serenity"!

3. Buy some Green tea, and make yourself a cuppa. I confess that it can be something of an 'acquired taste', but it does calm the mind a bit.

4. Do some physical exercise. Could be running on the spot; press-ups; touching alternate toes without bending your knees. Of course, for all I know, some may have a room full of apparatus - that would be even better: 30 mins on the treadmill at a decent rate!
and, for those who are specifically involved in examinations - at whatever academic level:

5. Have a study plan! It doesn't need to be colour-coded (I've known pupils in the past who spent so much time making their study plan look like a kaleidoscope, that they didn't do any studying!), but use it. Give more time to the subjects with which you have more difficulty.

The above is NOT a guarantee of anything. However, it's borne out of many years of sitting exams right up to post-graduate level and, of course, most of it should have some effect, even if the stress is not the result of examinations!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Abortion - buy it here!

One of today's major news items has been the permission for private clinics in the U.K., that advertise abortion, for profit, to advertise their services on British television and radio.

In my mailbox, the following arrived.  It's from the U.S. of A. but, in this instance, only the numbers involved make it any different from here in the U.K.

"Abortion has had a massive tearing effect on America during the past 39 years. Not only has this emotional issue polarized the nation, and not only has legalized abortion removed millions upon millions of faces from family photos, but it has ripped apart the hearts of those countless women who have regretted the choice they made.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, one third of all women in America will have had an abortion by age 45. Many never tell their families and bear this burden in silence, suffering through every Sanctity Of Life Sunday in churches, feeling too much shame to seek help for the grief and guilt they still feel. While abortion is allegedly about freedom of choice, a significant number of women are coerced into the decision by boyfriends or relatives. Many think that they can never be forgiven - they think that while God can forgive them for other sins, they cannot be forgiven for this one. Abortion is a double-tragedy; it destroys an unborn life, and it can seriously damage the lives of those left behind.

There are many things that people can do to help, to not only stop abortion in the future, but to also help these women (and men too) who have been damaged by abortion. The Elliot Institute, an organization dedicated to post-abortion healing, suggests the following steps that can be taken to foster abortion healing in our churches and communities.
-Pray for those who have suffered from an abortion. Pray for those men and women who give post-abortion counseling. Pray for organizations that help people to find healing after an abortion.
-Encourage your pastors and church leaders to foster abortion healing, from teaching about the harms that abortions have caused women, to the hope and forgiveness that can be found through Jesus Christ.
-Support a crisis pregnancy or post-abortion healing ministry – through finances, prayer, or by volunteering yourself.
-Donate books on post-abortion healing to your local library.
-Educate community and pro-life leaders about the need for helping post-abortive women. Keep up on research and provide them with the information they need to be informed on this issue.
-Write to your legislators and encourage them to not only promote pro-life policies, but pro-women policies that recognize the harm that abortion has on women.
Abortion is promoted as a freedom that strengthens women and gives them control of their lives. Instead, it has weighed many women down with emotional and spiritual chains that they would gladly trade away if they could. As a community that cherishes the life of the unborn, let's remember to care for the mothers as well. ...

... Few American lives have been untouched by abortion during the past 39 years.  We all know somebody who has had an abortion, or somebody that could have been aborted.  Some of us are that person ourselves.  The issue has come up in family after family, and we are no longer naive about the reality of the life inside the womb or of the true nature of the abortion business.  We have far fewer illusions about the reality of "choice."

Keep praying for the millions of young lives in jeopardy even today. And keep praying for their precious mothers, many of whom feel like they have no good options."

You might also want to view this piece by a young woman who, miraculously, survived abortion!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5YlJ9CZ9fI


Friday, 20 January 2012

An eye for an eye!

It was one of my former pupils who posted on her Facebook page that "If we all lived by 'an eye for an eye' the whole world would be blind.  It's a statement that I have heard many times before and, whilst apparently logical it is, in fact, displaying a misunderstanding of the original words as found in, inter alia, Exodus 21:23-25 - "If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
Contrary to popular opinion, this is not a carte blanche for personal revenge, as the previous verse makes clear: "... he shall pay as the judges determine." (Ex 21:22; my emphasis).  If the matter was proved, then the judge declared the punishment - a punishment that must be proportional to the crime.
Of course, it was not a "Law of prescription", but a "Law of restriction "! In other words, in a culture in which violence just kept escalating (You punch me once; I punch you twice. You knock out one of my teeth; I knock out all of your teeth. You break my leg; my two big brothers break both of your legs - and your arms. etc.), the Children of Israel were instructed, by YHWH (the LORD) to go no further than "like for like". Quite a radical concept in their day!

Then, when we reach the New Testament, we discover that Jesus takes the concept even further by instructing His disciples (now, as well as then!) to "turn the other cheek" - i.e. not to retaliate at all!! That's why, again contrary to popular opinion, being a disciple of Jesus is not for wimps. It's a life that demands real courage - as those in the persecuted church in countries such as North Korea, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, China, etc., etc. know on a daily basis. (see some of the links on the right-hand-side of thie page).

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

PA Leader: All Muslims are Obligated to Kill Jews

A top Palestinian Authority religious leader claimed in a sermon at a major Fatah event that Muslims are obligated to kill the Jews.  The Mufti Muhammad Hussein presented the murder of Jews by Muslims as a religious Islamic goal while celebrating the 47th anniversary of the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah faction.

An appointee of Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, the Mufti made the claim at an official Fatah event marking the founding of the largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), also led by Abbas, as well.

Citing what he said was the Hadith (the Islamic tradition attributed to Muslim prophet Muhammad), the Mufti claimed “The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews. The Jew will hide behind stone or trees. Then the stones or trees will call: ‘O Muslim, servant of Allah (God), there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’

Although a video of the speech was previously available on YouTube, it has been removed because it violated the site’s Terms of Service for violence.

A poll sponsored by the Israel Project found that 73 percent of Palestinian Arabs “believe” this Hadith, according to the findings of a July 2011 study by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.  The moderator who introduced the Mufti also reiterated another “Islamic belief” — that the Jews are descendants of apes and pigs,” according to a broadcast on PA TV translated by the media watchdog agency Palestinian Media Watch (PMW).  “Our war with the descendants of the apes and pigs (ie: the Jews) is a war of religion and faith,” the moderator said.

The Mufti added to the moderator’s statement, saying that Islam’s goal is to kill the Jews. The same cleric preached in a sermon at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque in 2010 that the Jews are “enemies of Allah.”

Sunday, 15 January 2012

For Richer or Poorer

Last night, I posted this story on my Facebook page.

"The wives who lived within the walls of the Weinsberg Castle in Germany were well aware of the riches it held: gold, sliver, jewels, and wealth beyond belief.

Then the day came in 1141 A. D. when all their treasure was threatened. And enemy army had surrounded the castle and demanded the fortress, the fortune, and the lives of the men within. There was nothing to do but surrender.

Although the conquering commander had set a condition for the safe release of all the women and children, the wives of Weinsberg refused to leave without having one of their own conditions met, as well. They demanded that they be allowed to fill their arms with as many possessions as they could carry out with them. Knowing that the women couldn't possibly make a dent in the massive fortune, their request was honored.

When the castle gates opened, the army outside was brought to tears. Each woman had carried out her husband.

The wives of Weinsberg, indeed, were well aware of the riches the castle held."
There is, of course, a spiritual lesson in that story.  You and I are besieged by that old "... adversary the devil [who] prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (I Peter 5:8).  However, at the Incarnation, Jesus - God the Son - entered our humanity because He saw us as precious.  Indeed, He values you, and me, so much that He went on to die one of the most cruel deaths that the twisted mind of mankind has ever invented - crucifixion.  The devil thought that he had won!  But on the first Easter Day, Jesus left the tomb in which His physical Body had been laid and, as the victorious Conqueror of death, and hell, and the grave, He carries in His arms all who place their trust in Him for full, and free, salvation.  Hallelujah!
Those wives in the story each saved the mortal life of one man.  Jesus gives eternal life to all who repent, and believe, and confess Him as Saviour and Lord.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Happiness, and Joy.

Okay, I confess.  Having caught part of an episode of the TV series Spooks, while waiting in the A&E Department of Glasgow's Western Infirmary (my mother-in-law was the patient), I started watching it, from the beginning, online.  It's my kind of programme - and I was as up-to-date with N.C.I.S. (and N.C.I.S. - Los Angeles) as I could be!

In the episode I watched last night, I heard one character make a statement that I thought was worth writing down.  She said, "Happiness isn't about getting what we want; it's about appreciating what we have."   That's worth reading over again - slowly (if I was preaching, I would certainly repeat it, very deliberately!).

This morning's Today programme, on BBC Radio 4, informed listeners that a survey by the Children's Society of the Church of England had concluded that a stable family relationship is more important than material possessions for the 10 out of 11 children who claimed that they are happy!

I found that to be very interesting.  Marriage, of course, is what the Archbishop of York, Rev Dr John Sentamu, who launched the Report, referred to as "the bedrock of society".  I was disappointed that such a leading evangelical preacher seemed to be equating "non-traditional relationships" with the traditional, Biblical concept of one man and one woman, for life, to the exclusion of all others.  However, in what many - myself included - have termed "the consumerist society" with its apparent emphasis on materialism, it is good to see that appreciation of the stable family that I have is more important than getting the material possessions that I want!

The Bible doesn't speak a great deal about happiness.  Indeed, there is only one reference to that word - in Lamentations 3:17.  Even 'happy' is not all that common - and it only occurs twice in the new Testament (although the word "Blessèd" may also be translated as "Happy").

What the Bible does major on is a related, but different, concept - that of 'Joy'.  Joy is something that is totally independent of situation and/or circumstances.  Shortly before His arrest, passion, and crucifixion,Jesus said to His disciples: "So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you." (John 16:22).  This was Paul's prayer for the infant church in the great metropolis of Rome: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, ..." (Rom 15:13).  Somewhat starngely, to most "western" minds, James encourages his readers to "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4).

This is the joy of which some of us used to sing: "I've got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart."  It's the joy that helps to sustain my brothers and sisters in the persecuted church who look "... to Jesus the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb 12:2).

Happiness is a great thing to have, and appreciate.  But the bottom line is that it doesn't hold a candle to real, God-given, Holy Spirit inspired, Jesus honouring JOY!   By the way, that's also an acronym for how we may know real joy.  It's by putting Jesus first; Others second; and Yourself last!

What a difference it would make, to society as a whole, if every disciple of Jesus was to do just that!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Too much; too little; just right!

The main news item, this morning, concerned the reported moves by the Prime Minister to "do something" about the enormous salaries paid out to top executives in the major British companies - £5million appears to be quite commonplace!  At the same time, we are assured that other moves are afoot to deal with the burgeoning Benefits' bill.

Both of these moves will seem to be perfectly fair and acceptable to that large group within contemporary British society that has, recently, become known as "the squeezed middle"!

I am certainly in favour of a situation in which those who have overseen vast losses in the companies by which they were employed (Fred Goodwin is not the only, but possibly the biggest, example) and are allowed to leave with a massive 'golden handshake', and a commensurate 'gold-plated pension', have their financial wings well and truly clipped.

At the other end of the scale, I am aware that the U.K. Welfare State was originally intended to be a 'safety net' for those in genuine need.  However, it's a case, almost, of stating the obvious to say that it has become a preferred lifestyle for far too many feckless folk who are more than content to take out of a system, even although they have never contributed to it!

So, what does the Christian Gospel have to say in such circumstances?  Well, there is no mention of 'fat-cat bonuses', or of 'state benefits', as such.  But there are clear principles taught.

The parable - if it is merely a parable! - of Dives and Lazarus (Lk.16:19-31) gives us the sad picture of a selfish rich man who had abused his trust, who had failed to make friends with his money and who, in the next world, would have given anything for such a friend.  The parable of the rich fool (Lk.12:16-21) is also salutory in its lesson that, as the old adage had it, "there are no pockets in a shroud"!

Those possessing wealth are also liable to certain kinds of sins against which they are frequently warned, e.g., highmindedness (I Tim 6:17); oppression of the poor (James 2:6); selfishness (Luke 12 and 16); dishonesty (Luke 19:1-10); and, in the Old Testament, self-conceit (Prov 28:11); and self-trust (Prov 18:11).

Of course, by the grace of God, even the wealthy may enter the Kingdom of heaven.  Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathaea (John 19:38-39; Matt 27:57-60), and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) were all men of some substance.

At the other end of the scale, while there is compassion in the Gospel - not least, the compassion of Father God for His sinful creatures! - there is clear teaching that work is a necessary part of life.  So Paul exhorts the Thessalonian believers: "If any one will not work , let him not eat.  For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.  Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living. Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing." (II Thess 3:10-13; RSV).  Again, writing to the Ephesians, he states: "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need." (4:28; RSV).

If the Prime Minister, and his government, can actaully achieve some measure of success in both of these endeavours, then it might even be that we will, in truth, be "all in this together"!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Stephen Hawking pronounces!

On Sunday, Prof. Stephen Hawking will (DV) celebrate his 70th birthday anniversary.  Not bad for a man who was informed, in his 20s, that he had only a short time to live!  One in the eye, one might say, for the proponents of euthanasia/assisted suicide!

To celebrate this auspicious occasion, the BBC Radio 4 programme, Today, invited listeners to send in questions that could be put to the Professor.  However, in spite of us being informed, this morning, that the response was "overwhelming", only the selected five questions are on the Today programme website!

The first question, from Roland in Lagos, was perhaps the most telling.  The questioner asked "Was there a "time" when there was "nothing"?"  Prof Hawkings published answer is relatively short.  He states that: "The origin of the universe can be explained by the laws of physics, without any need for miracles or Divine intervention. These laws predict that the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing in a rapidly expanding state.This is called inflation because it is like the way prices in the shops go up at an ever increasing rate.  Time is defined only with the universe, so it makes no sense to talk about time before the universe began, it would be like asking for a point south of the South Pole."

Perhaps the Professor's condition (he suffers from motor-neurone disease - a degenerative condition for which there is, at present, no cure) is deteriorating, but that is hardly the sort of answer that one might have expected!  He claims that "The origin of the universe can be explained by the laws of physics, without any need for miracles or Divine intervention."  But what are the "laws of physics"?  Surely they are merely the result of mankind's observation of natural phenomena.  They can only explain what already is!  With all due respect to the Professor, he is confusing two levels of explanation.  God (the Divine Intervener) is an explanation of the universe - but He is not the same kind of explanation as that provided by physical "laws".

John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the Univ. of Oxford, uses this illustration.  He suggests that we take the jet engine instead of the universe, and seek to explain its existence.  We may do so by referring to the personal involvement of its inventor, Sir Frank Whittle.  Alternatively, we may follow Prof Hawking's logic, dismiss personal agency, and explain the jet engine in terms of its workings - saying that it arose naturally from the physical laws that are thus expressed!

This is, quite obviously, ludicrous!  The laws of physics can explain how the jet engine works - but not how it came to exist in the first place.  That required the intelligence, imagination, and creativity of Sir Frank.  It also, of course, required physical material, that cannot be 'created' by mere 'laws'!  The Book of Genesis (Beginnings) puts it so very simply: "In the beginning, God ..." (1:1).

As to 'time', the Professor is correct in saying that, before the creation it did not exist!  That is why it will, at some point in the future, come to an end.  It is finite.  But, in his book "The Universe in a Nutshell", Stephen Hawking postulates two 'time dimensions'.  One of these he illustrates, graphically, as a straight line - with a beginning and an end.  This is the time that we experience from day to day.  The other 'time dimension' he illustrates as a wavy line, at right angles to the straight line, and cutting across it.  He explains that this 'time' is different from our linear time; yet touches it at all points.  When I first read the book, I thought to myself - "He's simply describing eternity!".  So, what was 'before time' was (and is!) eternity!  Just as that which is south of the South Pole is (infinite) space!

I do have a great admiration for Prof Hawking.  However, in spite of the fact that he has made his pronouncements, I continue to believe that Almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, Who inhabits eternity, and is infinite in His wisdom, power, and love, will have the last word!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Birdcage Story

You may have heard this one, but it's worth sharing again.

A man was on the side of the road with a large birdcage. A boy noticed that the cage was full of birds of many kinds. "Where did you get those birds?" he asked.

"Oh, all over the place," the man replied. "I lure them with crumbs, pretend I'm their friend then when they are close, I net them and shove them into my cage."

"And what are you going to do with them now?"

The man grinned, "I'm going to prod them with sticks, and get them really mad so they fight and kill each other. Those that survive, I will kill. None will escape."

The boy looked steadily at the man. What made him do such things? He looked into the cruel, hard eyes. Then he looked at the birds, defenseless, without hope.

"Can I buy those birds?" the boy asked.

The man hid a smile, aware that he could be on to a good thing if he played his cards right. "Well," he said hesitantly, "The cage is pretty expensive, and I spent a lot of time collecting these birds, I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll let you have the lot, birds, cage and all for ten pounds and that jacket you're wearing."

The boy paused, ten pounds was all he had, and the jacket was new and very special, in fact it was his prized possession. Slowly, he took out the ten pounds and handed it over, then even more slowly he took off his jacket, gave it one last look then handed that over too.

And then (well, you've guessed it) he opened the door and let the birds go free.

The Enemy of the world, Satan, was on the side of life's road with a very large cage. The man coming towards him noticed that it was crammed full of people of every kind, young, old, from every race and nation. "Where did you get these people?" the man asked.

"Oh, from all over the world," Satan replied. "I lure them with drink, drugs, lust, lies, anger, hate, love of money and all manner of things. I pretend I'm their friend, out to give them a good time, then when I've hooked them, into the cage they go."

"And what are you going to do with them now?" asked the man.

Satan grinned. "I'm going to prod them, provoke them, get them to hate and destroy each other; I'll stir up racial hatred, defiance of law and order; I'll make people bored, lonely, dissatisfied, confused and restless. It's easy. People will always listen to what I offer them and (what's better) blame God for the outcome!"

"And then what?" the man asked.

"Those who do not destroy themselves, I will destroy. None will escape me."

The man stepped forward. "Can I buy these people from you?" he asked.

Satan snarled, "Yes, but it will cost you your life."

So Jesus Christ, the Son of God, paid for your release, your freedom from Satan's trap, with His own life, on the cross at Calvary. The door is open, and anyone, whom Satan has deceived and caged, can be set free.


A new year - you can make it a new life, by coming to Him in repentance and faith.  You see, the story isn't quite complete.  Each bird had to choose whether or not to accept the opportunity of release, or just stay in the cage!  You and I have the same choice - but it's a choice that effects our eternal destiny.  

Choose wisely; choose Jesus!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Contentment!

One of the news stories over the past few days, has concerned the problems that have arisen over a certain brand of breast implant.  Closely related to it is one about the lack of training required for those who would inject others with Botox.

While it is true that a percentage of the women who have had breast implants have had them as part of reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy, the majority come under the general label "cosmetic surgery"- as do those situations regarding Botox treatment; and men who, reportedly, ask for breast reduction operations.

This begs the question, does it not, as to why some people are so dissatisfied with their bodies that they are willing to go to the expense, discomfort, and associated risks, of going under the surgeon's knife!  There isn't, in such cases, a valid medical reason - it seems that it's all to do with appearance; and that, in turn, has to do with some sort of 'ideal' bodyshape that is, itself, the result of modern airbrushing techniques used by advertisers and publicity agents!  I don't make any claim to be a modern Adonis - but I'm content with my body, just as it is, and find it difficult to understand when others want to make such wholesale changes to theirs!

Of course, we should look after our bodies to the best of our ability.  That involves exercise, diet, and abstinence from those substances (e.g. cigarettes, over-indulgence in alcohol, illegal drugs) that we know cause us harm. It's called 'healthy living' - and you know that it makes sense!

For the disciple of Jesus, there is yet another consideration.  Writing to the group of believers in 1st century Corinth, Paul reminds them of the results of immorality.  "Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body." (I Cor 6:18).  But he goes on:   "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own;  you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. " (I Cor 6:19-20).

If God the Holy Spirit inhabits my very body, then I have a sacred duty to care for that body - neither abusing it, nor defiling it, nor polluting it.   As it is given to me, by God, it ought not to be dishonoured in any way.  I may never be chosen as Mr Universe; but I can seek to glorify God by ensuring that I take care of the body with which He has provided me - and being content with His gift!

Monday, 2 January 2012

I know how you feel! ("Oh no, you don't!")

During my time as a full-time parish minister, there were occasions on which I had the unwelcome, but necessary, task of conducting the funeral service for a stillborn child, or one that had survived a very short time after birth.  These were, as most folk would understand, difficult situations.  It was my custom to visit with the bereaved family on one or two occasions prior to the funeral but, while I could be sympathetic, I was unable to say the words: "I know what you're going through."  My two healthy children were in the manse, growing like Jack's beanstalk and, as the saying goes, eating my wife and me out of house and home!

I thought of all of that as I heard, and read, today's reports on the Prime Minister's New Year "address to the nation".  He stated that: “Of course I know that there will be many people watching this who are worried about what else the year might bring. There are fears about jobs and paying the bills. The search for work has become difficult, particularly for young people. And rising prices have hit household budgets. I get that.
We are taking action on both fronts. I know how difficult it will be to get through this. But I also know that we will.”

 "I know how difficult it will be ..."  To continue the pantomime analogy of 'Jack and the Beanstalk', "Oh no, you don't!"   And how could he?  With his personal wealth, added to that of the lovely Samantha (Mrs C), bolstering a Prime Ministerial salary, on top of still-generous expenses, held together with the other financial perks that accrue to someone in his position, there's no way that he knows how difficult it is.  Let the PM spend a year with no income other than a state pension, or the "average" wage of a working man, or the benefits provided for a genuine claimant.  Then, he can tell us that he knows how difficult it is!

I am happy to give the PM the benefit of the doubt, and accept that he is genuine in his concern for others - just as I was genuinely concerned for the parents of those dead infants.  But please, Mr Cameron, don't insult the British people by telling those of us who have to get by over a year, on a fraction of what some footballers earn in a week, that you know what it's like for us!

That's the difference with Almighty God.  At the Incarnation that we have just celebrated, He entered our time-space continuum; took upon Himself human flesh; and lived the life of the humanity that He had created - yet without sin (Heb.4:15).  He experienced all of our emotions; He knew what is was to be hated, betrayed, unjustly condemned.  And He even experienced death - the cruel death of crucifixion.  

When He says, "I understand", we may be certain that He really does. 

Sunday, 1 January 2012

What is a Christian?

This afternoon, I watched most of the BBC programme Songs of Praise - sub-titled "The Big Sing"!  I say 'most' because there were times when I switched over for few minutes, just to get away from the programme!

The first time was when a young lady informed us, in the space of a minute, that winning "The X Factor" was the most important thing that had happened to her in her whole life; and then that she never went on to the stage without praying .  The latter statement, in the context of that particular programme, suggested to me that she would consider herself to be a "Christian".  However, if that is the case, then surely the moment when she committed her life to the Lord Jesus would be the most important thing that had ever happened to her!

It made me think, as we commence a new 'year of grace', on the essentials for being a Biblical Christian, rather than a 'nominal' one (i.e., someone who uses the term to describe him/herself, but who does not display the required characteristics to show that they have been reborn).  I came up with three simple things, found in Paul's letter to the young church in Philippi, 4:4-7. 

First of all, I would suggest, a Biblical Christian is someone who enjoys a Presence - and that Presence is the Presence of the Lord Jesus Himself.  He is, Paul tells us, "at hand" and, while this may refer to the Second Advent (which, for the true disciple of Jesus, is always imminent), one commentator suggests that it may be translated "the Lord is at your elbow"!  If I am not conscious of the Presence of Jesus in my life, then it is unlikely that I am truly His.  If I am not aware of the prompting of God the Holy Spirit in my life, that may indicate that He is not indwelling me.  Writing to the church in Rome, Paul shares the inner struggle that he constanty experienced between his desire to do that which pleases God, and his failure to live it out, fully, in practice (ch.4).  Such discernment is the fruit of a regenerate mind!  It is only those who have been born again who are so conscious of the sin that consistently seeks (and, so often, succeeds) to pull them down.

But a true Christian also forms a practice.  "Rejoice in the Lord, always; and again, I say, 'Rejoice!'"  Now, Paul was writing from a prison cell - but more like one in China than one in the UK!  No time to describe fully, here, but certainly not the sort of place in which most of us would wish to spend our summer holiday!  Yet it's almost as if Paul tells his amanuensis (scribe) to write "Rejoice" - then stops.  He recalls the many hardships that he had experienced as a disciple of Jesus; he thinks of what lay ahead - his own, almost certain, beheading; he thinks of the dangers and difficulties that these Philippian believers would experience.  And he says, in effect, "I know what I'm talking about; I've considered every possible eventuality; I've counted the cost; and still I say it - 'Rejoice!'"   Part of the evidence of that rejoicing (which is not, necessarily, synonymous with 'happiness'!), is a life of praise.  On an earlier occasion, Paul and his friend and co-worker, Silas, were thrown into jail - in the very city of Philippi!  It was an unjust charge; it was totally undeserved; they should not have been incarcerated in that way.  But what do we find?  "But about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying, and singing hymns to God." (Acts 16:25).  Prayer, and praise, in any and every set of circumstances, are the practice of the true child of God.

But, underneath all of this, is the fact that a Biblical Christian trusts a promise.  It's the promise that is found in v.7.  "And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  Those words remind us of the adequacy Christ brings - in the spiritual realm.  And that, I would contend, is every bit as important as having an adequacy in material terms.  "I can do all things", Paul shouts out a few sentences later (v.13), "through Christ Who strengthens me" or, we might put it, "through Christ Who gives me adequate resources."  There's also an anxiety that He stills.  As we pray; as we share everything with Him; as we realise that He is able; our anxious hearts are stilled and quietened, and we truly know that "peace that is beyond human understanding."; peace that is only of God's giving.

May 2012 find you enjoying that Presence - even the Presence of the Lord Jesus - in your daily living.  May it find you forming that practice - of taking everything to God in prayer, and praising Him in every situation.   And may you trust that promise - experiencing the adequacy that Jesus brings, and allowing Him to still every anxious and troubling thought.

A happy, peaceful, and God-honouring, New Year to all.