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Sunday, 26 February 2012

Being angry with God!

After the Worship Service at Ladywell Baptist Church, Livingston, this morning (I was the visiting preacher, and my wife the guest soloist), one gentleman asked me if I have ever been angry with God!  It's not the kind of question I am usually asked at the door of a church building!

My answer was in the affirmative.

Later, I recalled the story of a bird that spent a whole day building a nest in a pile of branches that had been pruned from a tree in an orchard.  In the evening, however, the farmer noticed the nest - and scattered the twigs and bits of straw all over the grass!

The next day, the little bird resumed her task - but, once again, the farmer destroyed her work!

A third time she started her building project - but, this time, in a rosebush beside the kitchen door.  The farmer smiled, and allowed her to finish her project.

What, obviously, the little bird didn't know (but the farmer did!), was that the pile of branches in which she had started her nest-building was to be burned - long before her eggs would have hatched.  If the farmer had allowed her to have her way, she could never have enjoyed her young.  Yet I imagine that the bird would have claimed that she had every reason to be angry with the farmer!

Asaph - a Hebrew song-writer who penned, among others, the words of Psalm 77, wrote "Will the Lord spurn for ever, and never again be favourable?  Has His steadfast love for ever ceased?  Are His promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious?  Has He in anger shut up His compassion?" (vs.7-9; RSV).

It seemed, to Asaph, as if YHWH had forsaken both him and his nation.  He began to wonder if the God of Israel had changed.  He may even have been a little bit angry at what might have been interpreted as a form of betrayal!  However, as he reflected upon YHWH's ways in the past, and meditated upon His holiness and incomparable glory, he realised that Almighty God remains the same - forever.  He is the unchanging, and unchangeable One.

You and I may not always be able to trace His footsteps for, like ships on the sea, they leave no imprint.  But we may totally trust His loving care and guidance.  While it may sometimes appear that God is cruel when He breaks up our nest of cherished hopes and plans; and when we may feel that we have every reason to get angry with Him; we may be certain that His reasons are good, and are for our ultimate benefit.

The Lord is never mean.  In His providence, He is always wonderfully kind, and infinitely wise.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The value of the individual

My wife and I have just returned from a few days away, together, as a mutual treat to celebrate our birthdays (which fall, just one week apart!).  We went down to the beautiful Galloway area, in the south-west of Scotland and, inspite of the occasional inclemency of the weather, we had a wonderful time.

From our hotel bedroom, we were able to look over the whole of the village of Portpatrick, and across to Donaghadee, in N.Ireland.  We were even able, from the Mull of Galloway (the southernmost point in Scotland), to see the Calf of Man, lying to the south of the Isle of Man.

There was a series of steps from the hotel lawn, that led us down to the beach.  Among the many items of interest was a stone table into which had been carved a number of statements.  One of these read: "We are a few grains of sand on the beach of the sea of the infinite universe."  I haven't been able to trace the author (presumably that prolific producer of memorable statements, Mr A.N.Onymous!), but the words made me think.

What the statement seemed to be saying is that you and I, as individuals, are as insignificant as grains of sand.  Even if we take the grains of sand on just one of the beautiful beaches I have visited in my lifetime - Bondi, Waikiki, Miami, St.Tropez (to name but a few!) - that would certainly put me in my place.  To extend the picture to "the sea of the infinite universe", makes me less than a speck on the speck on a speck of dust!

That's why I immediately thought of some words of the Lord Jesus.  In Matt.10:29-31, we read: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows."  That's a wonderfully encouraging statement.  Whatever happens to me, I may be certain that, as a child of the King, He is watching over me.  I am no grain of sand!  I am one who is so important, and special, to the Creator God, that He came, in human flesh, as the perfect Man Jesus, and willingly died that I might have eternal life.

So, if you are feeling insignificant; of no importance to anyone; nothing more than a grain of sand; turn to Him, in repentance and faith, and discover that He loves you with an everlasting love; that you are of infinite importance to Him.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Islamist violence drives nearly 95 per cent of Christians from Nigerian state

One Northern Nigerian state has been almost entirely cleared of Christians; they have been forced to flee the relentless campaign of violence against them by militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

The Rev. Garba Idi, chairman of the Yobe State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), said that nearly 95 per cent of the Christians have left Yobe.

He said:
The situation in Yobe is terrible. Churches were burnt and attacked while many Christians lost their lives in the course of this mayhem…
We have to leave because the sect is hunting us; that is why we had to flee… Many Christians have left Yobe to save their lives from these attacks.
Nigeria_Attacks_4X3.jpg More than 20 churches have been torched in Yobe since November; homes and vehicles belonging to Christians have also been damaged. Many lives have been lost in the violence; 15 Christians have been killed so far this year.

Following a series of attacks over Christmas, Boko Haram issued an ultimatum on New Year’s Day giving Christians three days to leave the North. They followed up the threat with further killings, which are having the intended effect of driving many Christians out of the North.

Some are going to safer parts of the country while others are crossing the border into Cameroon.

While the United Kingdom government doesn't have the courage to defy the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that hate cleric Abu Qatada cannot be deported because he risks facing trial on evidence obtained by torture; those whom he would support, and who would support him, are trampling over even the most basic human rights of Christians in a country that has had its development assistance programme doubled under that same Coalition Government! (source: http://tribune.com.ng/index.php/opinion/18738-improving-nigeria-through-united-kingdoms-aid)

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is one of the most famous passages in the Bible for good reason, but the following shows just how meaningful and powerful it is:

The Lord is my Shepherd
- That's Relationship!

I shall not want
- That's Supply!

He makes me to lie down in green pastures.
- That's Rest!

He leads me beside the still waters.
- That's Refreshment!

He restores my soul
- That's Healing!

He leads me in the paths of righteousness.
- That's Guidance!

For His Name's sake
- That's Purpose!

Yes, even although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
- That's Testing!

I will fear no evil.
- That's Protection!

For You are with me
- That's Faithfulness!

Your rod and Your staff comfort me,
- That's Discipline!

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
- That's Hope!

You anoint my head with oil,
- That's Consecration!

My cup overflows.
- That's Abundance!

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
- That's Blessing!

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord.
- That's Security!

Forever!
- That's Eternity!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

What is a Christian?

I never thought that I would see the day when I would be in agreement with Richard Dawkins!  However, I have to admit that he is quite correct in his conclusion, aired in this morning's Today programme (BBC Radio 4), that not everyone who claimed to be "Christian" in last year's Census is, in fact, a believer!

The item was based on some new figures produced by Dr Dawkins’s think tank, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (a typical Dawkins touch: not just any old Foundation for Reason and Science, but the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.) The statistics, based on a poll of 1,000 people, apparently show that most people who identify themselves as Christian turn out, when questioned on what they actually think, to be “overwhelmingly secular in their attitudes on issues ranging from gay rights to religion in public life”. Dawkins’ conclusion is that these self-identified Christians are “not really Christian at all”.  He is probably correct.  Certainly, for many, the term is a negative one.  "I am not a Jew, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., and I was born in this country.  Therefore, I must be that other one - oh yes, I'm a Christian"!!!

So, what is a Christian - in a positive sense?  That's a question with which I have dealt in a previous post but, since it was three or four years ago, I'll share those thoughts again!

There are many passages in the New Testament that give us good definitions/descriptions of what a Christian is, one of them being Philippians 4:4-7 - "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (NKJV)

So, a Christian is someone who enjoys a presence - even the presence of the Lord, Jesus the Christ. He is, Paul says, "at hand" or "very near". One translation says "The Lord is at your elbow"! Our company makes such a difference to our lives. "Show me your company, and I'll tell you your character" is the old adage - and how true it is. The Christian is blessed in having company that is perfect: the company of Jesus. And He is One Who is always there for us. Family, friends, colleagues, however fine, are often elsewhere. But Jesus said "I am with you - always"! (Matt.28:20)

A Christian is someone who also forms a practice. Paul encourages us to "Rejoice". He is writing from prison, in Rome but, in spite of all that he has gone through as a disciple of Jesus; in spite of his present situation as a disciple of Jesus; despite what he knew would be his earthly future (death by beheading); and despite the persecution he knew would be experienced by his fellow disciples; he repeats his exhortation: "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, 'Rejoice." Such joy comes from two activities - prayer, and praise. "Don't worry", says Paul, "Pray!" Nothing is too small; nothing is too great, to bring before Father God in prayer. And we may do so in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving. (see also I Thess.5:18)

The last thing that Paul says in this little passage is that a Christian is someone who trusts a promise. That promise is that "...the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Here is a promise of adequacy provided by Jesus. He, alone. In Him we have the assurance of sins forgiven, and the power to resist the temptations that the devil keeps placing before us. He also stills the anxieties that crowd into our 21st century "sophisticated" minds.

Being a true Christian, in a living relationship with Jesus is wonderful, and those of us who claim to be such need to show the real thing to those with whom we come in contact, day by day.

My favourite bit from the Today discussion, to which I listened with great enjoyment, was when R D was challenged - having previously used, as evidence of his thesis, the point that there were those in his polled sample, who had claimed, in the 2011 Census, to be "Christian", and who didn't know the name of the first book in the New Testament - to give the full title of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species".  He was unable to meet the challenge (!) and said: "On the Origin of Species…Uh…With, oh, God, On the Origin of Species. .. ..."

The 'leader' of the modern anti-God, pro-evolution, movement appealing to such a "non-existent entity" when in trouble!!!

Perhaps there is, indeed, truth in the statement of Augustine: "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee"; and in the more contemporary equivalent: "There's a God-shaped blank in every heart, that only God can fill."!!!  I wonder what RD would say to that?


Friday, 10 February 2012

Apology!

Please accept my apologies for the advertising that is now visible on this blog (as from the latest post) when one clicks on an underlined word (a hot link).  This has not been done by me!  I have asked, through a Blogspot forum, if anyone can tell me how to remove these hotlinks.  If any of my readers are able to assist, please do so by leaving a comment.  Do not respond to the adverts - these are usually scams!

Thank you

Happy to report that the issue has been dealt with.  Many thanks to Martin who responded so quickly to my online request for assistance!  If anyone does see these hotlinks, please let me know, immediately.  Thank you.

Let us (not) pray!

So, the marginalisation, and erosion, of our Christian culture continues.  Today's news that the High Court has ruled that it is “unlawful” for local town councils to begin their formal meetings with prayer has, rightly, been received with dismay by many - apart from, of course, the Bideford Town ex-councillor who took the Council to court, and the National Secular Society that supported him.

However, this judgement (against which, at least, the Council has been given leave to appeal), opens up a whole 'can of worms'.  It's just three months since, in my capacity as a Force Chaplain, I officiated at a service of remembrance for those members of the former Lanarkshire Constabulary who had died in either the Great War, or World War II.  I made no apology for the fact that I conducted that service in accordance with the Christian tradition - and none of those who were present complained!  Indeed, I had a number of folk come to me afterwards to thank me for what I had said, and the way in which I had conducted the service.  To the best of my knowledge, not all were 'church members', never mind being disciples of Jesus.

Does this judgement, if allowed to stand, mean that a police officer - serving, or former - who is an atheist can take me to court because National Secular Society lawyers could argue that (s)he was being "indirectly discriminated against", in breach of human rights laws?  Now, of course, the judgement was not given on the 'Human Rights' grounds, but on a point of statutory construction of local government legislation.  However, it was on so-called "human rights grounds" that the case was brought - a situation of which many gave warning when that legislation was adopted by ex-PM Tony B Liar (whose QC wife made a pretty penny out of it!).

It is, perhaps, a little ironic that this case judgement has been given as the nation celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of the accession of the present Queen.  Bideford Council had, apparently, previously warned that if the National Secular Societ won its case there could be "far-reaching consequences", including the abolition of the Coronation Oath.  Indeed, if Her Majesty is going to continue to use the sort of wording to which I have referred in my previous post, then she is in danger of having her annual Christmas address to the Nation and Commonwealth banned!

Once again, as has been so frequently demonstrated by the homosexual/lesbian lobby, it seems that those who shout so loudly for tolerance of their position, are the first to deny such tolerance to others!

Monday, 6 February 2012

The King is dead; long live the Queen!

It was, as most folk will be aware, sixty years ago today that George VI died peacefully in his sleep, and his elder daughter, the princess Elizabeth, automatically became Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Commonwealth of nations that had formerly been the British Empire.

I would not class myself, today, as a fervent Royalist (although I also recognise the problems of a Republic!), but I do have a great respect for the person of Her Majesty.  Throughout her long reign, she has consistently displayed the outstanding qualities of dignity, duty, and a strong sense of responsibility.  She made a vow, all those years ago, to serve her people as best she could, for the rest of her life.  "Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.", she promised.  Would that some of our more modern political figures would emulate her, in that respect!

This morning's Today programme, on BBC Radio 4 (which, regular visitors to this blog will already know is as much a part of my early morning as is the having of my breakfast!!) broadcast an interview with two people.

Reg Turnill was a reporter for the Press Association on the day in 1952 when the new Queen arrived back in the UK from a trip to Kenya, on behalf of her father, and where she had learned of his death. He recalled the events of that day when, he said, the new Queen Elizabeth II handled herself with the "composure than never seemed to have left her since".

Sarah Bradford, the author of Queen Elizabeth II, said that the Queen is the "calm centre" of our lives. The world has changed, she added, but the Queen is still the same "composed and dignified figure."

Had I been interviewed, I would also have made mention of the Queen's Chrismas Day broadcast to the Nation and Commonwealth.  In it she said:

"Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas. Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: 'Fear not', they urged, 'we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

'For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.'

Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves - from our recklessness or our greed.

God sent into the world a unique person - neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God's love.

In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, there's a prayer:
'O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin
And enter in.
Be born in us today.'

It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord."

Now that's definitely a message that earns my respect, regardless of who it is who shares it.  If, and I have no reason to think otherwise, Her Majesty was being absolutely sincere when she spoke those words, then I can only say: "Long live the Queen.  God save the Queen."

Saturday, 4 February 2012

New Birth!

For nearly five years, I have exercised what I refer to as my "ministry to pregnant women"!!  This simply involves praying for young women of my acquaintance (or of whom I have been informed), with their knowledge and approval, on a daily basis, throughout their pregnancies.  During that time there have, sadly, been two or three pregnancies that did not end with the birth of a sound and healthy child; but the vast majority have done so, and for this I have given thanks.

Today, another child was born - a little girl.  This was a case in which I didn't, and don't (yet), know the mother, but the father is one of my Police Sergeants.  The baby was due on Jan 25th and, as may easily be imagined, the delay in its delivery was causing some anxiety.  I haven't heard the full story as yet, but there appears to have been a necessary repositioning of the baby prior to the birth and, when she was born, she wasn't breathing.  However, I have been assured that all is now well with both mum and daughter - and that even dad is slowly recovering!!   On Thursday, I met a young Constable who is returning to duty after the birth of her son, some six months ago.  From what she shared with me, that delivery was speedy, simple, and straightforward!

As a fellow-Sergeant shared with me what information she had about this morning's birth, I found myself thinking of the process of the new birth - the spiritual birth into the Family of God.  There are some who, like the young Constable's son, seem to make that transition from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light without any difficulty at all.  There's an eagerness to discover the joys of the new life for oneself.  Tough times may well lie ahead but, for the moment, it is enough to be on the journey.  

Others, like the Sergeant's daughter, do not find that transition to be as simple and straightforward.  Perhaps, like Saul of Tarsus, they have been "kicking against the goads" (see Acts 26:14); like C.S.Lewis, they might class themelves as "the most dejected and reluctant convert in all (country!)" (Surprised By Joy, p.266). 

Sadly, there are also many who, even at the point of conversion, decide that the cost is too high, and who turn their backs on the salvation that was won for them at such great cost, and which is so freely offered.

There is much rejoicing in my Sergeant's household , and among the circle of his family and friends, this evening.  And, Jesus assures us, there is great joy in heaven over every sinner who repents, and embraces that new life that He, alone, offers. (see Luke 15:7). 

May all who read this post be found in His family - in a life that is eternal.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The scapegoat.

In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, we read about the "scapegoat" (Lev.16:8-10).  This goat was taken away into the wilderness on the day of Atonement (16:20-22). The priest made atonement over the scapegoat, laying Israel's guilt upon it, and then sent it away - the goat symbolically bearing all of the iniquities of the Children of Israel on its back - "... into the wilderness to Aza'zel." (v.10; RSV).

That annual Old Testament event came to mind as I heard, and read, of the stripping away of the knighthood that had previously been awarded to Fred Goodwin, erstwhile Chief Executive Offeicer of the Royal Bank of Scotland.  This is not because I am a fan of the former "Sir" Fred, but because it seems to me - and to many others, if newspaper reports, and comments, are any indication - that he is having the sins of the banking industry laid on his back, alone, and being banished to some kind of 'Honours desert'!

Since Mr Goodwin has had his Knighthood revoked, should not the life peerages of men such as Jeffrey Archer, and Mike Watson, also be taken from them - to say nothing of the plethora of former Members of the House of Commons who defrauded the electorate with their 'dodgy' expenses' claims, but were permitted to quietly stand down at the following General Election, when they ought to have been prosecuted!

Of course, all of this is just a symptom of the general state of unsaved mankind.  Paul wrote to the disciples of Jesus in Rome, quoting from the Book of Psalms: "... as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.' " (Rom 3:10-12; RSV).

When that rascal, Zacchaeus, the tax-collector who confessed that he had cheated others, met with Jesus, he said: " 'Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.' " (Luke 19:8-10; RSV).  He made restitution and, by his behaviour, confirmed his salvation. 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope for mankind.  It is only in Him that forgiveness is found.  Perhaps someone who knows Fred Goodwin at a personal level will share that message with him.  Better, by far, to have one's name "... written in the Lamb's Book of Life." (Rev.21:27; RSV), than to have all of the earthly 'honours' that are available.  Those whose names are thus written, may be assured that those names will never be removed! (see John 18:9)