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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Privilege!

In common, I suspect, with a great number of people within the United Kingdom, I am something of a republican, but with a genuine respect for H.M. The Queen, and the Duke of Edinburgh.  Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, is also one for whom I have some respect.  There are, however, all too many of H.M's. relatives who are, in my opinion, mere 'hangers-on'; scroungers; people who have a great deal of totally undeserved privilege simply because of an accident of birth.

However, as I lay by the swimming-pool in our favourite French camp-site last week, in temperatures that reached 40 degrees celsius, with our modern caravan pitched close by, having booked for the communal meal that evening, I realised how privileged I am - and by the same kind of "accident of birth" as the royals!  My parents were honest, hard-working, ordinary folk.  But they gave me a great start in life.  I was born into a country with a National Health Service; with clean water on tap; with gas and electricity; with an ample supply of food; with a temperate climate.  Our home was no palace - but it was certainly a home in which love was never in short supply.  What did I do to deserve all of that?  Absolutely nothing!  An accident of birth.

I lay there thinking to myself (often a dangerous activity!).  If I had been born out of the union of two people in, for example, certain African countries, I would have been born into a situation in which clean water; basic sanitation; readily available, and adequate, food supplies; medical, ophthalmic, and dental treatment; appropriate shelter; all would have been in short supply - or totally non-existent.  I might even have been born HIV-positive because either/both of my parents were already suffering from AIDS.  An accident of birth.

Perhaps I could have been born to a couple in a culture in which marriages are arranged, and enforced.  I might well have enjoyed many of the material benefits that I did enjoy - but there might have been a total lack of love.  Being born into a culture in which the Gospel message is not only unpreached, but also illegal, would certainly have made a major difference to my personal life.  An accident of birth.

So, perhaps I will be less critical of certain members of the Royal family in the future.  Perhaps I'll remember that I enjoy privileges, as they do, for no other reason than an accident of birth.  Privilege, I have come to realise, is very much a relative concept!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Conversion; Conviction!

Last Sunday (22nd), my wife and I paid our first - but, hopefully, not our last - visit to the Café Church in Bergerac.  This is an English-speaking Christian Fellowship that meets on a monthly basis, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with them.  The speaker, last week, was Paul, a retired officer from the Metropolitan Police who had served under Met. Commissioner David (now Sir David) MacNee.  He, in turn, was a member of St George's-Tron Church in Glasgow, where my wife and I met, and were married to one another, and he even, as Chief Constable of the then City of Glasgow Police Force, signed the photographs for our first passports!  Indeed, I stood beside his dad in the bass section of the church choir!

Paul shared a good message, but one part of it stuck out for me.  He was speaking on the call of Isaiah, as recorded in what we know as the 6th chapter of that Old Testament prophet's writings.  Paul emphasised the chorus of the seraphim: "Holy, holy, holy, is YHWH Sabaoth", and spoke of the holiness - the 'otherness' of Almighty God.  He reminded us of the conviction that came upon Isaiah - "I am a man of unclean ("filthy" in my New Living Translation) lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips."  In the light of the Holy One, Isaiah knew exactly what he was, and what he deserved.  He was a sinner, who deserved only the wrath of this pure and sinless One.

As often happens - and this is no criticism of any speaker.  Indeed, I would be delighted to learn that others did the same when I am delivering a message! - my mind went off on its own; nudged in a particular direction by what was being spoken from the front.  I began to think about the difference between what often, today, seems to pass for conversion; and a genuine conviction.  It seems to me that too many claim to be converted without ever having experienced a real conviction with regard to their own sinfulness.  Is it not the case that, too often, we encourage people to repeat "the sinners' prayer" without having first made clear to them the extent of their personal sinfulness - and the fact that the holy God cannot even bear to look upon it?  In a "come to Jesus, and all will be well" situation, are we not encouraging enquirers to gloss over their sins?  In our "seeker-sensitive" services, are we not guilty of trying to make the Gospel fit the circumstances, instead of bringing people under the full light of the Gospel.?  Paul reminded us of the Hebridean Revival when people came under conviction of sin in their homes; in their workplaces; in schools; even in the street.  This, of course, is a work of God the Holy Spirit - Who alone can convict people of their sins.  However, as I suggested in the previous post, this led to the right questions being asked, and the work of those who were already disciples of Jesus was then to explain, and disciple these new lambs of the flock.

Perhaps we in the so-called "west" need to come to a new point of repentance; acknowledging that our own efforts have not resulted in any great growth in the Kingdom of God; confessing that we have, all too often, expected Almighty God to bless the plans that we have made in our human frailty; and seek His will in our efforts to evangelise, and to be the kind of witnesses that He desires us to be.  Perhaps we need to remember that, while this Almighty God deigns to use us, He is perfectly capable of working without us!  Perhaps, when we respond as Isaiah responded, to the vision of the glory of God, we will be able to respond, with greater results, as he responded to the invitation of YHWH Sabaoth - "Whom shall we send, and who will go for us?  Here am I Lord; send me"!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Questions, questions, questions!

Questions are an important part of everyday life.  They are one of the ways in which we acquire knowledge.  Any parent will assure you that questions are a major part of the growing-up process of a child!  What’s that?  Why’s this?  When’s the other?
The Bible is full of questions.  The psalmists, and some of the Old Testament prophets, often asked questions of Almighty God, Himself.  Sometimes questions that many of us would consider to be downright irreverent! 
O YHWH, why do You stand so far away?
Why do You hide when I am in trouble?(Ps 10:1) 
“What are you up to, Lord?”, we might paraphrase.  “What are You playing at?”
YHWH, how long will this go on?
Will You hide yourself forever?” asks Ethan the Ezrahite. (Ps 89:46)
“Where are You when I need You?” might well be our paraphrase in this case.
How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither?” asks Jeremiah.  (Jer 12:4)
Or, as we might paraphrase that particular question: “When are you going to do something about the situation, Lord; when are You going to reveal Your mighty power;  why are You not acting according to my time-scale?”
The questions in the New Testament tend to be of a different order.  But questions there are.  So the disciples come to Jesus with a big question.  Some 5,000 men, together with women and children, are needing fed.  It’s getting late in the day; they don’t have a 24/7 ASDA down the road; what should they do?  Then Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, "I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days, and have nothing to eat; and I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way." And the disciples [asked] Him, "Where are we to get bread enough in the desert to feed so great a crowd?" (Matt 15:32-33).
Paul tells us of a question that he asked: “... to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I [asked] the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’" (II Cor 12:7-9)
Jesus asked questions – often very deep and piercing questions.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  (Matt 7:3)  Oh! That hurts!
In Acts 1:11, Dr Luke records a question from angels!  So when [the disciples] had come together, they asked [Jesus], ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’  He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.’ And when He had said this, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and [asked], ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.’"
But, I would suggest, the most important question of all comes from a man in Philippi.  Paul and Silas had been arrested and, after having been summarily beaten with rods, thrown into prison.  It was prison, Jim, but not as we know it – as Spock might have said to Captain Kirk.  Slopping out, or not having the vote, was the least of their worries! 
It was, we’re informed, the “inner prison” – dark, dank, dismal.  Their feet were fastened in the stocks.  These men were going nowhere.  Perhaps worst of all was the knowledge that they had actually done no wrong – indeed, the reason for the false charges brought against them was that they had done some good, by releasing a slave-girl from demon-possession but, in the process, losing her masters income!  There had been no proper trial; no examination of the evidence; no cross-examination by anyone acting on their behalf.
And what do we find these two men doing?  Having a Praise Gathering!  But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,” (Acts 16:25).  The earthquake that followed that time of prayer and praise; the jailer’s readiness to commit suicide on the assumption that his prisoners would all have fled; and Paul’s shout that he should do himself no harm because all of his prisoners were there – in itself an amazing turn of events.  Imagine: a bunch of convicted criminals, finding their way to physical freedom open, but remaining in their cells!  The singing of Paul & Silas must have had a significant effect on each of them!
For the jailer, all of this provoked the most important spiritual question that any man, or woman, can ask: “... what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30).  They hadn’t preached a three-point sermon with a PowerPoint presentation; they hadn’t spent the weeks beforehand distributing fliers, and organising “seeker-friendly” events; they hadn’t brought in the biggest, loudest Praise Band straight from their latest success at Spring Harvest.  All that they had done was work in Jesus’ Name; accept that all things really do work together for good for those who are the called of God; and united in prayer and in praising God.
Some time ago, I came across this little gem: “Christians worth their salt, make others thirsty for the water of life”.  
As you and I, who claim to be His disciples, go about our daily business, may we be found faithful to Him Who has called us.  May we be always ready to do good, that He might receive praise.  May we be found with a prayer on our lips, and a song in our hearts.  May others be convicted by our very presence with them.  May what our colleagues see of Jesus in us, make them thirsty for the relationship that we enjoy.  Then God the Holy Spirit will create, in their hearts, the right questions – and prepare them to receive the right answer: Jesus, the Christ.
And all to the glory of His eternal Name.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Numbers!

When I attended my Grammar School (a long time ago!) my best subject was mathematics and, while I did not take the subject to University level, I have always had an interest in numbers!  So, when I had been blogging for a few months, I learned how to add a counter to my blog and, the number of 'hits' is now very close to 20,000.  Okay, compared to some, that is not a great number over the time I've had the blog.  However, as my younger daughter points out, I'm not a famous person (although some might suggest that I am 'infamous'!).

Numbers are important in many spheres.  Politicians are always interested in numbers.  One only needs to think of the plethora of polls that are issued in the lead-up to an election, and the way in which politicians who haven't been seen since the previous election are suddenly being as nice as possible to everyone in order to boost the number of people who will vote for them.

It is to be hoped that numbers will play an important part in the deliberations of the governments in both Holyrood and Westminster, when they come to decide what they are going to do about the vexed question of the redefinition of 'marriage' - which is, of course, much more than a word in the dictionary!  The results of the consultations; as well as the numbers who have petitioned the respective parliaments; ought to leave no doubt as to the direction in which the politicians decide.  The reports that have leaked out would suggest that the Scottish consultation was 2:1 in favour of retaining the traditional meaning, and concept, of marriage.  There were some 77,000 responses - totally overshadowing the response to the Scottish government's consultation on an independence referendum!

In Westminster, the petition in support of traditional, Biblical, marriage has reached some 600,000 signatures - and the full million is not out of the question!

Numbers.  Let those of us who are concerned for the status of marriage keep praying that the politicians, even if just out of nothing more than pragmatism, will take note of them - and support the status quo!

Monday, 16 July 2012

The Will of God


Remember:
The Will of God will never take you...
Where the grace of God cannot keep you,
Where the arms of God cannot support you,
Where the hands of God cannot mold you.
Where the power of God cannot endow you.

The will of God will never take you...
Where the spirit of God cannot work through you,
Where the riches of God cannot supply you,
Where the wisdom of God cannot teach you,
Where the army of God cannot protect you.

The will of God will never take you...
Where the love of God cannot enfold you,
Where the mercy of God cannot sustain you,
Where the Word of God cannot feed you,
Where the authority of God cannot overrule for you.

The will of God will never take you...
Where the comfort of God cannot dry your tears,
Where the peace of God cannot calm your fears,
Where the miracles of God cannot be done for you,
Where the omnipresence of God cannot find you.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Death - there's no getting away from it!

This evening, we experienced our first heavy rain since our arrival in France. It more than made up for the dry, and even sunny, days. Yesterday, we were swimming in the lake at Le Chene du Lac; today we only managed to take a drive to Libourne, and have a walk around that particular town. From what we saw, it will be worth a return visit.

On our way back to the 'van, we passed a particular cemetery There was a very ornate, stone-gated, entrance. It had just one word engraved at the top - "TOUS"! For anyone who doesn't understand the French, that word simply means "ALL". It was, I suppose, a reminder to the folk of yesteryear, who lived in that village, that each and every one of them would, sooner or later, pass through that gateway. As someone once said, there are only two certainties in life - taxes, and death.

In spite of the claim made at the beginning of the StarTrek series (well, the early ones - I haven't watched the 'newer' episodes) space is not man's final frontier. Death is. And, as that cemetery gate reminds us, it is something from which there is no escape - at least until the Rapture of the saints of God. Yet it is the taboo subject of our contemporary culture. We hesitate to use the word. People don't die - they "pass away"; they are "lost"; they may even "kick the bucket". But to say that they have died sounds too final. We are a culture in denial!

Well-known Christian author, Tony Campolo, writes: "... those who deny that they are anxious about death are deeply troubled by it. Subconsciously, angst eats away at our vitality and joy. ... ... Some of us put on a false bravado as we lift our lift our glasses and try boldly to declare the Epicurean dictum 'Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.' But alas, we don't. And on the morrow the emptiness of that cry gives us a more painful pause, for we are more aware than ever that we must live with death without the deliverance that death itself can bring. 'Denial," says one of my friends, is not just a river in Egypt' And all of our efforts to deny death its due are doomed to futility." (Carpe Diem; p.130).

So what is the solution? Well, for the disciple of Jesus, the solution is in the Saviour. He is the only One Who has ever experienced death - and conquered it! That's the wonder of the resurrection account. And because He lives, those who are His can assert with confidence that they also shall live. Death is NOT the end! It is but the gate through which each of us must pass - and those who have entered into a relationship with Jesus have the assurance that they pass into His nearer presence in a dimension that is totally beyond our mortal understanding.

The way in which we best deal with that which causes us pain, or despair, or confusion, is not to deny it. It is to face up to it, and seek the solution to the situation. When it comes to death, that solution is found in Jesus - and in Him alone! He is willing to receive you. Are you willing to respond to His wonderful offer of full salvation?

Monday, 9 July 2012

Memories!

This is the first opportunity I have had, since coming away on holiday, to add a post to this blog!  I am grateful, therefore, to McDonald's, not just for the meal that I am currently enjoying, but for the included wi-fi connection!  (Mind you, we may have spent all of those euros unnecessarily, as the gentlaman at the next table has been online for as long as I have, without having purchased anything!!!!

On our journey from Ploermel, today, we travelled along many stretches of road that had trees on either side, with the top branches meeting to form a long archway - like the nave of a grand cathedral building.  These are known by some of us as "mummy's roads", due to the fact that my late mum loved to drive along such foliage-shaded avenues.   I cannot take such a journey without thinking of my mum.  Now, of course, I don't actually need such a stretch of road to remember her!  I loved, and miss, both her and my late dad, far too much to need some external prompting of the memory.  But they are always there as an extra, special, reminder.

Today, however, I found myself thinking of the Lord's Supper (aka, Communion, the Eucharist, the Breaking of Bread, the Lord's table).  That is a symbolic meal (although there is a good argument for making it much more than that.  The Lord Jesus, when He celebrated that last Passover Meal with His disciples, didn't have wee squares of bread and a thimble-full of liquid.  Indeed, what they did share at that time was in the context of a full meal enjoyed beforehand!), that is shared by disciple of Jesus today on a regular basis.  And the reason for it, Jesus Himself told us, is that we might remember Him, and the sacrifice that He made for each one of us, at Calvary.  Now, of course, no true disciple needs such a meal in order to remember Him.  We love Him far too much for that.  But it's good to have such special aids to memory, and we should be grateful for them

The Lord's Supper has an added element.  We are reminded, by the words of Paul, that we only participate in that special meal "until He comes" (I Cor. 11:26).  This is the great hope of the genuine believer - that "This Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11).  Those who have the gift of discerning the times are certain that that Day is not far off.  Certainly, it is closer now than it was when the angelic messangers spoke those words to the early disciple band.  It is incumbent upon each one of us to be prepared for that rapture of the people of God.  I trust that all who read this post will have come to Him, the crucified and risen One, in repentance and faith, and thus be prepared for His appearing.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Freedom, and democracy.

It is reported that the Scottish Government is likely to make a final decision with regard to the redefinition of marriage on July 10th.  Official figures indicate that some 70,000 responses to the consultation were received (as against 21,000 on the issue of Scottish independence!) with those in favour of retaining marriage in its traditional form outnumbering those who wish to have the relationship (which is much more than a word!) redefined, by approximately 2:1.

We will have to wait to see what the Scottish Government does, but one would hope that they will act in a truly democratic manner and accept the clearly stated will of the people.  This is, after all, part of what freedom is about.

Of course, as The Gaither Vocal Band remind us in this clip, there is an even greater freedom that is available - even to those who may be incarcerated because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  I think of those in North Korea; in Pakistan; in China; in Eritrea; in Burma; in Iran; and in many other countries around the world.  To them, I would dedicate this song.