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Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Church the Bible Built.

Many years ago the Rev. Robert Burris, now 92 years of age, worked for four and a half years as a missionary in South China. As part of his ministry he journeyed into the mountains carrying copies of the Scriptures, in Chinese, for distribution. In this way, although he could not speak fluent Chinese, the people were given God's Word.

Toward the end of his term Mr. Burris and three companions began a 180- mile journey with 4,000 copies of the Chinese New Testament. In the first ten days about half of these New Testaments had been distributed. Then, in the remote countryside, they were stopped by five armed bandits who took everything - money, clothing, shoes - and the remaining 2,000 copies of the New Testament. Mr. Burris and friends limped home barefooted, in their shirts and trousers, glad to be alive.

Approximately 25 years later when Mr. Burris was the pastor of a church in Ohio, he and his wife attended a lecture with slides presented by a missionary to South China. Among the slides shown was a picture of the very place in which he had been robbed by the bandits."Now," the missionary said,"we come to the most important slide in my collection. I call it The Miracle Church."

The picture on the screen showed a large rough empty building. "This is The Miracle Church," the missionary continued,"because no one knows who started it, or how it is that, every Sunday, 400 people attend, each with a copy of The New Testament in Chinese. No one knows were they got these New Testaments. So far as is known, no missionary or distributor ever went into these mountains, that are infested with bandits and robbers. Yet today, the church is there, and the people have God's Word".

Mr. Burris smiled in gratitude. God's Word, taken from him that day by bandits had been building its own church in China for 25 years.

Through the prophet Isaiah, Almighty God says: "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it." (Isa. 55:10-11; RSV).   Jesus said: "... I will build My church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it." (Matt. 16:18; RSV).

Sunday, 21 October 2012

It's all relative!

At the Worship Service, this morning, we were reminded that Christmas isn't too far away, and that it was time to start thinking about filling decorated shoe-boxes for the Samaritan's Purse annual "Operation Christmas Child" appeal.  As an introduction, we watched a video-clip that showed some of the previous work of this particular ministry (you may watch it at

The interesting thing, to me, was that none of the boxes contained iPads, mobile 'phones, radio-controlled space-ships, or Buzz Lightyears!  Rather, the gifts that brought such obvious joy to the recipients were items such as a pair of sun-glasses (and some "crazy" sunglasses!); a scarf; a "Pull 'n Go" car; a pair of mitts; and similar "low-cost" gifts.

Of course, it's all relative!  In spite of the effects of the ongoing recession in the UK, and the "austerity" measures put in place by the Coalition Government, many children will have an inordinate amount spent on them for the mid-winter festival (which, to most of them is all that it will be!  The one thing missing from Christmas will be the Christ!).  The children who receive those shoe-boxes have so little to start with that those simple gifts are received with true gratitude, and an infectious excitement.

In Dr Luke's account of the Gospel he records an occasion on which the Lord Jesus had been invited to the home of a Pharisee.  While He was there, "a woman of the city" brought an alabaster jar of ointment with which she anointed the feet of the Lord, having wet them with her tears of repentance, and wiped them with her hair (which if, as is implied, she was a prostitute, would have been long and hanging loose).  Simon, the Pharisee, was quite shocked - thinking to himself that if Jesus really was a prophet, He would have known what sort of woman was touching Him!

Of course, Jesus knew exactly what the Pharisee was thinking, and told him a story - a parable about two men who owed differing sums of money to the same creditor.  One owed a fairly trifling sum; the other owed a large amount.  When neither could pay, the creditor let both of them off!  Jesus' question to Simon was simple: "Now which of them will love him more?" (Luke 7:42; RSV).  Simon wasn't a stupid man.  He knew the answer: "The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more." (v.43).  Jesus drew the parallel with the woman and the Pharisee, and told Simon that "... her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much ; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." (v.47).

It's all to do with appreciation.  I hope that many who read this post will get involved in "Operation Christmas Child".  Those who receive your gifts will receive much pleasure from them - because they have so little.  I hope that all who read this post will recognise the debt of gratitude each one of us has to the Saviour Who came to pay the penalty for our sin.  I trust that we will all bow, not only at the crib of the Christ-child, but also before the Christ of the cross.  Nothing that we can ever give to Him can match what He has given to, and done for, us.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

A new song!

"Highland Cathedral" is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and stirring tunes composed in recent years!  I know that at least one other person has written Christian words to be sung to that tune but, yesterday and today, I was given the following.  I trust that it will bless any who use it.

"Once, on a hill outside Jerusalem
hung, on a cross, One Who was God and man.
His Name was Jesus - He is God the Son
and, by His death, a victory He won.

             On that cross, as He hung and bled,
             the price for our sin He gladly paid.
             Gave His life so that we might live;
             He died to make us free.

Then, from the grave, He rose triumphantly;
conqueror of death and hell - for all to see.
Back to the Father's side in heaven above;
wounds in His hands and side - the signs of love.

            Now His church, here on earth, must be
            the bearer of news - wondrous and free!
            Man may be saved; have his sins forgiven;
            and know new life in Him!

So, Lord, we come and we confess our sin;
now let our life anew in You begin.
Fill with Your Spirit every longing heart
that, from Your presence, we may ne'er depart;
that, from Your presence, we may ne'er depart."

Friday, 19 October 2012

“Settlers” Provide Medical Treatment For Palestinian Child

The media, and even some well-known leaders in the Christian community, seem to be convinced that the problems in Israel are caused by the nasty Israeli Defence Force (IDF), and the willingness of the Israeli Government to permit Jewish settlers ot live in ares claimed by the Palestinians (known, Biblically, as the Philistines!).  It is unlikely that a story such as that below, will be aired by the national press and newscasters in the UK!

"A six year old Palestinian was electrocuted and his parents rushed him to the gate of the Neve Tzuf settlement, seeking medical attention for the child. A medic who lives in the West Bank settlement treated the child who suffered from severe injuries. Members of the IDF Medical Corps helped the medic stabilise the boy until an ambulance from the Ofra settlement arrived. The child was then transferred to an Israeli hospital for further treatment.

Neve Tzuf has been at the focal point of West Bank tensions. Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli soldiers on a weekly basis in the area.

Baruch Ram, director of security at Neve Tzuf, related that “This was not the first time injured and sick people come here – especially in the winter. The assistance we give them does not help us develop good neighbourly relations. We’ve never gotten a ‘thank you,’ and the truth is that I cannot explain it. We are fulfilling our duty and helping a person in distress.” 

The international community has been convinced that “the settlers” are the reason why there is no peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This story, and many others demonstrate, that this is not the case."

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Watch this space!

As has often been pointed out, one of the wonderful things about the written Word of God - the Bible - is that however often one reads it, there is always something new to notice or discover.  This was, once more, my personal experience during my private devotions this morning.  One of the passages that I was reading was Joshua 1:1-9.  As I read those familiar words - words that I have read countless times before - I was suddenly struck by v.4.  "From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphra'tes, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory." (RSV)

In those words, YHWH is stating the boundaries of the land which He had promised to His chosen people to be their possession for ever!  The southern boundary was to be the Negev; the northern boundary was to be Lebanon; the western boundary was to be the Mediterranean Sea.  So far, so good.  However, it was that eastern boundary that had me reaching for my Bible Atlas.  Then I reached for a modern atlas.  I compared the two.  There could be no doubt about it.  The eastern boundary -  the River Euphrates - was a long way from the border of the modern State of Israel!  Indeed, if one were to draw those Biblical boundaries on to a modern map, then the land promised to the Children of Israel encompasses a large swathe of modern Syria, and a large swathe of modern Iraq!  This is an area that has not been possessed by the Israelites since the time of King Solomon - and I will have to do some further research to discover if, even during his reign, all of it was under Israel's control!

Of course, given the situation in both Syria and Iraq today, it is unthinkable that Israel, under such conditions, should ever control such a vast area!  However, it was unthinkable that the Berlin Wall would be torn down; it was unthinkable that Saddam Hussein would be toppled; it was unthinkable that Hosni Mubarak would be overthrown!

There is an old adage that reminds us that "Man proposes, but God disposes".  What that is saying is that men (and women, of course) may make their plans - but it is God's will that prevails.  As the hymn-writer states; "God is working His purpose out, as year succeedeth year"! (Basil Harwood).

Will Israel again control the whole of the promised land?  Watch this space?!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Fulness of joy.

Dr. Victor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning, was imprisoned by the Nazis in World War II because he was a Jew. His wife, his children, and his parents were all killed in the Holocaust. The Gestapo stripped him of his clothes. He stood totally naked before them. As they cut off his wedding band, Viktor said to himself, "You can take away my wife, you can take away my children, you can strip me of my clothes and my freedom, but there is one thing no person can ever take away from me - and that is my freedom to choose how I will react to what happens to me!"  Even under the most difficult of circumstances, joy is a choice which transforms our tragedies into triumph.

Let's face it, not everything goes our way. Things don't always work out as we planned. Some days are disasters. Other days are even worse!

Happiness comes easily when things go our way. Joy is different. It's deeper. Joy is an attitude we select. Happiness is external and subject to what happens. Joy is an inside job in which we determine to rejoice, regardless of the circumstances.

Don't confuse happiness with joy. Happiness is a buoyant emotion that results from the momentary plateaus of well-being. Joy is bedrock stuff. Joy is a confidence that operates irrespective of our moods. Joy is the certainty that all is well, however we feel.

Writing to the early disciples of Jesus in the city of Philippi, the apostle Paul - himself in prison - encourages them to, "Always be full of joy in the Lord.  I say it again, Rejoice!" (4:4; NLT).  

Joy is a divine dimension of living that is not shackled by circumstances simply because we have chosen to respond in a positive manner.  Paul is saying that joy is not something that happens to me but rather something I deliberately and consciously select!  Circumstances seldom generate lasting smiles and laughter.  Joy comes to those who determine to choose it, in spite of their circumstances.

Friday, 12 October 2012

The heavens declare the Glory of God.

One of my German friends, who worked at the time in the family's fine engineering business, showed me the kind of tolerance levels to which the company worked in its machining of metal components.  There was a large circle, drawn on a large sheet of paper.  If my memory serves me well, that circle was about 18" (45cm) in diameter.  In the middle was a dot.  The circle, my friend informed me, represented 1 cm. (0.4").  The dot, to the same scale, represented the tolerance to which the company machined!

I thought back to that event when I was reminded, today, that on July 4th of this year, physicists at the CERN facility in Geneva announced the discovery of a particle that may well be the elusive "Higgs' boson" - referred to, in the popular media, as "the God particle".

One of the staff in the U.S.A. Department of Energy's laboratory in Chicago (which is exclusively dedicated to the study of particle physics), a gentleman who is also a disciple of Jesus, has said this: "Science reveals the nature of God.  ... In the 1980s, we seldom talked about God in scientific circles.  But in the 90s, scientists realised they didn't know anything about the vast majority of the universe.  Now, in the 2000s, scientists discuss the possibiity of a Supreme Being at scientific lectures and colloquia ... Every two to four years, knowledge doubles in the various fields of science ... we are realising that we hardly know anything."

I am reminded that even Albert Einstein stated that: "Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe- a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must feel humble."   Long before Einstein, Johannes  Kepler described science as: "thinking God's thoughts after Him."

The point is that, to use my engineering friend's illustration, if that circle was to be drawn ten times its size, and this was to represent the sum total of all of the knowledge in the universe, then what mankind actually knows would not even be enough to be represented by that dot (left at the same size!) in the middle.

Of course, there will always be those who will refuse to accept even the possibility of the existence of the Creator. They are those of whom Paul wrote: "The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (II Thess 2:9-12; RSV).

Centuries before Paul, the Psalmist-king of Israel wrote: "The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims His handiwork." (Ps 19:1; RSV).  They still declare that glory today - to those who have eyes to see!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Building Your Home

A great and wise man once called one of his workmen to him saying, "Go into the far country and build for me a house. The decisions of planning and of actual construction will be yours, but remember, I shall come to accept your work for a very special friend of mine."

And so the workman departed with a light heart for his field of labour. Material of all kinds was plentiful here, but the workman had a mind of his own. "Surely," he thought, "I know my business. I can use a bit of inferior material here, and cheat on my workmanship a little there, and still make the finished work look good. Only I will know that what I have built has weaknesses."

And so, at last the work was completed and the workman reported back to the great and wise man. "Very good," he said. "Now you remember that I wanted you to use only the finest materials and craftsmanship in this house because I wanted to make present of it? My friend, you are the one I had you build it for. It is all yours."

How much like us. We come to earth as strangers. We have free will. We may build our lives as we like. But on "that Day" each of us will receive what (s)he has built for an eternal home and habitation.

Jesus said:"Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it." (Matt 7:24-27; RSV).

For those of us who own the Lord Jesus as our personal Saviour, Paul has this to say: "According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it.  For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay , straw - each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are
." (I Cor 3:10-17; RSV).

Be careful how, and what, you build!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Feet of clay!

It was just before I closed my Facebook account, last week, that the stories of the late Jimmy Savile's alleged abuse of children during his long career in radio and television, were breaking.  The comments all suggested that the writers were unable to believe that such allegations could have even a grain of truth in them, and most seemed to be expressing the fervent hope that they would all be shown to be false.

A week later, and the picture has changed - and changed quite dramatically!  The ITV documentary has been screened; a steady stream of fresh allegations have been made by those who claim to have been victims of Mr Savile's unwanted attention; and an increasing number of former colleagues are claiming that his behaviour was, in fact "an open secret" (to quote just one such person) within the BBC.

The major question, for many, is why it is only now that these folk who appeared to have known about the activities of the "Jim'll Fix It" star, are speaking out!  Suggestions have been made that it was because of the way in which the libel laws in the U.K. are formed.  However, that merely begs the question: "If the evidence was so strong, why would anyone worry about the libel laws?"  After all, if what I say is proved to be true, I am not being libellous!

The subject matter of the current complaints concerning the former "showbiz celebrity" aside, there is another aspect that doesn't appear to have been picked up by the media.  We live in a culture and society in which a person's worth is so often measured by their "entertainment value", be it in the field of T.V./radio/theatre/film, sport, or whatever.  Unfortunately, as the current situation may well yet show, those who are raised up on pedestals by an adoring public, are all too often found to be made of clay! 

Of course, there is One Who never lets His followers down.  That One is the Lord Jesus.  He, and He alone in the history of mankind, was able to ask, not His friends, but His enemies, "Which of you convicts me of sin?" (John 8:46; RSV).  Of course, no-one could because, as the writer of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus could claim: "... we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Heb 4:15; RSV - my emphasis).

If you want a role model worth following; if you want someone to whom you may look up; if you want someone who will never let you down; 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; RSV).

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Abortion - there's just no getting away from it!

Public pronouncements - albeit expressing personal points of view - by three Cabinet Ministers, have re-ignited the debate on abortion at a Parliamentary level.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller, who is also the minister for women, has stated that she would like a 20 week limit.  Speaking on this morning's Today programme on BBC4 radio, Home Secretary Theresa May said she, also, believed there was scope to reduce the limit on when a termination can take place, to 20 weeks into a pregnancy.  Earlier in the week the new Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, went even further, saying he believed the limit should be cut to 12 weeks - half the present maximum.

However, the most interesting comment came from Mr Hunt.  According to reports, he favours the 12-week limit as this is his view "... about that incredibly difficult question about the moment that we should deem life to start"  and that "... my view is that 12 weeks is the right point for it,".

To the best of my knowledge, the Health Secretary is neither a medical practitioner, nor a biologist (perhaps he should be; but that's another subject altogether!).  I certainly claim no professional expertise in either field.  What I know is that only that which is alive is capable of organic growth.

This leads me to ask what has been happening in the womb during the first 12 weeks of gestation?  The answer, surely, is that a process of growth has been taking place.  Indeed, that process commences as soon as the sperm penetrates the egg, and mitosis takes place.  The only difference between that moment and forty weeks later is development.

Many of us agree with Mr Hunt that abortion ought not to take place once life has begun.  We differ with him, however, in our understanding of when that happens! 

So-called "women's choice" is actually whether, or not, to murder the most indefensible, in the very place in which it should be safest.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Inconsistency - or total hypocrisy?

So 15-year-old Megan Stammers is back on British soil, with her mother and stepfather, and safely away from the fiend of a teacher who abducted her and took her to France!

Wait a minute!  I saw the CCTV images that were shown on the TV News programmes.  She certainly didn't appear to be under any compulsion - walking hand-in-hand with her teacher, who was being portrayed as probably having become somewhat more than a teacher!

Understandably, most thinking adults - certainly those of us who are the parents of daughters - have been up in arms over this affair, and the only complaint of which I am aware is that the British police took as long as they did to organise a European Arrest Warrant for 30-year-old Mr Jeremy Forrest.

But wait another minute!  What if these two people claim that they "love" each other?  This, after all, is the reason that is regularly trotted out in favour of the attempts to redefine marriage.  If two men, or two women, "love" one another, they should be given the right to be married.  And a pupil and teacher?  Why not?!

It's another example of the "can of worms" that would be opened if the legislation to redefine marriage is introduced at either Holyrood or Westminster.  Of course, someone may argue that Megan is under-age.  But if they wait even the three years that would be necessary for a pupil-teacher relationship to be legal, would her family (and his wife!) be happy to give their blessing to the union of the 18-year-old and the 33-year-old?  Possibly - but I suspect not.

So, is the difference in attitude merely inconsistent - or is it totally hypocritical?