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Monday, 31 December 2012

Resolutions!

Only twice in my lifetime have I managed to keep a New Year Resolution for more than a few weeks. On one of those occasions, I managed to keep my garage tidy for a little more than four months.  The second resolution was made many years ago - and I am still keeping it!  I resolved never to make any more New Year Resolutions!

Having said that, there are certain things that, for the disciple of Jesus, should surely be daily resolutions.  These resolutions ought to be easier to keep, because we have the promised help of God the Holy Spirit to assist us.  So what kind of resolutions might be in order?

Perhaps the first would be to spend more time, alone, with the Lord.  It's what we used to call our "Quiet Time", although nowadays, I talk more about my "Private Devotions".  Whatever the name given, it involves taking time to draw aside from the busy-ness of modern life, and spend it in reading God's written Word, the Bible; and in coming before Him in prayer.  How long should one spend?  That is between the believer and the Lord.  However, I know that I spend a lot longer nowadays than I did when I was younger.  Some, of course, would claim that they simply don't have the time to pray.  I would respond with the story of the man who said that he prayed for two hours every morning - unless he knew that he was going to have a particularly busy day.  In that case, he prayed for three hours!  Of course, spiritual exercises are like physical exercises.  If I have never run any appreciable distance before, I don't start by running a marathon!  I run as far as I can - but I keep increasing the distance.

The second resolution would be to develop a passion for holiness.  This is a word (there's a whole chapter on it in my book: Great Words of the Christian Faith - see post on Sept 20th) that basically means "separate".  In other words, as a disciple of Jesus, I am expected to be different!  My over-riding concern will be to please Him.  I'll ask Him about going to certain places; watching certain programmes/films; consuming certain items.  I won't always get it right.  As a sinful human being (albeit one who has been saved by the grace of God) I will fall.  But if I allow Him to, He will keep working in me, and on me, as He makes me more like Himself.  It's a process called sanctification (and there's a full chapter, in the book, on that, as well!).  Not every believer is called to be an evangelist.  However, whether we like it, or not, each of us is a witness!  The only question is - "Am I a good witness; or a bad one?!"

Just one more possible resolution - and that would be to be more faithful in my giving.  If I have handed my life over to the Lord; if I have accepted His Lordship in my life; if I am seeking to live in submission to Him; then that includes my finances.  The Biblical pattern is, as far as I can make out, of a tithe (10%) plus a love-gift (that is between me and the Lord).  As with the time spent in prayer and Bible reading (that will progress to Bible study!) there are those who will claim that this is impossible.  However, I think it was Billy Graham who once made the point that 90% (or less!) with God's blessing goes further than 100% without it.  I can certainly testify to the truth of that from my own experience!

Just three resolutions!  However, if everyone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus were to make, and keep, them, what a difference it would make in their own lives - and in the lives of so many others.

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

Monday, 24 December 2012

Why Jesus is Better Than Santa

Like my wife and I, many years ago, many Christian parents do not wish to perpetuate a lie by allowing their small children to grow up thinking that "Santa Claus" really exists.  At the same time, it is difficult to get away from the rotund, bearded, red-suited, "Ho,ho,ho"ing gentleman at this time of year.  So, what does one do?  Well, the following might prove to be helpful.  If you don't need it just now, note the date - and return to it when you do!  It certainly shows that Jesus, the true reason for the season, is much better than even a genuine St Nicholas could ever be, let alone an ordinary person who has been dressed-up!

 
Santa lives at the North Pole...
JESUS is everywhere.

Santa rides in a sleigh...
JESUS rides on the wind and walks on the water.

Santa comes but once a year...
JESUS is an ever present help.

Santa fills your stockings with goodies...
JESUS supplies all of your needs.

Santa comes down your chimney uninvited...
JESUS stands at your door and knocks, and then enters your heart when invited.

You have to wait in line to see Santa...
JESUS is as close as the mention of His name.

Santa lets you sit on his lap...
JESUS lets you rest in His arms.

Santa doesn't know your name, all he can say is "Hi little boy or girl, what's your name?"...
JESUS knew our name before we were born. Not only does He know our name, He knows our address too. He knows our history and future and He even knows how many hairs are on our heads.

Santa has a belly like a bowl full of jelly...
JESUS has a heart full of love

All Santa can offer is HO HO HO...
JESUS offers health, help and hope.

Santa says "You'd better not cry"...
JESUS says "Cast all your cares on me for I care for you."

Santa's little helpers make toys...
JESUS makes new life, mends wounded hearts, repairs broken homes and builds mansions.

Santa may make you chuckle but...
JESUS gives you joy that is your strength.

While Santa puts gifts under your tree...
JESUS became our gift and died on a tree...the cross.

We need to put Christ back in CHRISTmas.   Jesus is still "the reason for the season".

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life"
(John 3:16).

Monday, 17 December 2012

So, where was God?!

I have deliberately waited a few days before daring to comment on the tragedy that took place in the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday.  Such an event does not call for a "knee-jerk" reaction. 

It's been interesting, however, to notice the way in which the vast majority - if not all - of those in that community have looked to "religion" for solace and strength.  It would appear, yet again, that when "the chips are down" we tend to confirm the words of Augustine: "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and we are restless 'til we find our rest in Thee"; or the more contemporary counterpart, "There's a God-shaped blank in every heart that only God can fill."  In times of particular sorrow, most of us do turn, instinctively, to a greater Power!

But that, of course, raises the question: "If there is a God, why would He allow such a terrible thing to happen?"  I was preaching on the Sunday immediately following 9/11, and I had to ask the same question.  In such situations of death, destruction, suffering, and sorrow, "Where is God?"   The only answer that I could offer then, and can offer now, is that He is right there, in the midst of it all.  The approaching Christmas season is a reminder that He was willing to take on our humanity, in order to offer us His eternity.

I have a little clip on my study wall that reads:
"If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; if our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us scientist; if our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; if our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; but our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Saviour."

What kind of Saviour do we need when our hearts are shredded by the kind of brutal loss experienced by the loved ones of those who died, children and adults, in Sandy Hook School?  We need a Saviour Who has tasted the very cup that we are being forced to drink.  We need a Saviour Whom we know understands our grief, and pain, and even our bewilderment.  At the tomb of His friend, Lazarus,we read that "Jesus wept" (John 1135).  He understands!

Almost a year ago, one of the young sergeants in 'Q' Division of Strathclyde Police collapsed and died while playing off-duty football (soccer) with some of the constables from his shift.  I had the following sent, on my behalf, to every officer and staff member in the Division:
"On Monday, along with many officers and staff, I attended the funeral service for the late Sgt. [name withheld].
Death is never an easy situation to handle but, in circumstances such as [name withheld]’s sudden death, it is even more difficult.  As Chaplain, I want to share some thoughts that will, I trust, help some of you to cope with this particular situation a little more easily.  
In such tragic circumstances, I find myself thinking of the sorrow that death inevitably brings.  This is especially true for the immediate family – for [names withheld].   There is the deep sorrow of loneliness – the empty chair; the vacant place at the table; the void in life itself.  A certain emptiness, or vacuum, has been created in our lives – and sorrow is its close companion.  Into such a situation, the message of the Christian Gospel is of One Who  has said to those who are willing to trust Him: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you(Heb.135); of One Who is willing to “... stand by [us] more closely than a brother.” (Prov.1824)
In these circumstances, it is my experience that there is also a comfort that mankind instinctively seeks.  We quickly become aware of our inability to cope with this new situation alone.  That’s why relatives and friends gather around at such a time.  It’s for the benefit of the bereaved, as much as out of respect for the deceased.  It’s the reason  why so many, who have had no time for God in their lives turn to Him, almost instinctively, when death strikes at their own family, or circle of friends – especially in circumstances such as those surrounding Sgt [name withheld]’s death.  The sad thing to me is that, in so many cases, once the grief is eased, He is again forgotten, rejected, despised.  Yet to those who truly seek Him, the promise stands: “They cried out for Your help, and You gave it; they trusted in You, and You didn’t let them down.” (Ps.225).  There’s a comfort for which we instinctively seek – and the word comfort, of course, really means strength; but strength that is offered with love and compassion.
The third thought concerns the tragedy that God magnificently changes.  I think, as did the young priest at the funeral service, of another seeming tragedy in the history of mankind – Calvary.  Jesus, in the teaching of the Christian Gospel, God the Son, hanging on a cross; His disciples distressed, despairing, disorientated.  Yet, according to the teaching of the New Testament, just a few weeks later, God the Father had worked in that situation, through God the Holy Spirit, changing it to one of glorious triumph.  Those same men and women were now bold, courageous, strong.
So as we gave, and give, thanks for the life of [name withheld], we continue to surround his widow and children with our love and prayers, that they might experience the transforming power of God in their lives."
We can do no more, and no better, than to surround the bereaved of Newtown in the same way.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

"I don't believe it!" (apologies to V.Meldrew).

A virgin conceives a Child.  "Rubbish", retorts the sceptic.  That Child, as a grown Man, heals the sick and the infirm; walks on water; feeds a multitude with just a couple of small fish and a few bread rolls; raises the dead.  "Rubbish", retorts the sceptic.  The Man is eventually crucified but, within three days, has risen from the dead - and appears to many people, including one group of more than 500!  "Rubbish", retorts the sceptic.  " I haven't seen any of these things, therefore I cannot believe in them."

Now, consider some other news that I read yesterday, concerning Quantum Computers.  Present computers use electrical circuits to hold information in the form of "one" or "zero".   Quantum Computers, I am informed, will use atoms, or chunks of light called photons, that can be "one", "zero", or any point in between.  However, what is really clever, is that they can be all of these at the same time!  It's all to do with quantum mechanics.  I mention this discipline in my book (
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009EG6TJW):

"Quantum mechanics has to do with the idea that energy and matter are not continuous but come in small, discrete packets: quanta.  Quotations from two famous physicists sum up its weirdness and complexity – “If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it.” (Niels Bohr); and “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” (Richard Feynman).  Suddenly, the understanding of theology seems like a piece of cake!"

The atom is composed of three 3 basic parts with different charges, the electron (negative particle), the proton (the positive particle), and the neutron (the neutral particle). The neutrons and protons are packed in the nucleus of an atom held together with gluons, the messenger particle of the strong force. A messenger particle is a particle that when passed between two particles means that they interact with each other. At the heart of each particle is an even smaller particle known as a quark. Quarks come in different "colours". They are known as colours but are not actually coloured; the colour code is just used for classification. Each colour decides how the specific quark acts.  Confused?  You are not alone!

The important fact is that no-one, to the very best of my knowledge, has ever seen a quantum; no-one has ever seen a quark; no-one has ever witnessed anything to do with string theory (which is something else again!).

So, in the world of quantum mechanics, it would appear that seeing is not believing, but that believing is "seeing"!  I would suggest that the same thing is true is the spiritual realm.  Peter writes: "Without having seen [Jesus] you love Him; though you do not now see Him you believe in Him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy." (I Peter 1:8).  The result, of course, is of eternal importance: "As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls." (v.9).

Now, that is something worth obtaining!

PS If you haven't got a Kindle, there is a FREE app to enable you to read my book (the first in a planned series!) on a PC.  Go to

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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Consequences

It is a simple fact of life that all actions have consequences - often unintended.  This is something that two young Radio Presenters in Australia have recently learned, and done so in a very hard way!

I find myself more than a little confused about the account of the prank telephone call that is claimed to have led to the suicide of a senior nurse who, by all accounts, was a true professional.  Like most people, I heard the edited recording - and had to agree that the accents were terrible.  No acting career for those two!  I can understand why the nurse was embarrassed at having been "taken in".  However, we are assured by the hospital authorities, she was not being disciplined, or even reprimanded.  Indeed, the spokesman informed us that the hospital was being very supportive of her.

This makes me wonder if there was anything else playing on Jacintha Saldanha's mind.  Would embarrassment, however real, be sufficient for her to leave behind a husband and two teenage children?  Was the spoof telephone call not the reason for her tragic death, at her own hand, but merely the straw that finally broke the proverbial camel's back?

Today, it has been reported that a suicide note was left for her family.  I would hope that it might be possible for the contents of that note to be revealed or, at least, the gist thereof.  For the sake of Michael Christian and Mel Greig, who are also victims (albeit of their own making), as well as the family, the truth must be allowed to come out.

Of course, other actions, and inactions, have their own consequences - sometimes even more tragic than the untimely death of a dedicated nurse.   As we approach the Christmas season, many seem to be unaware that the first syllable in that word is "Christ"!  He truly is the centre, the focus, and the reason for the season.  However, if we stop at Christmas, and the Babe in the manger, we do ourselves a great dis-service.  For that same Babe became the Christ of the cross, hanging there to pay the penalty for my sin, and for yours. 

Pilate asked the chief priests and the elders of the Jews, "... what shall I do with Jesus Who is called Christ?" They all said, "Let Him be crucified." (Matt 27:22).  What is your answer to that question?  The consequences of your answer are of eternal significance!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

What's in a flag?

Flags are very powerful symbols.  The evidence is overwhelming.  Look at the pride with which an Army Regiment regards its Colours; look at today's television pictures of the flag waving in Gaza at the rally for Khaled Mashaal, leader of the terrorist group, Hamas; look at the pictures that are regularly shown of Islamist extremists burning the flag of the USoA; think of the flags that are flown at international sporting events.

It is then, little wonder that the Loyalist/Unionist population of Northern Ireland are "up in arms" at the decision by Belfast City Council to end the long-standing tradition  of daily flying the Union Flag over Belfast City Hall, and doing so only on a number of specified dates.

It does seem strange that any public building within the UK should be, in any way, prohibited from flying the Union Flag at any time!  However, this is just another result of Blair's so-called "Peace Plan".  Of course, he is now well out of that, and concentrating on his efforts to become the first President of the "new" EU!

Flags are also used to communicate a message.  It may be the use of a variety of flags on a naval vessel, that spell out a clear message to the initiated; it may be the use of semaphore flags achieving the same result; it may be the white flag that communicates the willingness to surrender.

The disciple of Jesus has some important flags to fly!  I can't recall the name of the minister who first used the words as a brief comment.  However, they were taken up and became the chorus that many would have sung forty or fifty years ago:

Love is the flag flying high
on the castle of my heart,
on the castle of my heart,
on the castle of my heart.
Love is the flag flying high
on the castle of my heart,
For the King is in residence there.

Joy is the flag flying high
on the castle of my heart,
on the castle of my heart,
on the castle of my heart.
Joy is the flag flying high
on the castle of my heart,
For the King is in residence there.

Peace is the flag flying high
on the castle of my heart,
on the castle of my heart,
on the castle of my heart.
Peace is the flag flying high
on the castle of my heart,
For the King is in residence there.

If every disciple of Jesus was to have those three flags flying, what a potent symbol that would be - and what a message it would communicate to a strife-torn world!


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Get Your Mind Ready

I really love the "Godincidents" (aka coincidences) of life!  After last night's post, the following arrived in my Inbox.  It seemed appropriate to share it!

"Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (I Peter 1:13)

We have been born again (I Peter 1:3), Peter tells us, to an imperishable inheritance in heaven (v. 4), which is secure (v. 5) even though the intervening time is difficult (vv. 6-7). Such a salvation as we have is both mysterious and hard to understand, pondered by both the saints of old (v. 10) and angels (v. 12). Yet we have it with more complete understanding and fulfilment than even the prophets ever dreamed possible.

Our rightful response to this knowledge and experience is given in today's verse. We are to "gird up [our] minds." Just as the flowing robes worn by the men of New Testament times had to be bundled up and tied at the waist to allow for rapid, unencumbered movement, so the Christian is expected to be ready to be on the move; to discipline his or her mind by the renouncing of all sinful and/or confining habits and attitudes.

To do so we must "be sober," be clear-headed, calm, and in control. We must "hope fully" or, more explicitly, "hope to the utmost degree", in our ultimate glorification at the return of Christ. The construction of "hope" implies a command to "fix our hope" on Him, a sure hope, not a wishful hope. This is the "grace that is coming to [the believer]."

Furthermore, we must renounce "the passions of [our] former ignorance" (v. 14), being "obedient children" of the Father.

It is not even enough simply to eliminate sinful patterns from our lives. "... but as He Who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct;" (v. 15).

A mind that is disciplined and purified is ready for action and victory." JDM

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

He's Saviour - but is He Lord?!

Some of the most chilling words in the whole of the Bible are to be found in Matthew's account of the Gospel, in what is usually referred to as "The Sermon on the Mount", in 7:21-23 - "Not every one who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and cast out demons in Your Name, and do many mighty works in Your Name?'  And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you evildoers.'"

They are words, I believe, that speak powerfully to the present generation of "western Christians".  So many have been deceived by a "Come to Jesus and all of your sins will be forgiven; all of your problems will be solved; and you can look forward to eternity in His Presence."

That, I have to say, is what Paul would call "... another gospel ..." (see Gal.1:6-9).  You see, while it is true that Jesus forgives sin - He paid the price for all of my sin, and yours, on the cross at Calvary; while it is true that those who are truly His will spend eternity in His Presence; (it is definitely not true that all problems will be solved - indeed, for many their problems only begin when they become His disciples!) - it is also true that He demands repentance, and obedience!

It wasn't just John, the Baptiser, who preached "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 3:2); The same words are used by Jesus at the beginning of His own public ministry: "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17).  Yet I seldom hear a message of repentance being proclaimed from pulpit or platform.  Repentance - the deliberate, conscious, turning my back on the things that make me just like those whose only reference to Jesus is when they use His Name as an expletive, or swear-word - is not easy.  Much more simple to just repeat "the sinner's prayer" - and go on living my life as if nothing had changed!  Oh, I may be baptised; I may fulfil a function in my local fellowship/congregation/assembly; I may even be a preacher, teacher, or evangelist.  But if I have not repented; if I am not making a conscious effort to effect change in my life; then I am not a disciple of Jesus!

Now, some may accuse me of preaching a message of salvation by works!  Absolutely not.  "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph 2:8-9; emphasis added).  Salvation is all of grace (check out my e-book on the subject: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009EG6TJW ).  However, Paul continues: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10).  It's not an 'either-or'; it's a 'both-and'!

That leads me to obedience. Immediately after we read those words of Jesus with which I commenced this post, we read these further words of Jesus: "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).

Notice that the wise man is the one who "... does ..." the words of Jesus - in other words, the one who is obedient!  "If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.  He who does not love Me will not obey My teaching. These words you hear are not My own; they belong to the Father Who sent Me." (John 14:23-24; NIV).

Of course, all of this is impossible for mortal men and women (and children!).  This is why we need a second birth.  Our natural, physical, birth is not sufficient.  We need a supernatural, spiritual, birth.  So Jesus tells the very religious Nicodemus, who: "... came to Jesus by night and said to Him, 'Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do, unless God is with him.' Jesus answered him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew (literally, "from above"), he cannot see the kingdom of God.'" (John 3:2-3).

Have you experienced that new birth?  Have you repented of your sins, and your sinfulness?  Are you obedient to His commands - whatever the cost?  You may acknowledge Him as Saviour - but is He truly Lord?    Oh, you may "stick out like a sore thumb" - but that's what the disciple of Jesus us supposed to do.  We are called to be "holy" - and that means separated to His service.  May each of us be those of whom He will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your Master." (Matt.25:21).