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Thursday, 30 January 2014

When is a church apostate?

An "apostate" is defined, in one on-line dictionary, as "One who has abandoned one's religious faith, a political party, one's principles, or a cause."

I was born into Presbyterianism; I was saved as a Presbyterian;I was called to pastoral ministry as a Presbyterian; I was trained as a Presbyterian; I was ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament as a Presbyterian; I ministered as a Presbyterian.  It pains me, therefore, to watch the national Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) abandon so much of what it is, I believe, meant to uphold.

At the 2013 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, it came up with the fudge that claimed that it stood by the scriptural teaching that the practice of homosexuality (and the feminine counterpart of lesbianism) is contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures of the Old, and New, Testament.  However, it then decided that individual congregations were at liberty to call, and have inducted, a practising homosexual minister.  I won't start on the subject of church government, but that, to me, is Congregationalism, not Presbyterianism!

At the same General Assembly it was agreed that, notwithstanding the literal interpretation of the Bible, the Children of Israel have no divine right to the land known as Israel.  I immediately recalled the words of the father of Corrie ten Boom, as he saw the Nazis deal so harshly with the Jewish people: "They are still the apple of His eye."!  

This past week has seen a further abandonment on the part of the Kirk.  A Church of Scotland press release referred to a new deal done between the Kirk and the Scottish Secular Society which would see a reform of Religious Observance to remove the overt religious components which, it is alleged, cause a problem for so many parents, and a change of name to Time for Reflection.  The Kirk, and the Secularists, united in further diminishing any Christian influence on schools that were, at one time, the sole responsibility of the church!  It is a sad day, indeed and, to use the common  saying, John Knox must be birling in his grave - even if the initial reaction of the SSS is that the Kirk is suggesting more of a change of name, than of content!

So, what else is required before the Church of Scotland is considered to be fully apostate?  Do we have to wait until it disowns one of the fundamental doctrines of the Church?  Many individual ministers appear to have difficulty over such matters as the virginal conception of the Lord Jesus, or His bodily resurrection. Is it possible that their number will rise so as to make a vote at a future General Assembly deny such basic doctrines?  Surely not - but then, who would have thought that recent matters would ever have seen the light of day, let alone be accepted by the Kirk?!

I pray that, even now, there might be a spirit of revival, and repentance, sweep through the denomination.   I feel, deeply, for personal friends who are Bible-believing, full Gospel preaching, Word of God accepting ministers, yet who, at this time, believe that they must remain with their congregations.  I pray for them on a daily basis.  Regretfully, the time may soon come when they will have to 'do a Joshua', and state categorically that, regardless of what the denomination may do, for them, their households and, one trusts, their congregations, they will serve the Lord. (see Josh.24:15).

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Proposed redefinition of marriage.

The following is a copy of the letter that I have sent to my Constituency MSP, in advance of the final vote on the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill which is scheduled to take place on Feb.4th.  A slightly amended version has been sent to each of the 'List' MSPs for my Constituency.

This is not copyright, so anyone who wishes to contact their own representatives should feel free to make use of the information contained therein.  However, please do not simply 'copy and paste'!  Use the info, but write in your own words.  Doing so is much more effective!

******************

Dear Mr Pentland,

Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill
As the final, Stage 3, vote on the above Bill approaches, I am writing, again, to solicit your help as my elected representative in the Scottish Parliament.

It continues to be my sincere desire that this Bill be defeated, and I would respectfully remind you that almost 54,000 people have petitioned that marriage not be redefined, but continue as "The voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others." (http://www.duhaime.org/LegalDictionary/M/Marriage.aspx).  Those polls which, it is claimed, have supported the redefinition of marriage have, as far as I can make out, been so worded as to lead responders to believe that they are being asked if couples of the same gender should be treated with equality.  No one denies that right to those couples, and it is already fully available through current Civil Partnership legislation.  However, it is my contention that there is confusion, here, between the concept of equality and that of equivalence.  A particular apple may be equal to a particular orange in terms of its volume, weight, and even nutritional value.  However, it is never going to be the equivalent of that orange - regardless of what any law of the land may say!

I would further submit that, under Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, para. 3, which states that "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.", this Bill ought not to be enacted as only in a heterosexual relationship can procreation take place, and that "... natural and fundamental group unit of society ..." be maintained.  Indeed, a new Canadian study - published in the October, 2013 Review of the Economics of the Household - has found that children raised by same-gender couples are greatly disadvantaged.  The economist, Douglas Allen, states that previous studies that have indicated that there is no difference have been biased and unscientific.  He has argued that the subjects are 'self-selected', using samples of high-income, highly educated, same-gender couples, compared to random samples of heterosexual couples.  He has avoided any such charge by using Canadian census data to survey more than 300,000 individuals!

In the event that the Bill does become law, I would submit that it is absolutely essential that certain amendments be accepted.  These include strong safeguards for both individuals and organisations who seek to uphold marriage in its traditional, heterosexual, form.  I have already been a victim of such discrimination when my unequivocal support for traditional marriage, purely on my personal blog (see below) led to my services as a volunteer Chaplain to the former Strathclyde Police Force being dispensed with.  Others in the public service could find that they are without a job!

I would also strongly urge you to support any amendment that would protect those who apply to be foster-parents, or adoptive parents.  It is insufficient that the Scottish government give assurances and/or guidance.  We know that similar assurances provided by the Westminster government with regard to the now enacted Bill in that place, are already being challenged. 

It is also an undeniable fact that such enactments are rarely an end in themselves.  You will, for example, be well aware of the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act.  That Act, that permitted a pregnancy to be "... terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith ..." followed by four specific sets of circumstances (Section 1,1, [a]-[d]), is now used, by the vast majority of women who present themselves for the procedure, as a belated form of 'contraceptive' or, we are discovering, as a means of gender-choice.  This present Bill would, undoubtedly, also lead to increasingly liberal interpretations, and to further demand from the small minority, of a small minority, who are pushing this present agenda.

I am aware that you did not vote against the Bill at Stage 1, but I implore you to do so at Stage 3.

Yours sincerely,

******************

Those who believe in prayer - and who pray, believing! - are urged to keep this matter before the Lord over the next week and a bit.

Friday, 24 January 2014

It is said, by some, that there are four stages to reaching fluency in a foreign language.  These are:

1. making extensive use of a dictionary.  This is perfectly acceptable, but does require a lot of effort.  At this stage, one is also encouraged to listen to native speakers, and seek to imitate them.

2. thinking in one's own language, and translating in the mind.  Effort is still required - but not as much as in stage 1.

3. thinking in the foreign language. By this stage, there is almost no effort required.

4. dreaming in the foreign language.  This is the ultimate - one is now fully proficient, and fluent, in it.  I am looking forward to, some day, dreaming in French!

As I thought of those alleged stages, it occurred to me that they are, to some extent, a picture of the progression that one would expect in the life of a follower of Jesus.

1. newly converted.  It may be that even many of the basic Bible truths are 'foreign' to the new convert.  There is much to learn - and one might well imitate mature believers as far as possible. 

Of course, just as I would want a true native speaker to be my example in a foreign language, so I would want a genuine disciple of Jesus to be my example in my Christian life.  Paul was able to write to the early believers in Corinth: "Be imitators of me, ..." (I Cor 11:1) but, of course, he qualified that injunction by continuing: "... as I am of Christ."   In my own life, I have been richly blessed by having many such men, and women, who were Godly examples to me as I grew in the faith - men and women worth imitating.

2. In that growth, one reaches the stage at which one is able to develop a more personal communion with the Lord.  Oh, there is still a long way to go, but the new convert is now seeking Him, more and more, at a deeper and more intimate level.  There is still much effort involved in being a disciple of Jesus, but one can say, with honesty and conviction, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30).

3. When one reaches the third stage, one is beginning to think like Jesus; to see things, more clearly, "through His eyes"; to know, almost instinctively, what He would do in a given situation.  He is now above all else in one's life; one is walking so close to Him that there is almost no effort involved - it has become one's 'natural' state!

4. Stage four is not for this mortal life.  What I've just been describing is what theologians would refer to as sanctification.  It's an important word, and one with which I deal more fully in my book, Great Words of the Christian Faith - details at the top of the blog.  It's process that is only completed in Glory - but there, there will be no effort involved as praise and thanksgiving flow from my redeemed lips in a way of which I can only dream in this mortal body.  Throughout that endless day that we call eternity (chapter in the book!!), I will worship Him in a sinless, resurrection body.  I will see Him as He is; I will know, even as I am known. (see I John 3:2).

I am looking forward to, some day, dreaming in French.  I am looking forward, much, much more, to being in the nearer presence of the Lord - for eternity!  Will you be there?  It all starts with entering into a relationship with Him here and now.  You know it makes sense!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Biblical Brain-teaser - solution.

The puzzle post received more hits than any other in the past couple of months!  Perhaps I'll manage to make it a regular feature!  Of those who contacted me, only one had managed to discover all of the Biblical books - well done FMR! :-)

For those who didn't quite manage to find them all, here is the solution. 

Do keep checking the blog.  Indeed, why not become a 'Follower' - or, at least, add it to your list of 'Favourites"?!

In these reMARKs are hidden the names of no less than sixteen Biblical books.  It's a real luLU; KEpt me looKING So hard for the fACTS, I missed the REVELATION .

I was in a JAM, ESpecially as the names (with one exception) were not capitalised.  The tRUTH will, however, be seen by vast NUMBERS of the super-intelligent readers of this blog!  To others, it will be a really hard JOB.  For all, it will be A MOSt fascinating search.

yES, THERe will be some that are easy to spot, and others that are difficult to JUDGE, So we admiT IT USually result in loud LAMENTATIONS.  In the past, one lady gave an assurance that sHE BREWS coffee while she puzzles over it.  One book, as already intimated, is capitalised to help you start.  See how well you can comPETE. Relax, as my friend Didier would say, for there really are sixteen names of books of the Bible in this post.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Murder most foul!

If my memory serves me well, the heading to this post is the title of an Agatha Christie Poirot novel.  Of course, I may be wrong.  Either way, it surely sums up the reaction of the vast majority of decent people to the murder of three-year-old Mikaeel Kular.  Of course, what makes the situation even worse is that it is his own mother who has now been charged with that murder.  She is, in British law, innocent until proven guilty, but many ask the question: "How could a mother murder her own child?"

Sadly, this is not a unique case.  There are many records of children having been murdered by their own mother.  Within their own homes, where they might expect to have been safe, they died.

There is, nevertheless, an element of hypocrisy in the furore that inevitably accompanies any such conviction.  This is because murder is committed on defenceless children every working day - and in the place in which they should be safest of all!  I refer to the approximately 600 abortions that take place on a daily basis in the UK alone.  The figure may not be quite accurate, as up-to-date statistics are not easy to obtain.  But in spite of the euphemism of "termination of a pregnancy" abortion of nothing more, or less, than the murder of a living human being - albeit at an early stage of its development - with, in all but a few rare cases, the co-operation of its mother.

If I had my way, every woman/girl who sought an abortion would be obliged to have a full pre-natal scan.  At four to five months - apparently the most common stage for an abortion - the rubbery cartilage that composed the foetus’ skeleton is turning into hard bone.  The baby is now large enough that when it kicks or moves around in the womb, the mother will most likely feel it. Blood vessels are becoming visible through the skin. Hair is starting to appear on the baby’s scalp, and eyebrows and eyelashes are present. Soft hair called lanugo covers the body and head of the foetus. This fuzz will disappear before birth.  Reflexes such as chewing, sucking, and swallowing are developing. The baby may begin his or her habit of sucking its thumb during this month. The foetus may be only about six inches long at the end of the fourth month of pregnancy; but there is no doubt that this is a small human being!

So, let us be angry when a mother murders her child.  But let us also be angry at the wholesale slaughter that goes on, day after day, week after week, for reasons that are, in over 90% of cases, nothing more than social inconvenience.

Our unborn children surely deserve no less!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Polite request!

Earlier this evening, I signed a pro-family petition against the E.U. Lunacek Report.
 
The link to the petition is: http://www.citizengo.org/en/2410-withdraw-eu-commission-proposal-make-declaration

The agenda of the Lunacek Report is extremely dangerous in that it would:
  • Give LGBT individuals special rights that no one else is afforded.
  • Potentially be politically misused to force Member States to allow "same sex marriage for all.”
  • provide, for same gender couples, in all Member States, access to full adoption; in vitro fertilisation; and surrogacy.
  • Guarantee freedom of assembly and expression for gay activists, and use language like "hate speech” and "hate crime” to silence Preachers of the Gospel, and critics of homosexuality and LGBT activism. In doing so, the European Parliament wants the EU and its Member States to apply double standards: unrestricted freedom of speech for the LGBT community, but restricted freedom of speech for possible critics.
It is an important issue, so I would appreciate it if you would also join me in this fight by signing the petition.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Pleasure Book.

Recently, the oldest woman in Sctland (or, perhaps that was the UK!) was interviewed by a television reporter. At 108 years of age, she is a sprightly character, who is probably great fun to be with!  As is almost obligatory in such situations, she was asked for the secret of her long life.  Her answer was that she loves porridge, and has done all of her life.  As a fellow porridge-lover, I took great encouragement from that, especially as, if the Lord permits, I am happy to live to be 120!  Well, as I often say, it was good enough for Moses, so it would be good enough for me!

Of course, there is much more to life than simple longevity!  The quality of one's life is also important.  I read, recently, of an elderly lady who, in spite of having experienced (and continuing to experience) many troubles, was always cheerful and serene.  She, too, was asked about her secret.  Her answer had nothing to do with her regular diet.  Instead, she informed her questioner that, for many years, she had kept what she called a "Pleasure Book".  Every evening, she wrote in it something pleasant that had happened to her that day!  Sometimes, she had an enjoyable walk; perhaps someone has come to visit her; new flowers might have opened up in her little garden; or it may simply have been the fresh smell of the earth that comes after a shower of rain.  Every day, there had been some new happiness to record.

Many of us could do with following that particular lady's example.  If we actually look for something to cheer us, and make us glad, we never have to search for long, or travel far.  If we were to keep a "Pleasure Book", its pages would, undoubtedly, quickly be filled with a record of many delightful, and satisfying, experiences - whatever our situation, and circumstances.  How much better, too, to review good and positive things, than to dwell on that which only discourages, and depresses, us!

Of course, for the disciple of Jesus, who knows "... that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose." (Rom. 8:28), even the difficulties may be counted as blessings, as "... we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." (Rom. 5:3-5).

The hymnwriter gave us those words, familiar to many:

"Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done."  ( John­son Oat­man, Jr.)

Look at the brighter side of life.  Keep a "Pleasure Book".  I suspect that you will soon agree that there is always something for which to be thankful - and you may even thank "... the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (II Cor. 1:3-4).

Friday, 17 January 2014

Biblical Brain-teaser!

Okay!  Just for a change - and a wee bit of fun - here is an opportunity to exercise those little grey cells, and check your knowledge of the books of the Bible at the same time.

In these reMARKs are hidden the names of no less than sixteen Biblical books!  It's a real lulu; kept me looking so hard for the facts, I missed the revelation.

I was in a jam, especially as the names (with one exception) were not capitalised.  The truth will, however, be seen by vast numbers of the super-intelligent readers of this blog!  To others, it will be a really hard job.  For all, it will be a most fascinating search.

Yes, there will be some that are easy to spot, and others that are difficult to judge, so we admit it usually results in loud lamentations.  In the past, one lady gave an assurance that she brews coffee while she puzzles over it.  One book, as already intimated, is capitalised to help you start.  See how well you can compete.  Relax, as my friend Didier would say, for there really are sixteen names of books of the Bible in this post.

Happy hunting.  The solution will be posted in a few days' time!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Family Likeness.

It is more than six years ago that my elder daughter informed my wife and me that she was pregnant!  We were, of course, delighted with the news and wished her and our son-in-law well.  I also assured her that I would be praying for her and her unborn child, on a daily basis, throughout her pregnancy.

A few weeks later, a friend informed us that she, too, was pregnant.  I told her that I was already praying for my daughter, and that I would pray for her and her baby as well - on the same daily basis, right through her pregnancy.

That was the start of what became my "ministry to pregnant women", and I have long since lost count of the number of pregnancies that I have "prayed through".  Regretfully, there have been one or two miscarriages, a still-birth, and an infant death.  However, the vast majority have ended up with a sound and healthy child for which to give thanks.

Almost from the moment a child is born, they are welcomed with words such as "Oh, (s)he is so like his (her) dad/mum/uncle John/auntie Mary/etc., etc.  Sometimes such family likenesses - in both physical looks and mannerisms - are immediately obvious.  In other instances it may be years before a child is seen to look, or behave, like any of his/her relatives.  Occasionally, it may even be that no family characteristic becomes apparent.

The moment a person becomes a disciple of Jesus, having acknowledged their sinfulness, and accepted the salvation that He offers, they are said to have been "... born again ..." (John 3:3).  In some cases, the evidence for that new birth is instantly obvious; in others, it takes time before something of "the beauty of Jesus" is seen in the believer.  However, each one of us should be constantly striving, with His help, to become more like Him.  As children of God, and joint-heirs with our Lord Jesus, the Christ, we are to bear His image.  Our conduct, and Christian character, are features that should distinguish us as children of the King, and ensure that the world sees something of the family likeness in us.

We will not reflect His image perfectly in this life but, as we walk in "... the fear of the Lord" (Ps.43:11), we have the assurance "... that when He appears we shall be [fully] like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." (I John 3:2).

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Double standards?!

How many times have you seen a story in the major media claiming that Israel has turned Gaza into an “open-air prison?” How often does the media discuss seemingly arbitrary restrictions that Israel places on specific goods entering the Gaza Strip? Forget about the fact that convoys of trucks carrying humanitarian aid enter and leave the strip every day. Israel even transferred an emergency supply of gas for home heating during the recent winter storm.

The story of Israel blockading Palestinians is part of a narrative with which many journalists are obsessed - despite the lack of accuracy!  How much more useful these journalists would be if they reported on how Syria is starving Palestinians to death with a complete blockade on a refugee camp. But that is exactly what is happening. 

It is reliably reported that more than forty Palestinians have now died of starvation in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, say activists who are calling on the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to intervene. Three quarters of the dead have perished in the last three weeks as the situation in the camp, which is home to much of Syria’s Palestinian population, reaches a crisis point after six months of a crippling siege which have seen supplies of food and medical aid blocked from reaching the camp. Conditions in the refugee camp have become desperate since the full government siege began in July 2013. 

The blockade of the area has meant no aid has been able to reach the estimated 18,000 residents of the camp. Christopher Gunness of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees said it isn’t just the lack of food and medicine that is making the situation untenable for residents. “Residents are having to rely on going out on terraces and burning furniture and branches to warm themselves in the open because wood fires cannot be used indoors. There is a very infrequent supply of tap water – reportedly available for four hours only at intervals of three days.”

Israel’s attempts to control material that can be used for weapon making are labelled a “blockade.” Meanwhile, the Syrian Army starves  Palestinians to death and most of the media sit on their hands.

One is obliged to ask: "Why the double standard?"

Friday, 10 January 2014

Last year, in Israel

Wherever I turn to in the popular media, I find the State of Israel being criticised and, indeed, demonised!   Increasingly, she is being isolated, internationally, as world 'leaders' cosy up to régimes that are the supporters of terrorists whose actions have a negative effect on the whole of the developed, and the developing, world.

It is regrettable that some of the news from Israel does not reach our western television screens, radio broadcasts, and newspapers.  However, in order to make some small attempt to redress the situation, I share the following, with gratitude to Michael Ordman, publisher of the popular blog “Good News from Israel – News of Israel’s Achievements and Heartwarming Stories of the Jewish State.”  It came to me through the website http://unitedwithisrael.org

"In May, doctors at Schneider’s Children's Hospital transplanted a kidney into a 10-year-old Palestinian Arab boy. The kidney came from 3-year-old Israeli Noam Naor who died in a tragic fall and his parents decided to donate his organs to save the life of others.  Following the operation, Noam’s mother said, “To see Yakub today is very exciting. I wish him only health, a full and speedy recovery.” In the same month, Hadassah Hospital doctors performed an extremely rare operation to deliver the conjoined (“Siamese”) twins of a Palestinian Arab mother. The babies weighed 4.9 pounds and shared a heart.

The Israeli charity Save A Child’s Heart (SACH) performs more life-saving surgery on Palestinian Arab infants than from any other part of the world.  In August, of the 22 children at SACH’s base in the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, seven were from the Palestinian Authority.  SACH works with Christian organization Shevet Achim which funds and transports PA and Gaza children requiring heart surgery to Israeli hospitals such as the Wolfson and to Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer.

In July, IDF (Israeli Defence Force) paramedics and Magen David Adom joined together with the PA police and the PA Red Crescent to save a Palestinian Arab who was hit by a car when riding his donkey near Nablus (Shechem).  MDA transported him to an Israeli hospital for further treatment.  And coming right up-to-date, in December an IDF emergency medical team rescued a 10-year-old Palestinian Arab boy whose head was cut open following a car accident and airlifted him to hospital.  The team also treated the boy’s mother, who suffered from shock after the accident.

In 2013, truck drivers from Israel were fully occupied making 64,783 deliveries of food, medicines, finished goods and building materials (some 1.3 million tons) into Gaza.  Unfortunately for Hamas, their leader Ismail Haniyeh was caught feeding orphans in Gaza with “boycotted” Israeli yogurts.  Meanwhile in July sixty Gaza farmers attended an agricultural seminar in northern Israel.  They completed workshops on cultivation methods, planting schedules, soil preparation, irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides. In the following video, dozens of Gaza farmers are shown at an Israeli exhibition earlier in the year learning about innovative Israeli agricultural methods and new fruits and vegetables developed in Israel.

When the December storm struck, Israel intervened in Hamas’ quarrel with the PA by rushing in 1.2 million liters of diesel into Gaza to restart its power station.  And when the snow trapped a Palestinian Authority ambulance carrying a very sick woman, Israeli soldiers from the Kfir Brigade were there to help it back on the road.

The PA shuns normalisation of relations with Israel, but the 20,000 Palestinian Arabs working for Israelis in Judea and Samaria (25 percent more than in 2012) illustrate that the reality is quite different.  In August we also read about the hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs who have become business partners and colleagues in joint start-ups. For example Israeli startup Naked Sea Salt partners with a Palestinian Arab company to use eco-friendly methods to harvest salt from the Dead Sea.  And the massive project involving Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority will construct a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to produce millions of cubic meters of drinking water for the region, hydroelectric power and replenish the critically dwindling Dead Sea.  Even Al Jazeera broadcast the news of the joint project."

There is much more.  It remains true that the first casualty in war, is truth.  Please take the time to access the Ordman blog, or the site
http://unitedwithisrael.org/israeli-occupation-in-2013?inf_contact_key=0c73d6c9a69288c9bec0fd63a0ef0023826d49d9e537ecd6e3e8448c53058847

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Being prepared!

Although a member of the Boys' Brigade (and the Lifeboys, before that) for many years, I always appreciated the motto of the Scout movement: "Be prepared".

I thought about it earlier today as I, first of all, made my way over to Coatbridge, by bus.  We reached the stop at Motherwell Railway Station, where a long queue of prospective passengers was waiting to board the bus.  Second one on was a young girl with a buggy.  Judging by the length of the queue, and her position in it, she must have been there for the best part of ten minutes - if not longer.  However, it was only when she declared her destination that she thought to check her purse - and discover that she didn't have sufficient change.  She did have a £10 note - but was, understandably, not prepared to put that in a 'no change given' ticket machine!   I did wonder what she had been doing as she waited for the bus to arrive.  It would have helped the other passengers if she had been prepared!

My reason for going to Coatbridge was to make some purchases at the large B&Q store there, and that are not stocked in the smaller Motherwell store.  As I waited at the checkout, the gentleman in front of me had some garden trellis in his trolley and, on top, a bundle of clips for attaching same to the posts.  The young lady at the check-out asked him how many there were.  "I don't know!", came the reply!  She had to count them, herself.  I wondered if he had not come in with the objective of purchasing a specific number; if he had not counted them as he placed them on top of the trellis; if he had not thought to count them before making his way to the check-out.  Someone else who would have made life a little easier for others if only he had been prepared!

Of course, these specific examples of people not being prepared only caused some minor inconvenience to a few others, and a little embarrassment to them.  Other failure to prepare has much greater consequences!

The Bible reminds us that this life is not all that there is.  Oh, I know that there are sceptics who claim that, when they die, there will be 'nothingness'!  I would so love to be at the bedside of one of them when their own death is approaching.  Perhaps, at that point, they would not be as confident - and I might even be able to point them in the right direction.

Be that as it may, God's written Word encourages us to 'be prepared'.  It's the main point of the well-known parable of the wise and foolish virgins (see Matt.25:1-46).

Disciples of Jesus are also encouraged to be prepared to "... make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,..." (I Peter 3:15).  We are also to be prepared for the Rapture of the saints: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed." (I Cor.15:51-52).

Lack of preparation in matters spiritual will not merely cause some inconvenience.  For the unprepared, it will result in eternity without God - but being fully aware of the reality of His existence.

Are you prepared?  Don't leave it until it's too late.  And don't presume on how much time you have!  Remember the Police Scotland helicopter crash just before Christmas; remember the Venezuelan former beauty queen and her husband, gunned down in their car (and their young daughter seriously injured; remember the American helicopter crash that was on the news this evening.

So many people, who set out to work, and to socialise, and to drive, with no idea that within a few hours, they would be dead!  I trust that many of them were prepared.  I trust that you are, too!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

No unemployment; no redundancy!

"There’s a work for Jesus, ready at your hand,
'Tis a task the Master just for you has planned.
Haste to do His bidding, yield Him service true;
There’s a work for Jesus none but you can do."

So wrote Elsie D.Yale, about a century ago - but her words remain true to day, as they have done in every generation.

This evening, in Wishaw Baptist Church, we were encouraged to share some experiences of blessing and/or encouragement from the year that has just ended.   In my own case, I was able to share the  way in which the Lord appears to be guiding my wife and me to a pastoral work in France.  As the situation unfolds, I will doubtless share more on the blog but, for the moment, I can say that it looks as if we will be involved in a 'non-stipendiary' (i.e. unpaid!) pastoral and preaching role within the ministry of Christians in Dordogne, and the associated Café Church in Bergerac.

The encouragement, of course, is that we are never too old to be used by the Lord - provided we are willing for Him to use us!  In the Kingdom of God, there is no unemployment, and no redundancy.  He doesn't even look as much at our ability as at our availability.

As we move on in this new year, may it be that all who claim to be His disciples will seek to know what is the work for Him that no-one but they can do.  I can only say that they will be blessed, and that He will be glorified - but what else is there to say?!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Forgiveness - it isn't natural!

After a disastrous, and highly criticised, edition of the BBC 4 Today programme, yesterday morning, it was good, this morning, to hear a disciple of Jesus speak about forgiveness.  This wasn't even the daily "Thought for the day" spot.  Rather, it was the widow of Alan Greaves, the church organist who was mindlessly attacked as he made his way to the Christmas Eve Watchnight Service of his Sheffield congregation, just over a year ago.  He died, from the injuries he sustained in the attack, just three days later.

Two men were, subsequently, arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced - one for murder, the other for manslaughter.  This morning, Mrs Maureen Greaves confirmed to her interviewer (Sarah Montague) that she had forgiven both men.  Although, to my recollection, the precise words were not used, I could sense by the tone of her voice that Ms Montague was finding this very difficult to believe.  The line, and tone, of her questioning seemed to shout out - "But that's not natural!"

Mrs Greaves was excellent in the interview, speaking easily of the trust in God that had helped her through the past year - and that her late husband had shared - and that made the marriage of her daughter, on Dec 27th, the anniversary of Alan's death, and in the same church building to which he had been making his way, a joyful occasion.  Ms Montague appeared to have difficulty with that, as well!

Of course, the answer to Sarah Montague's unspoken question is that Mrs Greaves ability to forgive those responsible for the callous murder of her husband is not natural - it's supernatural!  It's the result of the grace of God working in her life.  She spoke, freely, of the fact that she is a sinner - and that her late husband was, as well.  However, she went on to explain that, as God, in Christ, has forgiven her, then she is able to forgive those who have hurt her in a way that is unimaginable to those of us who have not gone through the same experience.  She didn't quote, but is obviously aware of, Paul's words to the early followers of the Way, in Rome, that: "... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, ..." (Rom 3:23).

I trust that many who were listening to that programme will find themselves questioning how a woman, who was widowed in such tragic circumstances, could forgive those who were directly responsible for her grief.  I trust that many will turn to the same Saviour Who, as Maureen Greaves pointed out, came to be the Saviour of the world, and submit to His Lordship in their lives.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year

I imagine that the words that head this post have been uttered millions of times, in various languages, over the past twenty-four hours.  It's a traditional greeting at this time of year - and not all that is traditional deserves to be discarded.

However, I wonder how many would react if they were to be wished "A Blessèd New Year"!?  Yet the word 'blessèd' simply means 'happy'.  In what has become known as The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1ff), the Lord Jesus uses that word 'blessèd' to introduce what are, on the surface, some strange ideas - especially when we replace it, as some modern translations do, with the word 'happy'.  

"Happy the kind; the clean in heart; the peacemakers" we may understand; but "Happy the mourning; the meek; those persecuted for righteousness' sake" (Young's Literal Translation) - well that's a different matter altogether!

The secret is that there is a much deeper meaning to this word than just the pleasant and favourable feeling that the majority seek. The word actually conveys the idea of fulfilment, and complete satisfaction.  In former times, the island of Cyprus was known as Ho Makarios - "the Blessèd” Isle - because it was believed to contain, within its bounds, everything necessary for life. It was self-contained and filled. This is the real meaning of blessedness, or happiness. This blessedness speaks of the actual realisation of a true satisfaction and fulfilled joy.   It is not something superficial, but something deep, and meaningful.

Such happiness, I would contend, is found only in a personal relationship with that same Jesus.  It's the happiness that comes from knowing that my sins have been forgiven; that I am accepted by Almighty God as I come to Him in the Name of Jesus; that when this mortal life ends, I have eternity to worship Him, and praise Him, at a level that is not possible while I inhabit this mortal body.

I enjoy classical music - especially from the Baroque era.  Sometimes, as I listen to a particularly majestic piece, I am transported in my mind to what can only be described as a state of ecstasy.  Yet nothing that I experience, in this life, can even begin to compare with that which I shall experience in the life to come.

A happy, blessèd new year is one thing; a blessèd eternity, in the nearer presence of the King of kings, is something completely different - and unimaginably more wonderful!  It's available to you - but only if you come to Him, "the Initiator and Perfecter of our faith" (see Heb.12:2), submitting to His Lordship in your life.  Then you will truly have A Happy New Year - this year, and every year, for as long as you live on this earth; and  a happiness beyond measure, throughout eternity.