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Friday, 31 October 2014

"Hallowe'en" - is it an acceptable Christian celebration?

"Ghoulies and Ghosties, And Long Leggedy Beasties, And things that go Bump in the night"

I don't know the origin of that well-known phrase - but it does seem appropriate for a post for October 31st!   But the question in the heading is a serious one.   It has concerned me, for many years, that not only do many parents, who would claim to be followers of the Lord Jesus, the Christ, dress up their children, on this evening in the year, in weird and wonderful costumes and, in some cases, permit them to go out knocking on other people's doors, hoping for a reward of sweets or cash; but that even some congregations and fellowships that bear the name of the Christ, put on a special "Hallowe'en" party for their children at this time of the year!

Are they all wrong to act in this way?  Or is it perfectly acceptable - and I am just an old fuddy-duddy?

Well, let's look at the topic.  First of all, note the way in which I spell the word.  That apostrophe stands for the letter 'v', so the word is really "Halloweven" or, more fully, "Hallowed (Holy) Evening".  Now, that certainly makes it sound as if it could be a Christian festival.  Au contraire, mes amis (I am in France at the moment!).  Halloween and its practices are Romanist and Pagan in origin.  “In its strictly religious aspect, this occasion is known as the vigil of Hallowmas of All Saint’s Day, Nov. 1, observed by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. Pope Gregory III (731 to 741 AD) assigned this date for celebrating of the feast when he consecrated a chapel in Saint Peter’s basilica to all the saints. Gregory IV extended the feast to the entire Roman Catholic church in 834 AD” “There is little doubt that the Roman Catholic church sought to eliminate or supplant the Druid festival of the dead by introducing the alternative observance of All Saint’s Day on Nov. 1.” (Encyclopedia Britannica).

However, the popular secular observance of Halloween, falling on the night of Oct. 31, is derived from the rights of the Druids celebrating the day of Samhain, the so called “lord of death”, when the “lord of death” called together the souls of the wicked who had died during the past year. The theme of harvest, which runs through modern Halloween celebrations, comes from both the old Druidic celebrations and the old Roman festivals in honor of Pomona, goddess of fruit, brought to Britain during the Roman occupation.  This is the reason why an apple is a traditional 'gift' to those who go around knocking on doors and demanding "trick or treat"! 

Of course, the “trick or treat” concept implies the threat of force and violence. Surely, to teach children such attitudes and concepts is completely contrary to the teachings of the Lord Jesus, the Christ.   The very word "trick" implies "deceit".   Do we really wish to encourage our children to be deceitful?   Is there not enough of that particular commodity going around already?

Paul advised some of the early followers of Jesus to "... have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." (Eph.5:11).  He told another group to "Abstain from all appearance of evil." (I Thess.5:22; emphasis added).  He advised young Timothy that "... the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons."  (I Tim.4:1).

Perhaps it is time for all who truly love the Lord Jesus, and who have received His salvation from sin through the shedding of His precious blood at Calvary, to take a stand on this issue.  Perhaps, next year, more congregations and fellowships will do what I know some already practice - a "Festival of Light" as an alternative to the secular Halloween activities.  Perhaps Christian parents will seek to instil the love of God into their children's hearts and minds, rather than the symbols of death that are so common at this time of year.

By the way, today is also celebrated in the Reformed (Protestant) Church - particularly the German Lutheran Church - as Reformation Day. This commemorates Martin Luther’s nailing of his ninety-five theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, on October 31, 1517, thus provoking a debate that culminated finally in what we now call the Protestant Reformation.

Now there might be a better cause to celebrate!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Euthanasia - gone berserk!

I have never tried to hide my total opposition to both abortion and euthanasia (aka assisted suicide/dying).  I have signed petitions; written to MPs and MSPs; published posts on this very blog; and written letters to various newspapers.   I thought that I was fully aware of most of the issues involved.  However, I have just read an extremely disturbing report on LifeNews.com   I have been unable to confirm the report but, if this is true, then the UK Justice system has, in my opinion, reached a new low.  I have edited the following for the sake of comparative brevity.

"Nancy Fitzmaurice, born blind with hydrocephalus, meningitis and septicaemia, could not walk, talk, eat or drink, the Mirror reported.  Her health was so poor she required 24-hour care and was fed, watered and medicated by tube at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. Her health deteriorated and, as she grew, she would scream in agony for hours despite being given morphine and ketamine.

Her mother, Charlotte Fitzmaurice Wise, knew the pain her daughter was suffering was too much for the 12-year-old to bear. She deserved to be at peace and had the right to die, knew her heartbroken mother, who had given up work as a nurse to be with her. (emphases added).   …“The light from her eyes is now gone and is replaced with fear and a longing to be at peace. “Today I am appealing to you for Nancy as I truly believe she has endured enough. For me to say that breaks my heart.  …Her application was granted immediately, setting a precedent. It is the first time a child breathing on her own, not on life support and not suffering a terminal illness has been allowed to die in the UK. (emphasis in the original).

The judge praised Wise for her “love and devotion” towards her daughter… which was shown by her fight to kill Nancy. The judge ruled that she had no quality of life anymore, and therefore, she should be killed by refusing to give her any food or water until she died. It took her 14 days to die. Wise claimed that she wanted to end her daughter’s suffering and give her death with dignity, but she chose to do that by making her daughter suffer a slow, agonizing, painful death. How does that make any sense? (emphasis added).

Dehydration and starvation is horrible for a person to endure. The body is about 60 percent water, and under normal conditions, an average person will lose about a quart of water each day by sweating and breathing and another one to three quarts by urinating. In the heat, and under more difficult physical conditions, that amount increases.  If it’s not replaced over time and dehydration becomes severe, cells throughout the body will begin to shrink as water moves out of them and into the blood stream, part of the body’s efforts to keep the organs perfused in fluid. “All the cells will shrink,” said Jeffrey Berns, president-elect of the USoA National Kidney Foundation and a nephrologist at the University of Pennsylvania, “but the ones that count are the brain cells. They don’t operate normally when they’re shrinking.” Changes in mental status will follow, including confusion and ultimately coma, he said. As the brain becomes smaller, it takes up less room in the skull and blood vessels connecting it to the inside of the cranium can pull away and rupture. … Victims’ kidneys may shut down first, as they continue to lack access to both water and salt. The kidneys cleanse the blood of waste products which, under normal conditions, are excreted in urine. Without water, blood volume will decline and all the organs will start to fail. Kidney failure will soon lead to disastrous consequences and ultimately death as blood volume continues to fall and waste products that should be eliminated from the body remain.  In addition to all of those, of course, there are the natural pangs of hunger, and the total lack of nutrition.

So to end a person’s supposed suffering — a person who is not terminally ill, is not on any life support, and can breathe on their own — we must make them suffer a slow, painful, horrific death. But only if they’re disabled, apparently.  ... because this girl, a child, is severely disabled, it’s considered acceptable. Putting a bullet in her head would have been kinder, because it at least would have been immediate. But then we can’t tap dance around the fact that what this mother did is murder.

Wise assumes, as many people do, that a person wouldn’t want to live in such a way. But no one knows how her daughter felt about her quality of life and whether or not she wanted to live. No one knows how her daughter felt in those 14 days that she was being starved and dehydrated. And no one cares. Nancy Fitzmaurice was disabled and could not speak, so she was brutally, cruelly murdered, with the permission of her government. And notice that the suffering Wise spoke of repeatedly was her own, not her daughter’s. She couldn’t bear seeing her daughter like that. She was going through “torture” watching her daughter in pain. So she petitioned the court to get permission to force her daughter to die a slow, painful death instead of seeking palliative care.

It’s become appropriate in the United Kingdom to kill a person now because it’s too much of a hassle to keep them alive. It’s legal for parents to murder their children because they’re disabled, because they can’t speak for themselves, because the parent has decided that their lives are not worth living anymore. And we call it death with dignity."

Is it too much to suggest that this tragic situation is the result of abortion being so accepted as a mother's choice.  Now, we have slipped into the idea that a mother can have her child killed - her choice, not that of the child. Last century, there was an organization that not only advocated the "mercy killing" of the disabled, but also carried it out. They were known as Nazis. 

If anyone can provide confirmation of this report or, indeed, evidence to refute it, please let me know by e-mailing me at the address at the top of the page.  Thank you.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Shalom.

This evening, at Café Church (now known as Café Christian Fellowship), Bergerac, I had the privilege of bringing the message.  It was based on John 20:19-31, and was titled Being a Peacemaker.  We looked at the wonderful Hebrew word, 'shalom', which is translated 'peace' in English-language translations.  The Greek word in the passage that we read is 'eirene' - but that word is translated by 'shalom' in the Greek-language version of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament).

Okay, so that's the linguistic introduction!  'Shalom' is, however, much more than 'peace' in the sense of 'absence of hostility.  It is, in fact, the peace of Almighty God - an absolute, and total, contentment - and it's available to you, and to me!  It's a personal peace.

However, it is also a relational peace.  I quoted Charlie Brown (from the Snoopy cartoon strips) this evening.  In one particular strip, he said: "I love this beautiful world that God has made.  It's just the people I can't stand!"  I also quoted the older 'jingle': "To be above with saints we love, will be the purest glory.  To be below with saints we know - well, that's a different story"!   Most of us live in some sort of community or other, and it's important that we develop a strategy to cope with this togetherness.  At least part of that strategy is given by the Lord Jesus in the passage.  It's to do with forgiveness!  Is it easy?  Absolutely not!  But if we are partakers of the 'shalom' of God, that will make it easier!   If we are at peace with ourselves, we can be at peace with others, and we can gladly forgive.

The third aspect of 'shalom' is the eternal one, as we find ourselves at peace with God.  That, after all, is the most crucial objective of the coming of the Lord Jesus into the time-space continuum in which we live out our mortal lives.  Paul wrote: "... if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them..  And He has committed to us, the message of reconciliation." (II Cor.5:17-19).  Indeed, it is out of His forgiveness of us, that we are called to forgive those around us!

Jesus said: "Blessed (and the word means 'Happy'!) are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the sons of God."(Matt.5:9).  But I can't be a peacemaker if I don't know peace with God myself!

Shalom!  It's a great word: speaking of peace within, as I experience forgiveness of my personal sins; peace with others, as I am enabled, by the grace of God, to forgive them in turn; peace with God, as I am reconciled to my Father in heaven, through the precious blood of Jesus, shed for me at Calvary.

Do you know that 'shalom' in your own life?  If not, do you long to experience it?  I would be delighted to be of some assistance to you.  Please feel free to contact me using the e-mail address at the top of the page.  Alternatively, if you go to 'My favourite links', you will find a coupls of links that may be of help.

Blessings, and shalom.

Friday, 24 October 2014

I don't believe it!

Apologies to TV character, Victor Meldrew, for the heading!  However, I have just received a comment on a friend's Facebook page, that was directed at me, and which I can't recall having had said to me ever before.  It was just two words long: "Damn you!"

Now, if I have your attention, I must add that it was not said in any nasty way.  The reason behind it was that our mutual friend had put up one of these "Check your IQ" posts and I had come up with a nice 132 (placing me, I was assured, in the top 2% of the population.  And many of you think that I am just a pretty face!).  The other person had only managed 118.  My friend, by the way, managed 122, but these 'tests' are not always 100% accurate themselves, and even IQ isn't all that it is sometimes cracked up to be!

Of course, the Bible has a particular slant on knowledge.  In the ancient book of Proverbs, we read that: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;" (Prov 1:7).  It must be noted that the Hebrew word translated 'fear', has nothing to do with being afraid, but refers to having a healthy reverence for Almighty God.  So, true knowledge, according to the written Word of God, begins with our relationship with Him!  That relationship can only be based on our relationship with the Lord Jesus, the Christ, God the Son [for an explanation of the Trinity, see my book: details at the top of the page!].

But there is also wisdom - and the two words are not synonymous!  The same book of Proverbs has much to say about wisdom, also: "Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gets understanding, for the gain from it is better than gain from silver and its profit better than gold." (Prov 3:13-14).

I have known many who have a great deal of knowledge; I have known fewer who have real understanding; I know only a few who have wisdom.  It is something that comes, usually, with age and experience.  That is perhaps one reason why the agèd apostle, Paul, writing to his son in the faith, Timothy, and advising him with regard to the running of a fellowship of disciples of Jesus, told him: "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, ..." (I Tim 5:22).  In other words, he was not to 'promote' those who had only recently become followers of Jesus to positions of responsibility within the Church - an injunction, I would add, that ought to be taken to heart in our contemporary society!

So, I have (allegedly) an IQ of 132.  Very nice.  But do I have Godly wisdom?  That is of much greater importance.  And what about you?!

It should, perhaps, be noted that the book of Proverbs (and, indeed, the whole of the Bible) has many more references to both 'knowledge' and 'wisdom'.  It would be a worthwhile study to look at all of them - over a period of time.  Doing so might even help to make one wise!




Saturday, 18 October 2014

Rites of Passage.

In my teaching career, one of the units taught to S1 pupils concerned Rites of Passage.  This refers to the four major events in a person's life that are celebrated, in some way, by every culture known to mankind.  These are Birth, Coming of Age, Marriage, and Death.

These are also areas that, in recent decades, in some of the more 'civilised' nations in the world, have become increasingly under attack from a secular, atheistic, humanism that would have us all made in its own image - rather than in the image of the Creator God Who is responsible for our very existence.

Birth.  It was in 1967 that abortion became legal within the UK.  Since then, around 10 million babies have been callously murdered in the very place in which they ought to have been best protected - their mothers' wombs.  And that is in England, Scotland, and Wales alone!  By the way, if you missed my brief series on abortion - "Womb - or tomb?" - you can scroll down to the Blog Archive; click on "August", and then scroll down to Tuesday, 19th for the first article.  Birth, in far too many cases, is not being celebrated - it is being prevented!

Coming of age.  It is the case, as I type, that it is when one reaches the age of 18 years that, in the UK, one is considered to have 'come of age'.  Of course, as my pupils were quick to point out, the age varies for different activities - from joining the Armed Forces, to purchasing alcohol, to acquiring a mortgage.  However, for at least two - maybe three - generations, we seem to have been encouraging our children to 'grow up' far too quickly.  Beauty Pageants, at least in the USoA, for toddlers - dressed up by their mothers in 'sexy' outfits (must be some sort of paedophile 'heaven'!), to Clubs and bars being frequented by children who have barely left puberty, to 'under-age' sexual activity.  And much of this with the knowledge, and tacit approval, of parents/guardians!

Marriage.  In the UK, with the honourable exception of N.Ireland, marriage has been redefined as being the union of any two persons, regardless of gender.  This has been, effectively, a response by politicians to a sustained lobbying exercise by those representing (according to recent National Office of Statistics report) a mere 1.6% of the population.  A massive petition opposing the move, in both Westminster and Holyrood, was ignored.  Of course, it is arguable, given revelations since, that the reason for that is that the percentage of those who practise deviant sexual relations, is much higher in government circles than in the population at large!  Now, I read that an OFSTED inspection in a Jewish school resulted in pupils feeling bullied, and traumatised, by the questions asked - questions such as "Do you know that it is acceptable for two men to be married to one another?"  Marriage, instead of being a relationship in which a man and a woman fulfil God's plan for them, and produce a family (something that no two people of the same gender can ever do, on their own!), has become a declaration of deviance that is sanctioned by the state.

Death.  There was a time when death came to most people before they reached 80 years of age.  Today, in the western world, more and more people are living to be centenarians.  At least, that is what we would like to think.  However, the constant push by some for the legalisation of euthanasia, and assisted dying/suicide, shows that death is becoming a marketable commodity - think Dignitas in Switzerland, or the whole situation in the Netherlands!   The tragedy of such a situation was shown by a newspaper report just a few days ago: 

"An elderly husband and wife have announced their plans to die in the world's first 'couple' euthanasia - despite neither of them being terminally ill.
Instead the pair fear loneliness if the other one dies first from natural causes.
Identified only by their first names, Francis, 89, and Anne, 86, they have the support of their three adult children who say they would be unable to care for either parent if they became widowed.
The children have even gone so far as to find a practitioner willing to carry out the double killings on the grounds that the couple's mental anguish constituted the unbearable suffering needed to legally justify euthanasia.
… The couple's daughter has remarked that her parents are talking about their deaths as eagerly as if they were planning a holiday.
John Paul [their son] said the double euthanasia of his parents was the 'best solution'.  'If one of them should die, who would remain would be so sad and totally dependent on us,' he said. 'It would be impossible for us to come here every day, to take care of our father or our mother.'"

One commentator has responded like this:  "I wonder why no one considers the fact that the reason some elderly parents may experience “mental anguish” is that they have come to the sickening realisation that their grown children would rather find an executioner to dispatch them, than take on the responsibility of caring for their parents. Imagine the thoughts of a mother realising that the child she fed and rocked to sleep, played with and sang to, would rather have her killed than care for her; that their relationship really does have a price."
When I consider all of that, I confess to being glad that I am now out of the RME classroom.  My fear is that those who are in may be pushing the kind of agenda that is mirrored above!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Minor changes!

Two changes to the blog have occurred over the past couple of weeks.  The first was the realisation that the visit counter had disappeared.  That is something that probably isn't of any interest to anyone other than me!

However, in my endeavour to reinstate it, I also managed to delete the Disqus gadget that had taken over the Comments facility.  Regretfully, this has meant that all previous comments appear to have disappeared!  I don't know the source of the Disqus embedded file, so I am unable to restore it - and to see if the comments are restored at the same time!  If anyone does know how this might be achieved, I am always open to good advice!

I have also been having difficulty inserting a fresh counter.  I have been unable to find the code that I was using - which could mean that its provider has closed down, and that that is the reason for the sudden disappearance of the counter!    I did note the last figure, and have another means of checking the visits to an individual post, so I can make a fairly accurate guess at the current number.  If anyone can direct me to a straightforward counter, that allows a start number to be inserted, I would be grateful for that also.  I have tried one - but it hasn't appeared, and an e-mail to the provider has elicited a zero response!

At least I am able to keep posting, so do keep looking - and encourage others to do the same!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Perhaps today!

Blood Moons; Tetrads; the unexpected return of Halley's Comet.  Talk about 'signs in the heavens'!  Many people appear to be predicting some kind of cataclysmic event that will herald the end of the world.  "We're doomed, Mr Mainwaring!  Doomed, ah tell ye!" (with apologies to Pte. Fraser!).
So what, exactly, is happening?  Well, I make no claim to be an astronomer, so am unwilling to make any specific pronouncements concerning the above phenomena.  However, I do know a wee bit about the Bible, and about the Christian faith - and it certainly speaks of an event that will eclipse any of those mentioned above.
The church has known for some 2,000 years that Jesus is coming back. He made it perfectly clear.And then at last, the sign of the coming of the Son of Man will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the nations of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man arrive on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Mt.24:30); “when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit upon His glorious throne.” (Mt.25:31); “Then everyone will see the Son of Man arrive on the clouds with great power and glory.” (Mk.13:26, Lk21:27); “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (Jn.14:3)
And the apostle Paul adds to the evidence.  In that great passage in his first letter to the believers in Thessalonica, he writes: “And now, brothers and sisters, I want you to know what will happen to the Christians who have died so you will not be full of sorrow like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus comes, God will bring back with Jesus all the Christians who have died.  I can tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet Him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with Him forever. So comfort and encourage each other with these words.” (4:13-18)
So, left in no doubt that Jesus is going to return – not, this time, as a helpless infant in a mucky, smelly, part of a building that was reserved for the family’s animals; but breaking into all that we know, as King of kings, and Lord of lords.
When the disciples asked Jesus about the date of His return (Matt. 24:3), He told them that only God the Father knows: "However, no one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son Himself.  Only the Father knows." (v.36).
He went on to explain that people will be going about their ordinary business; He pointed out that His coming again will be a time of separation between people who are even working together; He reminds us that if we knew that something was going to happen, we would be prepared. Then He urged His followers - now, as well as then - to be prepared so that they would not be taken by surprise. "You also must be ready all the time. For the Son of Man will come when least expected." (v.44).
The true story is told that, while he was president of the USA, Dwight Eisenhower was on holiday in Denver, Colorado.  He was told about a 6-year-old boy, Paul Haley who was dying of an incurable cancer, and that the little boy had expressed the wish that he might meet the president.  Eisenhower immediately decided to grant the boy’s wish and, one Sunday afternoon, a big black limousine arrived in the street where Paul lived. Out stepped the president with his bodyguards and knocked on the door. Paul's father answered, wearing old jeans, a grubby shirt and a full day's growth on his beard. "Can I help ya?" he asked. Eisenhower responded, "Is Paul here? Tell him the President of the United States would like to meet with him." Absolutely thrilled, little Paul Haley walked around his father's legs and stood looking up into the face he admired most. The president kneeled down, hugged him and took him out to sit in the presidential limo. Before they said good-bye, they shook hands, then just as suddenly as Eisenhower had appeared - he left.
The neighbours still talk about that day. But one man was not entirely happy about it - and that was Paul's dad, Donald Haley, who said: "I'll never forget standing there in those old jeans, a dirty shirt and a grubby beard to meet the president. If only I'd known he was coming."
We do know, and we await the coming of One Who is much more important than even the president of the USA.  Listen: "He (Jesus) will appear a second time… to those who are waiting for Him" (Hebrews 9:28 NIV). If you want to go - you've got to be ready!
We don't know when Jesus will return; He may come at any time. Dr. Richard De Haan, founder of Radio Bible Class Ministries, kept a two-word motto in his office: "Perhaps Today."
My wife and I were making some plans for our retirement a long time before we actually retired..  However, we constantly made it clear that they were our plans – that Lord might have something totally different in mind.  By the way - He did!  Of course, we also recognised that we might never have the opportunity to put those plans into action – because Jesus might have returned first! 
When you make your daily plans, are you aware that the Christ may return? Are you ready; prepared to meet Him?  Many are already making preparation for the celebration of His first coming; but give no thought to His second!
I have a strong background in the Boys' Brigade.  I was never involved with the Scouting movement.  But I love the Scout motto: Be prepared!! 
If you’re not ready when the president, or any other 'dignitary' visits your home, you might regret it for the rest of your life.  If you’re not ready when Jesus returns, then you will definitely regret it – for all of eternity!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Thorns and brambles.

It's been a long week - with a lot of it spent in travelling, as we (my wife and I) made our way back to our static caravan in the Gironde area of France.  We are, once again, so very grateful to friends who provide us with hospitality on out journeys - on this occasion, specifically the Loudons in Maidstone, and the Rouffets in Seclin.

This afternoon, we took a wee walk around the lake at the camp-site in order to gather some brambles (blackberries in the UK furth of Scotland, and mûres in France!).  A lot are not quite ripe, so there will be much more harvesting over the next week or two!

As we gathered, I recalled what was probably the first time that we had done so in our married life together.  We were on our way back from a wee camping trip to the northernmost part of Scotland, having stayed at a site with the delightful name "Grannie's Hielan' Hame", and driven up to John o' Groats, Dunnet Head, Wick, and Thurso.  Of course, in those far-off days,  the site didn't have the heated indoor pool, and the other attractions that are advertised on its website today!  It was on our way back home, travelling along the northern shore of Loch Ness (and keeping an eye out for Nessie, of course!), that we spied a veritable plethora of those delicious black berries near to Fort Augustus.

We quickly realised that berry-picking is not as straightforward as it might be thought to be!  In spite of the abundance of that delicious fruit, it took us some time to fill every available container.  The problem was the thorns!   They tore at our hands; they caught on our clothes; they made collecting those berries a difficult task.  However, we persevered.  Why?  Because we knew that there would be a great reward - a freezer filled with bramble and apple pies that, with some custard, would provide pudding for many, many meals - and for a few months!

The life of the disciple of Jesus can be a bit like picking brambles!   There are those who claim that, if we yield our lives to His control, then everything in the garden will be, forever, rosy; that all of our problems will disappear; that life will be one big party.  That, I have to make clear, is a lie.  It is, indeed, a lie that comes from the very pit of hell.  Strong words, you might be thinking, but they are true.

In spite of the pronouncements of certain well-known preachers, Jesus never promised a life of ease, prosperity, material wealth, and freedom from disease.  Rather, throughout the Gospel records (contact me for a list of references!), He makes it clear that being His disciple will bring hardship, persecution, imprisonment, and even death.  He assures His followers that they will be despised, and reviled.  He speaks about counting the cost.   In terms of our bramble picking, He clearly points out the thorns!

However, this is the same Jesus Who has promised that He will be with His true followers to the end of the age; that He will never leave them, nor forsake them; that He has gone to prepare a place for them, and that where He is, they will be also.  That, we might say, is the brambles!

So, what I am trying to share here is simply this - that if you are a true disciple of Jesus, you may expect that life will not be smooth and trouble-free.  Indeed, it will be the very opposite as the devil prowls around, like a raging lion, seeking whom he may devour.  However, you may also be assured of His company through even the most difficult of times.  If you wish concrete proof of that, get involved with the persecuted believers in some 50 countries worldwide!

We enjoyed an apple and bramble crumble this evening.  It made the thorns worthwhile.  When we reach that eternal dimension that we refer to as 'heaven', then we will see that all of the difficulties were worthwhile, as we then spend that great eternal day in His wonderful presence - seeing Him, face-to-face, and knowing even as we are known.  Hallelujah!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Grace!

This morning we had a particular visitor at Wishaw Baptist Church - a young lady named Grace, the younger sister of our current Youth Worker, and one of the loveliest young people I know.  When I composed yesterday's post, I had no idea that I would see Grace today, but it is very appropriate that I did!

Yesterday, having commented on the fact that, in that realm/dimension that we call heaven, there will be no denominations, but that what will be important will be our discipleship of Jesus, I ended by saying that there is more.  Permit me to illustrate by a story!

A man died, and arrived (as in the popular picture) at the Pearly Gates.  There he was met by St Peter - carrying a clip-board and a pen (perhaps that should now be updated to a Tablet, or some similar electronic device!).  Peter explained to the man that, in order to go through the Pearly Gates, he had to acquire 100 points.  The man was rather shocked (I hope that you are, too!).

"100 points!", he said.  "Nobody warned me about that.  How do I get them?"

"Well," said Peter, why do you think that you should be allowed to enter heaven?"

The man thought!  Then he said, "You know, I was a faithful husband for 47 years; caring for my wife; never cheating on her."

"That's very good," said Peter, "Three points.  Anything else?"

The man was aghast!  "Well,", he said, "my wife and I had four children, and I was a good father to them, and provided for all their needs."

"Excellent!" responded the saint.  "That's worth another three points."

The man thought.  Then: "I was a good, and honest employee with the same company, for 52 years - never took extra time at breaks; first in every morning; last to leave in the evening; never stole as much as a paper-clip."

"Wonderful!" exclaimed Peter, "You've just gained another two points."

"Wait a minute!" said the man.  "Of course!  I attended my church fellowship regularly; tithed my income; made a freewill offering on top of that; served as an elder for 26 years; and often preached the Word at church meetings."

"I wondered when you would get around to that." said Peter.  "Now you're getting somewhere.  That's a full ten points.!

"Ten!" exclaimed the man.  "Only ten!  How many have I got, now?"

Peter totted up the points.  "That looks like eighteen." he replied.

"And I need 100?" the man asked.

"That's the goal", said Peter.

"At this rate," responded the man. "only the grace of God will get me in!"

"100 points." said Peter.  "Welcome!"

It's only a humorous story, but it does make a very important point.  Not only does my denominational background make no difference with regard to heaven; nor do my good works - however commendable they may be (and, of course, I am only too aware of my own failures and shortcomings - what the Bible refers to, simply, as my sins!).  The only way by which I may gain eternal life is the grace of God.  My book Great Words of the Faith (see the heading) has a chapter on the word, but suffice it to say, just now, that it is receiving, from God, what I don't deserve.  By the way, mercy, which is often linked to grace, is not receiving from God, what I do deserve!

Are you trying to 'work' your way to heaven?  Are you hoping that, when you die physically, you will have done enough good to over-ride the bad you know you've done?  Are you depending on a kind of 'balance sheet' salvation?

If you are, please give it up - right now!  You have failed, even before you start.  "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).

Grace - it's the only way!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Label - or badge?

This afternoon, I spent a couple of hours with one of my former pupils.  I am delighted that there are a number of them with whom I meet, from time-to-time, for coffee (or tea) and a chat.  During the course of our conversation, I mentioned that there was a time when I dreamed of being inducted into a country parish, where I would have a horse and a dog, and would attend to my parish visitation on horseback - a latter-day John Wesley!

Okay, so some 'delusions of grandeur' creeping in there!  I forgot to mention to my young friend that the dog would always come with me, running alongside my trusty steed.

John Wesley was, at one time, somewhat biased with regard to denominations.  Then, it is recorded, he had a dream in which he seemed to be transported to the very gates of hell.  Seizing the opportunity, he inquired: "Are there any Presbyterians here?"  "Yes", was the reply.  "Any Romanists?", he asked.  "Yes", he was informed.  "What about Congregationalists, and Anglicans?"  "Both are here", came the answer.   Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, hesitated.  "Not any Methodists, I hope!"   To his dismay, he received the same, affirmative, response.

Suddenly, the scene changed, and he stood at the gate of heaven.  Once again he asked, "Are there any Presbyterians here?"  "No", was the reply.  He went down through the same list as before, each time receiving the same answer - "No!", until he came to the question that most interested him.  "Are there any Methodists here?"  He was shocked to, yet again, receive the same, stern, reply, "No!"

"Well then", he asked, "please tell me who is in heaven."  "!" was the jubilant Disciples of Jesusanswer.

When I attended Grammar School, we wore a uniform.  Part of that uniform was a blazer.  Each blazer had a label that gave some important information about the garment - the size; the material; the name of the manufacturer; the cleaning instructions.  That label was usually either at the back, under the collar, or in the inside pocket - both places out of sight.  However, each blazer also had a badge.  This was the school crest, and it stated the name of my school.  That badge was worn, proudly, on the breast pocket, in full view of any who cared to look.

Within the Christian Church, there are many labels, as John Wesley knew.  They provide, concerning each denomination, or other grouping, some important information regarding that group - the type of church government it espouses; its belief about the appropriate subjects for water baptism; its approach to the gifts of God the Holy Spirit; etc.  However, as a disciple of Jesus, I have a badge.  That badge is "Christian" ('disciple of Jesus' is a clarification of a word that has, sadly, become greatly devalued), and it is that badge that I wear, proudly, for all to see.  It is also that badge that identifies other disciples, and enables us to enjoy a unity of spirit that, I am convinced, is available nowhere else!

If I may use popular figurative language, when I arrive at the pearly gates, Peter will not ask if I was a Presbyterian, Baptist, Charismatic, or whatever.  All that I will require to gain entry is my badge - disciple of Jesus.  Well, actually, there is a bit more - but I've gone on long enough, so I'll share that in the next post!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Look to the past - for a glimpse of the future!

So the Conservative Party Conference has ended.  And what a rousing (undoubtedly prepared by others!) speech from the leader of the Party!  How well he spoke to his audience (the old words "preaching to the choir" came to mind!); how convincing he must have been to many of the electorate.  However, he did make, in my opinion, one major faux pas.  In the context of the renegotiations that he expects to be conducting with the EU, after the May General Election, and speaking to those who expect little, or nothing, to come of them, he declared: "To anyone who thinks I can't, or won't, deliver this I will say, 'Judge me by my record'!"

It may be unfortunate for Mr Cameron, but I believe that that is exactly what great numbers of the British electorate are already doing!  It's not a record that would, even politically, engender any confidence at all in the Prime Minister's negotiating, or any other, skills.  He promised - indeed, gave a "cast-iron guarantee" of - a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty; but dropped it like the proverbial hot potato as soon as he gained office, and imposed a three-line whip to stop an EU referendum bill. He promised that, under his coalition government, net immigration to this island nation would be reduced to tens of thousands.  We are now paying France to try to stop illegal ''economic migrants" from entering the UK.  Please note, I am not in any way against the provision of asylum (sanctuary) for those who are genuinely in fear of their lives.  But far too many of those who come to the UK do so, not because they require a place of safety - that should be the first safe country they enter, not the one to which they travel through at least two other safe countries! - but because we provide them with the most generous benefits!  A legal 'marriage' service may now be held between two persons of the same gender - and the PM has even stated that he wants to export this deviance around the world - "Judge me by my record"?  Not a good idea, Mr Cameron - from your perspective!

Of course, not everyone is like the current holder of the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.   I am a fan of one particular make-up of The Gaither Vocal Band - Mark Lowry, Guy Penrod, David Phelps and, of course, Bill Gaither.  In one of their recorded songs is this chorus: "But now, more than ever, I sit at the cross; more than ever, I sit at His feet.  The days of my journey have proved my Lord true, and He is so precious to me."  I love those words "The days of my journey have proved my Lord true."  They're a reminder that the Lord can be trusted - absolutely.  I have proved Him so often in the past; I know that I can trust Him for the present, and the future.  His is a record that stands up to to the closest of scrutinies.  He is totally dependable.  As the writer of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus wrote: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever." (Heb 13:8).

One of the Psalmists summed it up nicely when he penned these words: "Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help. ... ... Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in YHWH his God, ..." (Ps 146:3, 5).

Exactly what the Conservative Party, if returned to government in May, will produce can still only be the subject of speculation.  The dependability of Almighty God, especially for those who are His adopted children, justified through His grace and through the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, at Calvary, is certain.  Hallelujah!

dropped it like a hot potato as soon as he gained office, telling the whips office to form a 3 line whip to stop an EU referendum bill.
"Anyone who thinks I can't or won't deliver this, I will say 'judge me by my record".
"Anyone who thinks I can't or won't deliver this, I will say 'judge me by my record".
"Anyone who thinks I can't or won't deliver this, I will say 'judge me by my record".
"Anyone who thinks I can't or won't deliver this, I will say 'judge me by my record".
"Anyone who thinks I can't or won't deliver this, I will say 'judge me by my record".