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Sunday, 30 November 2014

St Andrew's Day

I wonder if I am alone in sometimes wishing that I was "someone else"?   Not that I have any desire to be one of the modern, so-called, 'celebrities' - whether in the world of sport, or of entertainment, or of business.  No, when I think like that, I want to be a Billy Graham; a Luis Palau; a John Wesley; a Martin Luther; even a Peter, or a Paul!

Of course, such idle dreamings are exactly that - no more, and no less.  I have not been gifted in the same way as these men were/are.  I believe that I may have been used by God, just as they have been - but not to the same extent.  That's why their names are known to history; mine is confined to family, friends, and acquaintances - and a few Christian fellowships!

Today is November 30th, the day in the Christian calendar dedicated to St. Andrew, one of the first of the disciples of Jesus, the Christ, and the patron saint of Scotland (as well as Greece, and Russia).  According to John, it was Andrew who first introduced his brother, Simon, to Jesus, (John 1:40-42) and Jesus gave Simon that name of Peter, a rock: an indication of what he was to become, but certainly not what he was then.  I find that to be very encouraging!  God sees you and me, not as we are but as what we may, by His grace, become.

Peter became one of great leaders of early Christian community.  He wrote two of the letters that have been preserved for us in the Bible.  But without Andrew, there might not have been a Peter.

Some may recall the old Negro spiritual that says:  “If you can’t preach like Peter, if you can’t pray like Paul; just go and tell your neighbour, and say Christ died for all.” (There is a balm in Gilead).  And it may be that, by the grace of God, it is your neighbour who will then be the Peter, or the Paul, or the Billy Graham.

Tradition says that Andrew was crucified – but on a cross shaped like an X.  That’s the origin of the Scottish national flag, the Saltire.  The story is that, before a battle with an English king, Angus mac Fergus, king of the Picts – the people who lived in the lowlands – had a dream in which Andrew appeared and promised him victory.  During the battle, a Saltire cross was seen in the sky and this encouraged Angus and his troops.  After his victory, Angus ordered that the Saltire be the badge of the Picts.

Andrew is a saint – but according to the New Testament, so am I, and so are you if you belong to Jesus.  A little boy was asked to explain what a saint is.  He remembered that, in the church building his family attended, there were stained glass windows with pictures of some of the saints in the Bible, and how beautiful they looked when the sunlight shone through them.  So he answered that a saint is somebody that the light shines through!

Jesus said: “I am the Light of the world”.  But the only way in which some will see Him is if we allow Him to shine through us! 

You and I may never be a Peter, or a Paul – but we may be an Andrew, letting the light of the Lord Jesus shine through us, that others might come to know Him, and receive Him as their own Saviour and Lord.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Marriage!

Marriage is in the air!  In the past couple of weeks, we have attended the Christian wedding of the daughter of good friends; three of my former pupils have been married (two of them to each other!); and I read about a couple, Mr and Mrs Chand, who have just celebrated their 89th wedding anniversary!  That makes my wife and me, after a mere 44 years, still 'learners'!  By the way, the photograph that accompanied the newspaper article suggests that they are a very happy couple - and could still have a few years to go!  Next week, we attend another Christian wedding in Aberdeen, and next spring I know that another of my pupils is being married, and a couple of Christian friends will also be "tying the knot"!

So what is this marriage business?  I think that it was Groucho Marx who stated that "Marriage is a great institution ..." but went on to ask "... but who wants to live in an institution?"  Mae West, I believe, made a similar comment.  Of course, in a number of countries, marriage has been redefined - almost to the point of allowing it to mean whatever someone wants it to mean.  One report that I did not mention above, was of a man who, allegedly, was 'married' to a tree!

"Marriage," I used to say, "is a state of life provided and initiated by God.  It has been blessed by the presence of Jesus Himself at the marriage is Cana of Galilee.  In Holy Scripture it is commended as honourable in all, and the marriage union is seen as a symbol of the union of loyalty and love that exists between Christ and His people.  ... ... ...
"It was given for the sake of the life-long companionship, help, and comfort that husband and wife ought to have of each other.
"It was given so that family life may continue, and that children, who are a gift from God, may be brought up in the love and security of a stable and happy home.
"It was given for the welfare of human society, which can be strong and happy only where the marriage commitment is kept and honoured."

Now, of course, the marriage service that I conducted was much more than those words - but those are the words that provide the basis of marriage - certainly from a Christian point of view.   I would sometimes point out that a truly Christian marriage is like a triangle.  The base line of that triangle joins the husband and the wife.  One side joins the Lord to the husband; the other side joins the Lord to the wife.  Now, in any marriage, there will be - especially in the early years as the couple learn to adjust to, and live with, one another - difficulties.  That base line may sometimes crack.  However, as long as the sides remain strong, the triangle stands.  It is only if one, or both, of the sides fractures, that the triangle collapses.

What I am saying is that a solid relationship with the Lord, while not offering a 100% guarantee, will increase the possibility of a strong, stable, marriage that is honouring to Him.   What I am not saying is that only truly Christian marriages can last - the Chands are proof of that!

I do pray for the couples of whose marriage plans I am aware.  None of us may have a marriage that lasts as long as the Chands (death usually takes one partner before the other), but all of us who are married are able to work at our marriages and, with God's help, to make them a good example to those around us.  In our current 'western' society, such examples are needed!


Saturday, 22 November 2014

How to preach the Word of God.

Another bus journey, yesterday - to Coatbridge - meant another opportunity to read a couple of chapters of my current reading material on the life and work of George Müller.  This time, the topic that spoke to, and encouraged, me was that of the proclamation of the Word of God.

In my mind, I went back (too!) many years to my time at the Bible Training Institute, in Glasgow.  It was during the summer between the two academic years that I received a very clear call to pastoral ministry.  This meant that, when students gave their testimonies as to what the Lord had done with them during the long break, I had to say that I would be going to University as I was going to be a minister, here in Scotland!

There were those who were not impressed!  They were going to leave all of the comforts of home, and go to foreign countries in which they would have to learn a language that was totally alien to them, and where they would not have running water, electricity, television, and a host of other items and utilities that we took for granted in our home countries.  My response to that particular criticism was that they would also be sharing the Gospel message with those who did not know it at all, and who would be more willing to acknowledge their own sinfulness.  I would be preaching before people who thought that having their name on a congregational roll was sufficient to ensure their eternal future in heaven!  I would have to convince them of their sinfulness, and of their actual need of a Saviour!

The second criticism came from, I confess, just one of my fellow students.   Tony was a Welsh Pentecostal.  He could not understand why I needed all of this university education that I was going to undertake.  All I needed, as far as he was concerned, was a Bible, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, I still possess a book that he gave to me in order to help me to 'see the light'!

My response to Tony was simple.  I explained that, if he was going to be preaching in a Mission Hall somewhere in the Welsh valleys, then that might well be all that he would need.  He might not have, under his ministry, many who were wise according to worldly standards, not many who were powerful, not many who were of noble birth. (see I Cor 1:26).  However, if I ended up in a parish ministry, I would not only have many who were unconverted, but unaware of the fact; I would also be more likely to have the local schoolteacher, the doctor, the solicitor, and others of similar educational background.  "Now," I would continue, "if I preach Christ crucified, 'a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles' (I Cor 1:23), such a person may look, with disdain, at my Diploma of the Bible Training Institute, and think 'If you had had the sort of education that I have had, you would not believe such nonsense'.  However, if that person knows that I am standing there with similar qualifications to those possessed by him/her then, at the very least, that particular argument/excuse is removed."

I still believe that.  I know that the Lord used uneducated fishermen to preach the Gospel.  However, I know that He also used Paul who, as Saul of Tarsus, was educated in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).  Paul's intellectual qualifications were, in his day, beyond reproach!  Of course, I have always sought to remember that not everyone has had the privilege of the education that has been granted to me.  So, I have always endeavoured to use words that do not require a double doctorate in divinity and theology to be understood.  Indeed, that was the thinking behind the series of messages that I shared, in the late 1970s, with the congregation of Bellshill: St.Andrew's, and which became the basis for my first book (details at the head of the blog!).

All of this came back to me as I read these words concerning George Müller.  "He had yet to learn how the enticing words of man's wisdom make the cross of Christ of none effect, and how the very simplicity that makes preaching intelligible to the illiterate makes sure that the most cultivated will also understand it, whereas the reverse is not true." (op.cit., p.43).

May such a message be taken to heart by all of us who are privileged to minister the Word; and always, to His glory.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Today, my wife and I travelled, by bus, to Livingston.  The journey lasts for about an hour, so she advised me to take a book to read.  The book that I was almost finished reading had only a chapter left, so that wasn't going to be of any use.  I quickly scanned my bookshelves - and spotted a book that I had acquired (I suspect that it was a 'freebie'!) some time back, but that had since been neglected.  It is a book that tells the story of George Müller of Bristol (although he was Prussian by birth and upbringing).

It is also a book that has already grabbed my attention, and already has a number of passages highlighted.  Very early in the narrative, we are provided with a brief synopsis of the subject who was born in 1805, and who departed this earthly life in 1898 - a true 19th century man.  The final part of the synopsis reads: "... the last six years were used of God in mellowing and maturing his Christian character."  So, a man of God, whose name has become almost a by-word for believing prayer, and who was in his 93rd year of mortal life when he was called home, was mellowed and matured in his Christian character in the final six of those years!

Actually, when I gave the matter some further thought, I realised that the idea isn't really so strange!  Although not yet close to the age at which George Müller was promoted to glory, I am certainly past the fresh flush of youth - both physically and spiritually!   However, it is as I have become less young (I refuse to be 'old'!) that I have found myself drawn closer to the Lord, and spending more time in His Word, than I have ever done before.  How mellow and mature I am becoming is something that others are better equipped to judge.

Why should this be?  Well, I speculate!  However, I suspect that it has something to do with the increasing awareness that I am closer to my heavenly reward today than I have ever been before!  Now, I know that that has always been true, but I seem to be becoming increasingly aware of it.  And not simply aware of it, but looking forward to it with increasing anticipation. 

I have a regret.  That regret is that I have waited so long to reach this stage.  By the way, I am not claiming anything even remotely like 'perfection'.  I may joke about that ("I used to be conceited, but now I'm perfect", etc.) but I am fully aware of the reality.  However, as a 'one-liner' that came to me, many years ago, puts it: "In this world, I shall never be sinless but, by the grace of God, I may sin less!"   When I confess my sin during my private devotions, and receive the forgiveness that has already been gained for me at Calvary, I also ask that the Lord would continue His work of sanctification in me.  (That, by the way, is a word that means, basically, being made more like Jesus.  I deal with it more fully in the first book in the "Getting to know you" series - details in the heading to the blog!).

It is unlikely - although not impossible (the Lord has a great sense of humour!) - that I will ever enjoy the spiritual stature of a George Müller.  However, I will be content to walk a little more closely to my Saviour each day.  My advice, and encouragement, to others is not to leave it until you are my age.  Spend more time with Him, now.  Read your Bible (or listen to recordings!) in a systematic way.  Ask yourself questions about the passage that you have read - "What does this passage teach me about the character of God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, all three?"  "What is this passage saying to me as an individual?"  "Is this passage pointing out a specific sin that requires to be dealt with?"   Don't 'say prayers' - pray!   Keep a list of prayer subjects for daily prayer; another one for weekly prayer (and the day of the week on which those people will be prayed for, or situations prayed about!).  Spend a few minutes, at the beginning, moving into His presence.  It all helps to draw you closer to Him - and that can only ever be for your good!

You will be blessed - you can't be otherwise.  I encourage you to do it - you know it makes sense!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Public Morality.

When the morality, and personal behaviour, of public figures is questioned, there are always those who insist that "as long as they can do the job".   However, increasing revelations of historic paedophilia, and other forms of sexual abuse; of the fraudulent claiming of expenses; of the abuse, and misuse, of power and authority; lead me to believe that the public should actually take greater care in checking out the personal morals, and behaviour of those whom they elect and who, in turn, are often in a position to influence the promotion of those in, for example, the judiciary.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics state that the numbers of homosexuals and lesbians etc., in the United Kingdom, is 1.6% of the population.  I have looked, but have been unable to find, figures for the number of parliamentarians who are openly in one of the sexually-deviant groups but, with 650 members in the UK Westminster Parliament, any number over 10 is higher than the national average.  I think that I can safely say that there are more than 10 openly homosexual/lesbian members in the Lower House!  I have often wondered if this was a major factor in the passing of The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, 2013, in spite of the clear majority of the general public were opposed to the measure.  Too many had a vested interest - either for themselves or their friends!

So, perhaps this is why we should, indeed, check out the morals, sexual preferences, ethics, and anything else about those who represent us.  Otherwise, we may continue to place, in positions of influence and authority, those who hold views that are diametrically opposed to the majority.  It is one of the reasons why I am currently supporting The United Kingdom Independence Party.  It's not simply because I am opposed to the European Union.  It's not because I would not still prefer an overtly Christian Party in charge (I doubt, in all honesty, that that will ever happen).  Its because they appear to be the only viable Party that holds to at least some of the policies that I can, in conscience, support.

It's now only about six months to the next U.K. General Election.  Let us be careful how we vote.  Remember, we often get the government for which we have failed to pray!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The end of life.

Quite a number of recent posts have been on the topic of abortion - the deliberate killing of an unborn human being.  This evening, I want to go to the other end of the Journey of Life spectrum, and look at another emotive issue that is currently very topical - assisted dying (aka assisted suicide/euthanasia).

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet;" states Shakespeare's heroine figure in his play Romeo and Juliet.   So, whatever name is given, and has been given, over recent decades, the common denominator, in this situation, is the deliberate taking of a fully adult life, for whatever reason.  By the way, I do not propose going into a discussion on etymology, especially with regard to the strict definition of euthanasia (from the Greek!).

Yesterday, the UK House of Lords debated the Bill that has been brought forward by Lord Charlie Falconer.   This Bill seeks to “enable competent adults who are terminally ill to be provided at their request with specified assistance to end their own life”.   Of course, there have been a number of attempts to legislate in favour of the right to end one's own life in recent years - at least one previous one also being in the name of Charlie Falconer.   Thankfully, each one has been defeated, but the assisted suicide and/or euthanasia supporters keep coming back with the sort of determination that one often wishes was seen in other areas of politics!

Often, some recent high-profile case, in which there has been a lot of public sympathy for the person who wishes to end his/her own life, is used by the 'suicide lobby' (to use a convenient shorthand expression!).  One that may well have been raised in the House of Lords, yesterday, is that of Brittany Maynard, the young woman from the USoA who travelled from her home state of California, to the state of Oregon, in order to legally kill herself!   However, emotional cases do not lead to good legislation!   Thankfully, for every Brittany, there are hundreds of others who do not take the 'easy' way out!  There were many who shared their stories on social media, but I didn't notice their stories receiving the same publicity in the main-stream media!

However, away from the individual cases.  What about the general picture?  It is interesting that all of the professional medical bodies are opposed to the sort of legislation that Charlie Falconer and, in the Scottish Parliament, Patrick Harvie, wish to see enacted.   However, that is not really surprising! Do assisted suicide supporters really expect doctors and nurses to be able to assist the suicide of one patient, then go on to care for a similar patient who wants to live, without this having an effect on their ethics or their empathy? Do they realise that this reduces the second patient’s will-to-live request to a mere personal whim—perhaps, ultimately, one that society will see as selfish and too costly? How does this serve optimal health care, let alone the integrity of doctors and nurses who have to face, and live with, the fact that they helped other human beings kill themselves?

Indeed, a report in The Telegraph, on Thursday, stated that "One in 10 British people believe elderly people should be offered a “reward” if they opt for assisted suicide, new polling suggests."  Now, apart from the fact that, if the 'reward' is only to be offered posthumously, it is going to be of little satisfaction to the recipient, why should anyone wish to be rewarded in this way?  By the way, the suggested 'reward'  was "a martini and a medal"!  I'm teetotal; and I would prefer to wear a medal on my own chest - while standing up!   The report continued: "Anti-euthanasia campaigners said the finding was “chilling” evidence of deep-seated prejudice towards older people from a small but significant minority of the population."   Chilling, indeed.

What is needed is more, and improved, palliative care.  The Hospice movement does a wonderful job - I know, I have visited enough of their establishments! - but it is limited in its scope because, as a charity, it depends on the donations of supporters.  As I type, I am thinking just how far the latest demand from the EU - £1.7 billion - would go to providing that desired level of care.  However, all that will happen is that it will be wasted on an already corrupt and bloated administration!

The debate, yesterday, went on for longer than was expected, and there was no formal division.  However, it is reported that the majority of those who spoke did so in opposition to the Bill.  For this, at this stage, many of us are truly thankful.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Prayer

As I appear to be unusually busy this week - who said that retirement was a dawdle?! - I am cheating a little this evening by posting some quotations, about prayer, from Charles H Spurgeon, the great 19th century Baptist preacher.

The story is told that, when visitors came to the Metropolitan Tabernacle from the pulpit of which he preached for 38 years, he would mention the modern heating system.  He would then ask if they would like to see the power-house.  The answer was always in the affirmative, as people were intrigued by the thought of a boiler-system that could provide heating for such large premises.  Spurgeon would take them to the basement and, opening a particular door, would proclaim, "This is the power-house of the Metropolitan Tabernacle!"  On looking in, the visitor(s) would see people, on their knees, praying passionately.

Spurgeon was a man of prayer himself. Throughout his entire ministry many hearers remarked that they were moved by his preaching, but yet still more affected by his praying. The famous American evangelist D. L. Moody, upon returning home after his first visit to England, was asked: "Did you hear Mr Spurgeon preach?" Moody replied: "Yes, but better still, I heard him pray."

So, a few prayer-linked quotation from one, often referred to as the prince of preachers, but who said that what the church needs, rather, is princes, and princesses, of prayer.   Some things do not change!

"If you want that splendid power in prayer, you must remain in loving, living, lasting, conscious, practical, abiding union with the Lord Jesus Christ."

"A prayerful church is a powerful church..."

"I have not preached this morning half as much as I have prayed.  For every word that I have spoken, I have prayed two words silently to God."

"Until the gate of hell is shut upon a man we must not cease to pray for him. And if we see him hugging the very doorposts of damnation, we must go to the mercy seat and beseech the arm of grace to pluck him from his dangerous position. While there is life there is hope, and although the soul is almost smothered with despair, we must not despair for it, but rather arouse ourselves to awaken the Almighty arm."

"My own soul's conviction is that prayer is the grandest power in the entire universe; that it has a more omnipotent force than electricity, attraction, gravitation, or any other of those secret forces which men have called by a name, but which they do not understand."

Let us pray!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Femininst votes against girls!

If Victor Meldrew was a real character, he would surely be uttering his famous catch-phrase: "I don't believe it!"

Yesterday, in the UK House of Commons, the Abortion (Sex-Selection) 10 Minute Rule Bill was debated and put to a vote.   This was a Bill, in the name of Fiona Bruce, MP, to make illegal abortion on the basis of the gender of the unborn child.  As was well publicised last evening, the 10 Minute Rule Bill was supported with a vote of 181 for and 1 against.  If I understand the situation correctly, this allows it to go forward to it's currently scheduled Second Reading in January.

However, many were asking that the one person who voted against the Bill be named (and shamed!).  I am happy to now be able to do so.  The one MP who voted, effectively, to allow the abortion of unborn females simply because they are female, was the well-known feminist, and former actress, Glenda Jackson.

Does Ms Jackson not see the irony of her situation?  Someone who would claim to have fought for the rights of women; who castigated the late Margaret Thatcher (after her death) for not having been feminist enough; is apparently happy to see little girls murdered in their mothers' wombs, simply because they have the potential only to become women!

Now, of course, it may be that, like Mrs Thatcher after the death of her beloved Denis (she was at least feminine enough to keep a husband for life - something that Glenda Jackson has patently failed to do!) Glenda Jackson is suffering from the early stages of dementia, and did not realise that she had walked through the 'wrong' lobby.  If that is the case, then she does have my sympathy - and my relief that she has already stated that she will not be standing at the next General Election, as she will then be 80 years of age.

However, if that is the case, perhaps she should just stand down now, and not allow herself another six months of 'wrong' decisions! 

It may be that I am totally misreading the situation, and I will be sending this post to Ms Jackson to enable her to respond, if she so wishes.  However, if I am correct in my analysis, then she came across, yesterday, as an arch-hypocrite in a gathering that is not short of them.

On a more general note, it is worth remembering that if our own mothers had had an abortion, we wouldn't be here!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Do true disciples of Jesus need material evidence?

One of the online magazines that I regularly receive had an interesting article in today's issue.  The heading was certainly one that caught the eye: "How babies were made in Jesus' time."   I reckoned that I knew the answer to that one - in the same way that they have been made since Adam and Eve!

However, the article, by Andrew Lincoln of the University of Gloucestershire, was actually about the virginal conception of the Lord Jesus, and the source of the male-provided 'Y' chromosome!  There is an opportunity for comment, and the first two comments referred to Ron Wyatt (of whose existence I was previously unaware!) and his alleged discovery of the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant which, according to the two commenters, had traces of the dried blood of Jesus on it - blood that was tested and showed that it only had the mother's chromosome! 

Now, I am not in a position to comment on Ron Wyatt’s findings, other than to say that, apart from anything else, I can think of no reason why the human blood of Jesus would be found on the Ark! However, I wonder about the relevance of any of these alleged discoveries – finding Noah’s ark; the Shroud of Turin; finding the Ark of the Covenant; etc.

When the resurrected Jesus made His first appearance to the disciples (John 20:19), Thomas was not with them. He was informed, later, and responded that without ‘concrete’, material proof, he would not believe!

Eight days later, Thomas was with the others, and Jesus appeared again. He invited Thomas to check out the evidence as he had wanted. Of course, brought face-to-face with the risen Saviour of the world, and King of the universe, Thomas could only fall to his knees in worship. (v.28).  Jesus’ following words are very enlightening: “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’” (v.29). I would respectfully suggest that those words could be interpreted as, “Blessed are those who have no material evidence, but who still believe”!

In other words, whatever alleged material evidence is produced, real faith does not require it!  

I saw another reference, yesterday - to LGBT people.  It suddenly struck me - I am an LGBT person!   For those who are astonished that I should make such a statement, let me quickly assure them that my sexuality is not in question.  It's just that I realised that those letters, in that order, have an immediate connection to Paul's words in Rom.3:4 - "Let God Be True though every man be false, ..."!  I'll stand on that LGBT statement until the day I die or am raptured!  Hallelujah!