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Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Year.

The Children of Israel were about to cross the River Jordan, and enter the land that YHWH had promised to them so many years earlier.  But the man who had led them out of Egypt, with its slavery and hardship – Moses, the great prophet – was not to enter that Promised Land with them.  And so, before they crossed, he spoke to them – reminding them of all that YHWH had done for them, and of the laws and statutes that He had given them.  This long discourse of Moses has been handed down to us as the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, and as we approach the end of 2015 I want to leave you with a few words from that address: “You shall never return that way again” (Deut.17:16; RSV). With these words, Almighty God closed a gate on what lay behind His people, and set their faces towards what lay before.  What does it mean to us, this closing of the gate of 2015, and opening of the gate of 2016?  Well, it is possible that, for some, it may bring a measure of relief.

It may be that you are glad that the year is over; that 2015 is past and gone.  You wouldn’t want to live through that year again.  It has been too distressing, too traumatic, a year.  There may have been some experience that has become etched, almost indelibly, on your minds.   The actual circumstances, and situation, will differ from one person to another.  It may have been a bereavement, or an illness, or an injury.  It may have been redundancy, or a forced move to another area, or a major financial loss.  It may have been the way in which we failed the Lord, in one way or another.  

Whatever it was, God’s comfort and peace; His love and forgiveness; His mercy and grace; are available to all, and sufficient for all!  We’ll never walk that way the same way again.  He has closed the gate, and bids us march bravely into the future.

For others, of course, the ending of the year is a matter of regret. It may be that some of us would want to live the past year all over again.  It may be that, for us, it brought much delight.  Like Peter, on the Mount of Transfiguration, we want to stop.  “Lord,” we would cry, “it is good for us to be here” (Mt.17:4 inter al).  We’ve been enjoying this year so much; does it have to come to an end?  We were up on the hill-top, in the clean, fresh air – we don’t want to go down into the valley of human need, of personal responsibility.

However, no matter how, or in what context, we reach the mountain-top, we must always come back to the valley – and often it’s the valley of disappointment, or despair.  That great servant of God, Moses, found this to be so.  He went up on the mountain to speak with YHWH – and came back down to find the Children of Israel worshipping a golden calf that that they had made.  And even Jesus knew the contrast.  Wasn’t it immediately after the tremendous experience of His baptism, and His acknowledgement as the Beloved Son, by the Father, that He underwent the wilderness temptations?!
 
It’s good that we experience both sunshine and shadow.  The one brings the other into sharper focus.  But the gate must be closed.  “Today’s trouble is enough for today”, said Jesus (Mt.6:34) – and so is today’s grace!  Yesterday’s grace is not sufficient for today, yet so many seek to live on past experience.  I wonder if you are clinging desperately to  the enjoyment that the past year brought; or to  the achievement that the past year held?

The end of the old year, and the beginning of the new, can bring a measure of relief; it may be a matter of regret.  But surely it must also be  a moment of resolve.  New Year is traditionally the time for making resolutions and although, like many traditions, this one appears to be less popular today, I imagine that there will be some who read this post who will have made such resolutions.  I would suggest that we do need to make some resolutions, and that our resolve must be concerned with two specific factors.  The first of these concerns what we must leave in the past.

The past, as we have seen, has dangers.  Both success and failure in the past may hinder progress in the future.  If we have known failure, then we must have an assurance of God’s forgiveness for those who confess their faults, their failures, their sinfulness.  If we have known success, then we must remember that we are still totally dependent upon God.    He does not want us to live in yesterday, and lose today!  Paul knew this.  So we read in his letter to the followers of Jesus in the Roman colonial centre of Philippi: “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” (3:13-14). He knew that if he was absorbed in what lay behind, then he couldn’t have a real interest in what lay before.  And yet, if any man had reason to live in the past, it was Paul!  But he did not try to keep the gate open.  

Of course, although we ought not to live in the past, we may certainly learn from the past.  So I can remember what I have learned about myself – and about my Saviour; about my stubbornness and stupidity – and about His ways and wisdom.  I had thought that I was pretty wonderful – now I realise that I, left to my own devices, I am weak and helpless.  But my appetite for progress has been whetted.  Whatever God has done, it is nothing to what He can do!  And I’m encouraged as I recognise His workings in my own life.  As is often said - I’m a work in progress!
  
Not one of us knows what the coming year holds for us.  The signs, both nationally and internationally, do not provide much in the way of encouragement as we anticipate years of trying to repay the ever-increasing debt into which the nation continues to be plunged; as international terrorism continues to disrupt, and maim, and kill.

Some, however, may remember saying, “I don’t know what the future holds; but I know Who holds the future!”  Will you place your hand into His hand; trusting Him to guide you, strengthen you, help you into 2016?  Will you?  May each one of us be granted the grace to do so - to His eternal praise, and our eternal salvation  

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Name of the Lord Jesus

As we have been reminded over recent days, when Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth was informed by his betrothed, Mary, that she was already pregnant, he was prepared to quietly divorce her (betrothal was not marriage, but it was much more serious than our modern "engagement").  However, before he could do so, he had a dream in which an angel appeared to him, and said: "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (Matt 1:20-21).  
In Biblical times, a person's name expressed the character or attributes desired for a child by his or her parents. Thus the angel's explanation of the name "JESUS," which means "YHWH saves" or simply "salvation": "He shall save His people from their sins."
 
There is only one Saviour! As Peter informed the crowd at the first Pentecost of the Christian era: "... there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12); but His name does save!  John states, quite unequivocally, that: "... to all who received Him, who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13).
 
Those who do receive Christ are thenceforth associated with His name - and therefore with His Person and work. First they are to be baptised "... in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." (Matt 28:19). They are then to order their lives in a way that honours His name. "Let every one who names the Name of the Lord depart from iniquity." (II Tim 2:19).

He has given many gracious promises of answered prayer if we pray in His Name: "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in My Name, He may give it to you." (John 15:16-17).

The final use of "name" in the Bible stresses our eternal identification with His name.  In the glorious revelation given to John, he sees the new Jerusalem, and can write: "There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall worship Him; they shall see His face, and His Name shall be on their foreheads." (Rev 22:3-4)  as we are united with Him in the age to come. 

Of course, Matthew also makes reference to another Name of the Lord Jesus -  "Emmanuel" which means "God with us".  If He is not with you, then you are not His; if you are not His, then you will not be in that new Jerusalem.   He has come that He might save you from your sins but, like the gifts you may have been offered just a couple pf days ago, His gift of eternal salvation may be accepted - or rejected.  It is a gift of inestimable worth.  Receive it now - and know His presence with you for the remainder of your mortal life; and then throughout eternity.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Eve

It's been a busy few days - travelling from the south-west of France to central Scotland.  Until we were about 100 miles south of Calais, the weather was still fine and sunny.  By the time we reached the north of England, it was a case of torrential downpour after torrential downpour!   And there have been those who have asked, in all seriousness, why we would want to go to live in France!  Well, of course, there was a lot more to it than what we wanted - but we are certainly happy with the weather conditions that we enjoy for most of the year!

However, here we are, in N.Lanarkshire, looking forward to the Christmas Eve Watch-night Service that will bring in Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve.  How many pictures those words can conjure up.  For many, of course, it means last-minute shopping; for others it is the excitement of "Santa Clause" starting his round; for, perhaps, too many, it is just another night of loneliness.  I wonder what it was like on that very first Christmas Eve?   We know that, in the hills around the Judaean town of Bethlehem, "...  there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, 'Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.'  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!'" (Luke 2:8-14).

Most of us have been conditioned to think of that "heavenly host" as cherub-like creatures, with wings and golden curls, holding hymn sheets in their hands, and accompanied by some of their number blowing golden trumpets!  Victorian card designers have a lot for which to answer!

So what did those shepherds see?  Well, it certainly wasn't that row of commercial Christmas-card choristers!  The clue is in the description - "heavenly host".   One of the many titles/descriptions given to YHWH is "the Lord of Hosts".  In some modern translations, that is given, quite correctly, as "the Lord of heaven's armies".  So, the "heavenly host" that appeared to those shepherds was, in fact, a multitude of armed warriors!  That's a somewhat different picture.  If those men were terrified by the sudden appearance of a single angel, I can't begin to even imagine their feelings when faced with a myriad of celestial combatants!

This, I would suggest, takes away some of the sentimentality of the Christmas story.  It also reminds us that this Child, Whose birth the host of heaven announced was, indeed, the King of Glory.  Only a King, surely, would have His birth announced in such a magnificent manner.

I trust that, this Christmas, you will join with me in worshipping the Babe in the manger - remembering that He grew to be the Christ of the cross, Who died for you and for me. 

However, remember something else.  That same Jesus has promised that He will return.  And when He does, He will take those who have placed their trust in Him, and in Him alone, to be with Him throughout the timelessness of eternity as, being His chosen Bride, they share with Him in His marriage supper.  Listen to part of the description as given to John: "And the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.' And he said to me, 'These are true words of God.' Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, 'You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.' For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. 
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name inscribed which no one knows but Himself.  He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the Name by which He is called is The Word of God.  And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses.  From His mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; He will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh He has a name inscribed - King of kings and Lord of lords." (Rev 19:9-16).

Yes, the same Host of heaven that announced His birth will be there to see His ultimate triumph.  "Oh come, let us adore Him - Christ the Lord."

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

He knows the way.

Many will be familiar with the words that will, undoubtedly, be repeated by many as we draw towards the end of another calendar year - those words quoted by King George VI in his 1939 Christmas radio broadcast to the nation and the Commonwealth.   Those words, written by Minnie Louise Haskins, are:

"And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
'Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!'
And he replied:
'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.'"

The Old Testament character, Job, would have agreed.  Indeed, he went even further!   In Job 32:10, we read: "But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold."  Job saw that the way, while safe in the hands of Father God, is not always, or necessarily, easy.  But he found infinite comfort in the assurance that He knows the way!

Too often, we want to know what God is doing to us and, in those moments of darkness, we may cry out: "Why is this happening to me?"  It is then that faith answers: "He knows"!

David, the Psalmist-king of Israel knew all about this.  The opening lines of Psalm 13 are a repetition of the question "How long?"  He saw the forces that were opposed to him.  He was concerned that YHWH had forgotten him.  He was in deep distress, and sorrow.  However, when we look at the end of the psalm we read these words:

"But I have trusted in Thy steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation.  I will sing to YHWH, because He has dealt bountifully with me." (vs.5-6).  David had become convinced that "He knows"!

Are you passing through some deep trial at this time?  Is the coming Christmas and New Year clouded with anxiety; with pain; with darkness; with uncertainty?  Do you not know in which direction to turn?  Then I would encourage you to memorise Job 23:10, and to keep repeating it to yourself until you really believe it.  Whatever the situation, or circumstances, it makes such a difference when we are assured that "He knows"!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

A near miss is as bad as a mile!

I was reading, the other day, about a game that, apparently, used to be played by children in England - in the days before iPads, and X-boxes, and multi-channel television!  The game, I read, was named "Saints and Sinners" - a name that, understandably, caught my attention!

The way in which the game was played was that a metal hoop was erected at a measured distance, and the children were given a bow, and ten arrows each.  The objective was to shoot all ten of your arrows through the hoop.  If anyone achieved that goal, and shot all ten arrows through, then that child was proclaimed a saint.  However, if a child missed just one arrow, that child was named as a sinner.  Of course, if a child missed with all ten arrows, (s)he was still designated a sinner!  That child was no greater a 'sinner' than the one who missed with just one arrow!  That was the rule of the game.

One of several words that is translated "sin" in the New Testament, is the Greek word "hamartia" (for others, see chap.4 in my book "Great Words of the Faith").  This word speaks of a 'falling short'; 'missing the mark'; 'going off the straight'; or 'going too far'.  It’s a word that comes from the world of sport.  In archery, the sport in which it was first used, there is a bull's-eye for which the archer aims.  Now, if my arrow hits the bull, or the mark, I gain the prize; but, if it misses the mark, whether by only a fraction of an inch, or by a couple of feet, then I don’t get anything!  And if it falls short of the target, or overshoots it, whether by six inches, or six yards, I am still not awarded the prize.

Sin is not only a breaking of God's Law; it is also a failure to attain the standard of perfection that the Law demands.  It may also be likened to a chain.   Even if only one link is broken, the effectiveness of the chain is ruined.  The Law demands continuous, uninterrupted, obedience.  If we fail to live up to that standard for only one minute, we become guilty sinners before God!   We do not need to commit murder, or adultery, or theft, or deceit to be unfit for heaven.  If we break even one of God's laws, then we are sinners in His sight.  That's why Paul could say, without hesitation, that "... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, ..." (Rom 3:23).  To deviate from the way of perfection by one nanometre is to 'miss the target', and come short of God's standard.

In just a couple of weeks, people all over the world will be celebrating the birth of a very special Baby in the Judaean town of Bethlehem.  That baby grew to be the man, Christ Jesus.  He never "missed the mark", but kept God's Law perfectly.  He is the "... One Who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (
Heb 4:15).  All others have sinned, and 'come short'; so all of us need Him as our Saviour.

One of my favourite Christian songs is now a 'Golden Oldie'!  Its the hymn "When peace, like a river,...".  My favourite verse reads: 
"My sin - O the bliss of this glorious thought - 
my sin, not in part, but the whole 
is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more: 
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul." (Horatio G Spafford; 1828-88)

Whoever you are, you are a sinner because of your failure; but you can become a saint by His victory! 

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Happy Hanukkah!



Not everyone will be aware that, as disciples of Jesus prepare for the celebrations that remember His birth as a helpless infant, Jewish people, all over the world, are beginning an eight-day festival known as Hanukkah, or The Festival of Lights. 

The origin of the festival goes back to the period between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament - in 168 B.C.  The Jewish Temple was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. This upset the Jewish people, but many were afraid to fight back for fear of reprisals. Then in 167 B.C.E. the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offence punishable by death, enforcing idolatry, and forbidding the Jewish People from reading the Torah and following it. He also ordered all Jews to worship Greek gods.  He even desecrated the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar.

Jewish resistance began in the village of Modiin, near Jerusalem. Greek soldiers forcibly gathered the Jewish villages and told them to bow down to an idol, then eat the flesh of a pig – both practices that are forbidden to Jews.  God delivered His people through a Jewish priest named Mattathias and his sons.  They led a small group of Jewish men (the Maccabees) to rise up against the 25,000 soldiers of the Syrian/Greek army, and defeat them  When the Jewish priests entered the Temple to re-dedicate it and light the Menorah (Candlestick), they found only one bottle of undefiled oil — enough to last just one day.

Miraculously, that tiny supply of oil lasted eight full days.  This gave the priests enough time to create more sanctified oil to keep the Temple Menorah burning 24 hours a day.
Over 100 years later, Jesus of Nazareth was in the Temple on Hanukkah when He was asked directly if He was the Messiah?  "It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered round him and said to him, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly'."  (John 10:22–24).

The record continues: "Jesus answered them, 'I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness to Me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to My sheep'." (John 10:25-26).

On that Hanukkah, Jesus (Yeshua) confirmed to those asking that He is the Messiah, the Shepherd of Israel.  Other verses confirm that He is the Light of the World
(John 8:12) and also that through Him we can be lights shining in the darkness of these last days (Philippians 2:15).

The Shamash (servant candle) sits higher on the Hanukkah menorah than the other eight candles and is used to light them.  What a wonderful representation of Jesus, the Light of the World, and how He gives us the "light of life," through the Holy Spirit.

As many of us travel this Advent season, and look forward to our Christmas celebrations, let us remember that while "He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not." yet "... to all who received Him, who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:11-13).

Have you yet believed?  Have you?


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Holding hands!

It was posted on Facebook by a former pupil who is now the mother of a little boy.  It read:

Well, as any regular visitor to this blog will understand, my mind went beyond a little boy and his mum!  I was immediately reminded of the relationship between Father God, and the one whose trust is in the Lord, Jesus the Christ, for salvation.

I sometimes read the truth that, as a disciple of Jesus, I am not perfect - but that I am forgiven.  As such, my hand is in the hand of the Father.  He is the One Who never lets me go; Who never lets me down; and Who, I must also remember, never lets me off!  Yes, even the believer is subject to the Lord's discipline.  And we should not want it any other way!

In the old Book of Proverbs, we read: "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights." (3:11-12).  The un-named writer of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus quotes those very words and goes on to say: "It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Heb 12:7-11).

Many years ago, a Christian singing group named "Harmony" sang a song that was titled (if memory serves me well!) The Man from Galilee.  The chorus went something like this:

"Put your hand in the hand of the Man Who stilled the waters.
Put your hand in the hand of the Man Who calmed the sea.
Take a look at yourself, and you can look at the others differently;
By puttin' your hand in the hand of the Man from Galilee."

It's a strong hand; it's a faithful hand; it's a hand that was once nailed to a cross - for you, and for me. Have you yet entrusted your life to Him?  Are you trying to hold on to His hand, rather than allow Him to hold on to yours?  His grip is, as the little boy understood with his mother, much stronger than yours.  If you yield your life to Him, He will never let you go - regardless of your situation and/or circumstances.

In just a couple of weeks, we will be celebrating His birth.  What better gift could you give to Him at this time, than your own life in total surrender, and full obedience.  You'll never regret it if you do!






Monday, 30 November 2015

The unpopular necessity.

Today, of course, is the Feast Day of St Andrew - the patron saint of Scotland.  My thought, earlier today, was to publish a post about him.  However, as I thought about what I might say, I remembered that Andrew is portrayed, in the Gospel records, as one who brought people to Jesus.  John tells us that Andrew was, originally, a disciple of John the Baptiser who, having spent a day with Jesus, "... found his brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ).  He brought him to Jesus." (John 1:41-42).  It is John who also tells us that Andrew was the disciple who found the young boy with five rolls of bread and a couple of small fish, and brought him to Jesus - Who then miraculously fed more than 5,000 men (plus women and children!), with twelve basketsful of crumbs gathered up afterwards! (see Jn.6:8 ff.).  On yet another occasion, some Greeks asked Philip if they could see Jesus.  What did Philip do?  He went straight to Andrew, who went with him (and, one must presume, the Greek seekers) to Jesus. (see Jn.12:20ff.)

So, I thought to myself, thought I: "If I could speak with Andrew, and ask him what he wanted me to publish on this "his" day, I suspect that he would simply say, 'Brian - point them to Jesus!'"

The anonymous writer of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus wrote: "... without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (Heb 9:22).  As we begin to prepare for the Christmas season, with its focus (for some of us!) on the wonder of the incarnation - "Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see" - we do well to remember that it is only a part of the greatest story ever told!   If the birth of the Lord Jesus was the beginning, middle, and end, then it wouldn't be much more than a children's Nativity Play.  But, of course, it led to the greatest teaching that has ever been given on the face of this planet; and then to His passion and crucifixion; and on to His glorious resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father "from whence", as the Apostles' Creed affirms, "He shall come to judge the living and the dead"!  (see my second book, Foundations of the Faith, for much more on the Creed!).

Yes, the Babe in the manger became the Christ of the cross  And it had to be so.  Only His perfect, sinless, sacrifice could pay the debt that we owe, and bring us into a living, personal, fellowship with Father God.  How we need to emphasise, and appreciate more, that infinite Gift of grace that has delivered those who have put their trust wholly, and solely, in Him, from condemnation!  "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom 8:1; and I would encourage you to read the whole of that chapter!).  Regrettably, we live in an age when 'sin' is no longer recognised as such by the majority.  Because of that, there are too many who fail to understand their own need of redemption.

Without the all-sufficient sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, salvation is impossible.  That is a doctrine that does not find many friends today.  However, that does not make it any less true.  Think on these words of the old hymn:

"Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in Hid grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?"

I trust that you are able to answer those questions in the affirmative!  If you aren't, but you would like to know more, then either scroll down to the links on the right-hand-side of the blog; contact me at author@minister.com; or even treat yourself to either/both of my books (details at the top).  Alternatively, find a Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching, Christ-centred, fellowship of God's people, and make enquiry there.  Whatever you do - do something.  Your eternal destiny depends on it!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Prayer - an essential part of life!

A small boy had been used to sleeping with a night-light in his room.  Eventually, however, his parents decided that he was old enough to dispense with that light, and sleep in the darkened room.  On the first night, as his mother switched off the light, he asked plaintively: "Mum, do I really have to sleep in the dark?"  "Yes", came the reply, "you are getting to be a big boy now!"  "Well", came the reply out of the darkness, "may I get up an say my prayers again - more carefully?"!

Many of us, I would suggest, "say prayers" when we should be praying - and there is a big difference!  And, too often, many of us pray carelessly.  That's one of the problems with "saying prayers".  The constant repetition of the same words may be okay for a child who is only learning to come into the presence of Almighty God in this way, but for mature adults who claim to be disciples of Jesus, it is surely not enough!  Most of us, I suspect, need to slow down, and to pray thoughtfully, and meaningfully.

Prayer, indeed, ought to be such a habit that it becomes as natural as breathing.  Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers to "Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication." (Eph 6:18).  The disciples of Jesus in Thessalonica were likewise encouraged to "... pray constantly, ..." (I Thess 5:17).   He assured the fellowship in Colossae that he and his companions "... have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." (Col 1:9-10).

However, making prayer a habit ought not to make it any less meaningful.  We need to set aside a time to pray, making it a priority, and not something that we somehow manage to "fit in" if we happen to have time!  Prayer can probably never be quite as natural as breathing, but it is just as essential to our spiritual well-being as breathing is to our physical life, and we can make it such a habit that we never need to be reminded of it!

Some may recall the little one-liner of many years ago: "Seven days without prayer, make one weak"!  That is still true today.

Let us pray!

Monday, 23 November 2015

"Facts are chiels that dinna' ding"!

I posted this video on my Facebook page, last night, but believe that it should also be offered to a different audience.  Please feel free to share - at least by directing folk to the blog.

When Jesus of Nazareth appeared before the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, He was asked: "What is truth?" One answer to that question might well be: "Something that some people do not wish to have made public"!

This is a brief video that should be compulsory viewing for all of the anti-Jewish George Galloways, etc., of this world. It simply provides a number of easily-verifiable points.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Spectator - or Participator?

A scholarly bachelor was invited to write a major article on the theme "What is love?"  Like any good author, his research was extensive.  Numerous books were consulted, and many months were spent in the organisation and development of the material thus gathered.  Eventually, hie work was ready for submission to the publisher, and arrangements were made with a typist to prepare the manuscript (this was in the days before authors had their own computers and word processing software!).  Walking into her office for the first time, something unusual, and unexpected, happened.  Eyes met!  Hearts raced!   A strange reaction swept over each of them!  It was love at first sight.  Suddenly, the subject of the author's work was no longer mere theory to him; it became a reality as he discovered its joys for himself.  Through this exciting contact he learned, and understood, more about his topic in a few minutes than he had gleaned through all of his studying.  He was no longer a spectator- he was a participator!

Earlier this evening, I had a telephone conversation with a friend - that lasted almost an hour-and-a-half!  I had thought that last night's conversation with another friend had been long - but he and I didn't quite make it to the full hour!  This evening, my friend was commenting on "academics" who make pronouncements from their "ivory towers", while having no experience of real life as lived by the majority of us.  He might well have added career politicians into the same category!  They are spectators, who have never truly participated.

Reports that I receive would indicate that, in the light of the events that are occurring around us - whether it be the tragic events of Friday, in Paris; or the less dramatic (but more frequent!) in terms of the numbers involved, similar events in Israel, or Lebanon, or other parts of the Middle East, and other places; or the extremes of weather conditions that seem to be occurring with increasing frequency - are leading more and more people to ask serious questions, and to try to find out the answers. 

Many of those answers may be discovered in the written Word of God, the Bible.  However, it is possible to read, and study, and become an "expert" in Biblical Studies, yet never experience the life-giving experience of a vital relationship with the Lord Jesus, the Christ.  It is possible to be a spectator, without being a participator!

Alternatively, one may read those same words, and discover that Jesus really meant it when he said "I have come that they may have life - life in all its fulness."! (John 10:10).  They may enter into a love relationship that is like none other.  They may become members of the very family of Almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists.  They may participate in the life of the followers of Jesus.

It isn't always an easy life - just ask those who suffer persecution for their faith, in about fifty countries in today's world - but it's a life that continues even when physical death, by whatever means, has overcome us.  It's a life that is filled with joy - which is not the same as joviality!  It's a life that makes us holy (set apart for God's use).  It's a life that is immensely satisfying, regardless of circumstances.  One of the passages at which we may look at the Fellowship Group that I hope to attend tomorrow evening, is Philippians 4:11-13 : "... I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.  I can do all things in Him who strengthens me."  Paul had discovered the joy of following Jesus, even when languishing in a Roman prison.  Of course, he was a full participator; not just a spectator! 

What about you (and me!)?

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Paris - the City of Lights.

My wife and I are both very fond of Paris, and have enjoyed a number of holidays there, in the past.  It is less than 400 miles from our home in Gardonne.  We know folk who live in what is still a beautiful city.

I suppose that having such connection has emphasised the horror of last night's massacre of so many by, apparently, terrorists from Daesh (the better name for the self-proclaimed "Islamic State").   The social media sites are filled with messages of sympathy; of outrage; of horror; and of disgust.  One newspaper reports that "World leaders including David Cameron and Barack Obama have expressed their shock and outrage at the atrocities in Paris."  The Prince of Wales is set to send a message of "profound sympathy and solidarity with the people of Paris" to French president Francois Hollande (and on his birthday anniversary, the dear boy - although why the newspapers should think that to be of great importance, is beyond me!).

As I read about the carnage, my thoughts and prayers go out, as do those of decent people everywhere, to those who have been so suddenly bereaved, and those who are suffering from life-threatening injuries.  I am also remembering those in the French emergency services who are having to deal with horrific scenes; and those who were caught up in the attacks - remaining physically unscathed, but carrying with them, probably for the remainder of their lives, the scenes of death and destruction that surrounded them.

I am also thinking back to other atrocities committed by Daesh.  I am thinking, for example, of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were murdered on a Libyan beach in February.  Each one, it was reported, died with the name of Jesus on his lips.  I am thinking of so many others, given the choice of denying that same Jesus, or dying - and gladly choosing physical death.  I am wondering how many of those in Paris, last night, were as well prepared to meet their Creator!

Such events must, surely, make any of us realise the unpredictability of human life.  How many of those who left for that concert gave even the slightest thought to the possibility that they would not survive it?   Even if that awful massacre had not occurred, any one of them could have been the victim of an accident; or of the mindless violence of an individual thug.

When I was teaching, one of my S1 (11-12 year-olds) courses had to do with "Rites of Passage" - when we looked at the four major stages that appear to be, and to have been, celebrated by every culture at every time - birth; coming of age; marriage; and death.   We spent some time on the subject of "death" (probably the only Department that did deal with it as a specific topic!).  One of the things we learned is what is discovered by those caught up in a situation like last nights - and there have been many of them just in the year that is rapidly drawing to a close - that our basic mind-set seems to be that death will not touch us; at least, not until we are in our eighties, or older!

May I lovingly say that each one of us needs to be prepared for the moment of our own death?  Not one of us knows when that will be.  I might live for another twenty years; I might die before I have completed typing this post!

How may we prepare?  By repenting (turning away from our sin) and placing our trust in the Lord Jesus, for salvation; obeying and serving Him.  You see, our Creator God is holy. Although He is Love, He also has wrath and anger over sin, and shows no partiality.  Listen to the inspired words of the prophet, Isaiah: "Listen! The Lord's arm is not too weak to save you, nor is His ear too deaf to hear you call.   It's your sins that have cut you off from God.  Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore." (Isa 59:1-2; NLT). 

It is our sin that is the problem, and it must be dealt with.  I know of only one way - to come to Father God, confessing your sins and sinfulness, and seeking the forgiveness that was won for you, at great cost, on a hill called Calvary. Whoever you are, humble yourself before God. Realise that you are in serious trouble with God because of your sins - about all of which He knows! There are no secret sins before his eyes. Sincerely and humbly ask him for mercy and forgiveness. Commit your heart to him. Turn from all known sin. Ask God to also reveal anything in your life that needs to change. Do it today. Don’t delay. Tomorrow may be too late. No one is guaranteed another day to prepare for death.

I have often said that, in Victorian days, the taboo subject was sex, but that everyone was familiar with death because it was so common, and because families prepared the bodies of their loved ones for burial.  Today, everyone seems to know everything there is to know about the physical act of sexual intercourse; but because we have made an industry out of death, and someone else "undertakes" to make all of the arrangements, we are no longer familiar with it, and it has become the taboo subject.  Perhaps that simply adds to our confusion, and revulsion, when it occurs in our midst on such a large scale.

I grieve for those, in Paris, and in the Lebanon, and in many other parts of our modern world, who are bereaved and injured.  However, I grieve even more for those who will have been totally unprepared for the death that so swiftly overtook them.  

Are you fully prepared?  Are you?

 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Stop praying!

On Sunday, I had the pleasure and privilege of bringing the message to the Fellowship of L'Église Evangelique Libre de Bergerac.  It was the fourth in a mini-series on the very important topic - at least for those who claim to be disciples of the Lord, Jesus the Christ - of prayer.   On Sunday, we looked together at the prayer of a man named Simeon - you may read it in Luke 2:29-32 - a prayer that is often referred to by its opening two words in the Latin language: the Nunc dimittis.  The whole series has been intended to encourage people to pray!

However, as I continue to empty boxes in our new home, I come across photograph albums - almost fatal!  I can spend an hour just browsing through, and reliving memories with family and friends.  One such friend is a man named John.  We haven't had any contact for a long time, but I recall receiving a 'phone-call from him, one Sunday evening.  "The Lord spoke very clearly to me, this evening, at the worship service", he said, excitedly.  "That's great", I responded.  "What did He say?"  "He told me to stop praying", replied John!  

Well, I knew that John was a fairly recent convert, so I probed a little further.  The outcome of the conversation was that John had been told that, regarding a particular issue, the time for prayer was finished; it was now time for action!

In one of the local Fellowship Groups that my wife and I attend, we are currently looking at the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes - not the easiest of books to study!  However, one section that is better-known than most of it is the first nine verses of chapter three - the "There is a time ..." section.  It isn't mentioned by the writer of that book, but there is a time to pray, and a time to stop praying - and to do what we know needs to be done!

We see such a situation in another book of the Old Testament.  It is in Joshua 7 where, in vs. 10-11(a), we read: "YHWH said to Joshua, "Arise, why have you thus fallen upon your face? Israel has sinned;"  Israel had just experienced her greatest victory at Jericho, and her most devastating defeat at Ai - all in the space of a few days.  They were in deep shock!  Joshua was on his face, praying; 'reminding' (!) YHWH how bad this made both Him and His people look in the eyes of the surrounding nations.  God was not impressed!  He told Joshua, bluntly, that Israel had sinned (collective responsibility), and disobeyed His command regarding the spoils of battle from Jericho.  These things were the "firstfruits" of Israel's victory in the Promised Land, and should have been brought into God's treasury.  Instead, Achan had taken some and hidden them in his tent.  YHWH had been disobeyed and robbed, and His hand of protection had been lifted from the nation, resulting in their defeat by a mere village!  So YHWH told Joshua to stop praying, deal with the situation, and then come back to speak with Him.

Do you already know what the answer to a situation is - but you keep praying in the hope that God will give you a different answer, or even make the problem disappear?  Perhaps God will alter the rules for you!  No way!  He says "I the Lord do not change;" (Malachi 3:6).  So, if He doesn't change, guess who is going to have to!  If you want God's protection and blessing then, like my friend John, you may need to stop praying, and do what you know needs to be done.

It's a thought!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Why I post about the Christian Faith?

One of my Facebook friends - and, indeed, a full cousin - posted the following on that particular social medium.  I was unable to do a 'copy and paste', so I have merely typed it out again!

I know that not all of the posts that I publish on this blog are what may be termed "religious" - but the majority are!  I merely seek to share the truth, and message, of the Gospel with all who read.  Some appreciate, and come back for more; others have, in the past (when I could still receive comments!), disagreed with me.  As some know, one series even cost me my Police Force Chaplaincy, as a particular senior officer decided that my traditional views on marriage went against the Force's "Diversity and Equality" policy - more strength given to the "diversity" aspect than to the "equality"!

Anyway, I think that this explains my position rather well:

"Dear Facebook Friend

There will come a day when you’ll see that I posted all of my “annoying religious” posts because I have a deep concern for you.  I care about you so much, and you matter a great deal to God.  He created you!  As hard as this is to say, I would rather you hate me for telling you the truth in love, than to gain your approval while I lie to you.


Once a friend was gracious enough to share with me, and God removed the scales from my eyes so I could see.  It’s now my responsibility to do the same for you.  That’s what the cross of Christ is all about.


Sincerely"

As always, I would direct any interested person to a couple of the links at the bottom right of this page.  I am also ready to provide whatever pastoral assistance I can, on a personal basis, if you e-mail me at author@minister.com

Blessings, and shalom.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

"Real" teaching!

The English-speaking fellowship with which my wife and I are associated here in France, is trying to be as inclusive as it can.   I am not sure that I agree fully with that aim, but I do understand (I think!) what they are trying to do.   It has to do , I suspect, with what we refer to as "ownership" - allowing people to have some input to the decision-making process in order to avoid any sense of a few 'dictating' to the rest!

As part of this process we were invited, recently, to make suggestions, on Post-it notes, as to what we liked; what we didn't like; and what we would like to see happening; in Café Church.  I quite deliberately did not look at what anyone else had written. but I was informed that someone had placed, on the "What I would like" sheet, "Real teaching" (underlining in the original!).

It's an interesting comment.  What does it mean?  Well, one would have to ask the author what (s)he meant but, as the slips were posted anonymously, that would not be easy.  However, I think that reference was being made to the difference, in Biblical teaching, between milk and meat.  Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, has this to say to them: "But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ.  I fed you with milk , not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men?" (I Cor 3:1-3).  The Lord Jesus, in answer to a question by a lawyer, said: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." (Matt 22:37-38).    Did you notice?  He included the mind - that with which we think!

That, I would contend, is a problem in much of the "western" church.  Too many people want - and too many speakers oblige! - pleasant little homilies; something that will massage our own egos; soft words that leave us feeling nice and cosy!  What is needed is some teaching on the basic doctrines of the New Testament; exposition of the whole of the Bible; encouragement to study the Word of God for ourselves!   Perhaps that is what someone in Café Church is seeking!

We in the "west" live in a culture of instant gratification.  Whatever it is, I want it, and I want it now, and I want it with as little effort on my part as possible.  That is not, however, the way by which we grow as disciples of Jesus!   That requires work on our part, and a willingness to be open to God the Holy Spirit as He applies what we learn to our own lives!  It requires using our minds, and following the example of the Jews of Beroea who, when they heard Paul and Silas preach, "... received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so." (Acts 17:11).

May it be that pastors and preachers will provide "real" teaching from platform or pulpit.  May it be that people will; respond to that teaching by using it as a springboard for their own private and personal study of the Word.



Saturday, 31 October 2015

Reformation Day

It was 498 years ago, today, that the German Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed his now-famous "95 theses" to the door of the church building in Wittenberg, in his native country.  These "theses" are really a series of statements that Luther wished to discuss with others.  They are, however, also his response to the sale of "papal indulgences" - written documents that were supplied by the pope and not only provided for past sins to be forgiven but for future sins to be forgiven as well.  These indulgences also allowed the buyer to get his relatives out of purgatory!

Luther realised that, according to the teachings of the New Testament, such "indulgences" were a fraud.  In Theses 20 and 21 he writes:
"20. ... the pope, when he uses the words "plenary remission of all penalties," does not actually mean "all penalties," but only those imposed by himself.
21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences."

Luther had read the New Testament in Greek, and realised that the Latin language translation, the Vulgate - which was the official text of the Roman church - was wrong in a very important aspect.  In Matthew 4:17, the Greek word 'metanoeite' was translated as "do penance", when it should have been translated 'repent'.  Thus his first two Theses read:
"1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent" ( Matthew 4:17 ), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy."

The Reformation had begun - even if Luther was not fully aware of the impact that his theses would have.  He was, effectively, bringing the Word of God to the fore, rather than the sacramental system of the church.  He had discovered, as a monk that, for centuries, the true teachings of the Word of God had been hidden by tradition. That’s what Reformation Day is about: it’s about pulling back the covers and releasing the power of the Word of God and the beauty and the truth of the gospel.

That’s why Reformation Day is celebrated - and I would suggest that, for the true disciple of Jesus, it is something much better to celebrate on October 31st than the modern "Hallowe'en" with its connections to the occult; to demons; to the satan himself!   Oh, I know that "It's only a bit of fun".  However, the same thing might be said about a seance, the use of an ouija board; and a number of other activities that no Bible-believer would even think of countenancing.  Instead of "trick or treat", why not spend some time, this evening, carefully and prayerfully reading the Word of God.  It will be "... a lamp to [your] feet, and a light to [your] path." (Ps 119:105).

Happy Reformation Day!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Strength out of weakness.

As I endeavour to set up the study in our new home in Gardonne, I am 'discovering' books that had almost been forgotten!  One of those is a book on the life of David Brainerd, a man whose ministry emphasises the words of Almighty God, given to His servant Paul, and shared with us in II Corinthians 12:9 - "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness".

David Brainerd was, for about four years, a missionary to the North American native people ("Red Indians"), and experienced a variety of physical ailments, as well as suffering from a form of mental neurosis.  He died when he was only 29 years of age, yet he did more for the Lord during his brief life than many other robust, and talented, men accomplish in 60 or 70 years of ministry.  Often desperately ill and, humanly speaking, alone, he repeatedly travelled deep into the forest, trying to reach tribes whose language he did not even speak.  At times, he records in his journal, he spent whole days in prayer,asking the Lord to intervene.  Once, the only interpreter available to him was so drunk that he could hardly stand up - yet scores were converted through the Gospel message.  Although Brainerd was extremely weak, God's strength was consistently manifested through him.

The truth that divine power is best displayed against the background of human frailty, was emphasised by Paul in his letters, and exemplified in his life.   He ministered to the Corinthians "... in weakness,and in much fear and trembling ..." (I Cor.2:3).  His speech was not with enticing words, and great oratory, yet he preached "... in demonstration of the Spirit, and power, ..." (I Cor.2:4).  In spite of suffering from "... a thorn ... given me in the flesh ..." (II Cor.12:7), he determined that the Lord would be glorified through his affliction.

Each of us has inabilities - even handicaps.  However, if we are disciples of Jesus, we have no right to sit around, wallowing in self-pity, and doing nothing.  We should, surely, gladly accept the Lord's will for our lives, and serve Him wherever we are, as He gives us opportunity.  Our very weaknesses are the Lord's opportunities to reveal His strength!

Remember, we may face situations that are beyond our physical strength; but they are never beyond His supernatural resources!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Steering straight!

In the Old Testament book of Daniel, we read of three young Hebrew men, Hananiah, Misha-el, and Azariah, (better known by the names given to them by the Babylonians: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), who were brought before the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, accused of not bowing to the great golden image that he had had erected, and which all of the people had been commanded to worship.  The punishment for disobedience was to be cast into a large furnace, and to be burnt to death.  Not a pleasant prospect!

The three young men, however, were not cowed by the king's threat - even although they were only too aware that he would carry it through.  Here is their recorded response:

"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If it be so, our God Whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.'" (Dan 3:16-18; emphasis added).

In other words, they were willing to place their trust, unreservedly, in Almighty God - regardless of the outcome!

In one of the old, mythological, stories, an old pilot was sailing his boat through a severe storm on the tempestuous Aegean Sea.  In his extremity, he was seen to stand erect and cry out, 'Father Neptune, you may sink me if you will, or you may save me if you will but, whatever happens, I will keep my rudder true!'

I wonder, are you facing a difficult situation, today?  Are you facing, albeit metaphorically, fire or storm?  Then be comforted (i.e. strengthened).  Almighty God is in control.  He is sovereign.  As Paul assures us: "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose." (Rom 8:28).

When our circumstances are difficult, it is tempting to compromise our principles, and depart from the course set out for us in God's written Word.  Let us not do so!  Let us, like those three young Hebrew men, continue to trust God in every situation.  Let us say, "I will keep my rudder true"!  That's the only way by which we may steer a straight course through life.



Friday, 16 October 2015

Playing with prophecy.

You may have read, or heard, of Pastor Salazar, from the Global Church of the King of Israel, in Tokyo, Japan, who claims in an online video that is going viral that, on May 16 2016, a five-mile wide "murderous" asteroid will crash into the Earth - wiping out life on the planet as we know it!

The horrific event will, he informs, initially kill 1,200 million people and leave a world at the mercy of famine and disease for four years before the Antichrist descends to Earth!

According to the predictions by an American preacher in the past few days, the world was to end on, I think, Wednesday.  Well, that one was wrong - as have been so many over the years.  Now, a serious study of end-time events can be fascinating; and novels such as those that were popular in the 1960s and 70s (In the Twinkling of an Eye; The Mark of the Beast; The Late Great Planet Earth: etc.) can make for enjoyable, and even challenging, reading.  However, trying to predict the precise date on which the world will end, or the Rapture take place, or any other cataclysmic event occur, is foolishness of the first order!

At the height of World War II, the German protestant pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was imprisoned for having taken a stand against Hitler and the Nazis.  A group of Christians, who believed that Hitler was the Antichrist, asked Bonhoeffer, "Why do you expose yourself to all of this danger?  Jesus will return any day, and all of your work and suffering will have been for nothing!"  The pastor replied: "If Jesus returns tomorrow, then tomorrow I will rest from my labour.  But today I have work to do.  I must continue the struggle until it is finished."

Jesus told the disciples, in advance, about his death, so that they wouldn't be alarmed by it, but they missed the message.  They didn't understand that HaMaschiach (the Messiah) had to die before He could reign as King.  Even after the resurrection, they wanted a Kingdom timetable (Acts 1:6ff).  Jesus informed them that such knowledge was the Father's, and His alone.

Prophecy is not for playing - and seeking to predict that which is only in the Father's domain is, surely, tantamount to blasphemy.  Prophecy is to keep us working, confident that God is in control.   Someone has said that we should, "Plan as if Christ's return were years away; but live as if it were today!"  That's not a bad position to take!

Monday, 12 October 2015

Latest Quiz - the answers!

Here are the correct answers to the wee quiz that I posted a few days ago:

1.   Andrew
2.   Isaac
3.   Ananias
4.   Aaron
5.   Elizabeth
6.   Elijah
7.   Uzziah
8.   Esther
9.   Obadiah
10. Agrippa
11. Absalom
12. Onesimus
13. Eli

Hope you managed to achieve a good score!!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Genuine - or imitation?!

Today, along with my wife and a number of other people, I attended a seminar on the Persecuted Church, organised by L'Église Évangélique Libre de Bergerac with the organisation Portes Ouvertes (the French 'branch' of Open Doors - founded by Brother Andrew).  It was a very interesting, if sometimes harrowing, time as we heard, by video, from some of those who have suffered greatly for the sake of the Lord Jesus.

In our new home in Gardonne, awaiting a place to be hung, is a painting by the great French artist, Monet.  Well, it would be very nice if it was a genuine Monet.  Such paintings sell at auction for millions of pounds sterling.  Ours is actually just a print - and worth less than the frame that contains it!  The genuine article is seen, by those who can afford the vast sums involved, as an investment.  Our print, being just a copy, is certainly not investment material!

There is, I would suggest, a parallel in the spiritual realm.  The world is filled with 'religion', and Christianity is, numerically, the numerically largest such group.  Many people talk about Jesus (to one another!); insist on 'clean living'; carry a Bible; and attend worship services in a local church building.  But, like our Monet, they are not the real thing.  They are only pretenders.

The beloved disciple, John, in his first pastoral letter, gives three marks of a true disciple of Jesus.  The first of these is obedience: "And by this we may be sure that we know Him, if we keep His commandments." (2:3).   Secondly, a true disciple will display genuine love for fellow-believers: "He who loves his brother abides in the light, ..." (2:10).  The third mark given by the apostle is love for God, and not for the world: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever." (2:15-17).  If such qualities are not seen, consistently, in our lives, then we may need to examine our faith to check that it is genuine!

Those who suffer, as so many do, for the sake of the Lord Jesus are the real thing.  One would have to be, in order to remain constant and true.  Let those of us who live in the still relatively-safe 'western world' ensure that we, too, are true followers of Jesus - and not just imitations!


Thursday, 8 October 2015

Foundations - and other thoughts!

This morning was spent on three jobs in the house and in the garden.  The first of these was the fitting of two new lamps in a bathroom fixture.  It was to be a straightforward process - until I realised that the lamps that were being replaced operated on 12volts, while the replacements operated on 220 volts.  Not a problem, some electrically-qualified reader may be thinking.  However, although it was easy to remove the transformer, it was not as easy to identify the various cables - that appeared to have been used because they were what was available!  Anyway, the lamps were eventually fitted; connected; and, I am happy to report, are working.

That job was immediately followed by the 'fitting' of a temporary work-surface in the kitchen.  This involved taking 3" off the end of a large sheet of contiboard; using blocks of wood on top of two camping tables to bring the board to an appropriate height; and fixing the board to the wall.   However, that wee job was completed - relatively easily.

Task number three was in the garden, and had been started yesterday.  It involved the digging of an area of almost 11'x 6' to a depth of 6".  This was then filled with a sand/gravel mix and levelled off.  A wooden frame was constructed, and also levelled off, before more of the gravel mix was used to fill it to within 2" of the top.  That mix was levelled, and tamped down, and, next week (we are out for the next three days!) 2" of concrete will be added and allowed to 'cure' for about a week!  That will then provide a good solid base for the new, metal, garden shed that we have purchased, and that I hope to erect during the week after next - weather conditions permitting!

So, why would I want to share all of that with you?  Well, I would suggest that each task has a lesson for life!  When I was working at the lights in the bathroom, I had to keep switching the power off and on again.   That, of course, was for my own safety.  However, the simple fact is that, without power, nothing happens.  Jesus said: "... you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses ..." (Acts 1:8).   Need power in your Christian walk?  Invite God the Holy Spirit to come upon you.

What about work-top 'fitting'?  Well, I would suggest that it is a reminder that Father God is willing to use us - just as we are!   Different people have different giftings, natural talents, training, and ability.  When exercising those giftings, etc., we are comfortable.  "This is what I was made for." we might even say!  However, is it not the case that, sometimes, we have to go beyond our comfort zone, in order to achieve a specific objective?  None of the items used to build that work-top were designed to be thus used.  However, you may be assured that they are doing the job, and doing it admirably!

Which leaves the 'outside work'.  No difficulty in seeing a lesson there.  In fact, it isn't even a new lesson.  Jesus taught it some 2,000 years ago.  It's to do with foundations!  If I want my new shed to withstand any storms that come to the area (yes, even the Dordogne does get some!), then I need to spend time on the base - the foundation.  If I get that right, it is probable that my shed will stand for many years.  If I get that wrong, then my shed is likely to collapse before very long.

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

The best foundation for life is the Word of God.  Read it; study it; meditate upon it; commit it to memory.  It will be "... a lamp to [your] feet, and a light to [your] path." (Ps 119:105).

Be filled with the power of God the Holy Spirit; be willing to move out of your personal 'comfort zone' in the Lord's service; ensure that your life is built on the solid foundation of the Word of God - all of it!  Not a bad wee set of lessons from one morning's work.  May all who read, be blessed as they put those lessons into practice in their own lives.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Quiz-time (again!)

Okay, a little light relief for this belated start to October's posts.  Some fairly straightforward questions on characters from the Bible.  One clue - each answer begins with a vowel!  Correct solution in a few days' time.

1.   He introduced his brother, Peter, to Jesus.

2.   This man was deceived by one of his twin sons.

3.   Telling a lie about the money raised from selling some land cost this man a lot!

4.   This person was appointed as spokesman for his brother when they were used to free a nation from slavery.

5.   This woman's husband was struck dumb until their child was born.

6.   Who was the prophet who had to hide from an angry queen?

7.   In the year that this king dies, a famous prophet had a wonderful vision.

8.   This woman became queen after having been chosen in a beauty pageant.

9.   The shortest book in the Old Testament is named after this person.

10. This king was almost persuaded by the testimony of the apostle Paul.

11. He caused heartache to his father by leading a rebellion.

12. This man was a criminal who ran away - but returned, a changed man!

13. The boy, Samuel, told this man about a voice he heard.

Good place to stop (I am not superstitious!).

I wish you well.  :-)

Monday, 28 September 2015

Postscript to 9/11.

No, not the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, but the post that I published here on September 11th, this year!  For some reason (I would be grateful if anyone could e-mail me with a solution - please use the e-mail address above), this blog no longer seems to accept comments, and has not done so for a considerable length of time.  This means that there were no comments directly to the blog.  However, I made the same point on a number of Facebook pages, and was castigated (albeit, mildly!) for my lack of compassion.  At least one brother in the Lord has been treated in much the same way for having made similar points.

However, the news reports that Daesh (aka ISIS) are crucifying thousands in Syria surely makes it clear that, as I have stated often, compassion must be tempered with discernment.  Daesh have made no secret of their willingness to 'use' the genuine refugees as a 'cover' for them to infiltrate Western Europe.  They will, undoubtedly, claim to be Syrian Christians fleeing persecution in order to be welcomed by their intended victims.   This is, to Muslims, "taqiyya" - the use of deceit to gain an advantage over one's enemies.  Muhammad declared, as a justification for murdering unarmed prisoners after offering them safe passage, “war is deceit”. (from the Hadith - collected sayings of Muhammad).  

The tradition continues.  On May 10th, 1994, just a few months after signing the Oslo Accords (September, 1993), the late Yasir Arafat addressed an assembly of Muslims in a Johannesburg mosque where he justified his actions by explaining: “This agreement, I am not considering it more than the agreement which had been signed between our prophet Muhammad and Quraysh.” And he concluded by calling on the worshipers “to come and to fight and to start the jihad to liberate Jerusalem.”

What did he mean?   He was referring to Muhammad having signed a 10-year truce with the Arabian pagan Quraysh tribe in the city of Mecca (the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, 628 AD). At the beginning of the second year of that ten-year period he found a pretext to justify breaking the truce. He pounced on the Quraysh in a surprise attack, conquered Mecca and defeated the Quraysh, who were not prepared for more hostilities since they were honoring the 10-year accord and assumed that Muhammad was too.  Since then this agreement between Muhammad and the Quraysh has been an example for Muslims world-wide of how to trick the enemy in wartime. In other words, Arafat explained to his Muslim audience that he gave his word to President Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin, and signed the Oslo Accords, only because he planned to annul his commitments and attack Israel as soon as it was expedient for him to do so.  He lied to Clinton and Rabin; but once he was out from under the scrutiny of western media and in the comfort of a Muslim group whose support he could assume, he told the truth to his Muslim audience.  Apparently, he was unaware that his speech was being recorded.

The desired policy of many of Europe's 'leaders' (Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is an honourable exception!) of 'open doors' is, of course, simply playing into the hands of those terrorists who wish to make Western Europe part of a worldwide Caliphate - with its inhabitants given a simple choice to 'convert' to Islam; pay a special "subjugation" tax (the jizya); or die!

So - if we are disciples of Jesus, let us "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, ..." (Col.3:12).   However, let us neither forget, nor ignore, the words of the Saviour: "... be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." (Matt.10:16).   Let us not be so insistent on being the latter, that we fail to be the former!






Friday, 18 September 2015

When life begins!

About 125 AD, a philosopher named Aristides presented his defence of Christianity to the Emperor Hadrian.  It is quite a long document that deals with the religious history and beliefs of various groups, before turning to those who followed the Way of the Christ.   One of the important differences that he noted between Christians and others concerns their attitude to physical death.  In para. XV, he states "... if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another near."

He was, of course, totally correct.  Disciples of Jesus can face death differently from those who do not know Him as their personal Saviour and Lord, because they have a hope that is beyond the grave.   I recall the old saying that "Life begins at 40".  However, for the true child of God, life - new and glorious living - begins at the death of the physical body, when the spirit leaves the body and enters into the presence of the Lord.  That's why they can face death with such confidence, and even joy.  That's why those young Egyptian men who, not so long ago, were forced by cowardly Islamic terrorists to kneel on a Libyan beach to be beheaded, could die with the name of Jesus on their lips.  That's what is meant by the title of a booklet that I have (currently in a box!) - "Death, with a steady eye".  That's why the apostle Paul could write to the believers in the Roman colony of Philippi: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." (Phil 1:21-23).

Even in obituaries, and on headstones, the difference in attitude is often seen.  Believers have not "passed away": they have not been "lost"; they have not even "died"!  No!  They have been "called home"; they are "with the Lord"; to our Salvation Army friends, they have been "promoted to Glory".

What a remarkable difference there is in the ways in which a disciple of Jesus, and an unbeliever, look at death!  For one, it is often viewed as a hopeless ending.  For the other, it is seen as a joyous beginning!  Indeed, when disciples of Jesus "die", they have only just begun to live!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Staying in the bubble!

No, the title to this post does not refer to the so-called "Westminster bubble" in which so many UK Members of Parliament appear to reside!  I am no naturalist, but I do know that a little creature, known as the water spider, is quite amazing.  Sometimes called "the frogman spider", it lives in rivers and streams - underneath the surface of the water!

How does this fascinating species survive in its watery environment?  Its secret is that it spins a tough, basket-like, web of silk - almost a little diving bell - and anchors it underwater to plants, or other objects.  Then it captures a surface air bubble, which it pulls down and injects into its underwater 'house'.  This combination of web building and bubble trapping allows the water spider to survive in an environment that would, normally, destroy it.

Disciples of Jesus also live in an environment that could destroy us!  The values, attitudes, practices, and priorities, of the world threaten to drown us - unless we are able to protect ourselves from them.  So how are we to survive, spiritually, in this hostile worldly environment?

May I suggest that we must build a 'bubble' of protection around ourselves by the regular reading, and study, of the written Word of God; by regular prayer; by regular fellowship with other believers; by regular communing with God the Holy Spirit; by always trusting Father God, and obeying His Word?  These activities will protect our minds, and help us to be safe and secure.  Paul writes to the early believers in the great city of Rome: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Rom.12:1-2; emphasis added).

As the water spider lives in the water, but is not of the water, so disciples of Jesus must live in, but not be of, the world. (see John 17:16).  Are you building a safe 'bubble'?

Friday, 11 September 2015

Every picture tells a story!

Every picture tells a story - but is every story told by a picture honest and dependable?

A few days ago, a photograph appeared on most, if not all, of the MSM. It was the body of a small child, named as Aylan Kurdi, lying on a beach at the edge of the water. The child was, we were informed, drowned - the tragic result of a rubber dinghy, full of refugees, having 'flipped over' in the sea. The apparently distraught father claimed that his wife and other son had also drowned. They were, he claimed, escaping from the war in Syria. The picture was likened to that of the young girl, running naked along a road in Vietnam, having been (if I recall correctly), the victim of a napalm bombing. That picture has often been credited with having brought about the end of the involvement of the USoA in Vietnam.

I was one of those who was criticised, by dear fellow-disciples of Jesus, for not responding with the demand that the UK take in more refugees.  I was, effectively, accused of lacking compassion.  It appeared that I am a poor advert for Jesus.  My basic response was that compassion sometimes needs to be tempered with discernment.

Later reports would seem to suggest that I was correct!   People have looked again at the picture - and come to the reasonable conclusion that it was all carefully staged (not that I am suggesting that the Vietnamese picture was likewise!).  It has been pointed out that, if that little body had been washed ashore by the waves, it would not have been lying as it is in the picture - almost as if the child had lain down for a sleep.   The father's own story has been found to be filled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies.   The latest claim, from a survivor of the capsizing, is that he was actually the 'captain' of the ill-fated little vessel.   It has also been noted that he was able to return to Syria in order to bury the bodies of his family - returning to the very 'war zone' from which he claimed to have fled!  

His own sister claimed, on Canadian television, that he had been in Turkey (it would appear that he had been there for about three years!) and that she had been paying the rent for the family's apartment.   It was she, also, who stated that his desire to get to Europe was motivated by his need for false teeth!   An anonymous blogger has apparently stated that Mr Kurdi had his teeth pulled out when being tortured by the Assad régime in his home country.  It could be asked why he didn't make this 'fact' known, himself, when he first came to the attention of the world's media.

Much more has apparently been unearthed, and it seems to me that there are more questions than answers in this sorry saga.  Of course the death of any child - or any adult - is sad.  Of course one has compassion for those who are genuinely fleeing persecution and violence.  However, there are sound reasons for believing that the majority of those who are currently seeking to enter a number of European countries are not fleeing adverse situations and circumstances, but merely seeking to benefit from what they see as some kind of 'El Dorado'!

I am not one to be taken in by every conspiracy theory - even those put about after the tragic event of fourteen years ago.  However, in addition to the above, the alleged comment by an official of the Saudi Arabian government, that his country (and other Arab, Muslim, countries) do not take in Muslim refugees because they want Europe to be filled with Muslims, is really quite believable!  The dream of many Muslims is the realisation of the world-wide Islamic Caliphate, and they will do all in their power, including lying and deceit, to achieve it.

Praise God, therefore, that He is the One Who is ultimately in control!   His Kingdom is within His people and will, many of us believe, be consummated soon.   Then will come to pass the vision granted to John: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her Husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.'   And He Who sat upon the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.'" (Rev 21:1-5).  Hallelujah!